American Legion Daily News Clips 12.12.19

From: "Seavey, Mark C." <>

Date: December 12, 2019 at 5:16:01 AM MST

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Thursday, December 12, 2019 which is National Ambrosia Day, Festival of Unmentionable Thoughts, Gingerbread House Day and National Ding-a-Ling Day. (According to the website, the last is from the dictionary definition of a "ding-a-ling" that refers to a "stupid, foolish, or eccentric person" or "one who is crazy.")

This Day in Legion History:

  • Dec. 12, 1995: Following a June vote of 312-120 in the House – 22 votes more than necessary for a supermajority – the Senate fails by just three votes of hitting the two-thirds mark necessary to pass a constitutional amendment to protect the U.S. flag from intentional physical desecration. The measure is introduced in every subsequent Congress from that point forward, spurred by The American Legion and the Citizens Flag Alliance.

This Day in History:

  • 1937: During the battle for Nanking in the Sino-Japanese War, the U.S. gunboat Panay is attacked and sunk by Japanese warplanes in Chinese waters. The American vessel, neutral in the Chinese-Japanese conflict, was escorting U.S. evacuees and three Standard Oil barges away from Nanking, the war-torn Chinese capital on the Yangtze River. After the Panay was sunk, the Japanese fighters machine-gunned lifeboats and survivors huddling on the shore of the Yangtze. Two U.S. sailors and a civilian passenger were killed and 11 personnel seriously wounded, setting off a major crisis in U.S.-Japanese relations.
  • On December 12, 1787, Pennsylvania becomes the second state to ratify the Constitution, by a vote of 46 to 23. Pennsylvania was the first large state to ratify, as well as the first state to endure a serious Anti-Federalist challenge to ratification.
  • 1901: Italian physicist and radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi succeeds in sending the first radio transmission across the Atlantic Ocean, disproving detractors who told him that the curvature of the earth would limit transmission to 200 miles or less. The message–simply the Morse-code signal for the letter “s”–traveled more than 2,000 miles from Poldhu in Cornwall, England, to Newfoundland, Canada.


