1 February, 2019 07:06

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Friday, February 1, 2019 which is GI Joe Day, National Freedom Day, Car Insurance Day and Robinson Crusoe Day.

This Day in History:


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    Legion.org: Mint hosts first strike of American Legion commemorative coin
    By Matt Grills
    JAN 31, 2019
    FacebookGoogle BookmarkMore1.5K
    The first American Legion commemorative coins came off the press Thursday during a ceremonial striking at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia.
    "As we reflect on our legacy of support to our nation’s veterans, servicemembers and their families in patriotic communities everywhere, these coins are lasting and timeless expressions of the service and values The American Legion holds dear," National Commander Brett Reistad said.
    "I am proud that all surcharges received from sales of American Legion commemorative coins will help us continue to fulfill our mission. Whether it is delivering hope in a time of need, advocating for veterans benefits, giving college scholarships to our nation’s youth or providing much-needed assistance to veterans, servicemembers and their families, The American Legion will be there."
    Set to go on sale March 14, coinciding with The American Legion’s 100th birthday, the silver dollar pays tribute to the organization’s Paris founding. The coin’s heads side, or obverse, is designed by Paul Balan and features the American Legion emblem surrounded by oak leaves and a lily. The reverse side is designed by Patricia Lucas-Morris and has crossed U.S. and American Legion flags under a fleur-de-lis, with the dates 1919-2019 and the inscription 100 YEARS OF SERVICE.
    Following remarks by Reistad and David Croft, the Mint’s associate director of manufacturing, the commander stepped up to a German-made Gräbener coinage press to feed in a 1-ounce pure silver blank, an inch and a half in diameter. It was struck three times by the coinage dies, with a striking pressure of roughly 190 tons per strike.
    "Every day across America, the Mint connects Americans through coins, and it is our great privilege to connect America to the legacy of the nation’s largest wartime veterans service organization," Croft said. "We hope you will be as pleased with these coins as we are."
    Past National Commanders Denise Rohan and David Rehbein joined Reistad at the first strike, along with National Adjutant Daniel Wheeler, Marketing Commission Chairman James Rohan, Past Pennsylvania Department Commander Paul Kennedy and American Legion Auxiliary National President Kathy Dungan.
    Also present were former House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman Steve Buyer, R-Ind., and former U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, who in 2017 rallied their congressional colleagues to support H.R. 2519, known as the American Legion 100th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act.
    "The overwhelming support for this legislation was an incredible testament to the respect that The American Legion has in our country, among Republicans, Democrats, independents, people from all walks of life," Edwards said. "To pass this bill was a way we could say ‘thank you’ to the Legion for the positive influence it’s had on our nation."
    "Today, in the same place where our country was founded, we get to honor an organization that has taken those values of our founding fathers and carried them forward into the 21st century."
    In addition to the American Legion silver dollar, the Mint will sell a $5 gold piece and a clad half-dollar. The gold coin’s obverse is designed by Chris Costello, and features the Eiffel Tower and a V for Victory in World War I, with LIBERTY and 1919-2019 encircled by the outer ring of the Legion’s emblem. The reverse side, designed by Paul Balan, has a soaring bald eagle and the American Legion emblem.
    The clad coin is designed by Richard Masters; the heads side depicts two children, one wearing her father’s American Legion cap, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, while the reverse shows a billowing U.S. flag and American Legion emblem above the words … OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
    Passed by Congress on Oct. 6, 2017, Public Law 115-65 allows the Mint to strike and issue 50,000 of the gold coins, 400,000 of the silver dollars and 750,000 of the half-dollars.
    "We all want to leave a legacy," Rehbein said. "These coins are an outstanding symbol of an individual’s legacy, as to what they accomplished as part of The American Legion. It’s not just what The American Legion accomplished; it’s what Legionnaires accomplished. We don’t do things as a large mass. We do them as individuals. I’d like to see people buy a coin, maybe a set, to pass along to their families as a reminder of what we’ve achieved as Legionnaires."
    The American Legion 100th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act had broad support on Capitol Hill. The House version of the bill had 385 cosponsors — more than any other coin bill authorized in the past decade.
    "The American Legion, I think, represents the fabric of America," Buyer said. "My grandfather was a charter member of a post in Francesville, Ind., when he returned from World War I, and my parents dedicated their lives to The American Legion. My mother was a past president of the Auxiliary in Indiana, and my father was a district commander.
    "Having a coin to commemorate its 100th anniversary is an opportunity for the Legion to look back and say, ‘What is the impact we’ve had on the nation? Have we served the ideals of the charter members?’ I would say the Legion has done well, and it’s the next 100 years everyone’s looking forward to."
    Holding an American Legion silver dollar left Buyer "glassy-eyed," he said. "I remember as a young boy, maybe 10 or 11 years old, every time I would walk into the Francesville post I would look up on the wall and see my grandfather’s picture. He was a past commander." He felt that pride again today, he added.
    The commemorative coins were designed through the Artist Infusion program and U.S. Mint sculptors and engravers, in consultation with The American Legion, the Citizens Coin Advisory Committee and the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts.
    At the Legion’s 100th National Convention in Minneapolis last August, U.S. Mint Director David Ryder said sales could raise up to $9.5 million for the organization’s programs and services.
    To be added to the mailing list for updates, go to legion.org/coin. For prices and other ordering information, go to usmint.gov.
    AP:American Legion seeks Pentagon action on NY WWII unknowns
    Originally published February 1, 2019 at 3:03 am Updated February 1, 2019 at 3:04 am

