Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Tuesday, October 9, 2018 which is International Beer and Pizza Day, Curious Events Day, Leif Erickson Day and Fire Prevention Day. To my NY Yankees fan friends out there: “The Chair is against the wall, I say again, The Chair is against the wall.” (I kid of course, I would never have a Yankees fan as a friend.)
This Day in Legion History:
· Oct. 9, 1985: The American Legion National Executive Committee passes Resolution 16 calling on the Department of Interior, Fine Arts Commission, National Capitol Planning Commission and all others to dedicate an area near the Vietnam War Memorial “to erect a statue honoring the women who have served during the Vietnam War.”
This Day in History:
· On this day in 1967, socialist revolutionary and guerilla leader Che Guevara, age 39, is killed by the Bolivian army. The U.S.-military-backed Bolivian forces captured Guevara on October 8 while battling his band of guerillas in Bolivia and assassinated him the following day. His hands were cut off as proof of death and his body was buried in an unmarked grave. In 1997, Guevara’s remains were found and sent back to Cuba, where they were reburied in a ceremony attended by President Fidel Castro and thousands of Cubans.
· 1635: Religious dissident Roger Williams is banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony by the General Court of Massachusetts. Williams had spoken out against the right of civil authorities to punish religious dissension and to confiscate Indian land.
· 1969: In the United States, the National Guard is called in as demonstrations continue in Chicago protesting the trial of the “Chicago Eight.” The trial had begun on September 24 and involved charges against David Dellinger, Rennie Davis, Thomas Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Lee Weiner, John Froines, and Bobby Seale for conspiracy to cross state lines with intent to cause a riot. These charges stemmed from the violent antiwar demonstrations in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. When the trial finally ended in February 1970, Judge Julius Hoffman found the seven defendants (Seale had been separated from the others for a separate trial due to his courtroom antics) and their lawyers guilty of 175 counts of contempt and sentenced them to terms of two to four years. Although the jury found the defendants not guilty on the conspiracy charge, the jury did find all except Froines and Weiner guilty of intent to riot.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
· Military.com: America’s War With Afghanistan Enters 18th Year
· Washington Examiner: Party’s over: Next Pentagon budget hurtles toward Hill fights and delays
· Marine Corps Times: Recon shortage: Why these elite Marines are facing a manpower crisis
If you wish to be removed from this email list, kindly email me at mseavey with “Remove from Daily Clips” in the subject line. If you have received this from someone who forwarded it and would like to be added, email me at mseavey and I will promptly add you to the list, that you might get the daily American Legion News.
Military.com: America’s War With Afghanistan Enters 18th Year
Military.com 8 Oct 2018 By Richard Sisk
On Oct. 7, 2001, less than a month after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, U.S. warplanes bombed targets in Afghanistan in what would be the opening offensive of Operation Enduring Freedom, the effort to drive the Taliban and al-Qaida from the country and install a democratic government.
CIA operatives and U.S. special forces teamed with the mostly-Tajik Northern Alliance to take Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif and other cities under an air umbrella that was provided primarily by the Navy and used Joint Direct Attack Munitions to devastating effect.
Then-Marine Brig. Gen. Jim Mattis, now the U.S. secretary of defense, led Task Force 58, consisting of the 15th and 26th Marine Expeditionary Units, on an air assault that eventually resulted in the taking of Kandahar, birthplace of the Taliban movement.
By Dec. 9, 2001, the Taliban had collapsed and leader Mullah Omar had fled to Pakistan. Then, the U.S. focus turned to the invasion of Iraq.
On Oct. 7, 2018, the military endgame for the U.S. in Afghanistan was still an increasingly difficult and long-term work in progress. That date marked the start of the 18th year of war in Afghanistan — a war that has claimed thousands of American lives and shows no clear indication of drawing to a close.
The resurgent Taliban is back and firmly in control of large swaths of territory. Osama Bin Laden is dead, but U.S. and Afghan special forces are still on the hunt for elements of al-Qaida. The new terrorist factor is the ISIS offshoot called Islamic State-Khorasan Province, or "ISIS-K."