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Defense News: House passes ‘progressive’ defense bill, 377-48
By: Joe Gould   13 hours ago
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WASHINGTON ― In a strong bipartisan vote, the House passed a compromise defense policy bill that authorizes a new Space Force and $738 billion for the Pentagon, but a small but vocal group of Democrats voted against it because of the absence of new war powers restrictions, arms control language and border wall mandates. The vote was 377-48.
Beyond the 3,488-page bill’s role in authorizing the defense budget, lead House Democrats highlighted a number of reasons for their caucus to vote for the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. Paid parental leave for federal workers was at the top, with a new process to redress military medical malpractice cases, improvements to scandal-plagued military housing, the elimination of the military “widows tax” and prohibitions on the military’s use of “PFAS” chemicals.
But a number of Democrats still broke ranks on the final draft, which excluded a broader PFAS ban, restrictions on the president’s ability to transfer military money to his southern border wall, a cut to the W76-2 low-yield nuclear warhead and prohibitions on U.S. military support for the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen.
Of Democrats, 188 voted “yea” and 41 voted “nay.” Of Republicans, 189 voted “yea” and six voted “nay.”
An NDAA has been finalized by Congress for 58 consecutive years, but this year’s bipartisan, bicameral negotiations were unusually complex because of split control of Congress. When House Republicans en masse opposed their chamber’s bill months ago, Democrats added progressive policy measures so it would muster the votes to pass the House, but those provisions were stripped out in talks with the GOP-controlled Senate.
The split Democratic vote highlights the crosscurrents House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., must navigate―in addition to GOP pressure―as he steers future NDAA’s. On Wednesday, Smith issued a fiery and defensive statement aimed at members of his own party, saying, “This is the most progressive defense bill we have passed in decades.”
“Ultimately, the biggest difference between where the Democrats in the House were at and the Republicans in the Senate were at, we believe in more aggressive legislative oversight, particularly when it comes to matters of engaging in military action,” Smith said. “We remain deeply concerned about the war in Yemen. It is not our war.”
During the debate, Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., said calling the bill “progressive” was “Orweillian” and exhorted his colleagues to vote “nay” over the absence of language he sponsored, “to stop the war in Yemen.” That prompted Smith to say later that it was “breathtakingly dishonest" to suggest the NDAA contained language that would end Yemen’s civil war.
House Republicans joined HASC Democratic leaders in voicing enthusiastic support for the bill.
“You had two very different bills and a panoply of issues that were not in our jurisdiction. And somehow all of that had to come together in a way that would pass the House, pass the Senate, and hopefully be signed into law by the president,” HASC ranking member Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said Tuesday.
“It has been incredibly challenging, but enormous credit goes to Chairman Smith for his patience and his persistence in working through with members here, the other body and the executive branch.”
President Donald Trump―who successfully pushed for the creation of Space Force in the bill―announced Wednesday in a celebratory tweet he would sign the bill.
“Wow! All of our priorities have made it into the final NDAA: Pay Raise for our Troops, Rebuilding our Military, Paid Parental Leave, Border Security, and Space Force!” Trump’s tweet read. “Congress ― don’t delay this anymore! I will sign this historic defense legislation immediately!”
The Senate plans to take up and pass the bill next week, where an even larger proportion of Democrats are expected to support it. However, two Democratic presidential contenders, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, announced they will vote against the bill in part because it rejected the Yemen provisions. Warren, in a tweet, called the bill a, “$738 billion Christmas present to giant defense contractors.”
While Co-Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said she would not vote for the bill, her 90-member Congressional Progressive Caucus did not whip votes against it.
On the flip side, New Jersey Democrat Rep. Tom Malinowski, a former State Department official who narrowly won a Republican district in 2018, said Tuesday he was always going to vote “yes”―even after negotiators rejected his amendment to ban the sale of air-to-ground munitions to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“Number One, I’m a pro-defense Democrat, and I want to support our forces,” Malinowski said, adding that the leave provision offset some of his displeasure.
The bill falls short of the $750 billion Trump and Republicans said earlier in the year the Pentagon needed to implement the National Defense Strategy. However, it hews to the top line that congressional leaders and the White House agreed to in July and represents a $22 billion increase over 2019.
Among other pieces of military hardware, the NDAA would authorize, a 12 more Lockheed F-35 fighter jets for the U.S. military than the administration requested, for a total of $1 billion, as well as eight new Boeing F-15EX fighters, three Arleigh Burke destroyers, a new frigate, two more amphibious warships and three unmanned surface vessels.

