24 April, 2019 13:20

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Wednesday, April 24, 2019 which is Administrative Specialists Day, International Guide Dog Day, National Pigs in a Blanket Day and New Kids on the Block Day. (They aren’t as new as they once were, the NKotB average 48 years old.)

This Day in History:

· On this day in 1916, on Easter Monday in Dublin, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a secret organization of Irish nationalists led by Patrick Pearse, launches the so-called Easter Rebellion, an armed uprising against British rule. Assisted by militant Irish socialists under James Connolly, Pearse and his fellow Republicans rioted and attacked British provincial government headquarters across Dublin and seized the Irish capital’s General Post Office. Following these successes, they proclaimed the independence of Ireland, which had been under the repressive thumb of the United Kingdom for centuries, and by the next morning were in control of much of the city. Later that day, however, British authorities launched a counteroffensive, and by April 29 the uprising had been crushed. Nevertheless, the Easter Rebellion is considered a significant marker on the road to establishing an independent Irish republic.

[Bonus Music Track for above:
Young Dubliners Foggy Dew.

· On April 24, 1980, an ill-fated military operation to rescue the 52 American hostages held in Tehran ends with eight U.S. servicemen dead and no hostages rescued. With the Iran Hostage Crisis stretching into its sixth month and all diplomatic appeals to the Iranian government ending in failure, President Jimmy Carter ordered the military mission as a last ditch attempt to save the hostages. During the operation, three of eight helicopters failed, crippling the crucial airborne plans. The mission was then canceled at the staging area in Iran, but during the withdrawal one of the retreating helicopters collided with one of six C-130 transport planes, killing eight soldiers and injuring five. The next day, a somber Jimmy Carter gave a press conference in which he took full responsibility for the tragedy. The hostages were not released for another 270 days.

· President Harry Truman learns the full details of the Manhattan Project, in which scientists are attempting to create the first atomic bomb, on this day in 1945. The information thrust upon Truman a momentous decision: whether or not to use the world’s first weapon of mass destruction.

· 1967: At a news conference in Washington, Gen. William Westmoreland, senior U.S. commander in South Vietnam, causes controversy by saying that the enemy had “gained support in the United States that gives him hope that he can win politically that which he cannot win militarily.” Though he said that, “Ninety-five percent of the people were behind the United States effort in Vietnam,” he asserted that the American soldiers in Vietnam were “dismayed, and so am I, by recent unpatriotic acts at home.” This criticism of the antiwar movement was not received well by many in and out of the antiwar movement, who believed it was both their right and responsibility to speak out against the war.


· Military.com: Utah Man Pushes for Census to Include Veterans Question

· USA Today: Trump administration appeals ruling finding that the male-only draft is unconstitutional

· T&P: Trump’s tax cut was a disaster for some Gold Star families, but it’s a symptom of a larger problem

· Stripes: Army may need bigger retirement plan perk to sustain officer experience levels, study says

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Military.com: Utah Man Pushes for Census to Include Veterans Question

[Editor’s Note:

RESOLVED, By The American Legion in National Convention assembled in Cincinnati, Ohio, August 30, 31, September 1, 2016, That The American Legion strongly support any legislation that mandates the U.S. Census Bureau to include veteran,
National Guard and Reserve data on any future census.

Resolution No. 378: United States Census to Include Veterans Information]

22 Apr 2019

The Associated Press

OGDEN, Utah — The former head of the Utah Department of Veterans Affairs is pushing for the U.S. census to include a question about veterans next year.

Terry Schow, a Vietnam veteran, wants the 2020 census to ask about veteran status so the state can have a more accurate count of people with military service, the Standard-Examiner reported Saturday.

"It’s really just one question: Are you a veteran?" Schow said.

The Census Bureau pulled the veteran status question from the questionnaire in 2010, according to the agency. The bureau continues to collect data on veterans through three smaller surveys: the American Community Survey, the Current Population Survey and the Survey of Income and Program Participation.

These surveys only go to a portion of the population, Schow said. The American Community Survey, the largest of the three, is sent out to about 3.5 million people each year.

Current counts of veterans from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Census Bureau are likely missing a significant number of people, Schow said.

The department lists about 152,000 veterans in Utah while the bureau says the state has about 144,000. A state database indicates Utah has about 180,000 veterans, Schow said.

The VA uses census data to determine spending on veteran housing, hospitals and assistance programs, Schow said.

Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop sent a letter to the bureau’s director earlier this month, asking for the veterans question to be included.

"I believe this small change will have a big impact on our ability to take care of our nation’s heroes and the proper allocation of resources for veterans cemeteries and homes," Bishop wrote.

