28 February, 2019 06:17

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Thursday, February 28, 2019 which is Fat Thursday, National Chili Day, National Public Sleeping Day and Rare Disease Day.
This Day in History:

  • On this day in 1953, Cambridge University scientists James D. Watson and Francis H.C. Crick announce that they have determined the double-helix structure of DNA, the molecule containing human genes.
  • 1993: At Mount Carmel in Waco, Texas, agents of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) launch a raid against the Branch Davidian compound as part of an investigation into illegal possession of firearms and explosives by the Christian cult. As the agents attempted to penetrate the complex, gunfire erupted, beginning an extended gun battle that left four ATF agents dead and 15 wounded. Six Branch Davidians were fatally wounded, and several more were injured, including David Koresh, the cult’s founder and leader. After 45 minutes of shooting, the ATF agents withdrew, and a cease-fire was negotiated over the telephone. The operation, which involved more than 100 ATF agents, was the one of the largest ever mounted by the bureau and resulted in the highest casualties of any ATF operation.
  • 1994: In the first military action in the 45-year history of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), U.S. fighter planes shoot down four Serbian warplanes engaged in a bombing mission in violation of Bosnia’s no-fly zone.
  • On this day in 1983, the celebrated sitcom M*A*S*H bows out after 11 seasons, airing a special two-and-a-half hour episode watched by 77 percent of the television viewing audience. It was the largest percentage ever to watch a single TV show up to that time.


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Fox News: Supreme Court appears inclined to let 40-foot ‘Peace Cross’ stand on public land
Editor’s Note: Video of National Judge Advocate Kevin Bartlett at link above.
By Bill Mears | Fox News
‘Peace cross’ case heads to Supreme Court
Critics say the shape of the memorial is religious and should not be on public land; Kelly Shackelford, president of First Liberty Institute, and Kevin Bartlett, national judge advocate of The American Legion, say veteran memorials deserve protection, regardless of shape.
A majority of Supreme Court justices offered tepid support Wednesday for letting a Maryland war memorial in the shape of Christian cross remain on government land, in a landmark First Amendment case with implications for religious symbols on public property across the country.
In a spirited 70 minutes of oral arguments, most justices appeared to accept the narrow, limited view that the monument was historically significant and its Latin cross design reflected the nationwide trend at the time it was erected to honor war dead with community memorials.
"What message does that send when people see that on TV, they see crosses all over the country being knocked down?" Justice Samuel Alito asked.
The justices seemed to default to their previous approach of resolving such Establishment Clause appeals on a case-by-case basis, signaling they may avoid a broad ruling that would provide clear markers for similar legal disputes in the future.
The case is one of the most closely watched this term. Newest Justice Brett Kavanaugh asked tough questions of both sides, but gave no indication of how he would vote.
The Bladensburg Peace Cross, as it is known, sits in a traffic circle in the Washington suburbs, where it has stood for nearly a century to honor 49 local World War I soldiers who died in battle overseas.
Its supporters, including the Trump administration, say the 40-foot monument was created solely to honor those heroes and is secular in nature. Opponents call it an impermissible overlap of church and state, since it is controlled and cared for by a Maryland parks commission.
"For members of other faiths, that [cross] symbol is not a way to memorialize the dead and does not have that meaning," said Justice Elena Kagan. "For many people, this is a very natural way to do exactly what they want to do. For others, not."
Fundraising for the Peace Cross began soon after the "war to end all wars" concluded. Spearheaded by Gold Star mothers of Prince George’s County, Md., who lost their sons to battle, it honors 49 men, including four African-American soldiers and a Medal of Honor recipient. It was completed in 1925, built by members of local American Legion posts, with private donations. It was later rededicated as a memorial to honor all American veterans.
Inscribed at the base of the monument are four words: Valor, Endurance, Courage, and Devotion. There are no written references to God, Christianity, or religion.
A Maryland parks commission in 1961 gained custody of the cross and land around the busy intersection. The government now pays for maintenance and upkeep, though veterans groups regularly hold memorial services there. The structure includes the embedded symbol of the American Legion.
Similar cross displays on federal land to honor war dead are at nearby Arlington National Cemetery.