Military Times: Budget bill loaded with military personnel policies advances in House
By: Leo Shane III   13 hours ago
HASC chair satisfied with final NDAA compromise
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said he’s satisfied with the National Defense Authorization bill working its way through approvals in Congress. The bill adds new protections for military housing residents and a pay raise for troops, among a bevy of other measures.
Democratic leaders on Wednesday touted a host of military personnel improvements as the reason skeptical members of their own caucus should support the annual defense authorization bill, with limited success.
The sweeping $738 billion budget policy legislation passed through the House 377-48 and appears headed to become law for the 59th consecutive year, an achievement lawmakers from both parties offer as evidence that military needs can rise above Capitol Hill partisan discord.
But multiple Democrats who supported the measure over the summer broke ranks on the final draft, which excluded language supporting transgender recruits entering the military, restrictions on the president’s ability to transfer military money to unapproved projects (like his controversial southern border wall), and several other provisions unrelated to the Defense Department.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., countered that the measure is “the most progressive defense bill we have passed in decades.”
A day earlier, he held back-to-back press conferences celebrating the bill’s inclusion of paid parental leave for federal workers and the elimination of the military “widows tax.” Before Wednesday’s vote, he highlighted the 3.1 percent pay raise for troops set to start next month and planned improvements to military housing.
“It contains major wins for Democrats and working people, and promotes our national security,” he said. “Because of this hard work, our bill will have real impacts on Americans leading real lives.”
It also earned praise from military advocates who lauded the provisions as transformative for many military families.
“We are extremely pleased,” said Kelly Hruska, government relations director for the National Military Family Association.
“The bipartisan bill makes positive changes for military families including the elimination of the widow’s tax, paid parental leave for federal employees, improvements to the My Career Advancement Accounts and an increase in the reimbursement for the relicensing and recertification due to a (change of station) moves for military spouses.”
The pay raise is the largest for troops in a decade and goes into effect on Jan. 1. For junior enlisted troops, it will mean roughly $815 more in pay in 2020. For senior enlisted and junior officers, the hike equals about $1,500 more. An O-4 with 12 years service would see more than $2,800 extra next year under the increase.
Military families affected by the “widows tax” (about 65,000, according to outside advocates’ estimates) lose several thousand dollars a year because of how federal rules handle a pair of survivor benefits: Dependency and Indemnity Compensation and the Survivor Benefit Plan.
Under the bill, families would receive their full benefits payouts phased in over three years, starting Jan. 1, 2021.
The authorization bill also includes a process for the defense secretary for the first time to offer payouts to the victims of military medical malpractice cases.
House progressives had pushed for a partial repeal of the Feres Doctrine, the 1950s Supreme Court decision cited repeatedly by lower courts to block troops from seeking damages for war-related injuries or on-duty accidents.
But Smith and other supporters called the compromise language an important step ahead on the issue.
“Service members and their families finally have a path forward in seeking compensation for medical malpractice committed by military health care providers,” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif. who had pushed for the Feres repeal, said in a statement before the vote. “And the Defense Department will have to take their claims seriously.”
On military housing issues — a focus of lawmakers since a Reuters investigation last year found widespread problems with mold, lead, vermin and unaddressed repairs at private military residences across the country — lawmakers mandated the creation of a new “tenant bill of rights” for military families, and directed more money in the fiscal 2020 budget for contractor oversight and tenant advocacy programs.
The bill also includes new domestic violence and sexual assault protections, and new procedures for considering discharge upgrades of troops who experienced either of those issues in the ranks.
The Senate is expected to vote on the authorization bill early next week. President Donald Trump on Twitter Wednesday voiced support for the measure, urging lawmakers to move quickly on the legislation.

VOA: US Military Leaders, Congress Spar Over Syria Pullout
By Carla Babb
December 11, 2019 05:19 PM
WASHINGTON – U.S. lawmakers and military leaders sparred Wednesday over the U.S. decision in October to pull troops out of northern Syria amid the threat of a Turkish offensive.

"The American handshake has to mean something," Representative Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat and former Defense Department official who has been outspoken against the U.S. move, told Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley.

The U.S. decision to withdraw troops from the area cleared the way for NATO ally Turkey to invade a region of Syria controlled by another U.S. ally, the Syrian Democratic Forces, which includes Kurdish fighters denounced by Ankara as terrorists.

Officials estimate that hundreds of thousands of people were displaced from their homes because of the Turkish incursion. Kurdish fighters, who had been key in helping the U.S. fight the Islamic State terror group, were also left open to attack.
Turkish buildup

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on U.S. military policy in Syria, Milley said Wednesday that he "personally recommended to pull out 28 special forces soldiers" from northern Syria "in the face of 15,000 Turks." He said intelligence had shown considerable buildup of Turkish forces on the Syrian border since early August.

"I’m not going to allow 28 American soldiers to be killed and slaughtered just to call someone’s bluff," Milley fired back at Representative Mikie Sherrill, a Democrat and former Navy helicopter pilot.
Committee Chairman Adam Smith argued that the Turkish buildup seen by U.S. intelligence occurred only after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria in December 2018. At the time, Trump tweeted his intention to withdraw forces from northern Syria following a call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Days later, on December 20, then-Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis resigned in protest.

"Mr. Secretary, the only reason you are sitting here today is because General Mattis resigned almost exactly a year ago today on the basis of the president threatening this very decision," Slotkin told Esper at the hearing.
‘Turmoil’ seen

Esper said the United States had reduced its presence in Syria to between 500 and 600 troops. He said the situation in northern Syria had stabilized, but he added that the U.S. "expected turmoil" as Turkey moved Syrian refugees into the region.

"My biggest concern with Syria and Turkey is actually Turkey-Russia," Esper said, warning that Turkey had been "moving out of the NATO orbit."

"Turkey is holding up some actions in NATO right now to the detriment of the alliance," Esper added.