USA Today: Trump administration appeals ruling finding that the male-only draft is unconstitutional

Gregory Korte, USA TODAY Published 12:24 p.m. ET April 23, 2019 | Updated 3:49 p.m. ET April 23, 2019

The Trump administration has moved to defend the male-only military draft, appealing a federal court ruling that Selective Service registration is unconstitutional because it discriminates based on sex.

The appeal on Monday comes as the plaintiffs in the case step up their legal efforts to force the government to either force women to register for the draft or to eliminate mandatory draft registration entirely.

The case is in an unusual posture because U.S. District Judge Gray Miller declared the current system unconstitutional in February but didn’t require the Selective Service System to change it. So the agency is continuing to require registrations from men while forbidding women from registering.

Ruling: With women in combat roles, a federal court rules male-only draft unconstitutional

So the plaintiffs – two men who say they’re more likely to go to war because women are excluded from the draft-eligible pool – have asked the Houston judge to expand that ruling with an injunction ordering Selective Service to put men and women on an equal footing.

But the Justice Department says ordering women to register for the draft is "particularly problematic."

"It would impose draft registration on all eligible American women by judicial fiat before Congress has considered how to address the matter," argued Justice Department lawyer Michael Gerardi. "No party before this court represents the interests of those who would be impacted by this change."

Congress has been debating the issue since President Jimmy Carter restored draft registration in 1980. Carter asked Congress to include women, but Congress refused – and in 1983 the Supreme Court held that the all-male draft was constitutional because only men could serve in key combat roles.

But after the Pentagon opened all positions in the military to women, Congress created the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service to study the future of the draft and women’s role in it. The commission will hold a series of hearings Wednesday and Thursday in Washington on whether military draft registration should be expanded or eliminated.

T&P: Trump’s tax cut was a disaster for some Gold Star families, but it’s a symptom of a larger problem

James Clark

April 23, 2019 at 11:26 AM

For some, tax season brings a small boon in the form of a refund. For others it can be a source of stress.

But Theresa Jones sees it as an annual reminder of her husband, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Landon Jones, who was killed in a helicopter crash on Sept. 22, 2013.

Since then, Jones and her two sons, ages 5 and 11, have received monthly compensation in the form of survivor benefits — one allotment through the Department of Defense is taxable, and another through the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is not taxed.

For the past several years she’s had to pay roughly $1,150 in taxes on her sons’ benefits. This year, it was $5,400.

"My kids are owing the government back money, that the government gave them, because their dad died, and my kids have to pay it back," Jones told Task & Purpose. "And every year this comes around and it’s just this reminder of this tragedy, and it’s literally like throwing salt in the wound."

Military widows and widowers who put their benefits in their child’s name saw a significant spike in their taxes this year. To make matters worse, Jones, along with three other military widows who spoke with Task & Purpose, said they were not aware how much their taxes would increase and were unable to budget or otherwise prepare for the hike in cost.

"It was a very hard pill to swallow, that they’re even taxed; that they have to give money back in general, as kids," said Jones, who provided Task & Purpose with copies of her tax documents for 2018 and 2017. "I’ve been sitting here for four days trying to figure out why it’s so much more."

"I looked at it and realized this is going to be something that’s going to happen every year so this is going to have to be calculated into the monthly budget now," Jones continued. "If it’s going to be $400 a month, that’s like a car payment. That’s something that I’m going to have to take into account every year."

The increase was due to a change with the "Kiddie Tax" under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which President Donald Trump signed into law in December 2017. Previously, survivors benefits that were allocated to the children of a fallen service member were taxed at the parent’s rate. Under the new tax code, those benefits are instead treated the same as a trust or estate, which means they can be taxed at a rate as high as 37%, and that threshold is reached faster than it did before.

While the change in the tax code may have had an immediate financial impact on Gold Star families this year, it may be a consequence of a more pervasive problem with how survivors benefits are classified and paid out.

Just the tip of the iceberg

Though the change in the tax code has had a direct impact on Gold Star families this tax season, some advocates argue that it’s a symptom of a larger issue: A rule against concurrent receipt or "double dipping," which bars recipients from getting two simultaneous types of federal monetary benefits.

Beyond the Service Members Group Life Insurance policy, which provides a one-time lump-sum payment up to $400,000 to a beneficiary if the service member elected to pay into it, there are two different types of survivor benefits for military spouses and children.

There’s the Department of Veterans Affairs Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC), which provides roughly $1,300 per month to a surviving spouse, regardless of the service members’ grade or length of service, and is not taxed, nor is it transferable.

