American Legion Daily News Clips

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Wednesday, December 4, 2019 which is International Cheetah Day, National Package Protection Day, Santa’s List Day and Women’s Day.

Today in Legion History:

· Dec. 4-10, 1921: The American Legion and the National Education Association collaborate to address widespread illiteracy, advance the teaching of citizenship and conduct the first American Education Week to improve public schools.

This Day in History:

· On December 4, 1991, Islamic militants in Lebanon release kidnapped American journalist Terry Anderson after 2,454 days in captivity.

· “Dapper Dan” Hogan, a St. Paul, Minnesota saloonkeeper and mob boss, is killed on December 4, 1928 when someone plants a car bomb under the floorboards of his new Paige coupe. Doctors worked all day to save him–according to the Morning Tribune, “racketeers, police characters, and business men” queued up at the hospital to donate blood to their ailing friend–but Hogan slipped into a coma and died at around 9 p.m. His murder is still unsolved.

· 1992: President George H.W. Bush orders 28,000 U.S. troops to Somalia, a war-torn East African nation where rival warlords were preventing the distribution of humanitarian aid to thousands of starving Somalis. In a military mission he described as “God’s work,” Bush said that America must act to save more than a million Somali lives, but reassured Americans that “this operation is not open-ended” and that “we will not stay one day longer than is absolutely necessary.” Unfortunately, America’s humanitarian troops became embroiled in Somalia’s political conflict, and the controversial mission stretched on for 15 months before being abruptly called off by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

· Stripes: Lawmakers face long to-do list that could have big impacts for veterans and service members

· Marine Corps Times: Marine Corps no longer pursuing courts-martial for Marines arrested at battalion formation for alleged human smuggling

· Military.com: Veterans with Base Access Still Face Delays on New Commissary Benefit

· The Hill: Republicans raise concerns over Trump pardoning service members

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Stripes: Lawmakers face long to-do list that could have big impacts for veterans and service members

By STEVE BEYNON | STARS AND STRIPES

Published: December 3, 2019

WASHINGTON — As the year comes to a close, the fate of multiple big-ticket issues including health care and education benefits impacting thousands of service members and veterans remain uncertain with only a few legislative days left and federal employees eyeing Christmas vacation.

New Year’s kick-off for Blue Water claims

The Department of Veterans Affairs will start processing Agent Orange disability claims Jan. 1 for Blue Water Navy veterans though lawmakers are skeptical the VA will be ready.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said his department will work through the December holidays to prepare for a long roster of veterans claiming overdue benefits. Estimates range from 90,000 to more than 400,000 veterans could be entitled to Blue Water claims.

The Blue Water Navy Act of 2019, which was signed into law in June, states veterans aboard American vessels off Vietnam’s coast between Jan. 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange, a chemical herbicide, and might be entitled to disability benefits.

Suicide bill to expand care beyond VA

A House bill aimed to combat the crisis of veteran suicides by giving federal funds to programs outside the VA is expected to move forward despite some tense exchanges between lawmakers and the VA. There are multiple versions of the bill on the table, including a compromise from Republicans that aims to quell some concerns from Democrats. The VA estimates the program will cost $85 million for three years, but that amount could change.

Wilkie’s office lobbied congressional offices to get support for the bill, drawing the ire of House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs chairman, Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif. Takano contended Wilkie stepped out of line interfering in negotiations over the bill.

Wilkie got into a tense exchange with Takano at a hearing over the measure, saying committee leadership is focusing too much on the process instead of the bipartisan support to expand mental health care and that action has to be swift after years of efforts have seemingly had little impact. Takano pressed Wilkie with questions on oversight limitations, concerned federal dollars could be unaccounted for and that there aren’t clear standards for which organizations get elevated at taxpayers’ expense.

Despite the squabbling, Takano and Wilkie said they are confident some version of the measure will see progress by Christmas.

Hearing on military housing crisis

After a series of news reports, hearings, and lawsuits filed by military families that have pushed for base housing reform, there is a hearing in both chambers of Congress this week on substandard housing conditions at bases across the country.

The three service secretaries and four service chiefs testified Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The House on Thursday is set to question representatives of some housing companies about substandard conditions provided to military families.

The crisis has been a hot button issue for years in the military, drawing near universal indignation within the ranks and families highlighting shockingly poor living conditions with health hazards, dodgy infrastructure, and generally poor upkeep from private companies contracted to provide housing.

GI Bill on the southern border

National Guard troops who have deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border have not been accruing GI Bill benefits, despite President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration entitling soldiers to federal benefits, and universal agreement on Capitol Hill and veteran advocacy groups that some troops have been seemingly short-changed and not given a lot of answers.