In Bladensburg, three area residents and the American Humanist Association filed suit in 2014, saying in court papers the memorial sends a "callous message to non-Christians."
A federal appeals court agreed and ordered the memorial be torn down, moved or modified.
The Constitution says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
The Supreme Court has a mixed record on disputes concerning religious freedom and the separation of church and state, with the justices often using a case-by-case determination.
In arguments, a majority of justices wondered Wednesday whether new war memorials with religious imagery would be permissible, given the diversity of faiths, and the views of atheists or agnostics.
"Look at the historical context here. History counts," Justice Stephen Breyer said. "But no more. We are a different country now, and there are 50 more different religions, and, therefore, no more" monuments, like one honoring 9/11 victims
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg rejected suggestions such memorials can have multiple purposes.
"Does the cross really have a dual meaning?" she asked. "It is the preeminent symbol of Christianity. People wear crosses to show their devotion to the Christian faith."
"It’s sectarian," Justice Sonia Sotomayor said of the Peace Cross, and also questioned whether its long history is enough to allow it to remain.
"What is the tradition?" she asked. "Is the that, in World War I, a cross was, or is the tradition that the government can put up sectarian symbols like crosses or a picture of Jesus Christ in honor of anyone because that’s within the nation’s tradition?"
On the other side, Justice Neil Gorsuch pushed back at suggestions the memorial’s large size itself was a problem, or "too loud."
"Is it too loud? Is the Star of David too loud? Is it too offensive?" he said. "We accept that people have to sometimes live in a world in which other people’s speech offends them. We have to tolerate one another. This is the only area I can think of like that where we allow people to sue over an offense because, for them, it is too loud. And we get into, as a result, having to dictate taste with respect to displays."
"I think the Constitution tilts toward liberty in its structure," added Kavanaugh, suggesting this particular cross memorial should stay.
The justices have a great deal of discretion to issue a sweeping ruling, but that appears unlikely.
Chief Justice John Roberts in part blamed the lawyers appearing before him for not offering a workable standard to guide the lower courts.
"I once was a lower court judge and if I get that type of [case-by-case analysis], I’m just going to throw my hands up," he said at one point to a lawyer. "Do you have something more concise about the test you would apply beyond looking at all the contextual factors and history and all that?"
The high court in 1971 established its three-prong "Lemon" test, named for one of the parties in the case. That embedded legal standards in the relationship between church and state. But Gorsuch said that precedent has not been applied in recent years by the justices.
"It has resulted in a welter of confusion, I think, by anyone’s admission," said Gorsuch. "Is it time for this court to thank ‘Lemon’ for its services and send it on its way?"
A ruling is expected by late June.
WaPo: Supreme Court seems to seek narrow way to uphold cross that memorializes war dead
By Robert Barnes
February 27 at 12:40 PM
A majority of the Supreme Court on Wednesday seemed to be searching for a way — a narrow way, most likely — to allow a historic cross commemorating World War I dead to remain where it has stood for nearly 100 years.
Two of the court’s four liberals suggested the unique history of the Peace Cross in the Washington suburb of Bladensburg, Md., may provide a way to accommodate its position on public land in a highway median.
But more than an hour of oral arguments showed the difficulty the court faces when it must decide whether government’s involvement with a religious symbol has an allowable sectarian purpose or is an unconstitutional embrace of religion.
The Bladensburg Peace Cross, made of granite and cement, was built in 1925 and paid for by local families, businesses and the American Legion. But the 40-foot cross sits on land owned since 1961 by a state commission that pays for its maintenance and upkeep.
The legal challenge began with the American Humanist Association, a nonprofit atheist organization that has filed similar lawsuits throughout the country.
For decades, the Supreme Court — whose marshal opens proceedings with a plea that “God save the United States and this honorable court” — has struggled to come up with a clear test on which actions or displays violate the Constitution’s prohibition against government establishment of religion.
The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which inherited the monument, says the court need not break new legal ground to allow the Bladensburg landmark to remain.
The cross carries “an independent secular meaning,” that makes it constitutional, Neal K. Katyal, a Washington lawyer representing the commission, told the justices. Besides being a symbol that is uniquely associated with World War I, the cross is situated among other monuments to veterans, he said.
