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

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pundits Wrong on Slashing Military Benefits

On Monday, CNBC interviewed two defense analysts asking "What if?" the military trimmed its health care budget during these lean economic times. What followed was a misleading dialogue over how the military currently cares for those in uniform and what our military men and women rely upon once they leave the service.

Mackenzie Eaglen of the Heritage Foundation never served in the military and Todd Harrison of CSBA Budget Studies served a brief stint in the Air Force Reserve. Both pundits have made a career of analyzing military decision-making and military budget processes, often generating sound discussion on where the military should invest its resources. Unfortunately, both have recently set their sights on slashing benefits for the brave men and women tasked with fighting our nation's wars. Keep scrolling for AMVETS' reaction. Here is the CNBC video:

Both pundits miss the point that all active duty military retirees are in fact veterans. Today, when our nation's military men and women are at war, they are proposing increases in TRICARE premiums and privatization of military retirement pensions as a cost-saving measure.

For years AMVETS and its partners on the Military Coalition, or TMC, have opposed TRICARE increases and the privatization of pensions. AMVETS believes this would be a slap in the face to America's military retirees. Now more than ever military men and women deserve the best health care available, including those who have made a career of defending our nation.

In the video, Eaglen bases her analysis of retirement benefits off of the pension and entitlements offered to a retired colonel--a rank many military retirees will never attain. In fact, most military retirees in the officer corps top out around O-5, or lieutenant colonel, with enlisted personnel often plateauing around E-7 or E-8. Particularly for enlisted retirees, the robust benefits offered through military retirement are not only deserved, but certainly needed. Even though second careers after military service are certainly possible, viable job-placement is not a given, particularly in a poor economy.

Harrison also asserts that pensions are not a viable retention benefit for the military, which is far from the truth. Throughout the ranks of AMVETS, many military retirees discuss their hard-earned pensions as the primary impetus in choosing to remain on active duty. Plus, it would be wholly inappropriate for the government to change the game for those currently working toward a military pension and for retirees that have already paid their debt in service to the military.

In the upcoming issue of American Veteran magazine, we hear from a military retiree who was concerned about his local base closing and its impact on the retirement benefits he relies on. Decisions to cut military retirement benefits have a real impact on people who selflessly sacrificed the prime of their lives to serve a greater good. As President Abraham Lincoln said, caring for our nation's veterans is a "sacred trust."

In the video, Harrison purports that the Department of Veterans Affairs is solely tasked with caring for wounded warriors. This completely misses the point. Wounded warriors who are medically retired for their injuries, such as lost limbs or severe traumatic brain injuries, are entitled to military health care for life. Should our wounded warriors also have to foot the bill for their life-altering wartime injuries? Plus, today's newer retirees often encounter myriad service-connected issues that would encourage them to take advantage of a TRICARE option.

Both Harrison and Eaglen point to skyrocketing military health care costs over the last decade and propose that service members should bear some of the burden. AMVETS knows that these costs have increased primarily because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and much like the third-party billing proposal for VA service connected injuries, a proposal to impose higher premiums on American war fighters is a morally repugnant cost-cutting proposal.

AMVETS leaders vehemently oppose increases in TRICARE premiums during a time of war and any manipulation of military pensions. Should these proposals go beyond cable news punditry, AMVETS and its partner veteran and military organizations will do everything in their power to halt such misguided proposals.

As both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and New York Times columnist Bob Herbert pointed out, America is divorced from its military--viewing the wars as a distant abstraction. Harrison and Eaglen's off-base analysis of today's military health care system is only the latest example of this widening gap between those who serve in harm's way and those who judge from the sidelines.

This lack of understanding of military culture and particularly military health care demonstrates the kind of disconnect between much of America's civilian population and the scant one percent of Americans brave enough to fight today's wars.

America must not dishonor its military men and women, which is why proposals like Eaglen's and Harrison's should never have even made it to the airwaves.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Army Names Soldier/NCO of the Year; First Female Soldier Honored

Yesterday the Army named Staff Sgt. Christopher McDougal Non-commissioned Officer, or NCO, of the Year and Sgt. Sherri Gallagher Soldier of the Year for 2010.

Gallagher, a motor transportation operator assigned to TRADOC's Marksmanship Unit at Ft. Benning, Ga., is the first female to earn the honor. McDougall, a military policeman stationed in Stuttgart, Germany, is a decorated combat veteran of Iraq.

The Army selects its Soldier and NCO of the Year through the U.S. Army Best Warrior Competition each October, which tests soldiering skills among nominees from 12 Army commands. The competition is in its ninth year.

The winners were announced by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth Preston, at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual awards banquet on Oct. 25.

To learn more about the competition, Click Here.

To learn more about this year's winners, Click Here.

(Photo: Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli, Soldier of the Year Sgt. Sherri Gallagher, NCO of the Year Staff Sgt. Christopher McDougall, and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth Preston at this year's AUSA awards banquet. U.S. Army photo by Alexandra Hemmerly-Brown.)

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Monday, October 18, 2010

This Week at American Veteran

This week at American Veteran, we're putting the finishing touches on the fall issue of American Veteran magazine. Thank you to each of the posts and departments that submitted content for consideration in Keeping Posted. Keep it coming. If we run out of space in the magazine, we're eager to share photos and stories on this blog.

