Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Wednesday, May 6, 20202 which is the day I do my biweekly podcast, so you get me from the office today.
And as I am here, I might as well give you the month in Legion History, or at least the first two weeks.
- May 1, 1942: The American Legion National Executive Committee passes a resolution, as wartime demand soars, to expand local blood-donation efforts across the country. Thus is born the Legion’s Blood Donor Program, which continues today, rewarding American Legion departments, based in five different membership categories, that give the most blood on an annual basis. The American Legion ultimately becomes the No. 1 donor of blood to the Red Cross throughout the nation.
- May 1, 1972: The American Legion launches an unprecedented national Halloween safety program and guide for parents.
- May 2, 1927: The Alaska Legislature adopts as its official territorial flag a design by Benny Benson, a 13-year-old seventh grader from Mission Territorial School near Seward. Benson’s design features the Big Dipper and the North Star against a field of “forget-me-not” blue to win first place in an American Legion-run contest that attracts 142 entries. The Alaska Territorial Legislature offered $1,000 to the boy so that he could take the flag to Washington, D.C., and present it to President Calvin Coolidge, accompanied by Alaska Legionnaires. Unfortunately, Coolidge was not available, so the Legionnaires took the flag with them aboard the SS Leviathan on the 1927 Paris Pilgrimage to Europe, displaying in prominently in the ship’s dining room, and then returned it to the Last Frontier State’s Historical Library and Museum. The territorial flag of Benson’s design became the state flag in 1959.
- May 4, 1950: American Legion donations help launch the National Association for Mental Health.
- May 4, 2011: The American Legion National Executive Committee passes a resolution to establish The American Legion Amateur Radio Club in support of the organization’s disaster-preparedness program, in association with the Department of Homeland Security. The ham radio club is authorized a budget of $1,000 to get started.
- May 5, 2014: Following nationally publicized revelations that veterans died waiting for unscheduled appointments at the Phoenix VA Medical Center, American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger calls for the resignation of VA Secretary Gen. Eric Shinseki, Under Secretary for Health Care Robert Petzel and Under Secretary for Benefits Gen. Allison Hickey.
- May 5, 2010: The American Legion National Executive Committee selects Shelby, N.C., to be the host city of The American Legion Baseball World Series at least through 2014, potentially becoming a permanent site for the tournament. More than 100 supporters of Shelby traveled to Indianapolis to make their case over Bartlesville, Okla., which was second in the bid to serve as home of the tournament. The water tower in the North Carolina town is soon repainted, “Shelby, Home of The American Legion Baseball World Series.” Keeter Stadium is redesigned, new lights are installed, and in 2012, The American Legion announces through a Fall NEC resolution that the Shelby contract would be extended through 2019.
- May 6, 1937: After a study of the different department styles of uniform caps, the National Executive Committee approves a resolution specifying that caps be worn by officers on all levels, and the blue cap with gold lettering is the standard for rank-and-file membership.
- May 6, 1965: The National Executive Committee approves Resolution 46 stating that a Legionnaire is considered to be in uniform whenever wearing a Legion cap.
- May 8-10, 1919: The American Legion’s constitution is approved at the St. Louis Caucus, conducted inside the Shubert Theater. Before declining nomination to lead the new organization but serving as temporary chairman of the caucus, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., calls the session to order with a gavel made from the steamship Roosevelt’s rudder; the vessel had carried Adm. Robert Edwin Peary during his explorations of the North Pole. Roosevelt, Jr. rejects chants of “We want Teddy!” to serve as first national leader of the organization. Roosevelt, with plans to eventually run for elected office, does not want The American Legion to be politicized in any way. Former Dallas Mayor Henry D. Lindsley is instead named chairman of the St. Louis Caucus, and plans are advanced to elect a commander at the first national convention of the organization. By the end of the St. Louis Caucus, drafts of The American Legion preamble and constitution are approved, temporary officers chosen, a national convention site selected and the name of the organization becomes permanent.
- May 9, 1951: A 21-year-old combat veteran of the Korean War is denied admission into the Tucson, Ariz., VA Hospital because, as the director tells the media and American Legion members who take up the veteran’s cause, “no returned veteran from Korea is eligible for hospital benefits unless he has been discharged from the service because of a duty disability.” This nationally publicized story leads National Commander Erle Cocke, Jr., to call on Congress to expand VA health-care services, disability benefits and pensions to veterans of the Korean War to an equal footing as those received by World War II veterans. A joint resolution to that effect is swiftly passed and signed into law May 11, 1951.
- May 12, 1986: President Ronald Reagan proclaims 1986 the Year of the Flag and directs all government agencies to fly the U.S. flag in honor of Flag Week, the week in which Flag Day occurs.
