Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Friday, January 4, 2019, which is National Spaghetti Day, National Trivia Day, Pop Music Chart Day, World Braille Day, and World Hypnotism Day.
Today in American Legion History:
- Jan. 4, 2007: On his first day in office, newly elected U.S. Sen. James Webb of Virginia, a Vietnam War combat veteran and American Legion member, introduces a new kind of GI Bill, one that aims to produce the same kinds of effects on the economy, nation and families of those who serve, as the original Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944.
Today in History:
- On January 4, 2007, John Boehner handed the speaker of the House gavel over to Nancy Pelosi, a Democratic Representative from California. With the passing of the gavel, she became the first woman to hold the speaker of the House position, as well as the only woman to get that close to the presidency. After the Vice President, she was now second in line via the presidential order of succession.
- 1896: Six years after Wilford Woodruff, president of the Mormon church, issued his Manifesto reforming political, religious, and economic life in Utah, the territory is admitted into the Union as the 45th state.
- 1974: President Richard Nixon refuses to hand over tape recordings and documents that had been subpoenaed by the Senate Watergate Committee. Marking the beginning of the end of his Presidency, Nixon would resign from office in disgrace eight months later.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- CBS News: mseaveywith “Remove” in the subject line. If you have received this from someone who forwarded it and would like to be added, email mseavey.
CBS News: Trump signs bills holding VA accountable for delayed GI Bill payments
BY STEFAN BECKET, ANNA GUNTHER
UPDATED ON: JANUARY 3, 2019 / 5:50 PM / CBS NEWS
President Trump on Thursday signed into law the second of two bills meant to hold the Department of Veterans Affairs accountable for an IT failure that delayed payments to thousands of veterans under the Forever GI Bill.
The White House said the president signed the Forever GI Bill Housing Payment Fulfillment Act into law on Thursday, establishing a team to audit housing payments made to veterans and identify those affected by the delay. Another bill, the Veterans Benefits and Transition Act of 2018, included a provision barring schools from penalizing students whose payments were delayed because of the VA’s failure.
The two bills were passed by both houses of Congress in the days leading up to the Christmas break. Mr. Trump signed the latter into law on Dec. 31.
The VA has come under harsh scrutiny by members of Congress and veterans groups for its botched implementation of a new system for making payments under the 2017 Forever GI Bill, which expanded housing and tuition benefits for veterans pursuing an education.
The law mandated a change in the way payments are calculated, and the VA was supposed to implement the changes by August 2018. However, the department’s decades-old IT systems were unable to handle a backlog of claims and were crippled for weeks, delaying payments for thousands of veterans.
The VA owned up to the failure in late November and delayed implementation of the new system until December 2019. Facing intense scrutiny, Secretary Robert Wilkie assured lawmakers the department would ensure veterans receive the benefits they were due under the new law.
The two laws signed by Mr. Trump seek to hold the VA to that assurance.
The Forever GI Bill Housing Payment Fulfillment Act establishes a "Tiger Team" of department employees tasked with determining who was affected by the IT failure and establishing a plan to make sure they receive the benefits they are owed. The team must be established within 15 days and submit reports to Congress every three months, with a final report due in 2020.
Republican Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas, a co-author of the law, said he was pleased Mr. Trump promptly signed the legislation.
"There’s simply no excuse for failing to fully deliver the housing benefits that GI bill recipients are owed," Boozman said in a statement Thursday. "I will continue to use congressional oversight to make certain VA’s errors do not go uncorrected."
The Veterans Benefits and Transition Act included a provision that bars schools from receiving GI Bill payments if they impose penalties on students whose benefits were delayed.
Republican Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee, who was until Thursday the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, praised the president for quickly signing the Veterans Benefits and Transition Act, saying it "bring[s] us one step closer to fulfilling our promises to veterans."
Military Times: Senate finalizes a pair of VA nominations in final hours of 115th Congress
By: Leo Shane III | 21 hours ago
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers wrapped up the 115th Congress Wednesday night by finalizing a pair of high-profile nominees for the Department of Veterans Affairs but left a pile of other military confirmations unfinished.