The "blood and treasure" costs to the U.S. continue to mount.
Last week, Army National Guard Spc. James A. Slape, 23, of Morehead City, North Carolina, was killed by an improvised explosive device in contested southwestern Helmand province, the center of Afghanistan’s thriving poppy trade.
He was the seventh combat fatality and eighth overall for the U.S. this year. Since the war began, at least 2,414 U.S., 455 British and 686 troops from other coalition nations have been killed in Afghanistan for a total of 3,555, according to the website icasualties.org.
Depending on who is doing the counting and how it is done, the estimates for the costs of the war for the U.S. since 2001 have generally exceeded $1 trillion. The Pentagon estimates the U.S. will spend at least $45 billion on the war effort this year.
Since 2001, U.S. policy has changed radically. The main goal is no longer to drive the Taliban out of Afghanistan but rather to drive them into a negotiated peace settlement to end the war, according to Army Gen. John Nicholson, who recently turned over command of U.S.-Forces Afghanistan and the NATO Resolute Support Mission to Army Gen. Scott Miller.
At his Senate confirmation hearing in June, Miller said he would not talk about turning points "unless there is one" and that he could not guarantee "a timeline or an end date" to the war.
The estimated 14,000 to 15,000 U.S. troops in Miller’s command are operating under a new strategy for Afghanistan announced in August 2017 by President Donald Trump.
At the time, Trump acknowledged that his first instinct was to withdraw all U.S. forces, but he agreed with the advice of Mattis and others to initiate a "conditions-based" approach with no timelines that would put more focus on counter-terror raids and airpower to back the increasingly stressed Afghan security forces.
On Sunday, the top headline for Afghanistan’s TOLO news agency was from a Pew Research Center report: "Study Finds Americans Feel U.S. Involvement Has Failed."
The Pew poll of 1,745 people, conducted Sept. 18-24, showed that 49 percent believed the U.S. effort in Afghanistan to be a failure.
Also on Sunday, veteran diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Kabul as the new U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation. His remarks echoed what other U.S. envoys have said going back to 2001.
"I will cooperate with Afghan officials and other influential Afghans to reach a peace" to end more than 40 years of conflict in Afghanistan stretching back to before the Soviet invasion in 1979, he said.
"We in cooperation want to make a peaceful Afghanistan," he said, "where all tribes see themselves included, have the right to choose and will try to achieve a result that should deserve the sacrifices made during the years."
Washington Examiner: Party’s over: Next Pentagon budget hurtles toward Hill fights and delays
| October 09, 2018 12:00 AM
The stakes are high for Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. The Pentagon is flush with cash to rebuild forces, but it is also depending on continued increases in the coming years to realize the Trump administration’s national security goals.
On a Friday afternoon, just two days before the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, the White House announced that President Trump had signed into law annual funding for the Pentagon.
At the Pentagon, budgeteers heaved a sigh of relief after years of late funding and stopgap budget measures that caused havoc for military planning.
But the respite from years of budget dysfunction on Capitol Hill is already receding. The Pentagon and lawmakers are now facing the imminent return of the same thorny budget issues that have snarled on-time funding and hobbled the Pentagon for years, as well as a wild card with the November midterms and a ballooning deficit.
“I think it’s going to be a long, hard, drawn-out fight over the next year,” said Todd Harrison, the director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Under Trump, Congress has pushed through two major budget hikes for the Pentagon, described as the largest year-on-year increase in 15 years. But that was only possible because lawmakers struck a deal to raise Budget Control Act spending caps for 2018 and 2019.
The 2011 BCA law mandates two more years of capped spending. Congress has no deal yet to avert the limits and that means the military is facing a $71 billion fiscal cliff, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The last Hill fight over the caps delayed the 2018 defense budget by six months, from October to March, making it difficult for the military to spend the money effectively. The Pentagon may be set for a repeat of last year’s months-long stopgap funding measures when it sends its next budget to lawmakers in about four months.