The AMVETS National Legislative Department is also in the final stages of preparing the report from this summer's AMVETS Symposium for 21st Century Veterans. With recent legislation and policy changes within the Department of Veterans Affairs, National Legislative Directory Ray Kelley has had to adjust fire on the report and recommendations. This is good news, considering that some of the recommendations made at this summer's symposium have already resonated with leaders in Washington, such as calls for equity in care for female veterans and increased access to mental health counseling for veterans' family members. American Veteran Online will keep you posted on the publication date for the final symposium report.

AMVETS legislative team is also currently compiling the 2011 AMVETS Legislative Agenda, which will be available on the AMVETS National Web site by Veterans Day. AMVETS' top legislative priorities are based on critical issues within the veterans' community and the national resolutions as voted on by AMVETS members at each year's national convention. Last year's legislative agenda proved to be exceedingly popular among AMVETS leaders across the country and national policy leaders in Washington, which is why AMVETS is expanding on the concept for 2011. Check back on Veterans Day to learn about this year's top priorities and AMVETS' proposed solutions.

Next, AMVETS National Commander Jerry Hotop is scheduled to leave for his Far East tour on Thursday. Hotop will visit with American troops stationed on the Korean peninsula, visit with leaders from the allied Republic of China (Taiwan) and their Veterans Affairs Commission, with a final stop scheduled at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, which AMVETS helped to finance and refurbish. We will bring you highlights of this annual tour.

As always, we're eager to hear from you, our readers. The recent posting on the malicious COLA hoax proved to be our most popular blog posting to date. Thank you for your comments. As a result, we will post the accurate COLA charts for 2011 this week. We will continue to bring you timely information on veterans' issues, so please keep the comments coming.

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

COLA Hoax: Benefits Will Not Double in 2011

Over the last few weeks, a chain e-mail started to circulate in military and veterans' circles, purporting that this year's increases in compensation for service-connected disabled veterans would nearly double. However, the e-mail is a hoax.

The e-mail included a mock version of a Congressional bill, H.R. 4667, which was rife with errors. The text included a chart outlining how the rates would supposedly increase "to bring monies in line to the America[sic] middle class." Here is a copy of the phony bill:

The four-page text contains multiple inconsistencies ranging from the type font to erroneous capitalization and syntax errors such as "disable veterans" and "be low." The bill also claims to be from the first session of the 111th Congress, which ended on Dec. 4, 2009.

Recently, Congress did pass a version of H.R. 4667 that will increase COLA rates for 2011 keeping with the standard percentage increases in Social Security taking effect on Dec. 1, 2010. To view a copy of the bill, which is now Public Law 111-247, Click Here.

The hoax bill was forwarded to AMVETS National Headquarters by an AMVETS National Service Officer in Georgia who was suspicious of the e-mail's content, after receiving it from a client. Other service officers soon started to receive similar inquiries into the validity of the e-mail.

AMVETS National Legislative Director Ray Kelley quickly discovered that the e-mail was fake and AMVETS National Service Department informed service officers in the field, providing each of them with the accurate bill to properly inform the veterans they serve.

Stars & Stripes Rumor Doctor also caught wind of the e-mail and published findings on the hoax.

AMVETS leaders supported the real version of H.R. 4667, which ensures veterans' service-connected compensation will increase for 2011, accounting for perpetual increases in the cost of living.

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Snyder v. Hateful Church Arguments Today in Supreme Court

Today the Supreme Court will hear arguments on behalf of Gold Star Father Albert Snyder and the hateful Kansas church that pickets military funerals, in an effort to rule whether military families have a right to peaceful funeral proceedings for their fallen loved ones.

The church, which we refuse to identify on this blog, has made headlines across the country for picketing the funerals of fallen Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, brandishing signs with inflammatory, hateful rhetoric against American service members.

Snyder, whose son, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, was killed in Iraq in 2006, originally sued the church's pastor for $17 million after the group disrupted the Snyder funeral in Maryland.

Courts originally ruled in favor of Snyder, but the decision was overturned upon appeal and Snyder was ordered to pay court costs for the church. Fortunately for Snyder, the Supreme Court granted certiorari on the case for this session.

According to Stars & Stripes, Snyder's lawyers will argue that free speech rights do not extend to harassing private citizens.

Meanwhile, the church argues that they have the constitutionally-protected right to convey their message that God is punishing American service members for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.

Media watchdogs have sided with the church out of fear that a decision in favor of Snyder could create a slippery slope limiting the kinds of speech protected by the constitution.

However, AMVETS leaders continue to argue that intrusions such as the funeral protests also violate grieving families' first amendment rights to freely practice their religion and honor their fallen loved ones in a peaceful, dignified manner.

"What this radical church has done is abhorrent and cannot simply be viewed in the context of preserving First Amendment rights," said AMVETS Past National Commander Duane J. Miskulin when news of the appeal broke. "Our grieving Gold Star families deserve only the utmost respect when mourning the loss of their loved ones. AMVETS hopes that the Supreme Court will agree that picketing military funerals violates the personal rights of a grieving family."

Legislators with military experience, like Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and John Boccieri (D-Ohio) even stepped in, expressing to the Supreme Court that the right to free speech must end where the privacy of a mourning family begins.

In the past, Supreme Court rulings have established reasonable parameters on speech, offering equal protections for the rights of private citizens. AMVETS leaders urge the court to rule in a similar fashion on this issue, ensuring that grieving military families are protected during their most vulnerable hours.

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