In the Senate’s waning hours before the new congressional session starting Thursday, Republican and Democratic leaders worked out a deal to approve a slate of non-controversial nominations, including VA’s new assistant secretary for information technology and the new leader of the department’s Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection.
Lawmakers also confirmed Alan Shaffer as the new deputy under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment and two Army assistant secretaries: Casey Wardynski and Alex Beehler. The chamber also confirmed 24 new foreign ambassadors, including new U.S. officials for Yemen, Australia and Kenya.
But the closing session agreement did not include six other Defense Department nominees awaiting a vote by the full Senate, or promotions for 23 general officers. That business will now have to wait for several weeks, as the White House re-nominates each individual and their paperwork is again approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The group includes Assistant Defense Secretary nominees Veronica Daigle and Thomas McCaffery and new Principal Deputy Administrator National Nuclear Security Administration William Bookless and several service leaders.
The slow confirmation process has been a frequent target of President Donald Trump over the last two years. Republican supporters have said Democratic stalling tactics have left numerous key government posts vacant for months without reason. But Democrats have said many of the lengthy leadership gaps have been because of sluggish work by the administration, both in picking nominees and providing background information about their qualifications.
The nomination of James Gfrerer, who will oversee VA’s IT planning and policies, had been pending since September. In recent weeks, outside advocates had put additional pressure on Senators to deal with that vacancy as problems mounted with the department’s computer processing of veterans education benefits.
During a hearing last month, several senators and House members expressed concerns that needed reforms within the information technology office were going unfinished because Gfrerer’s absence.
On Thursday, they praised his belated confirmation, and that of Tamara Bonzanto to oversee the whistleblower protection office.
New York Times: White House Mulls Jim Webb, Ex-Democratic Senator, as Next Defense Secretary
By Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Maggie Haberman | Jan. 3, 2019
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is considering Jim Webb, a former Democratic senator and Reagan-era secretary of the Navy, to be the next defense secretary, according to three officials, potentially bypassing more hawkish Republicans whose names have been floated to replace Jim Mattis.
Mr. Webb, an outspoken opponent of the Iraq war, is being considered as President Trump seeks to carry out campaign promises to withdraw American troops from Syria and Afghanistan.
Those two decisions prompted Mr. Mattis to resign late last month, putting the deputy defense secretary, Patrick M. Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, in the top role in an acting capacity.
Representatives for Vice President Mike Pence and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, have reached out to Mr. Webb, one of the three officials said. Separately, a senior Defense Department official confirmed that Mr. Webb’s name had been circulating at the White House. Those two and the third official all spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the internal discussions.
Mr. Webb did not respond to a request for comment, and a White House official said the vice president’s staff has had no contact with Mr. Webb. How seriously he is being considered was unclear; Mr. Trump likes to float names as he considers his options for various openings in the government — sometimes to test responses and sometimes to keep the news media guessing.
But the views of Mr. Webb, a former one-term Democratic senator from Virginia and candidate during the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries, align closely with Mr. Trump’s drive to pull American troops from the Middle East and confront China more aggressively.
During a Democratic primary debate in 2015, Mr. Webb railed against Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea and cyberattacks on Americans.
“If you want a place where we need to be in terms of our national strategy, a focus, the greatest strategic threat that we have right now is resolving our relationship with China,” Mr. Webb said.
Much like Mr. Trump, Mr. Webb was also critical of President Barack Obama’s efforts in 2015 to strike a deal to curtail Iran’s nuclear program. “The end result of this could well be our acquiescence in allowing Iran to develop a nuclear weapon,” Mr. Webb said.
Mr. Webb, now 72, graduated from the Naval Academy in 1968 and served in Vietnam as a Marine rifle platoon and company commander. He was wounded twice and awarded the Navy Cross, a prestigious award that ranks just below the Medal of Honor, along with other valor awards.
In a 1979 opinion article in Washingtonian magazine titled “Women Can’t Fight,” Mr. Webb wrote that allowing women into the military — specifically in combat positions — would harm national defense. The article would haunt him throughout his political career, despite his changing views on the subject.
The Pentagon opened all combat jobs to women during the Obama administration. But Mr. Trump has not vigorously supported the policy, and even Mr. Mattis said the “jury is out” on whether women should be put into combat roles.