“The FY20 budget request will come out in February, or it’s supposed to. We’ll see if it comes out on time, and I don’t think we’re going to have a resolution to that for probably, you know, a year and a half from now,” Harrison said. “I’d be looking at the spring of 2020 as when we might actually get close to a budget deal.”
For now, the outcome is completely unknown and the stakes are high for Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. The Pentagon is flush with cash to rebuild forces, but it is also depending on continued increases in the coming years to realize the Trump administration’s national security goals.
“The secretary and the others at the department have said all along that FY20 is going to be the first budget that really reflects the new National Defense Strategy. So I think we’ll be looking for that. Put the dollars where the strategy is,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
Mattis and the Pentagon have indicated the military will need about 3-5 percent budget growth over the coming years to stay competitive against adversaries such as Russia and China, which the new strategy puts at the top of U.S. national security priorities.
“If defense spending flattens out after FY19, [the Defense Department] will not be able to do badly needed nuclear and conventional modernization simultaneously, it will not be able to repair accumulated readiness problems, it will not be able to sustain America’s ability to project power,” Hal Brands, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said in testimony to Congress.
Where defense spending ultimately lands on the vast range between the $71 billion cliff and the Pentagon’s vision of steady annual growth may well depend on the outcome of the midterm elections.
If Democrats realize their hopes and win control of the House, that will elevate fiscal hawk Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., to chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Thornberry, a champion of increased defense spending, and his party would be relegated to the committee minority.
The shift in leadership would no doubt make increases in the next defense budget more difficult. Smith believes the growing U.S. debt is making large Pentagon budgets untenable. Smith has made clear in recent weeks that his vision as Armed Services chairman would be a scaled-back military role in the world, fewer nuclear weapons, and a hard look at shaving defense spending.
“When you say that defense shouldn’t be part of the equation, defense is still, I think, 17 percent, 18 percent of the total budget. It’s a big chunk of it, and you’ve got a trillion-dollar debt, and it would still be your vision as we deal with that that defense should be off the table?” Smith said, pushing experts at a recent committee hearing.
Democrats could use growing deficit spending and a $1.2 trillion increase in national debt over the past year to hammer Republicans as a fight over a new BCA funding caps deal unfolds. In past years, the party has pushed for defense spending increases to match non-defense priorities.
But the debt could also pose a real threat to the Pentagon’s topline, another in the growing list of potential problems for the defense budget.
“We don’t quite know when the crunch will come with respect to the deficit and the debt, but I’m quite sure it will come,” Brands said in his testimony. “And so, if we don’t get a handle on the problem, at some point we are going to find we are constrained in paying for national security.”
Marine Corps Times: Recon shortage: Why these elite Marines are facing a manpower crisis
By: Shawn Snow and Andrea Scott 13 hours ago
The Marine reconnaissance community has a storied history dating back the Corps’ first operational small boat units in World War II.
Its lore has captivated the ambitions of many young Marines wishing to earn the 0321-occupation specialty.
Recon Marines are tasked with land and amphibious reconnaissance, intelligence collection, surveillance and small unit raids, and straddle the line between special operations forces and conventional forces.
“I did infantry for my first four years, then I got bored with it,” said Marine Shawn Talbert, training cell chief with 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion in Okinawa, Japan. “It kind of felt like it was almost a dead end. And so I went to recon where there are no dead ends. It’s all rabbit holes in every different field.”
But there may be some a dead ends in sight.
These elite Marines are on track for a manpower crisis; one that questions the Corps’ ability to sustain its reconnaissance force into the future at a time of rapid modernization across the force and as recon questions its mission.
Recent data is the truest teller.
“Manpower and Reserve Affairs identified the 0321 MOS [Military Occupational Specialty] as having the most inverted grade pyramid, specifically in the E-3 to E-4 ranks, which is having a significant effect on promotion timing,” Marine Corps Combat Development Command told Marine Corps Times.