Maj. Gen. Dawne Deskins, director of manpower and personnel at the National Guard Bureau, told lawmakers in October that the issue just recently reached the Defense Department. National Guard and DoD officials said the Pentagon is reviewing the issue, but it remains unclear whether soldiers will get their education benefits ahead of the spring semester.

Congressional staffers are working with defense officials on a fix. However, two top Republicans on the House VA committee wrote a letter in September to the defense secretary, asking for the Pentagon to explain what’s holding up benefits for soldiers. They have not yet received a response.

Some unit leadership have told soldiers that they aren’t entitled to GI Bill benefits for their domestic service, spurring confusion within the ranks. However, some troops are getting letters from the VA instructing them on how to attain GI Bill benefits for their southern border deployment.

beynon.steven
Twitter: @StevenBeynon

Marine Corps Times: Marine Corps no longer pursuing courts-martial for Marines arrested at battalion formation for alleged human smuggling

By: Philip Athey6 hours ago

The Marine Corps said it is no longer pursuing courts-martial for Marines charged in connection to an alleged human smuggling ring and arrested at a July 25 battalion formation.

A military judge said leaders of 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, violated the rights of the accused as unlawful command influence, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported Tuesday.

The Marine Corps will now pursue administrative punishment for the Marines arrested at the formation, an action that is not affected by the court ruling of unlawful command influence, Marine spokesman 1st Lt. Cameron Edinburgh told Marine Corps Times in a Tuesday evening phone call.

Edinburgh said most of the ten Marines arrested will be administratively separated, but did not give an exact number.

Unlawful military command influence occurs when a person with command authority influences or appears to influence the outcome of a trial.

The ruling came after the lawyers for Lance Cpl. Jose Garcia filed a motion claiming the public arrest violated their client’s rights.

Lawyers for the other nine Marines arrested at the formation ― including Cpl. Trenton Elliot who had his first hearing in mid-November ― filed similar motions.

They called for the cases to be thrown out after a video of the formation was provided to them in discovery and evidence arose that Lt. Col. Eric Olson, the battalion commanding officer, allegedly called the accused Marines a “cancer” on the battalion instead of reaffirming that they were innocent until proven guilty.

Twenty-three Marines with 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, were arrested in July for various alleged offenses, Edinburgh said in a Tuesday press release. Some of the arrests were associated with the alleged human smuggling case, others were on unrelated charges.

Of the 23 Marines arrested, six have pleaded guilty to charges at their courts-martial, the press release said.

Thirteen have “submitted and have approved pre-trial agreements requesting separation in lieu of courts-martial or waiving administrative separation boards." The final four Marines are in the process of being adjudicated, the press release stated.

The investigation into the alleged smuggling ring began when Border Patrol agents arrested two Marines, Lance Cpl. Byron Darnell Law II and Lance Cpl. David Javier Salazar-Quintero, near the U.S.-Mexico border July 3.

Military.com: Veterans with Base Access Still Face Delays on New Commissary Benefit

3 Dec 2019

Military.com | By Dorothy Mills-Gregg

Having prior access to a base won’t be enough to allow newly eligible veterans to shop at its commissary and exchange Jan. 1, Military.com has learned.

Beginning Jan. 1, Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war, veterans with any service-connected disability will be eligible to shop at on-base facilities — if they hold a Veterans Health Identification Card. But access will be delayed for those who do not have a VHIC as military officials negotiate access to secure military facilities for what may potentially be millions of new shoppers.

And that delay applies even to those prospective customers who are able to get on base under other forms of Defense Department or Coast Guard identification, such as contractors and DoD civilian employees.

This is because there’s no other way to differentiate one Department of Defense or Coast Guard credential holder from someone who is eligible to shop at commissaries, exchanges and MWR facilities, like golf courses or movie theaters, a DoD spokeswoman said via email.

The DoD and Department of Veterans Affairs announced last month it will let eligible veterans gain access to these facilities in two phases.

The first group to be able to shop on bases are veterans with a VHIC that displays their status. They are joined by veteran caregivers registered in the VA’s caregiver program and equipped with a letter certifying their eligibility.

It has not yet been announced when the second group, veterans without this VA health insurance card, will be allowed base access.

"While DoD and Coast Guard civilian employees and contractors have access to installations through DoD and Coast Guard-issued credentials," the spokeswoman wrote, "if those credentials do not authorize commissary or exchange access in the capacity for which they were issued (specific affiliation with the DoD or Coast Guard), they cannot be accepted for access to benefits outside of that affiliation with DoD or the Coast Guard."

"Bottom line," she concluded, "the credential used must be authorized for access to the benefit."