“This is a policy that I inherited, and so far the cadre is so small, we have no data on it,” Mr. Mattis said in remarks to officer candidates at the Virginia Military Institute in September.
Ronald Reagan appointed Mr. Webb first as an assistant secretary of defense and, in 1987, as secretary of the Navy, where he pushed for modernizing the fleet and opening more jobs for women in the service. Between his stints in government, Mr. Webb continued his writing career, which includes the critically acclaimed Vietnam War novel “Fields of Fire.” He switched parties and in 2006 ran for the Senate as a Democrat; there, he helped pass the post-9/11 G.I. Bill and oversaw Asia-Pacific issues on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Other names that have surfaced as potential replacements for Mr. Mattis have included a former Republican senator, Jim Talent of Missouri, and two current ones, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. David H. Petraeus, the retired Army general and former C.I.A. director, was considered for the post earlier in the Trump administration but recently told the BBC that he “cannot envision returning to government at this time.”
Last week, Mr. Trump said Mr. Shanahan might remain as acting secretary “for a long time.”
On Wednesday, his second day as Pentagon chief, Mr. Shanahan voiced a tougher stand against China, telling the military’s civilian leaders to focus more on the country, according to a Defense Department official.
Defense News: Big shakeup coming to Senate Armed Services
By: Joe Gould | 13 hours ago
WASHINGTON — The Senate Armed Services Committee is welcoming a host of new faces in the new congressional session and losing some familiar faces.
As many as eight seats on the military panel — nearly one-third of the committee membership — could change before its next meeting, even with the Senate remaining in Republican control.
The official committee assignments for Republicans, released by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Thursday evening, has five GOP committee members leaving in the 116th Congress. (Politico broke the news earlier in the day, based on a draft roster it obtained.)
That includes Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of the Pentagon’s most vocal allies and one of the panel’s longest serving members.
Graham, who joined the panel in 2003, leaves as he is expected to ascend to the role of chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He is also expected to retain the gavel of the powerful Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, as well as remain a member of the Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.
South Carolina, which has a large military presence, will lose representation on the panel as Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., also departs — alongside GOP Sens. Ted Cruz, of Texas; Ben Sasse, of Nebraska; and Jon Kyl, of Arizona.
Senate Democrats have already announced three new members for the Senate Armed Services Committee. Sens. Tammy Duckworth, a combat-wounded Army veteran from Illinois; Joe Manchin, of West Virginia; and Doug Jones, of aerospace powerhouse Alabama will replace three departing Democratic lawmakers.
“When I was first elected last year, and took a look at [Redstone] Arsenal and all of the bases, it was just stunning, everything that’s going on,” Jones said. “I’m looking forward to carrying on a great tradition of Alabama senators on that committee and doing all I can to help my state.”
Committee turnover happens every two years on Capitol Hill, as elections force some lawmakers out of office and open new opportunities for others. But changing eight seats on the Senate Armed Services Committee — long seen as a powerful pulpit on national security issues — is an unusual level of upheaval.
In 2015, only five seats on the panel turned over. In 2013, when the Senate last changed parties, six members changed.
The shifts come as the committee, led by Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., must navigate a divided Congress, President Donald Trump’s indecision on a defense top line for 2019, Trump’s national security views and likely the confirmation process for a new defense secretary. Trump has also raised new questions for the committee with recent pronouncements he would pull the U.S. military out of Syria and Afghanistan.
“What’s important and mainstay on the committee is the bipartisanship and the willingness to work together — not always agree, but work together,” said the panel’s ranking member, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., adding that Inhofe has been continuing that tradition.
The committee will add five incoming Republican senators: former U.S. Reps. Martha McSally, of Arizona; Kevin Cramer, of North Dakota; Marsha Blackburn, of Tennessee; as well as former Florida Gov. Rick Scott and former Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley.
With McSally, who Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey appointed to replace Kyl in McCain’s seat after she lost a Senate bid, Congress retains an advocate of the A-10 Warthog — a platform McSally piloted in the Air Force.
Democrats are losing three senior members. Scott bested Sen. Bill Nelson, formerly the SASC’s No. 2 Democrat; Hawley beat Sen. Claire McCaskill, a senior SASC member and top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee; and Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly, the top Democrat on the Strategic Forces subpanel lost to incoming Sen. Mike Braun.