That issue is compounded by high attrition rates at the recon community’s 12-week rigorous Basic Reconnaissance Course, or BRC.
Attrition rates have been as high as 54 percent (in fiscal year 2014) are coupled with attendance rates that appear to be declining, according to data obtained by Marine Corps Times through a Freedom of Information Act request spanning the past five years.
Over those five years, BRC’s attendance rate saw a high of 526 Marines in 2013 and a low of 280 Marines in 2016 — a nearly 45 percent drop.
Former and current reconnaissance Marines who spoke to Marine Corps Times on condition of anonymity said the low numbers were disappointing and raised alarms about the community’s sustainability.
WHERE’S THE WARRIOR SPIRIT?
But manpower concerns are not the only issues facing the Corps’ elite and storied recon units.
Many former and current recon Marines have long complained about gear, morale and an overall feeling that their skillsets have been underutilized, especially over the course of America’s counterinsurgency wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What truly is recon’s mission in the post-9/11 era and in the age of Marine Special Operations Command?
A common comparison told to Marine Corps Times by several members of the community, to describe recon’s search for an identity in the new era, is the HBO miniseries “Generation Kill,” which details the exploits of 1st Marine Reconnaissance Battalion as it barrels through Iraq during the opening of the U.S. invasion.
“The point, lance corporal, we’re supposed to be a recon unit of pure warrior spirit,” Sgt. Brad Colbert, played by Alexander Skarsgård, says in the show.
“We’re out here, 40 klicks in enemy lines, and this man of God here, he’s a f*ckin’ POG. In fact, he’s an officer POG. That’s one more layer of bureaucracy and unnecessary logistics, one more a**hole we need to supply MREs and baby wipes for.”
The scene depicts the frustrations of a community that often sees itself misused and misunderstood by the Corps.
Driving in armored trucks and carrying out missions generally the purview of infantry units is not what recon is trained to do.
“The ‘recon’ part is always just fairy dusted,” a former member of the recon and sniper community said.
“Recon isn’t the grunts; recon is special. The things in our T&R manual [training and readiness] are special operations missions. Yet, we basically have to use the same gear as the infantry.”
Since the creation of MARSOC, there also has been “somewhat of a competition of manpower,” between the two pools of prospects, a former reconnaissance company platoon commander told Marine Corps Times in 2017. “Marines have to make a choice.”
Both communities tend to draw the same type of Marine: “You get smarter, stronger, more of the Alpha-male type figures,” Talbert said.
But, as far as changing and learning new skills goes: “Reconnaissance has stayed pretty much the same for the past 20 years or more,” the former company platoon commander said, where MARSOC has developed several new skillsets.
And there are other signs of stresses.
Take for instance that this year the Marine Corps deployed reserve members of 3rd and 4th Force Reconnaissance Companies to augment 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion in Okinawa, Japan, as part of a Unit Deployment Program, or UDP.
Units who participate in a UDP usually conduct training on Okinawa, Japan, or with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.
It’s not entirely uncommon for reserve units to be called up to conduct a UDP, but sometimes it’s to pick up slack for active-duty units that are otherwise busy.
Reserve Marines with 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment are deploying on a UDP to Okinawa in October, taking the place of Camp Pendleton, Marines with 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.
The 5th Marine Regiment was simply retasked with evaluating and testing the Corps’ new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, which is set to replace the Marine Corps’ aging fleet of Humvees.
“As the Marine Corps strives to make the most of its modernization plans, every opportunity will be taken to improve the capability and readiness of our forces at the same time,” Lt. Col. Ted Wong, a Marine spokesman, told Marine Corps Times about 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment’s UDP in June.
It’s the first time in several years a reserve unit has been called up to take on a UDP.
But, while the reserve force recon companies are augmenting the UDP, their deployment is a little different than the battalion level UDPs, according to Maj. Roger Hollenbeck, spokesman for Marine Forces Reserve.
The reserve force recon Marines in Okinawa eventually will be relieved by another reserve platoon of recon Marines “in order to provide continuous support to the active duty battalion on Okinawa,” Hollenbeck said.
