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Flag amendment introduced in Senate

The amendment would restore the power of Congress to protect the U.S. Flag from desecration

WASHINGTON, June 14, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — For the ninth time in his career, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, proposed a flag-protection amendment in the Senate on June 13. Hatch introduced Senate Joint Resolution 17, proposing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would give Congress the authority to protect the U.S. Flag from physical desecration.

The American Legion has staunchly supported such an amendment since 1989. On June 22 of that year, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Texas v. Johnson that the state’s flag-protection law violated the First Amendment; a year later, it declared the same was true for federal law.

“This amendment is often misunderstood,” said James E. Koutz, national commander of The American Legion. “It does not protect the U.S. Flag. It merely returns to Congress the power to pass legislation that would protect the flag, a power that was taken away from them by the Supreme Court in 1989. It is time to correct this mistake – now.”

Hatch echoed Koutz’s clarification in his own remarks, saying that even if the amendment was ratified, it “would not prohibit flag desecration. It would merely give Congress authority to do so.”

If passed by Congress, the amendment would have to be ratified by three-fourths of the country’s state governments before it became the Constitution’s 28th amendment.

The House version of the flag-amendment proposal, H.J. Res. 47, was introduced May 22 by Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., and Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill.

“On this Flag Day, tens of millions of Americans will be inspired by the sight and beauty of the U.S. Flag,” Bachus said. “It is an appropriate time for Congress to begin to take steps to honor and protect the most recognized symbol of freedom and democracy in the world.”

Calling the protection of the U.S. Flag “a responsibility for all Americans,” Lipinski said he cherished First Amendment rights but firmly believed that “purposeful flag desecration is an offensive act that cannot and should not be tolerated.” As a congressman representing a district with more than 30,000 veterans, Lipinski said he has “worked alongside too many veterans – and attended far too many memorial ceremonies for soldiers killed in action – to ever think otherwise.”

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.V., a co-sponsor of the resolution, said America’s patriots have fought and died to defend the U.S. Flag for more than two centuries, “and this amendment makes clear that the American people, through their elected lawmakers, have the constitutional authority to protect their flag from desecration.”

Noting that voting Americans have the ultimate authority to change the Constitution’s rules for government, Hatch said “Congress should not deprive the American people of the opportunity to express their will on this important issue. The American people want that opportunity. All 50 state legislatures have indicated their support for a constitutional amendment to allow the protection of the flag.”

The proposed amendment is a single sentence: “The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.” Hatch’s resolution has 21 co-sponsors, including senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John McCain of Arizona, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Marco Rubio of Florida.

“At a time when many issues divide us, the flag to which we pledge allegiance ought to be one thing that unites us,” Hatch said.

Media contact: Joe March, (317) 630-1253 / (317)748-1926, John Raughter, (317) 630-1350 / (317)441-8847 or Marty Callaghan, (202)263-5758 / (202)215-8644.

SOURCE The American Legion

 

American Legion praises Congress for passage of new Stolen Valor Act

WASHINGTON (May 23, 2013) – The American Legion is praising Congress for passing the new Stolen Valor Act, which addresses areas that were previously ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

The new Stolen Valor Act would make it a crime to profit from lies about military awards and decorations, as opposed to the previous law which criminalized the wearing of unearned medals.  If signed into law by President Obama as expected, this act will cover issues ranging from lying to receive veteran or health care benefits, to obtaining a government contract only eligible for a veteran- or service-disabled veteran owned business, or getting a job reserved for a veteran.

“Last night the United States Senate voted to pass the House version of the Stolen Valor Act by unanimous consent,” said James E. Koutz, national commander of The American Legion.  “Within days it will be the law of the land once again.  The American Legion is proud to have aided in its passage, and would like to especially thank Senators (Dean) Heller and (Jon)Tester for sponsoring and shepherding the bill through the Senate, and Representative (Joe) Heck for doing the same in the House.”

Noting that only three of the 535 Members of Congress voted in opposition, Koutz praised Congress for the overwhelming bipartisanship displayed.

“It is appropriate that Congress would work together to pass this important legislation as Americans prepare to celebrate their cherished fallen heroes on this Memorial Day.  Both Majority Leader (Harry) Reid and Speaker (John) Boehner ensured that it received a quick vote, and for that we are very appreciative.  We are confident that the concerns of the Supreme Court have been addressed and that this bill will pass constitutional muster.”

Delegates to The American Legion’s National Convention last August unanimously passed Resolution No. 27, which called for passage of this legislation.