The northern Syria rift appears to have brought the NATO ally closer to Moscow, which Democratic Representative John Garamendi said was potentially aimed at the "heart" of the U.S. defense strategy to combat big powers.

Under the Trump administration, the National Defense Strategy — the quadrennial guidance for planning, strategy, modernization and other aspects of the nation’s defense — shifted U.S. military policy to focus more on great-power competition, especially with China and Russia.
Military Times: Lawmakers kill off controversial plan to limit GI Bill benefits transfer to spouses, children
By:Leo Shane III 13 hours ago

A controversial plan to limit troops from sharing their GI Bill benefits with spouses and children would be completely scuttled under the defense authorization bill moving through Congress this week.
The legislation, which passed the House by a 377-48 vote on Wednesday, includes language prohibiting the Defense Department "from imposing a general limit on transferability (of education benefits) based on the number of years served.”
That refers to plans which were set to go into effect last summer which would have blocked troops with more than 16 years of service from transferring their post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to their spouses or children.
The plan was met with criticism from military family advocates and lawmakers, who said it amounted to punishing troops opting to stay until retirement. But defense officials argued the transferability portions of the education benefits were designed to be a recruiting and retention incentive, and should not apply to long-serving service members.
Currently, troops with at least six years of service may transfer their education benefits to a spouse or child, provided they agree to serve in the military for four more years. The value of the benefits can total tens of thousands of dollars in tuition, housing stipends and related education costs.
Just days before the change was set to go into effect, lawmakers announced they would delay any move until early 2020 while they reviewed the proposed changes.
If the authorization bill becomes law — and it is expected to, given President Donald Trump’s announcement on Wednesday that he supports the measure — defense officials would be forced to drop the idea completely.
Report language with the measure notes that while Pentagon leaders still have the authority to make decisions on eligibility and transfer rules for education benefits, the lawmakers “encourage service secretaries to develop policies that properly treat transferability as one of many possible recruiting and retention tools to attract and keep high-quality servicemembers.”
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., authored the provision and in a statement Wednesday praised his colleagues for adopting the language.
“The Defense Department’s plan to restrict our longest-serving service members from transferring those G.I. Bill benefits falls far short of honoring their sacrifice, and would have wronged those vets who are willing and able to continue their service,” he said. “Ending this plan once and for all is the right thing to do.”
The Senate is expected to pass the authorization bill early next week. ‘Millions’ Stolen in Decade-Long Buying Fraud at Florida VA Hospitals, Officials Say
11 Dec 2019 | By Dorothy Mills-Gregg
At least 15 Department of Veterans Affairs employees and vendors in Florida were engaged in an "elaborate" fraud scheme that cost the government "millions" since 2009, two government agencies announced in a joint press conference Wednesday.
Declining to give the exact amount allegedly stolen or say what tipped them off, the U.S. Attorney General for the Southern District of Florida and the Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General said people affiliated with the Miami and West Palm Beach VA clinics were charged and arrested on charges including conspiracy to commit health care fraud, committing health care fraud and bribery.
Nine of the suspects were "low-level" procurement staff, officials said. They allegedly defrauded the VA by letting vendors charge inflated prices for products or saying vendors supplied an order that was completely or partially unfilled. The employees would then receive a kickback on what the VA paid those vendors, officials said.
"This fraud scheme was clearly carried out, not only by the VA employees but deceptively with those vendors. And both of them are equally culpable in this scheme," district Attorney General Ariana Fajardo Orshan said.
Officials also announced a separate but similar alleged fraud scheme that they suspect involved disabled veteran Lisa Anderson, 48, of Delray Beach. The attorney general has charged Anderson with false statements on her Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business application, accusing her of selling her preferred VA contract status to businesses she was not connected to.
OIG and AG officials praised their work in apprehending the suspects, but they called the investigation "ongoing" and did not comment on whether there will be any more arrests.
Orshan emphasized those arrested in the alleged kickback schemes were not representative of the VA at large.
"However, that does not reflect on the many, many well-intended, hard-working individuals that work for the VA medical services, she said, "and I want to clearly state that so it’s just a couple of bad apples."
The maximum prison sentence for the charges are as follows: 10 years for conspiracy to commit health care fraud, 15 years for bribery and 20 years for falsifying records.