The court in the past has found that religious symbols in context can be constitutional, he said, adding: “Just look up.”
In the frieze above the justices’ heads in the ornate courtroom is a depiction of the Ten Commandments.
In questioning Monica L. Miller, representing the cross’s challengers, Justice Elena Kagan also there was an association between World War I and the cross that is “really quite different” from the use of the cross in other contexts. “Why isn’t that important?” she asked.
And Justice Stephen G. Breyer, another member of the court’s liberal wing who has objected in the past to blurring the line between church and state, wondered about history too.
Erecting a cross today would be problematic, he suggested, but maybe that didn’t mean all had to come down. What if the court said, “Yes. Okay. No more,” he said, adding “We’re a different country now.”
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg seemed to think there was no way to disconnect the preeminent symbol of Christianity from its religious roots. Christians wear the cross as a symbol of their devotion, Ginsburg said.
And Sotomayor said the size of the cross “dwarfs buildings, it dwarfs people.”
Miller said the monument did not have to come down, but could be moved to another spot or the land on which it sits could be returned to a private organization such as the American Legion, which was involve in its construction.
But the way it towers over a busy intersection used by thousands of commuters each day sends an unconstitutional message that government favors one religion over another.
The monument’s defenders say a Maryland district court judge got it right when she noted that the cross had stood for decades without controversy and that it met the court’s test of having a secular purpose, that its “primary effect” was religious neutrality and that there was not excessive entanglement of government and religion.
The commission’s brief tells the court: “Virtually every member of the court has agreed that, at minimum, the government may display symbols associated with religion where the display’s purpose and objective meaning are predominantly secular, or where the display fits within a long national tradition of similar practices.”
But a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit looked at the same facts and the same test and concluded otherwise.
“The display aggrandizes the Latin cross in a manner that says to any reasonable observer that the commission either places Christianity above other faiths, views being American and Christian as one in the same, or both,” the panel said in a 2-to-1 ruling.
That is the key, says the American Humanist Association in its brief.
While neither the commission nor the association asks the court to adopt a new test, the American Legion and the Trump administration do: to determine whether the government action is “coercive.”
The Legion says in its brief that government practices should be found to violate the Establishment Clause only if they “coerce religious belief, practice, or financial support — whether through compelled profession or observance, excessive proselytization, or other historically grounded means.”
A passive display like the Peace Cross would seldom meet such a test, the brief says.
But even the conservative justices they would need to change the court’s precedents seemed to think a coercion standard would be no more workable than the court’s current muddled jurisprudence on religious symbols and actions, which Justice Neil M Gorsuch characterized twice as a “dog’s breakfast.”
Supreme Court of the US: Oral Transcript of American Legion v. American Humanist Association

[Editor’s Note: The link above should take you to the full pdf of the oral arguments at the Supreme Court. If not, go to THIS
and click on the A.L v. American Humanist link.]

Stripes: Bill would expand American Legion membership eligibility to more veterans
By DANYELLE KHMARA | The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson | Published: February 22, 2019
TUCSON, Ariz. (Tribune News Service) — Sen. Kyrsten Sinema has filed a bill that could expand eligibility for American Legion membership to all veterans who served since World War II.
The Legion Act, co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and filed last Friday, would expand Legion membership to include honorably discharged veterans who served during unrecognized times of war since World War II.
The change would affect vets like Paul Laird, who spent a chunk of his military service cleaning up waste from nuclear testing on a chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean. He and other veterans who served during the Enewetak Atoll cleanup of the late 1970s have had a host of health issues that many attribute to cleaning up nuclear waste wearing little more than shorts and sun hats.
The 60-year-old Army veteran has had cancer seven times. He’s undergone chemotherapy and numerous surgeries. About 4,000 troops assisted with the Enewetak Atoll clean up, some of whom never served during official war times.
Unless an Enewetak veteran’s time of service crosses over into an official era of war, they aren’t eligible for American Legion membership.
“That restriction leaves out thousands of former American service members who signed up to defend our country,” a statement from Sinema says about her first piece of legislation filed as a senator. “Our legislation rights this wrong and ensures all veterans have the opportunity to join the American Legion.