- May 14, 1998: The remains of the Vietnam Unknown are exhumed May 14, 1998, at Arlington National Cemetery. Based on mitochondrial DNA testing, DoD scientists identify the remains as those of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie, who was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. The crypt that contained the remains of the Vietnam Unknown remains vacant.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Military Times: 29 Purple Hearts approved for injuries sustained in Iran ballistic missile attack
- Military Times: Michigan copies GI Bill benefits for civilians as calls increase for expanding the program beyond the military
- Stripes: Former USS Theodore Roosevelt commander leaves Guam for new assignment
- Military.com: Immigrant Soldiers Sue to Become US Citizens, Saying DoD Broke Its Promise
- Military Times: US ‘had nothing to do’ with ex-Green Beret’s failed raid in Venezuela, says Esper
- Military Times: VA coronavirus deaths skyrocket as department revises its records
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Military Times: 29 Purple Hearts approved for injuries sustained in Iran ballistic missile attack
1 day ago
U.S. Central Command said 29 Purple Hearts have been approved for soldiers injured in the Jan. 8 Iran ballistic missile attack that struck two Iraqi bases housing coalition troops.
Cmdr. Zachary Harrell, a CENTCOM spokesman, told Military Times in an emailed statement that the first six Purple Hearts were awarded to U.S. Army soldiers in Kuwait and Iraq on May 2 and May 3 respectively, for injuries sustained in the ballistic missile strike targeting al-Asad Air Base in Iraq.
The awards were approved by Lt. Gen. Pat White, commander of Combined Joint Task Force- Operation Inherent Resolve, Harrell said.
In all, 80 Purple Heart packages were evaluated “individually” by a CJTF-OIR review board in accordance with Army and Air Force regulations, Harrell explained.
“The review board submitted their recommendations to White for final decision and determination for U.S. Army soldier Purple Hearts,” Harrell said.
Harrell explained two packages for airmen were sent to White who “passed his recommendation against approval” to Lt. Gen. Joseph T. Guastella, the commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command Command.
Guastella has final approval over Purple Hearts for airmen.
On Jan. 8, Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles targeting two Iraqi air bases in Erbil and al-Asad as retaliation for a decapitation strike carried out by the U.S. that killed Iranian Quds force commander Qassem Soleimani.
More than 100 U.S. service members have been evaluated for traumatic brain injury following the attack.
“It is important to note that a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) diagnosis does not automatically qualify a Service Member for Purple Heart eligibility or awarding, and the CJTF-OIR process was designed to be a fair and impartial proceeding that evaluated each case in accordance with applicable regulations,” Harrell said.
“Ultimately, 29 Purple Hearts have been approved for injuries sustained by U.S. Army soldiers, and the rest of the awards are expected to be presented this week," Harrell explained.
CNN first reported that 29 Purple Hearts have been approved for troops injured in the Iran ballistic missile attack.
Leo Shane III
1 day ago
Another prominent public policy voice called for an expansion of the popular GI Bill education program beyond military members in light of the recent coronavirus outbreak, as Michigan leaders have already moved to copy the program for health workers and other frontline responders.
Last month, political analyst Hugh Hewitt suggested that extending veterans education benefits to hospital staffers and other medical personnel facing extreme working conditions would be a way to reward their service, and reported that the idea is “on the president’s mind.”
On Monday, officials from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said the idea should be used to help encourage more public service needed to stabilize the country in the wake of the pandemic.
“The pandemic experience ought to lead to new national service programs, a public-health reserve corps, for example, and a similar disaster-relief initiative to cope with the harsh realities of a changing climate,” wrote William Burns, president of the group.
“(Incentives for service) could include an array of educational and economic benefits: greater loan repayment or tuition assistance; GI Bill–like programs, based on the length of committed public service; and ROTC or JROTC-like programs to promote interest in civilian service.”
Burns’ commentary comes less than a week after Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a new “Futures for Frontliners" initiative, grating tuition-free college classes to medical workers, grocery store employees and those protecting public safety.
Specifics of how the program will work were not unveiled, but officials said the idea was inspired by the existing military GI Bill program.
The most popular military education benefit in use today is the Post-9/11 GI Bill program, put in place in 2010 in response to criticism that the traditional Montgomery GI Bill benefits had not kept pace with cost of higher education.
The post-9/11 GI Bill grants 36 months of housing stipends and tuition equal to the cost of the most expensive state university where the recipient lives. The total value can exceed more than $100,000, depending on where students are located.
To qualify for full benefits, servicemembers must serve in the active-duty ranks for at least three years or be wounded in combat before reaching that service level. National Guard troops and Reservists who serve on active duty for at least 30 days can qualify for partial benefits.
The Department of Veterans Affairs made more than $11 billion in veterans education payments in fiscal 2018.
White House officials have not publicly commented on the idea of expanding GI Bill programs to non-military members or copying the program for other public servants.
Stripes: Former USS Theodore Roosevelt commander leaves Guam for new assignment
By CAITLIN M. KENNEY | STARS AND STRIPES
Published: May 5, 2020
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WASHINGTON — Capt. Brett Crozier, the former commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, has left Guam where he had been fighting the coronavirus and has been reassigned to a position in California, according to a Navy official.
Crozier now reports to the commander of Naval Air Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet, based in San Diego, Cmdr. Ron Flanders, a spokesman for Naval Air Forces, wrote Tuesday in an email.
The captain was relieved of command of the aircraft carrier on April 2, several days after a letter that he wrote requesting the crew be evacuated from the ship due to an outbreak of the virus was leaked to the media.