And then there’s the Survivor Benefits Plan (SBP), a Department of Defense insurance annuity that varies in amount depending on the service member’s rank, and is based on 55% of projected retired pay with 30 years of service.

Because recipients can’t double dip, the VA benefit and the military benefit are offset — meaning that if a survivor chooses to put both the VA benefit and the DoD benefit in their name, then they’ll see a $1 reduction in their SBP for every $1 they receive from their DIC plan. This dollar for dollar offset in survivors benefits has become known as the Widow’s Tax.

This offset typically means that survivors are left with just the VA benefit, which tends to be higher, and is roughly $15,800 a year. As of last year 65,255 military widows and widowers were subjected to this offset, according to a fact sheet provided by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), a non-profit that advocates for and provides support to military families who lost a loved one.

To get around the Widow’s Tax, survivors can put their SBP in their child’s name, and for years, it was a reliable workaround to ensure that military spouses with children who lost a loved one could actually take home the benefits they were entitled to. But even that fix has pitfalls: If a parent puts their military survivors benefits in their child’s name, those benefits disappear when the child turns 18, or 22 if he or she is a full-time student. Additionally, if a survivor remarries, then he or she forfeits their VA benefit.

This has forced Gold Star families to make tough financial decisions on how they’ll allocate their benefits, whether they’ll remarry, and what will happen as their kids grow up.

‘It’s a survivor’s benefit. It’s not a tax shelter for us’

Cheryl Lankford, whose husband U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Jonathan Lankford, Sr. died in Iraq on Sept. 22, 2007, told Task & Purpose that she saw her taxes for her 14-year-old son’s survivor benefits increase from roughly $100 and $200 dollars per year to about $2,500 this year.

"I heard rumors that this year we were gonna be paying a little bit more, especially after the news broke that the taxes have changed and there may be a bit of an increase," Lankford told Task & Purpose. "I had no idea it would be quite that much money. That was a shocker for me"

It was the same for Jessica Braden-Rogers. For the last seven years since her husband, Army Capt. Michael Braden, died on April 18, 2012 while deployed to Afghanistan, Braden-Rogers has paid roughly $1,100 in taxes for her son’s benefits. This year she said it jumped to $4,600.

"None of us knew any of this until we all started filing our taxes and had such a significant increase in our tax burden," said Braden-Rogers, who has since remarried and no longer receives the VA benefit. "We’ve always had a tax burden, but for me, quadrupling the tax burden of a Gold Star child is completely unfair. It’s cruel. I mean why would you tax a nine year old?"

When Jessica Johns started seeing comments on social media about how the tax code may impact Gold Star families like hers — Johns’ husband, Army 1st Lt. Jonathan Rozier was killed in Iraq in 2003 — she told Task & Purpose she thought the reactions may have been overblown. Then she did her taxes, too.

Like Braden-Rogers, Johns has also remarried and subsequently lost her VA survivor benefits. Her 16-year-old son Justin, however, still receives the military’s Survivor Benefit Plan, and now those benefits are being taxed at a higher rate than ever before.

Last year Johns paid around $400 in taxes for her son’s benefits. This year she claims to have paid almost $3,000.

"I kind of was in denial," Johns told Task & Purpose. "I mean I was shocked first of all and then I started to get mad ’cause I’m like, well first of all, the name of the annuity is Survivor Benefit Plans so I don’t understand why they tax it in the first place, but if they are going to tax it, why are they all of a sudden taxing like we are trying to shelter money in our kid’s names so that we don’t get taxed on it?"

"It just made absolutely no sense to me at all," Johns continued. "That’s really what they’re doing and they’re taxing it like we are rich people and pushing some of our income into our children’s names so that we can shelter that from having to pay a higher tax bracket for us, but that’s not what we are doing. It’s a survivor’s benefit. It’s not a tax shelter for us."

The unexpected tax increase has led to some tough choices for the survivors who spoke with Task & Purpose: Cancelled vacations and trips; no summer camp for the kids; a tighter budget year-round; and a monthly, if not weekly re-assessment of finances as parents struggle to pay this year’s taxes and plan for next year.

And then there’s the impact it has on their families that goes beyond the financial burden the tax hike has imposed.

"It was heavy on my heart when I realized that my son receives this money because his dad died," Lankford said, speaking of her son Jonathan. "Now we feel like it’s a challenge for us because he’s a child, he’s paying taxes, but he’s paying taxes on the money that was left for him because of his father’s service."

"That’s a lot for a kiddo to take in," Lankford continued. "He’s not unaware, and most of our kids are not unaware of what’s happening around them. They know what’s going on. And at the same time, we want to provide for them, we want to shelter them from these things, but it’s important as surviving spouses that we come together and we help Congress understand how important it is to our families and to our well-being, that this can change. This needs to change. It needs to be changed soon."