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    FILE – This undated file photo provided by the U.S. Navy shows the USS Turner on the East River in New York City near the Williamsburg Bridge. The USS Turner exploded and sank in 1944. American Legion officials are… (U.S. Navy via AP, File)More
    The Associated Press
    ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — American Legion officials are calling on New York lawmakers to request the Pentagon exhume the Long Island graves of sailors killed in a World War II ship explosion in an attempt to identify the fallen servicemen.
    The American Legion’s New York state organization approved a resolution in early January that seeks the state Legislature’s and New York congressional delegation’s help in persuading the Department of Defense to exhume remains buried as unknowns in Long Island National Cemetery in Farmington.
    “You don’t leave a former comrade behind. To me that’s what they did. They didn’t identify these people and get them home,” Gary Schacher, commander of the American Legion New York Department, told The Associated Press Thursday.
    Four graves are known to contain the remains of some of the 136 sailors killed when the USS Turner exploded and sank near the entrance to New York Harbor on Jan. 3, 1944. The total number of sailors buried in each grave isn’t known. Each gravestone is engraved with the words “Unknown U.S. Sailor” and the date of the sinking.

    Navy officials said internal explosions of unknown origin sank the destroyer, which had just returned from convoy duty in the Atlantic Ocean. An exact cause for the explosion was never determined. About 150 sailors survived the blast.
    The Pentagon’s Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency is tasked with recovering and identifying the nation’s war dead from previous conflicts. In February 2017, DPAA officials told the AP that dental records and other documents that could help identify the remains buried in the Long Island graves were missing. The agency said at that time the officials said an effort was being made to find those documents.
    It couldn’t immediately be determined from DPAA officials if the records were found.
    Schacher, a retired Navy chief petty officer, said he had never heard of the Turner until a fellow legionnaire whose relative died in the disaster mentioned it to him two years ago. Schacher vowed if he became state commander he’d launch an effort to have the Turner unknowns exhumed and identified.
    “We take care of our shipmates,” he said.
    Military Times: New VA health care rules: Trump overreach or more choice for vets?
    By:Leo Shane III   15 hours ago
    WASHINGTON — The fight over privatizing Veterans Affairs health care is about to escalate.
    On Wednesday, department officials released their first public draft of new rulesregarding which veterans will be eligible for private-sector medical appointments covered by taxpayer funds. The rules amount to a massive expansion of those outside care options, potentially adding more than 1 million more patients to community care programs.
    Almost immediately, critics attacked the plan as an overreach by President Donald Trump’s administration to shift patients and funding from the federal veterans medical system to the private sector, in an attempt to undermine government backed health care. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., has promised a public hearing on the issue in coming weeks.
    “Rather than working to find an equilibrium within the system by building up VA’s ability to deliver high quality care, … today’s announcement places VA on a pathway to privatization and leads Congress to assume the worst,” he said in a statement after the rules release.
    The draft standards could massively expand the number of outside medical appointments that taxpayers have to fund.
    But VA officials are calling those reactions nothing more than hyperbolic partisanship, and they said the new rules are designed to give veterans more options, not undermine the existing system.
    They also insist that the changes won’t significantly alter how the majority of veterans in America get their care, since many are satisfied with their current care plans. The small percentage who aren’t will now enjoy more choices, with the government picking up the bill.
    “Most Americans can already choose the health care providers that they trust, and President (Donald) Trump promised that veterans would be able to do the same,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.
    “With VA’s new access standards, the future of the VA health care system will lie in the hands of veterans, exactly where it should be.”
    The rules release is the culmination of nearly two years of debate within veterans community over how to balance promised health care with program reforms — and whether Trump supporters have pushed that line too far. Now, the disagreements are likely to get even more attention, as outside groups view the fight as a proxy for broader arguments over whether the president is interested in improving federal agencies or dismantling them.