Laird says Enewetak veterans also have trouble accessing treatment.
“We’ve been battling (Veterans Affairs) for recognition and compensation for our health issues and cancers due to our service cleaning up after 43 nuclear bomb blasts — to no avail so far,” Laird said.
He and other Enewetak veterans have supported the Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act, which would provide treatment for those who participated in the cleanup. The bill was introduced in the House in 2015 but so far, has gone nowhere.
Laird hopes Legion membership would help raise awareness to the issues these veterans suffer.
“It would definitely help these gentlemen get the exposure and be a part of the Legion, which does give a lot of the veterans a lot of help,” he said. “More exposure as far as what we’ve been through personally, what has happened, what has been done to us.”
John Raughter, deputy director of the national American Legion headquarters, said the veterans organization has identified 1,600 service members killed or wounded since World War II during times not officially recognized as periods of war.
The Legion introduced a resolution in October 2018 that called for Congress to direct the Department of Veterans Affairs to consider all veterans who served honorably since the start of World War II, in 1941, as “war-time veterans.”
While Sinema’s bill doesn’t go as far as the Legion’s resolution, allowing expanded access to Legion membership would be a step in that direction.
American Legion service officers work to assist veterans regardless of membership status, but allowing more service members to join is a necessary change, Raughter said.
“We do believe membership in the American Legion is important as far as camaraderie goes, as far as being able to participate in the activities of their post at a local level and just the pride in being a Legionnaire,” he said.
Sinema introduced the legislation during the 100th anniversary of the American Legion, which Raughter said is significant.
Although the Enewetak veterans haven’t had much success getting changes they’re pushing for in Congress, Sinema doesn’t expect any opposition to the bipartisan bill.
As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, working on veterans’ issues is one of Sinema’s priorities, said Hannah Hurley, a spokeswoman. Sinema also worked on veterans’ issues during her time in the House, with bills such as the VA Mission Act, now law, which expanded access to healthcare for veterans who don’t live near a VA facility.
While this is the first bill Sinema has sponsored as a senator, she co-sponsored another bill in January aimed at helping veterans. The Retired Pay Restoration Act would expand veterans’ access to retirement pay and disability benefits. The bill hasn’t made a lot of progress yet because it comes with a price tag, says Nick Rawls, with Sinema’s office.
But Sinema’s team hopes the Legion Act will make it to a vote next month.
“Ensuring our veterans get the benefits they’ve earned is not a partisan issue, and I’m glad we have bipartisan support for this legislation,” Sinema said in a statement.
Military Times: Large-scale closures of VA facilities could be coming sooner than expected. Here’s why.
By: Leo Shane III   13 hours ago
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WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs’ version of a base closing round could start years ahead of schedule, department officials told Congress on Wednesday.
Under the VA Mission Act signed into law last year, the president is authorized to appoint an Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission for the department in 2022. To inform the group’s work, VA officials were given three years to perform regional market assessments across the country to determine areas where there were medical facility shortages, gluts and other challenges.
On Wednesday, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said those assessments were delayed slightly late last year but could still be finished in the next 12 months. If so, that could create a problematic gap between collecting that information and starting evaluations in 2022.
“We’ll come back to you this summer and give you an assessment of where things are,” he said. “If we can, to meet the expectations of this committee and the changing need of veterans, we’re going to come to Congress and ask to move that timeline up.”
The idea of a base-closing-style round for VA has been controversial for many advocates, including lawmakers who could see major hospitals in their districts closed due to dwindling patient numbers.

But VA officials have repeatedly warned that their current national footprint includes hundreds of outdated or obsolete facilities, and department administrators have severe restrictions in managing those locations.
They have also said that the asset review could mean more facility construction in certain areas, as department officials see regional population shifts for veterans.
Dr. Richard Stone, the executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, told members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee that across his system today, about 63 percent of the our medical beds are filled.
“That’s not an efficient use of the system,” he added.
Committee ranking member Rep. Phil Roe, R-Ky., said he is anxious to move ahead with the review work.
“We know veterans are moving south and west,” he said. “VA needs to be more nimble with how it’s able to move. We can’t keep thousands of beds underutilized or not used at all.”