FINDING A SOLUTION
But the Corps is working hard to find a solution.
At the end of September, the Marine Corps kicked off its first extensive rank structure review in nearly 20 years to look at manpower issues as a result of the Corps’ push to modernize, known as the Marine Force 2025 concept, according to a forcewide message.
A review by Manpower and Reserve Affairs identified 42 job fields that range from recon, intelligence, aviation and logistics that are suffering from an inverted grade pyramid, MCCDC said.
Inverted grade pyramids can stymie and logjam promotions and result in a diminished pool of lower rank-and-file Marines in a various job. It can also create future manning challenges.
The Corps has highlighted the recon field as a priority.
Specifically, Manpower and Reserve Affairs found that the E-4 population was higher than the E-3s in the 0321 community. This means there are more corporals or noncommissioned officers in the recon field than junior enlisted folks.
Which could be a big problem in the long run.
Plus, recon’s “independent operator, independent thinker” model puts “a lot of responsibility on even the youngest lance corporal or corporal,” said Talbert.
“The information that they need to know and the mindset that they need to have is probably equivalent to a sergeant in the infantry.”
Marine officials say they are not sure what has caused the inverted grade structure in the 0321 community but are currently reviewing the issue.
But not all is doom and gloom.
MCCDC told Marine Corps Times that the recon community met its fiscal year 2018 recruiting goal and 99 percent of its retention goal.
Some of that may be the result of big bucks the Corps dished out as part of its Selective Retention Bonuses for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.
A sergeant moving into the recon field could net a $50,000 bonus on top of a 72-month lateral kicker of $40,000, netting a future recon Marine $90,000.
And gunnys and above with 10-14 years of active service rate nearly $30,000 for reenlisting as an 0321.
“The current inventory of recon Marines is sufficient to fill almost 90 percent of the required billets across the USMC,” said spokeswoman Capt. Karoline Foote.
And changes are afoot to address its various challenges to include attrition, graduation and attendance rates.
From fiscal years 2013-2018, the highest attrition rate at BRC was 54 percent, which is high, but doesn’t quite match the scout sniper school attrition rate of nearly 67 percent in 2014, which has since dropped below 50 percent.
The Corps’ elite recon and sniper schools are arduous and physically demanding. Relatively high attrition rates are expected as these schools seek to evaluate the best and toughest among a small pool of candidates.
But attendance at BRC also appears to be on the decline and has not peaked above 400 candidates since 2014, according to data obtained by Marine Corps Times.
To address these challenges, Training and Education Command recently kicked off a Reconnaissance Training Management Team Working Group,” which "identified gaps” in recon training, Foote said.
As a result of the working group, BRC will now have 11 additional days of instruction. The Corps also decided to update its recon prescreening course known as the Basic Reconnaissance Primer Course, or BRPC, which is relatively new.
“Using historical data and feedback, the new BRPC continues to provide much needed training in aquatics and physical conditioning. It will now include Land Navigation to allow for increased remediation and written test opportunities to better prepare Marines for the cognitive aspects of memorization and written exams throughout BRC,” Foote explained.
Some former and current recon Marines posit the decline in attendance at BRC may be a result of the primer course weeding out students who otherwise would not have graduated BRC.
And Corps officials said since the new screening course and changes to BRC went into effect graduation rates have soared to nearly 80 percent.
“The vast majority of attrition from the Basic Reconnaissance training program result from failures to pass initial screening,” Foote explained. “Once candidates are screened to meet the medical, cognitive, and physical requirements to conduct high risk training, the attrition rate is low.”
“You can count on us to serve, but we can’t count on the VA to make a deadline,” one veteran said.
ct.07.2018 / 7:00 AM EDT
If Jane Wiley and her husband, Ryan Wiley, both discharged from the Marines, don’t receive the housing allowance they get through the GI Bill by Nov. 1, she expects that they will run out of money for food and rent. They will also have to stop attending school if they can’t afford child care for their two kids.