    Washington Post:These Marines were falsely accused of war crimes. Twelve years later, they have vindication.
    By Andrew deGrandpre
    January 31 at 6:15 PM
    A Marine veteran who fought the Pentagon for 12 years over a war-crimes case brought against him and six others will have his permanent record wiped clean, an extraordinary affirmation of his claim that their reputations were destroyed by the military’s effort to imprison the men.
    The Marines were members of an elite commando force expelled from Afghanistan in 2007 amid unproven allegations that they massacred innocent bystanders in the frantic minutes following an ambush. They were cleared of wrongdoing more than a year later, after the case was heard by a military court, but have maintained that senior leaders did little to set the record straight and, consequently, fostered the stigma that has dogged them ever since.
    A report approved in January by the Navy Department is a major victory for retired Maj. Fred Galvin, the Marines’ commanding officer. Its conclusions, he says, are a rebuke of those who condemned his men before the facts were clear, the investigator whose work was shown in court to be sloppy and the generals who refused Galvin’s pleas for public absolution.
    In its ruling, the Board for Correction of Naval Records said Galvin, 49, should be considered for a retroactive promotion. If granted, he would be entitled to hundreds of thousands of dollars in back salary and future government pension benefits, as he was forced to retire in 2014 after his superiors relied on “inequitable and unjust” performance appraisals, the report states, to prevent him from advancing in rank. Of the seven swept up in the case, Galvin is the only one to pursue such vindication.
    More broadly, the board’s determination closes one of the Afghanistan war’s darkest chapters, an episode that unleashed international outrage only to be proved a fabrication engineered by the Taliban to fuel distrust of the U.S. military. Those involved fought for their lives that day only to be denounced by senior officers who had an obligation to protect their presumption of innocence.
    “This was a big betrayal,” said Steve Morgan, a retired Marine officer and decorated combat veteran who in 2008 was part of the court panel that found Galvin’s Marines acted honorably on the battlefield. The panel also memorialized the failures committed by the Marines’ superiors during and after the investigation.
    “Fred has finally come out on the right side of things, but it has come at a very steep price,” Morgan added. “The lies. The deceit. That makes me so mad. That kind of behavior doesn’t inspire confidence in the ethics of our military’s leaders. It corrodes public trust in the institution.”
    Galvin was the commanding officer of Marine Special Operations Company Fox. On March 4, 2007, as he and 29 others traveled in a six-vehicle convoy through the village of Bati Kot, a suicide bomber driving a van packed with explosives attacked the American vehicles and then fighters on both sides of the road opened fire. The Marines fought back and escaped with only one minor casualty.
    But in the fight’s immediate aftermath, images of bullet-riddled vehicles and ambulances loading bloodied Afghan men were transmitted worldwide. Accounts gathered at the scene portrayed the Marines as murderers, and allegations of wrongdoing were fueled by erroneous media coverage and a bogus narrative fostered by American military officials who fed false information to news outlets, the court’s conclusions would later make clear.
    Galvin harbors resentment for many, peers and superiors alike. “That 12-page report is an indictment,” he said. “It shows the decay of ethical and moral leadership in our military. And the people who did this to us got a free pass.”
    Chief among his adversaries is John W. Nicholson Jr., who retired from the Army last year after ascending to the rank of four-star general and serving for 2 1 / 2 years as the head of all NATO forces in Afghanistan. When the incident occurred, Nicholson was a colonel and brigade commander overseeing operations in the area, along the mountainous span of Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan that was thought to be harboring al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
    Francis H. Kearney III, then a two-star Army general with purview of covert Special Operations activity in Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East, dispatched his chief of staff, Patrick Pihana, to investigate.
    Independent assessments of the casualty count varied widely. Amid widespread protests in Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, the country’s president at the time, condemned the Marines. Hoping to contain the backlash, Nicholson broadcast an apologetic statement declaring the incident a “stain” on the U.S. military’s honor.
    Privately, officials were suspicious of the unit because of a separate incident involving Galvin’s men in which, days after the ambush, they deceived him and other leaders to undertake a mission in an area declared off limits. Commanders in Afghanistan, still riled by the allegations of indiscriminate killing, pointed to the Marines’ duplicity as evidence that Galvin had lost control of his unit. He was relieved of command and Fox Company was sent home.
    The Navy review board sided with Galvin here, too, concluding that his superiors “grossly overreacted” and did not differentiate between the two incidents when ordering the Marines to leave.
    Nicholson and Kearney, who retired as a three-star general in 2012, are not named in the new report. However, it makes clear that senior U.S. officials made “gross errors in judgment” leading up to Kearney’s decision to eject the Marines from Afghanistan, and that along with the Taliban’s deception, Army leaders were the “proximate causes” for inciting the chain of events that led to that decision.
    The report’s harshest language is directed at Pihana, whose investigation, it notes, was discredited in court years ago, in part because he was found to have suppressed evidence that supported the Marines’ version of events — and was suspected by the court of having been influenced by Kearney, his direct superior.
    “The magnitude of his errors,” the report says, “cannot be overstated.” Pihana’s conclusion — that Galvin and the others should be charged with negligent homicide or dereliction of duty — is “explicable only as gross negligence or a mission with a predetermined outcome,” the report says.
    Neither Nicholson, Kearney nor Pihana responded to requests for comment.
    Morgan has urged members of Congress to push the Pentagon to reexamine whether Nicholson, Kearney or Pihana violated military regulations or laws in their pursuit of a criminal case and, if so, to hold them accountable.
    “Nicholson and Kearney perpetuated the myth these Marines did bad things, and they’ve done nothing to set the record straight,” Morgan told The Washington Post. “I’ve got no time for those guys.”
    In 2015, when Military Times reexamined this case in a multipart series, Kearney said he ordered the investigation at the Marine Corps’ request because, he recalled, there was pressure on the military to demonstrate accountability in light of two unrelated war-crimes cases involving U.S. personnel in Iraq. “If these Marines have heartburn,” he said, “it should be with the Marine Corps.”
    It was Jim Mattis, a revered Marine general and recently departed defense secretary, who convened the tribunal that ultimately determined that none of the Marines should be charged. The hearings spanned three weeks in January 2008. Four months later, at the outset of Memorial Day weekend, Mattis’s successor, having assessed the court’s findings, issued a brief statement affirming that Galvin’s men had “acted appropriately.”
    [No charges for two Marines in deaths of Afghans]
    That phrase still bothers the Marines, who say it was not a firm enough declaration of their innocence, and that it has been misinterpreted inside and outside the military to mean “we got away with murder,” Galvin said. He also questions the announcement’s timing, calling it a deliberate move to bury the story. As a consequence, those assigned to the unit were ostracized.
    “Sometimes now, when I reflect on it, I think that if this didn’t happen, I’d be four years from retirement. I could have stayed in and made that my career,” said one of the Marines who was falsely accused and left the military voluntarily in 2008, when his contract expired. He spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing lingering concerns about retaliation.
    “This devastated my life — my family, my legal expenses, being separated from the Marine Corps, not knowing if one day someone was going to knock on my door and take me to Fort Leavenworth,” he added, referring to the Army post in northeast Kansas that is home to the military’s only supermax prison.
    The stress — and the shame — has been a burden on all of them, leading to substance abuse, divorce and thoughts of suicide in some cases, Galvin said.
    As their former commanding officer, Galvin has continued to press Marine Corps headquarters to do more to set the record straight. Beginning in 2015, with support from five members of Congress, multiple entreaties have been made to the service’s most senior officer: first, to Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., who became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff later that year, and then to Dunford’s successor, Gen. Robert B. Neller.
    When approached by lawmakers, Dunford and Neller each declined to revisit the matter or make any public statements of support for the Fox Company Marines. In his correspondence to members of Congress, Dunford restated the court’s findings from years prior, saying that neither Galvin nor his men faced any punitive measures. “Nor is there any adverse information in their military records associated with this incident,” the general noted then, incorrectly.
    Galvin grew hopeful when Neller announced in 2016 that he was making suicide prevention a signature focus of his term as the Marine Corps commandant. “We can’t afford to lose a single Marine to anything, whether it be accident, injury or suicide,” Neller told Marine Corps Times then. “I can tell you — giving my solemn word — that the Marine Corps will try to help anyone who comes forward.”