The panel will also see a large proportion of women, veterans and female veterans.
“Whether they’re a man or a woman, I just want them to dig in and drill down on the tough issues we have — and meet the security needs that we meet as a nation,” said Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., the chair of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee. “Any profession, any gender, any race, any geographic area brings diversity, which is always a strength."
New York Times: Their Influence Diminishing, Veterans Groups Compete With Each Other and Struggle With the V.A.
By Jennifer Steinhauer | Jan. 4, 2019
WASHINGTON — For generations, Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts have been as integral to American political culture as pancake breakfasts, town squares and state fairs. In advocating for veterans — among the country’s most revered and coveted voters — the groups have wielded unquestioned power on Capitol Hill and inside the White House.
Now, nearly a generation after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the oldest and largest veterans service organizations — known colloquially as “the Big Six” — are seeing their influence diluted, as newer, smaller organizations focused on post-9/11 veterans compete for money, political influence and relevance.
The newer organizations reflect cultural shifts in a smaller community of younger and increasingly diverse veterans who are replacing the older, predominantly male veterans — many of them having served because of a draft for now long-ago wars.
The scores of upstarts include Student Veterans of America, which advocates on education and job issues; Team Red, White and Blue, which promotes service and “camaraderie” events; and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which focuses on the specific health and employment challenges those who served in those two wars face.
Leaner and more financially efficient than their predecessors, these newer veterans organizations focus on issues such as education and job training rather than on brick-and-mortar meeting spaces for veterans to gather or on resources spent lobbying in Washington.
In addition, many officials of the newer organizations say, their goals are to integrate veterans back into civilian communities where they feel misunderstood and have lost ties, while helping civilians who have had little contact with veterans — active-duty troops make up less than 1 percent of the United States population — understand their experiences.
As older veterans die, so, too, do the V.F.W. halls, scores of which have shuttered in recent years. While accurate membership numbers are hard to ascertain because many veterans pay dues to several organizations, a shrinking veterans population over all has caused memberships to fall and some groups to restructure.
“The young vets are saying we need to do things differently with a different emphasis,” said Chuck Hagel, a former defense secretary and Vietnam veteran who is associated with a small organization, HillVets, that helps veterans find staff jobs on Capitol Hill. “The Vietnam vet is a different kind of vet than Afghan or Iraq war vets; they were draft vets and they wanted in and out. Most veterans today are married with families, and that means new demands, new interests and new pressures.”
At times, the politically progressive leaders of some of the organizations — many from the Vietnam era — take positions that appear out of step with more socially conservative members from previous wars. This has irritated Robert L. Wilkie, the Veterans Affairs secretary, who views these as unwelcome partisan positions, said several agency and veterans groups’ officials.
Last April, Mr. Wilkie hosted a breakfast for veterans service organizations that included representatives not just of the traditional Big Six, but also the Independence Fund and Concerned Veterans for America, which is financed by Charles G. and David H. Koch, who have backed conservative causes.
The Koch-supported group was instrumental in ousting the last head of the department. It has also been pushing for more health care to take place outside the V.A. system, with the first step beginning soon under a sweeping new law. Their voices were welcomed by House Republicans as they passed the measure this year.
At a hearing last month on Capitol Hill, some Democrats suggested that Mr. Wilkie was ignoring the opinions of traditional organizations on this law. “A lot of V.S.O.s have talked to me about the communication within the V.A.,” said Senator Jon Tester of Montana, the ranking Democrat on the Senate veterans committee. “It’s not where it needs to be.”
Mr. Wilkie made his position clear. “Half of our veterans are now under the age of 65,” he said, “which means they have different cares, they have different interests. What I have done in my short time is actually open the aperture to the table at the Department of Veterans Affairs to bring in veterans who are not traditionally part of the system.”
The shifts, while perhaps inevitable, leave some worrying that the hard work of pressing for the complicated and expensive health care needs, and other issues, will lack a generation of new leaders.