The Wiley family is not alone. Because of a software issue, the Department of Veteran Affairs is struggling to pay student veterans the housing allowance and other benefits provided to them via the GI Bill.
The federal agency has paid some veterans too much, too little or nothing at all. It is up to two months late on payments in some cases, forcing potentially thousands of former service members to spiral financially.
The Wileys depended on those checks and included them in their monthly budget. Without them, they instead have a handful of maxed out credit cards and no expectations of when they might be paid.
NBC News spoke to 10 veterans who had to borrow money from family, take out loans, or open new credit cards — and watch their bank accounts trend steadily toward zero — because their payments were delayed.
“People are homeless and starving because they can’t rely on getting their benefits,” said Jane Wiley, who left the Marines in June 2016 and now serves as a reservist in the Air Force. “If it means making [VA] employees stay all night, then get it done because it’s better than putting families in crisis.”
Wiley said she is frustrated because she sent in the paperwork to be certified to receive her benefits nearly two months ago, but has no idea when or if she’ll receive a check. The VA has provided her — and the other veterans NBC News spoke to — few answers.
“You can count on us to serve,” said Wiley, 31, who attends Texas A&M San Antonio, “but we can’t count on the VA to make a deadline.”
The VA said the problem currently stems from an IT problem caused by changes to the law when President Donald Trump signed the Forever GI Act last year. New standards for calculating housing stipends were to be implemented on Aug. 1, but it caused “severe critical errors” during testing that “resulted in incorrect payments,” VA spokesman Terrence Hayes said.
As a result, the VA decided to postpone the deployment of the system. It is now paying students under 2017 rates — ignoring the 1 percent increase for 2018 — and plans to reimburse students the difference they are owed at some point in the future.
As of now, the agency does not know how many veterans are affected but expects that 360,000 veterans will have to be paid the 2017 rate. It will be “unable to identify the number of veterans solely impacted by delayed payments” until they are able to process every veterans’ enrollment documents, Hayes said.
“Education Service has placed the Regional Processing Offices in a mandatory overtime status and have 202 temporary employees on hand to assist with the pending inventory,” he said in a statement. “With these measures in place we are processing over 16,000 claims per day.”
Hayes did not respond for comment when asked how much the additional 202 temporary employees would cost the VA.
It’s just another example of how the VA, in this capacity, does not have their s— together.
The VA’s Office of Information Technology and Veterans Benefits Administration believe the problem could be solved by the end of the year, but many veterans said none of this has been conveyed to them, leaving them directionless.
The lack of communication has only exacerbated the problem, said veteran Jarid Watson, 37. He faults what he called “toxic leadership” at the VA for these ongoing issues. Watson said he has fallen behind on his mortgage payments because of the delay and added that, at the very least, the VA could have explained the problem.
“It would at least show there was some sort of strategy, some sort of plan, some sort of organization,” said Watson, who received a medical discharge from the Air Force as a tech sergeant in 2016 after 12 years of service. “It’s just another example of how the VA, in this capacity, does not have their s— together, and that comes from the very top.”
Rep. David Roe, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, began looking into the matter in mid-September after two veterans in his district sent their information within a minute of each other to be certified. One received his housing allowance, but the VA couldn’t find the other man in the system at all.
In a letter to Under Secretary for Benefits Paul Lawrence on Sept. 28, Roe wrote that the problem appeared to stem from student certifications not properly transferring from one system to another, causing “students’ certification [to be] lost and not making it to the payment program that provides the monthly living stipend.” He also noted that this was particularly concerning as the VA’s workload for education claims increased by 52 percent between Sept. 22, 2017, to Sept. 21, 2018 — from 163,771 to 248,396.
“They have to upgrade their system to a modern, working system,” Roe told NBC News. “This should not be this hard. If this was happening at [Amazon], this problem would be fixed or somebody would be fired.”
“You can’t have these young people going homeless,” he said of veterans who were now struggling to meet their rent. “They can’t be doing that. They have to pay their bills. Congress has provided the money; taxpayers have provided the money. It’s time for the VA to do their job.”