    Last February, under pressure from Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.), Neller’s staff director at the time, Maj. Gen. Frederick M. Padilla, pledged that the service would provide counseling and other assistance to Galvin and his men. “We are concerned to hear of the challenges many members of Fox Company are facing — which are, unfortunately, all too common among our combat veterans,” Padilla wrote to Jones. “I have asked the Commanding Officer of our Wounded Warrior Regiment to follow-up with these Marines to ensure they are receiving appropriate and all necessary care and support.”
    No one from the Marine Corps contacted them, Galvin said, until reading about Padilla’s directive in The Post several weeks later.
    At the Pentagon, Dunford and Neller have acknowledged the review board’s determination. “General Dunford was pleased to learn about Maj. Galvin’s exoneration and also appreciates his efforts to take care of the Marines from Fox Company,” said Col. Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for the chairman.
    Neller said: “We have a system through which Marines can try to remediate actions believed to have been unfair or incorrect. In this case, it seems the system worked as designed, and Maj. Galvin had his record cleared. We all wish him well.”
    The Marines hope the military will do more to demonstrate that they are not outcasts but victims. “Military justice requires that those who . . . have conducted wrongdoing be held accountable,” Galvin said, “not just that those offended be patted on the back.”
    Military Times: Academy sex assaults up 47% since 2016, DoD estimates
    By:Tara Copp   .3K