With a current membership of 2.4-million wartime veterans, The American Legion was founded in 1919 on the four pillars of a strong national security, veterans affairs, Americanism, and youth programs. Legionnaires work for the betterment of their communities through more than 14,000 posts across the nation.

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Media contact:  Marty Callaghan, (202)263-5758 / (202)215-8644 or Joe March, (317) 630-1253 / (317)748-1926, John Raughter, (317) 630-1350 / (317)441-8847.

The American Legion Washington DC Office *HOT ISSUES*

May 16, 2013 – ISSUES–

VA Medical Leases

The VA&R and Legislative division are working together on a Legislative Grassroots message regarding Senate Bill 412.  The bill was to reauthorize medical leases for the 26 clinics that are expiring this year.   In the bill’s current form, it does not address the Congressional Budget Office change to their scoring methodology that required VA to submit their funding requests for leases as capital rather than operational.   The original cost to renew these leases were $18 million and under the change to scoring, VA would be required to pay for the 20 year facility cost upfront at a cost of $2.5 billion.  Because of the scoring change, these leases are in jeopardy of expiring as well as any future expansion of
Community Based Outpatient Clinics will be affected.   The Spring NEC approved Resolution 24 – Congressional Budget Office Scoring of VA Medical Center facilities two weeks ago and VA&R and the Legislative division are crafting a statement for a Legislative Action Network update to all Legion departments.  Additionally, staff is working with Congress and the local media on the implications of these leases expiring and the
increased travel veterans will face in driving to VA Medical Centers.

ACTIONS –

  • Hosted a briefing from Department of Justice representatives on consumer fraud and how VSO’s can help protect Veterans from becoming victims.
  • Staff met with Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims Judge and PNC Al Lance, Judge Robert Davis and Mary Hagy, CEO of cWyze, Inc. to discuss improved outreach and mentoring to Veterans seeking to start their own business.
  • Staff attended a briefing by the War Related Illness and Injury Study Center (WRIISC) that provided an update on research and programs addressing TBI and PTSD treatment.
  • Staff will be meeting with Paul Fain, Senior Reporter, Inside Higher Education, to discuss higher education policies, legislation, and begin identifying panel members and participants for The American Legion’s National Convention upcoming Education Roundtable.
  • Staff will be briefing the National Press Club American Legion Post 20, Washington, DC on the Legion’s national legislative priorities and how the national office operates.

Background: American Legion Post 20 was founded at the National Press Club on November 11, 1919, one year after the signing of the armistice which ended the First World War. The Post also was called the Pershing Post or the Black Jack Post in honor of General John J. Pershing. Pershing, who had served as commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force was an associate member of the Club, in his capacity as Chief of Staff of the War Department, then in retirement. The Post has been an active part of the National Press Club since its founding. One of its best known projects was the sponsorship of the World War II canteen at the Club. Enlisted men from the Allied Forces were entertained at the Club on Saturday afternoons and Post members served drinks and hotdogs to all. Today, American Legion Post 20 hosts regular programs at the Club.

Staff is participating in a working group at the Department of Energy with representatives from NIBS (National Institute of Building Sciences), GSA, FEMP, and some veterans credentialing experts to discuss how the various pieces of our workforce efforts fit together: the national commercial workforce certifications with NIBS, the EE Hub Competency Model, the Federal Building Personnel Training Act, and the Veterans Skills to Jobs Act.