Veterans were open about how much this would affect their budgets. The apparent software snafu is costing former service members living on a tight budget a great deal as they are now faced with banking fees, interest on loans or on credit cards and other late charges for unpaid bills.
Matt Downie, 35, who served over four years in the Army before being discharged as a corporal in 2007, interns at a law office, studies pre-law at Southern New Hampshire University and works as a personal trainer in his free time. Because of how busy he is and the need to also support his wife and three kids, the money provided by the GI Bill is essential to his family’s monthly budget.
To pay his bills, Downie said he had to borrow $1,100 from his sister and her husband. This week, he finally received $2,500 from the VA, but he said the delay has cost his family more than $300 in overdraft fees.
“To be honest, if we didn’t get that money, I don’t know what we would have done come Monday,” said Downie. “We were down to $15 in our bank account and have three kids, two car payments and our house that we rent.”
Joe Davis, the director of communications for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the organization was attempting to evaluate the impact of the delayed payments on members.
“We just hope all creditors and landlords cut some slack to the veteran,” he said. “It’s the system, not the veteran, because they will be paid.”
Of the veterans interviewed, each shared how they sat on hold with the VA’s education helpline for up to 90 minutes in hopes of receiving an answer. But once they were finally able to speak to a VA employee, the veteran would be told that there was no new information or that call volumes were so high that they would have to call back later.
But the greatest frustration for many is that this is a benefit that isn’t exactly new — the GI bill was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1944. The VA should be able to anticipate the need, they said.
“I’m glad I served and I’d do it again, but what bothered me is that I was doing my job: taking classes, passing my classes and submitting my certification,” Downie said. “They’re totally failing their jobs and they still get paid. It just seemed like no one cared. I often was told a lot of people weren’t getting paid besides me. I understand that, but that doesn’t help me at all.”
[Editor’s Note: 75 year member of local American Legion Post 1796]
Oct. 7, 2018
NEW WINDSOR, N.Y. — Anthony Mancinelli shook out a barber towel and welcomed the next customer to his chair in Fantastic Cuts, a cheery hair salon in a nondescript strip mall, about an hour’s drive north of New York City.
“Hey, paisan — same as usual,” said John O’Rourke to Mr. Mancinelli, who began layering Mr. O’Rourke’s hair with his steady, snipping scissors.
“I don’t let anyone else touch my hair,” said Mr. O’Rourke, 56, of Cornwall, N.Y. “The guy’s been cutting hair for a century.”
Actually, Mr. O’Rourke was off by four years. Mr. Mancinelli is 107 and still working full time, cutting hair five days a week from noon to 8 p.m. He has been working in barbershops since he was 11. Warren Harding was in the White House.
In 2007, at a mere 96 years old, he was recognized by Guinness World Records as the oldest working barber. Since then, the commendations have rolled in — from local civic groups, elected officials and barbering companies — all congratulating him: 100 years, 101, 102, and so on.
Mr. Mancinelli just keeps outdating the awards.
The salon’s speakers were playing hip-hop on a recent afternoon. “He’s used to the windup record players,” Mr. O’Rourke teased.
Mr. Mancinelli has a trim build, a steady hand and a full head of hair, albeit snow white. He spends much of his day on his feet, in a pair of worn, cracked leather black shoes.
“People come in and they flip out when they find out how old he is,” said the shop’s owner, Jane Dinezza.
“He never calls in sick,” she said. “I have young people with knee and back problems, but he just keeps going. He can do more haircuts than a 20-year-old kid. They’re sitting there looking at their phones, texting or whatever, and he’s working.”
Asked — for the umpteenth time — about his longevity, Mr. Mancinelli offered only that he has always put in a satisfying day’s work and he has never smoked or drank heavily.
But no, longevity does not run in his family, and he was never big on exercise. Diet-wise, he said, “I eat thin spaghetti, so I don’t get fat.”