    The U.S. Military Academy at West Point. (U.S. Military Academy)
    The number of unwanted sexual encounters for cadets at the nation’s service academies has risen sharply in the last two years, the Defense Department said, which raises alarms that current efforts to create a safer atmosphere on those campuses have failed.
    The estimated number of incidents of unwanted sexual contact rose from 507 across all service academies in 2016 to 747 in 2018, DoD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office reported Thursday. The study, undertaken every two years, is based on anonymous surveys submitted from each service academy.
    Unlike in previous years, DoD did not say that the increase was tied to an increase in reporting but instead a failure to solve the root culture causes, such as the prevalence of drinking off campus at all of the academies.
    DoD’s prevention office has spent years trying to bring sexual assault numbers down, through awareness campaigns and outreach.
    “Unfortunately the findings show that the rate of sexual misconduct at the academies has increased again,” said Elizabeth Van Winkle, director of DoD’s Office of Force Resiliency. “We find these results to be frustrating, disheartening and unacceptable.”
    “Our approach must change,” Van Winkle said. “What we have done in the past has often brought about short-term results, but has not shown sustained progress. Therefore, we are looking at the entire life cycle of our cadets and midshipmen, from acceptance into the academy, to entry into the active force … in order to select strategies with the greatest promise."
    The largest estimated increase occurred at West Point, where 10.2 percent of female survey respondents reported unwanted sexual contact in 2016, versus 16.5 percent in 2018; and 1.4 percent of male survey respondents reported unwanted sexual contact in 2016 versus 3.4 percent in 2018.
    In a statement, the Army said it was taking action and directing West Point leadership to report back within weeks on a plan of action to address the increase.
    “This is not just about the Army staff and faculty at West Point,” the Army said. “We also expect more from cadets, who are our Army’s future leaders.”
    Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force Academy’s estimated number of assaults among women rose from 11.2 percent in 2016 to 15.1 percent in 2018, but among men the numbers largely held steady, going from 1.6 percent of male respondents in 2016 to 1.8 percent in 2018. At the U.S. Naval Academy, the number of estimated assaults among women rose from 14.5percent in 2016 to 15.9 percent in 2018. Among men, it dropped from 2.1 percent in 2016 to 2.0 percent in 2018.
    John B. Raughter
    Deputy Director, Media Relations
    Phone: (317) 630-1298 Fax: (317) 630-1368

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