Repealing the offset could end the tax issue

"In layman’s terms, surviving spouses are having to give their benefits to their children in order to receive all of the benefits they have earned," Ashlynne Haycock, the deputy director of policy and legislation for TAPS told Task & Purpose.

"The tax code isn’t the issue," said Haycock, the Widow’s Tax is.

Under the new tax code "those benefits are being taxed at an astronomical rate," Haycock explained. "If we end the offset, those benefits will be reassigned back to the spouses, so they’ll get all of the benefits they have earned, and we won’t have this tax issue going forward."

Advocates like Haycock argue that the military’s Survivor Benefits Plan and the VA’s Dependency and Indemnity Compensation are two separate benefits that come from different pots — SBP is an insurance annuity, and DIC is a VA benefit — and so shouldn’t count against each other.

Currently, two bills aimed at removing the offset from survivors benefits have been introduced to the House and Senate; the Military Widow’s Tax Elimination Act of 2019, sponsored by Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.); and the Military Surviving Spouses Equity Act sponsored by Reps. Joe Wilson, (R-S.C.) and John Yarmuth, (D-Ky.).

Even with bills to remove the offset introduced the House and Senate, survivors like Johns, Braden-Rogers, Lankford, and Jones are left to deal with the fallout of this year’s tax season on their own.

"A lot of us as military widows, many of us didn’t have jobs, didn’t have careers, when our spouses were killed, because we had followed our husbands around," Jones, who works part-time in real estate, in between going to college and caring for her sons, told Task & Purpose.

"Now you’re a single parent and you’re trying to be there for your kids, and they’ve already lost one parent and you’ve got to go to work all day long, and you’re trying to balance this," Jones continued. "It’s so hard, and it’s so exhausting. How am I going to pay for this… What am I going to do when this child turns 18 and all this drops off. Am I going to have to sell my house, are we going to have to move?"

Stripes: Army may need bigger retirement plan perk to sustain officer experience levels, study says

By ERIK SLAVIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 23, 2019

The Army may need to pay officers a much larger midcareer incentive under the new blended retirement system if it wants to retain the same mix of experience it has now, a service-commissioned report said.

To keep them on active duty for at least 20 years, officers headed toward the 12-year mark in service may on average need as much as eight months of salary as continuation pay, a new incentive that does not exist under the Army’s legacy retirement plan, according to a Rand Corp. report published earlier this month.

The study comes as the Army moves away from its legacy retirement system, which pays a larger guaranteed amount to soldiers after at least 20 years of service, to a blended system that pays out after less time served and matches more of a soldier’s contributions to a retirement account.

Servicemembers who were in uniform prior to 2018 were grandfathered into the legacy retirement system, but those with fewer than 12 years of service, or reservists with less than 4,320 retirement points, can opt into the blended system.

Moving to the blended system creates uncertainty for the Army over future costs, outflows from active duty to the reserve component and “whether the experience mix of the Army would change in a way that no longer meets Army readiness requirements,” the Rand report stated.

The Army must offer a minimum of 2.5 months of basic pay to active duty soldiers and a half-month of pay to Reserve and National Guard soldiers as continuation pay, if they are participating in the blended retirement system.

The minimums would sustain enlisted retention at current rates, the study said.

The Rand simulations show that the blended system would improve Reserve and National Guard participation among officers at minimum continuation pay rates, “but at the cost of substantially lower retention of midcareer [regular Army] officers.”

Under one scenario that leaves continuation pay at their minimums, fewer active duty officers complete 20 years of service; meanwhile, officer participation in the Reserve and the National Guard rise by 7.2% and 2.1%, respectively.

To keep current levels of retention and experience, an active duty major with 12 years of service would need to be offered about $140,000 in continuation pay, rather than the minimum of $17,633, the study concluded. Under an optimized scenario, Reserve officers would be offered about two months’ salary and National Guard officers would receive a full month of pay, rather than the half-month minimums.

The study assumed that the continuation pay would be paid at 12 years of service, though the law allows the Army to pay as early as the eighth year of service.

While the added continuation pay would cost the Army more in the short-term, over time the service would save money because opt-in rates into the more cost-effective blended system would be higher, the study said.

The blended system pays out a smaller pension than the legacy plan, which pays soldiers who serve at least 20 years a set amount based on their time in service and highest three years of base pay. Reservist retirement is earned based on a system that awards points for activity in uniform.

However, in addition to the new continuation pay benefit, the blended system’s Thrift Savings Plan contributions vest after two years and allow contributions up to 5% of basic pay with a 4% match.


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