“These smaller groups don’t do policy advocacy while the Big Six have been carrying all the water,” said Kristofer Goldsmith, an assistant director for policy and government affairs at the Vietnam Veterans of America. “The average vet has no idea what these groups are doing on their behalf. They have a free T-shirt from Red, White and Blue but don’t realize my 72-year-old boss with emphysema walks around Capitol Hill advocating for them on the G.I. Bill.”
The first large veterans service organizations, the Grand Army of the Republic and the United Confederate Veterans, arose after the Civil War, with new ones forming after each conflict to serve veterans lacking services.
While there are thousands of nonprofit veterans organizations registered with the Internal Revenue Service, the majority of power has been consolidated among the Big Six: Disabled American Veterans; Veterans of Foreign Wars; American Legion; Paralyzed Veterans of America; Amvets; and Vietnam Veterans of America, which was developed after Vietnam veterans were turned away from other organizations.
According to a study this year by the Center for a New American Security, a nonpartisan policy research center in Washington, nonprofits that serve veterans generate about $3.6 billion in annual revenue.
While the older organizations control roughly 68 percent of total income in this market, the recent growth has been dominated by large post-9/11 organizations, which have grown in excess of 15 percent per year, compared with the 2 percent income growth of the Big Six. The study also found that post-9/11 organizations save their money at a rate almost 2.5 times greater than pre-9/11 organizations.
A relatively new entry, the Wounded Warrior Project, has set a new model for advocacy organizations, raising money from outside the veterans community and funding research and services rather than infrastructure. The group is widely viewed as having finally recovered from a major spending scandal in 2016.
“They figured out how to raise money from outside the vets community better than anyone else,” said Emma Moore, one of the authors of the Center for a New American Security report. “The Big Six are struggling with overhead. As the veteran population shrinks, how they end up dealing with the overhead of maintaining buildings and their structures is yet to be determined.”
Through grants, the Wounded Warriors Project also marries legacy Big Six organizations with newcomers to build coalitions around issues like toxic exposure, which brings post-9/11 veterans into advocacy, and legacy groups into the future.
“Congress still listens to them,” said Phillip Carter, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation who specializes in military and veterans issues, describing the continuing clout of the Big Six. “Members and staff understand the political throw weight of veterans groups based on their large membership and the degree to which they command public respect.”
But when it comes to forming laws, some groups are clearly on the rise, like Student Veterans of America, which played a significant role in drafting a new G.I. Bill. These groups, lacking the large governance structures of the old veterans service organizations, tend to be faster on their advocacy feet.
Outside Washington, the contrasts between the groups is stark. Many of the old V.F.W. halls remain outposts of fellowship over beer, while younger veterans prefer community centers with healthier and more practical assets, like Wi-Fi, child care and yoga classes. In many cases, social media has replaced physical spaces as a place where veterans congregate.
Many of the new groups steer away from lobbying on Capitol Hill, and have turned instead to community services, running races and other activities meant not to connect veterans to one another as much as to the rest of the communities they have rejoined.
“The epidemic of alienation and loneliness in society writ large is magnified in the vets community,” said Bana Miller, a spokeswoman for Team Red, White and Blue, which engages veterans in community service and physical activities.
“Many post-9/11 vets served five, 10, 15 years, and they are looking for connection and community and support,” she said. “We are key to getting people from out behind their communities and taking what they learned from their service, doing things together shoulder to shoulder to build deep bonds with other people.
“Our organization is not necessarily in the advocacy space,” she added. “We work toward mental health solutions via physical and social activity.”
Traditional veterans organizations say this new focus does not replace theirs.
“We get bills passed,” said Kayda Keleher, the associate director of national legislative service for the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. “We provide financial assistance to cover bills for veterans who were attending a college that shut down. We provide scholarships and fellowship opportunities, our National Home for Children, and so much more. Those are our strengths and our legacy that will keep us around.”
The greatest demonstration of the power across the spectrum from old and new groups, as well as the Koch-backed organization that has the Trump administration’s collective ear, will be on display next year as Congress carefully examines major changes to health care services for veterans stemming from a large bill passed last year.
“Veteran organizations can be like Sears, using the same business model with diminishing returns,” Mr. Carter said. “Or, they can reinvent themselves and their business models to remain viable, and focus on issues that appeal to all generations to remain relevant.”