Costs or savings for the asset review have not yet been determined. House Democratic leadership has not indicated whether they would support speeding up the timeline for the process, a change that would require congressional approval.

FCW.com: Lawmakers press VA officials on EHR modernization, workforce
By Chase Gunter
Feb 26, 2019

Officials with the Department of Veterans Affairs touted progress on the agency’s 10-year, $16 billion electronic health records modernization push, but appropriators still have concerns about the multi-billion-dollar project.
At a Feb. 26 House Appropriations subcommittee hearing, Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) called achieving interoperability with the Department of Defense’s health records system "this committee’s top priority."
Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) called the cost and length of the project "outrageous." The $16 billion includes a $10 billon contract with Cerner and $6 billion in infrastructure upgrades and project management support.
At the hearing, Richard Stone, the executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, testified that VA’s 131 unique versions of Vista, the VA’s homegrown EHR management system, is slowing down the integration. Stone also said that Cerner has mapped all of the data from all the different versions for the transition.
"This is not simply about bringing an electronic medical record to life," he said. "This is about moving from a highly disjointed system without data integration to one that is fully data-integrated and therefore interoperable."
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie admitted the department has "had hiccups" in the testing of the system. "But we should have hiccups," he said.
Hurd said this was "probably the first time I’ve ever been encouraged" by progress on the project.
"Once you map the data, having this move from one system to another should be quick," he said. "Now it’s about … how can you take some of that data that’s probably localized and put it into the cloud? That transition, depending on the size of the dataset you’re dealing with, may take some time."
Hurd said that his next questions for VA concern specifics on the timeline for implementation.
"They’ve identified the problem, they’re rectifying their problem, they should be able to understand how long it will take to rectify that problem," he said. "I can’t give a time, but I know it can be done in less than 10 years."
VA vacancies
Democrats voiced concerns about the impacts of the Trump administration’s changes on federal agency workforce rules as well as the thousands of job vacancies throughout the VA.
Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) raised issues about the implementation of the VA Accountability Act, passed in June 2017 to make it easier for the agency to fire employees. She questioned an "overzealous interpretation" of the law that lacks quantitative measures of personnel performance and "negatively impacts veterans."
Wasserman Schultz also mentioned concerns about the persisting vacancies at the VA, noting that 17 percent of leadership positions — including the deputy secretary and the undersecretary of health — that oversee the health record modernization are occupied by acting officials.
Given the roughly 45,000 total vacancies at the VA, Wilkie testified, "I’d be lying to you if I said I’d fill them all." Instead, he said he would instead focus on filling positions "where we have the greatest need," noting that the Senate recently confirmed James Gfrerer as assistant secretary of information and technology.
Also on the workforce front, Wilkie said that the agency had implemented the executive order to curtail official time, calling the previous policy a "disservice to veterans." Federal unions have suedthe Trump administration over this move.

Military.com: National Guard Weighs Action Against Deployed Lawmaker Who Criticized Governor

26 Feb 2019
Military.com | By Oriana Pawlyk
A U.S. lawmaker who recently deployed to the southern border as a guardsman is within his rights to be critical of his direct chain-of-command even as officials weigh disciplinary action, according to his spokeswoman.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, earlier this week criticized Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers for withdrawing the state’s troops from the southern border.
As a result, Kinzinger, who serves as an RC-26 pilot with the Wisconsin Air National Guard‘s 115th Fighter Wing, may face administrative action from the state adjutant general, to whom the Guard answers, for his comments, WISN 12 News reported Tuesday.
Kinzinger deployed with his unit to the border for the security mission earlier this month.
"Your guardsmen saved many lives and protected our country on this mission," he posted on Twitter on Monday.
"I’m grateful to my fellow Wisconsin Guard members, and I’m deeply disappointed you won’t let them do what they are trained to do for the good of the country," Kinzinger wrote. "@GovEvers, I hope you’ll reconsider."
The intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance pilot also questioned whether withdrawing the troops was "based solely on politics."
