25 February, 2019 06:47

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Monday, February 25, 2019 which is Let’s All Eat Right Day, National Clam Chowder Day, Pistol Patent Day and Quiet Day.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:

AP: High court deciding fate of cross-shaped Maryland memorial
San Diego Tribune: Judge rules men-only military draft unconstitutional in court win for San Diego men’s group
Military Times: US to keep 10 percent of its fighting forces in Syria, reversing Trump’s planned full withdrawal
Stripes: The public can now comment on VA’s proposed rules for expanding private-sector care

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AP: High court deciding fate of cross-shaped Maryland memorial
By JESSICA GRESKO an hour ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — Steven C. Lowe says he has always thought that a 40-foot-tall, concrete cross that stands on a large, grassy highway median near his Maryland home was odd.
For years, he says, he didn’t know that the cross is a war memorial. A plaque on the cross’ base lists the names of 49 area residents who died in World War I, but it isn’t easily read from the road and getting to the monument requires dashing across traffic. Lowe said he felt the cross implied that the city favored Christians over others.
“It certainly made me raise my eyebrows,” said Lowe, 68, who is retired from the telecommunications industry.
In 2014, Lowe, two other area residents and the District of Columbia-based American Humanist Association, a group that includes atheists and agnostics, sued to challenge the cross. They argue that the cross’ location on public land violates the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which prohibits the government from favoring one religion over others. The group lost the first round in court, but in 2017 an appeals court ruled the cross unconstitutional. Now, the cross’ supporters are asking the Supreme Court to overturn that ruling in a case the justices will hear Wednesday.
The memorial’s supporters would seem to have a good shot based on the court’s decision to take the case and the court’s more conservative makeup, seen as more likely to uphold such displays. Plus, even liberal Justice Stephen Breyer voted in a 2005 case to uphold a Ten Commandments display on public property.
Backers of the nearly 100-year-old cross, also called the “Peace Cross,” say if the justices rule against them it could threaten hundreds of monuments nationwide. Opponents, for their part, say few memorials are truly similar. They argue the cross should be moved to private property or modified into a nonreligious monument such as a slab or obelisk, a suggestion backers say would be desecration.
Arguing for the cross at the high court are The American Legion, which raised money for the cross and completed it in 1925, and officials with the state of Maryland, which took over managing the site in 1960. They have the support of the Trump administration and 30 states.
Supporters say the cross is a fixture of Bladensburg, Maryland, just about 5 miles from the Supreme Court. Traffic reporters use it as a reference point in radio reports. Residents give directions that refer to it.
Maryland officials argue that the cross doesn’t violate the Constitution because it has a secular purpose and meaning, honoring veterans, in an area where several other memorials to veterans stand. On the other side, the American Humanist Association says that using a cross as a war memorial doesn’t make the cross secular; it makes the war memorial Christian.
Similar monuments have met with a mixed fate at the high court. On the same day in 2005, for example, the court upheld a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas state capitol while striking down Ten Commandments displays in Kentucky courthouses. Justice Breyer, whose vote made the difference in the outcome in both cases, said the history of the courthouse displays demonstrated a government effort to promote religion while the Texas display had a primarily nonreligious purpose.
The American Legion, represented by lawyers with the Texas-based First Liberty Institute, says that a test the court announced in 1971 for use in such cases, which asks whether the government’s action has a secular purpose, advances or inhibits religion or fosters “an excessive government entanglement with religion,” has proved unworkable. They say that question the justices should be asking is whether the government’s action is coercive, which they say the cross is not. The court doesn’t have to rule that broadly, however, to side with the monument’s supporters.
The monument’s backers say they just want the cross left alone. Speaking recently at an American Legion post near the cross, member Stan Shaw said modifying the cross would be “a slap in a veteran’s face.” As for the suggestion the monument should be moved, Mike Moore, another member, said he’s “not sure how one could do it.” Add that to the fact that the monument is cracking and repair work has been on hold.
Relatives of the men whose names are on the cross have also asked the court to let it stand where it is. Mary Ann LaQuay, whose uncle Thomas Fenwick’s name is on the cross, says it’s a way for her to remember her uncle, who caught pneumonia and died while fighting in France. His grave is in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, but LaQuay, 80, says she feels “like the cross represents his memorial.”
Those challenging the cross say they want to make clear that they aren’t against veterans or veterans memorials. Fred Edwords, a longtime official with the American Humanist Association, says they just don’t think it’s right to leave the impression that only Christian soldiers are being celebrated.
Lowe, the Maryland resident who lives near the cross, said some people have asked him: Why not just leave the cross alone?
“I think it was a violation of the Constitution when it was built,” he said. “The fact that it is old doesn’t make it right. It’s an old wrong.”