  • Staff will meet with Phillip Trigg, Vice President of Vet Transition Forum – an organization dedicated to providing veteran Entrepreneurial Training and Franchise start-up. The organization operates out of the George Mason University Enterprise Center, where they provide entrepreneurial training to veterans. The Economic Division will discuss ways we can assist each other in
    programmatic outreach and perhaps work together in the future.
  • Staff attended the VET-Force meeting held at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to hear updates on the state of VA’s Vet First Program, VA’s National Veterans Small Business Conference, and SBA’s progress on the Boots to Business Entrepreneurial pilot program in compliance with the VOW Act, along with their progress in finding ways to increase access to capital for veterans.
  • Staff participated in a conference call with Sen. Murray’s (WA) staff to discuss support for the HAVEN Act. If enacted the HAVEN Act would establish a pilot program to authorize the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to make grants to nonprofit organizations to rehabilitate and modify homes for disabled and low-income veterans.
  • Staff met with Senators Reed (RI) and Johanns (NE) staff to discuss support for the HAVEN Act.
  • Staff spoke with Representative Green (TX) staff to discuss HAVEN Act. Rep. Green reintroduced this bill in the 113th Congress – we discussed co-sponsorship and strategizing on how to get the bill through the House.
  • Staff will be meeting with Senator Sanders staff to discuss HAVEN Act.
  • Planning continues for Job Fairs in Michigan, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington.
  • Staff met with Senator Hatch’s office to discuss his sponsorship of the Flag Amendment.  Senator Hatch plans on introducing the legislation on Friday, the 14th of June (Flag Day).  Also, Staff met with representatives from AFGE to discuss legislation relevant veterans preference and employment.
  • Staff participated in a Seniors Advisory Council meeting hosted by Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) to discuss strategies for protecting COLA from the threat of Chained CPI.  Also, Staff met with representative from Rep Gabbard’s (HI) office and Rep Duckworth (IL) to discuss TAL legislative priorities and pending legislations that is being sponsored by the House Armed Services Committee.
  • Staff attended an event sponsored by The Heritage Foundation titled – “Serving Those Who Serve”.  The briefing focused on the needs of transitioning Veterans.

HEARINGS-

May 21st

House Veterans Affairs Committee

Legislative Hearing on Draft Legislation, ‘The Veterans Integrated Mental Health Care Act of 2013’; Draft Legislation, ‘The Demanding
Accountability for Veterans Act of 2013’; HR 241; HR 288; HR 984; and HR 1284.

May 22nd

House Veterans Affairs Committee

Expediting Claims or Exploiting Statistics? An Examination of VA’s Special Initiative to Process Rating Claims Pending Over Two Years

Legion calls for ‘zero tolerance’ of military sexual assault

WASHINGTON (May 9, 2013) — The American Legion’s governing body today approved a resolution urging the U.S. Armed Forces to enforce a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual assault committed by and against members of the U.S. military. The resolution comes during a week in which the Air Force’s chief of sexual assault prevention was arrested and charged with sexual battery – and the Pentagon reported that sexual assaults in the military are occurring at a rate of more than 70 per day.

“Even before these two incidents, The American Legion already had taken an active role in raising awareness about the issue of military sexual trauma,” American Legion National Commander James E. Koutz said. “Nearly a year ago, Legion representatives testified before a House  Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee that the Department of Veterans Affairs should adjudicate cases of military sexual trauma in the same manner as veterans suffering from combat trauma. The Legion has called for every VA facility to have a military sexual
trauma coordinator on staff.

“But treatment is only half of the equation. The other half is prevention of the assault, and one way to prevent a crime is to make the punishment severe enough to deter that crime from being committed. The Department of Defense needs to send a message throughout its ranks that those who commit this crime will be dealt with severely.”

Convening authorities in court-martial proceedings have the power to dismiss or set aside finding of guilty, as well as the power to reduce the degree of punishment issued by a judge or panel. Resolution 9, passed by the Legion’s National Executive Committee in Indianapolis, urges Congress to pass legislation prohibiting convening authorities from dismissing or setting aside a finding of guilty – or reducing a finding of guilty to a lesser offense – in cases of sexual assault. The Legion also urges the Defense secretary to direct the Joint Chiefs of Staff to “take necessary measures to dismantle any military culture that condones, tolerates or otherwise allows sexual assault among servicemembers as an
acceptable form of behavior.”

Passage of the resolution came within days of Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski – head of the Air Force’s sexual assault prevention and response branch – was arrested and charged with sexual battery. He was relieved from his position.

The Pentagon’s report also showed that the number of anonymous claims of sexual assault in the military grew from 19,000 in fiscal 2011 to 26,000 in 2012.

“The men and women wearing this nation’s uniform are among the best and brightest our country has to offer,” Koutz said. “But in those instances when a crime of this nature is committed by one servicemember against another, the uniform of the perpetrator is disgraced and justice must be served. There can be no gray areas. If you sexually assault a fellow servicemember, you will receive the punishment you deserve.”

On Tuesday, DoD Secretary Chuck Hagel announced a revised sexual assault and prevention plan, as well as the implementation of measures specifically addressing accountability, command climate and victim advocacy.

“I applaud Secretary Hagel for responding quickly to this situation,” Koutz said. “The safety and welfare of our men and women in uniform need to be the highest priority, and this new policy is a positive step in that direction.”

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Contact: Craig Roberts: 202-263-2982/202-406-0887, croberts@legion.org. A high resolution photo of Nat. Cmdr. Koutz is available at www.legion.org.