Kinzinger’s spokeswoman defended his right to speak out. "The Congressman is off-duty and has the right to exercise his freedom of speech as he so chooses, just as he has done when critical of the current president and the president before him," Maura Gillespie told Military.com in a statement.
"The implication that a member of the National Guard cannot speak freely when off-duty is just absurd, and not in accordance with the [Uniform Code of
Military Justice] law nor Wisconsin law, which clearly states these restrictions only apply to members on service," she said.
The Wisconsin Guard is "looking into the matter," spokesman Capt. Joe Trovato said.
When the Guard will reach a conclusion on potential disciplinary action "remains undetermined," Trovato said during a phone call. "As a matter of organizational policy, we don’t typically comment on [these] matters."
Kinzinger, a lieutenant colonel, said his two-week deployment opened his eyes to what the border mission means to the U.S., adding that more resources should be devoted to the effort.
He told CBS’ "Face the Nation" on Sunday that he agrees the border situation "is a security threat" and he will not oppose President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration.
"It’s a security threat with the amount of drugs coming over the border and the human trafficking that I’ve seen," Kinzinger said during the interview.
Law experts have questioned whether a military member, even retired, may speak out against superiors, and whether they would be subject to UCMJ disciplinary action.
According to the Lawfare Blog, "contemptuous speech" is prohibited by Article 88 of the UCMJ.
It criminalizes "contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or the Governor or legislature of any State," Lawfare’s Rick Houghton, an Army veteran, wrote of the provision.
Article 134 of the UCMJ speaks to "the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces," and any "conduct of a nature that brings discredit upon the armed forces."
In this case, any reprimand would come from the adjutant general of Wisconsin, although such action is rare, a military source said on background.
Kinzinger has also taken a personal interest in the RC-26 aerial surveillance plane, which he flies.
Military.com recently learned that the Air National Guard may be looking to get rid of at least half of its older RC-26 fleet in coming years, even though some are still being upgraded.
Kinzinger spoke out against the plan, entering the discourse as both a policymaker and a guardsman. In an Op-Ed in Air Force Times last month, he said divesting the aircraft at a time when border security needs to be a top priority for the nation would be a mistake.
His spokeswoman said then that Kinzinger stands by his overall arguments for additional resources for border security.
"As the congressman has said before, he believes we need stronger border security, and that includes having additional military personnel on the ground to handle the illegal activity on the border, but also to help facilitate activity through the points of entry and people coming into the country," Gillespie said before Kinzinger’s deployment the week of Feb. 11.
Kinzinger was commissioned in the Air Force in 2003, according to Air Force Magazine.
He first flew KC-135 Stratotankers before switching to the RC-26, and deployed several times for missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Military Times: Purple Heart vets will get disability claims moved quicker
By: Leo Shane III   1 day ago
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WASHINGTON — Veterans who earned a Purple Heart during their military service will now have their veterans disability claims moved ahead of other requests, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkieannounced on Tuesday.
“Those who hold the Purple Heart, the recognition of wounds taken in battle, will now receive priority consideration when it comes to claims," he told members of the House Appropriations Committee. The new policy will go into effect on April 1.
The move follows existing department rules which give priority classification to Purple Heart veterans who request medical appointments at VA hospitals. Those veterans are also exempt from all co-payments for their medical care.
But the move raised concerns among some advocates who noted that many serious wounds of war like post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury aren’t often recognized with the military medal.
The Military Order of the Purple Heart estimates more than 35,000 Iraq War veterans and more than 22,000 Afghanistan War veterans have received the medal, one of the best known military honors in the country. It’s the oldest U.S. military decoration, first presented as the Badge of Military Merit by Gen. George Washington during the American Revolution.
Just how much of an impact the benefits change will have on VA case processing is unclear.
As of last week, the department’s caseload of initial benefits claims include more than 83,000 that have been pending for more than 125 days, the department’s target for rendering a decision. That figure has been largely stable for the last three years, after spiking above 600,000 in early 2013.
The policy change won’t affect supplemental claims or veterans’ appeals.
Wilkie, the son of a combat-wounded soldier who served in the Vietnam War, has spoken frequently in the past on the need to care for those injured veterans. He is likely to face additional questions about the policy change when he testifies before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Wednesday afternoon.