San Diego Tribune: Judge rules men-only military draft unconstitutional in court win for San Diego men’s group
Pauline RepardContact Reporter
A federal judge has ruled that a men-only draft is unconstitutional, but he stopped short of ordering the Selective Service System to register women for military service.
The Houston judge sided with a San Diego men’s advocacy group that challenged the government’s practice of having only men sign up for the draft, citing sex discrimination in violation of the Fifth Amendment’s equal protection clause.
“This case balances on the tension between the constitutionally enshrined power of Congress to raise armies and the constitutional mandate that no person be denied the equal protection of the law,” wrote U.S. District Judge Gray Miller of the Southern District of Texas.
The lawsuit was filed in 2013 against the Selective Service System by Texas resident James Lesmeister, who later added San Diego resident Anthony Davis and the San Diego-based National Coalition for Men as additional plaintiffs.
The two men had standing to sue the government because they were within the age range of 18 to 26 in which men in the United States are required to register with Selective Service.
Coalition attorney Marc Angelucci said in a statement on Saturday that he is pleased with the court decision.
“Forcing only males to register is an aspect of socially institutionalized male disposability and helps reinforce the stereotypes that support discrimination against men in other areas” such as divorce, child custody and domestic violence services, Angelucci said.
“Women are now allowed in combat, so this decision is long overdue,” he added. “After decades of sex discrimination against men in the Selective Service, the courts have finally found it unconstitutional to force only men to register.”
The government asked the judge to dismiss the suit or stay a decision until a national commission studying the issue of women’s draft registration reaches a recommendation.
The judge noted that could take years, and even then Congress isn’t required to follow the commission’s findings.
“Congress has been debating the male-only registration requirement since at least 1980,” Miller wrote.
The government pointed to a 1981 U.S. Supreme Court decision that the Military Selective Service Act was constitutional as written, to exclude women, because women restricted from combat were not offered similar opportunities that men had.
Miller found that reasoning no longer applicable, since the Department of Defense lifted all gender-based restrictions on military service — including combat roles — in 2015.
The judge likewise disagreed with the government’s position that drafting women would be an administrative burden and that far more women than men will be found physically unfit for service after being drafted.
Congress has expressed few concerns about female physical ability, but did focus more on societal consequences of drafting young mothers to go off to war, Miller said.
“If there was ever a time to discuss ‘the place of women in the Armed Services,’ that time has passed,” Miller concluded.
Military Times: US to keep 10 percent of its fighting forces in Syria, reversing Trump’s planned full withdrawal
By: Leo Shane III2 days ago
WASHINGTON — About 200 U.S. troops will remain in Syria for the foreseeable future, a reversal of White House plans for a full withdrawal from the war-torn country, after lawmakers voiced concernsabout the security ramifications of a hasty retreat.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that “a small peacekeeping group of about 200 will remain in Syria for a period of time.”
She provided no further details on the plan.
In December, administration officials announced plans to withdraw the entire, approximately 2,000-troop U.S. fighting force in that country after President Donald Trump declared that their mission in the region — to defeat Islamic State — had been fulfilled.
Military officials have said in recent weeks that the caliphate’s territory, which once engulfed large sections of multiple countries in the Middle East, has now dwindled to a few square miles of fading holdouts.
Still, Pentagon leaders had warned that a precipitous drawdown of American forces there could lead to instability in the region and possibly a resurgence of ISIS. The issue was also one of several points of friction between Trump and former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who resigned from his post in December.
Trump has said in recent weeks that U.S. personnel would remain in Iraq to monitor any possible return of insurgent groups in Syria and “because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran, because Iran is a real problem.”
But now about 10 percent of the troops stationed in Syria will remain there as well.
The move drew immediate praise from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who had been a vocal critic of a full withdrawal.
“This will ensure ISIS does not return and Iran does not fill the vacuum that would have been left if we completely withdrew,” he said in a statement.
“With this decision, President Trump has decided to follow sound military advice. This decision will ensure that we will not repeat the mistakes of Iraq, in Syria. For a small fraction of the forces we have had in Syria, we can accomplish our national security objectives.”
Military officials have not released any specifics on where the troops will be stationed or what their new mission will entail. Troops had been working in Syria on a training and assistance mission, leaving most of the direct fighting to local allied forces.
Still, the mission has proven dangerous for personnel stationed there. In January, two American service members and two U.S. civilians working with them were killed in an explosion in Manbij.

Stripes: The public can now comment on VA’s proposed rules for expanding private-sector care

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 23, 2019

WASHINGTON – Starting Friday, the Department of Veterans Affairs began collecting feedback on its proposed rules to expand veterans’ access to private doctors.

The public has until March 25 to comment on the rules. At that point, the agency could use the feedback to make changes before it implements a new private-sector care system in June.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie unveiled his proposed rules at the end of January – a plan that he said would “revolutionize VA health care as we know it.”

“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,” Wilkie said in a statement at the time, noting President Donald Trump promised veterans more choice about where they receive treatment.

The VA Mission Act, signed by Trump last year, calls for a new community care program to be in place by summer. The law gave the VA secretary broad authority to create new rules for it.

Under Wilkie’s draft rules, veterans who must drive more than 30 minutes to reach their VA mental health or primary care providers — or wait longer than 20 days for an appointment — would be allowed to use a private doctor.

For specialty care, veterans could go outside the VA for medical treatment if a VA provider was longer than a 60-minute drive away or they faced a 28-day wait.
Veterans could also seek private treatment if the services they need is unavailable at a VA facility, if they live in a state without a full-service VA medical center, if it’s determined to be in their “best medical interest,” or if the VA determines its services in that area don’t meet quality standards.

Since Wilkie announced the rules, some lawmakers and veterans organizations have accused him of a lack of transparency and collaboration. Twelve senators complained Wilkie released the rules “before engaging in meaningful consultation with Congress.”
Democrats are particularly worried the new rules could give veterans unfettered access to private doctors, which they think could erode VA resources.

Adrian Atizado, deputy legislative director for Disabled American Veterans, said veterans groups still lacked basic information, such as cost analyses or estimates.

“Part of the concern is there’s not going to be enough information,” Atizado said. “They may have some information, but very little budget justification… It’s like a fortress over there.”

The VA has fought back against the accusations, claiming the agency was “providing unprecedented transparency.”

The proposed rules were posted to the Federal Register. Comments can be submitted by email at regulations.gov or by mail addressed to the Director of Office of Regulation Policy and Management at the Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 Vermont Ave., NW, Room 1063B, Washington, DC 20420. Comments can also be faxed to 202-273-9026.

Read the rules of the proposed Veterans Community Care Program here.

Comment on the proposed rule changes here.

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