He has all his teeth and is on no daily medication. He has never needed glasses, and his hairstyling hands are still steady.
“I only go to the doctor because people tell me to, but even he can’t understand it,” he said. “I tell him I have no aches, no pains, no nothing. Nothing hurts me.”
One reason he continues to work, he said, is that it helps him stay busy and upbeat after the death of his wife of 70 years, Carmella, 14 years ago. He visits her grave daily before work.
Mr. Mancinelli lives alone, not far from the salon in New Windsor. He drives to work, cooks his own meals, watches television — he is a big pro-wrestling fan — and is adamantly self-sufficient. He still trims the bushes in his front yard with no help.
“He won’t even let anyone sweep up his hair clippings,” said his son Bob Mancinelli, 81, who noted that his father even gives haircuts to himself.
As Ms. Dinezza observed, “he shops for himself, does his own laundry, pays his own bills — it’s crazy. He’s just in the right state of mind.”
“You hear about all these people asking, ‘What medicine can I take, what food can I eat, what anti-aging cream should I use?’” she said, “and he’s doing it with none of those things.”
As hairstyles have changed over the decades, Mr. Mancinelli has adapted. “I cut them all,’’ he said, “long hair, short hair, whatever was in style — the shag, the Buster Brown, straight bangs, permanents.”
Some customers have been coming to him for well over 50 years, having gotten hundreds of haircuts.
“I have some customers, I cut their father, grandfather and great-grandfather — four generations,” said Mr. Mancinelli, who has six great-great-grandchildren.
His son, Bob Mancinelli, said: “Some of his older customers, he helps them in the chair. He’ll say to an 80-year-old guy, ‘Listen, when you get to be my age. …’ They love hearing that.”
Jen Sullivan, a stylist who works the chair next to Mr. Mancinelli, is all of 20.
“It’s just amazing that he still works full time,” she said. “Weekends here can get crazy — even I get tired of being on my feet — but he just keeps going.”
Mr. Mancinelli said he was born in 1911 near Naples, Italy, and emigrated with his family when he was 8, joining a relative in Newburgh, N.Y. He was one of eight children — “I’m the only one left” — and went to work at age 11 in a local barbershop. By age 12, he was cutting hair and dropped out of high school to cut hair full time.
Back then, a haircut cost 25 cents, he said. Now, a haircut from Mr. Mancinelli costs $19.
He no longer practices the medical techniques he learned early on from older barbers, such as burning off warts, placing heated glass cups on the torso and using leeches for swelling or high blood pressure.
He does keep in his salon drawer — “for when the electricity goes out” — a pair of manual hair clippers he used before electric hair clippers came into use.
He is the perennial choice for grand marshal of the New Windsor Memorial Day Parade. A World War II Army veteran, Mr. Mancinelli has been a proud member, for 75 years, of local American Legion Post 1796, where his drink of choice is a whiskey sour.
For Mr. Mancinelli’s birthdays, the salon closes and gives a party, with food donated by the local supermarket. But most days are routine, interrupted by the occasional news media inquiry seeking out this centenarian barber.
The write-ups have attracted curious people from all over the world for haircuts. The actor Ben Gazzara came up 10 years ago from Manhattan for a haircut, on the advice of a friend, Mr. Mancinelli said.
Ms. Dinezza hired Mr. Mancinelli several years ago after another local shop cut back his hours. Her receptionist initially disregarded his application because of his age, but Mr. Mancinelli applied again, and impressed Ms. Dinezza with his cutting ability.
“Now, I feel like I’m working for him,” she said. “I get a million and one phone calls from people all over the world who have heard about him and want to visit.”
Next up in his chair was another regular, Joe Murphy, 46. He recalled getting a haircut on Mr. Mancinelli’s 100th birthday at his previous shop. (This reporter decided to take a bit off the sides as well.)
“The guys in the shop wanted to take him to a girlie joint for his birthday,” Mr. Murphy recalled, as the 107-year-old barber toweled his neck clean. “But Anthony said, ‘No way — what are you trying to do, kill me?’”