Crozier warned in his letter that the outbreak could kill some sailors, and “if we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our sailors.”
Crozier is now special assistant to Capt. Max McCoy, the chief of staff for the commander of Naval Air Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet, according to Flanders.
The Navy initiated an investigation into the outbreak and Crozier’s letter following his dismissal. On April 24, the Navy’s top leaders briefed Defense Secretary Mark Esper on the investigation and news reports said they recommended Crozier be reinstated as commander of the Roosevelt. However, no action was taken after Esper requested more time to review the Navy’s written report.
Since that briefing, the entire 4,800-member crew of the Roosevelt has been tested for the coronavirus, the Navy has reported. The Navy’s last update Thursday stated there were 1,102 active cases of the virus among the ship’s crew, 53 sailors had recovered, and three were being treated at U.S. Naval Hospital Guam for symptoms. One Roosevelt sailor died April 13 from the virus.
Sailors have been returning to the Roosevelt after weeks of quarantine in Guam. Sailors who have tested negative repeatedly for the virus are allowed back on the ship, which has been cleaned, according to the Navy.
The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier arrived in Guam on March 27 as the virus spread among the ship’s crew. The new commander, Capt. Carlos Sardiello, said during a CBS News interview Monday that the ship will not wait for all its sailors to leave quarantine before it returns to sea. More than half of the crew has returned to the ship, according to the CBS report.
“We’ve taken 45 days from that business (of patrolling) and it’s a dangerous business, so we have a lot of training to complete,” he said.
Acting Navy Secretary James McPherson on Wednesday ordered a deeper review into the virus outbreak aboard the Roosevelt and the Navy’s response, following an initial investigation that left him with “unanswered questions.”
The investigation is expected to be submitted to Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations, by May 27 unless an extension is granted, Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a spokesman for Gilday, said Thursday in a statement.
Military.com: Immigrant Soldiers Sue to Become US Citizens, Saying DoD Broke Its Promise
5 May 2020
Military.com | By Richard Sisk
Six soldiers have filed a class-action lawsuit charging that the U.S. promise of citizenship for service — dating back to the nation’s founding — has been broken by the Pentagon’s restrictive policies on naturalization.
The six non-citizen troops, who all enlisted in the Army under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, or MAVNI, alleged that new and lengthy security checks for possible terrorist ties and other measures have effectively blocked them from obtaining citizenship.
The suit, filed on their behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union, charges that Defense Department policies enacted in 2017 "unlawfully obstructed the ability of thousands of service members to obtain U.S. citizenship, placing them in a state of personal and professional limbo."
Related: Recruits in ‘Bureaucratic Limbo’ with Citizenship Program Suspended
"I took an oath to protect this country, and I’m doing my best to live up to the values of the Army," said Pfc. Ange Samma, originally from Burkina Faso and one of the plaintiffs in the suit.
"It’s been frustrating and heartbreaking not to obtain my citizenship as promised, but I will continue to honor my commitment," Samma, now serving with the 339th Quartermaster Company at Camp Humphreys in South Korea, said in a statement accompanying the suit.
Government lawyers signaled they would vigorously contest the suit, which was initially filed April 24 in federal court for the District of Columbia and names the DoD and Defense Secretary Mark Esper as defendants.
The government challenged requests by two of the MAVNI plaintiffs to remain anonymous, citing fears of retribution, and the court agreed. The suit was refiled April 27, naming all six plaintiffs, said Scarlet Kim, one of the ACLU lawyers.
She said the first motion in the suit was to get a court ruling on the ACLU’s request for a preliminary injunction to halt the restrictions before the case proceeds, but a ruling on the request is not expected for months.
The suit alleges that DoD and Esper "have adopted an unlawful policy of withholding certifications of plaintiffs’ honorable service, which they require to apply to naturalize based on their ongoing military service."
"As a result, defendants are denying thousands of men and women in uniform the U.S. citizenship that Congress has long promised to non-citizens serving in our military," the suit said.
From the Revolutionary War through the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, "U.S. laws enacted during periods of armed conflict have permitted non-citizens to naturalize almost immediately upon entering service and prior to deployment," but the new rules have made that nearly impossible, the suit charges.
The basic requirement for a military application for naturalization has been the completion of the N-426 form for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) certifying honorable service.
Past practice was that the form could be completed almost immediately after reporting to basic training, but the DoD changed the rules in October 2017, the suit charges.
"The new criteria require service members to complete additional DoD background screening; pass a ‘military service suitability determination,’ which purports to determine a service member’s security risk to the military; and serve for a minimum of 180 days for active duty service members and one year for service members in the Selected Reserve" before they can get N-426 certification, according to the suit.
"DoD’s subversion of the statutory scheme is so significant that it is now harder for many service members to naturalize through the expedited process than through the ordinary civilian process," the suit charges.
However, the DoD said in a statement when the new rules were announced that, while the department "recognizes the value of expedited U.S. citizenship achieved through military service, it is in the national interest to ensure all current and prospective service members complete security and suitability screening prior to naturalization."
From 2008 to 2016, about 10,400 foreign nationals were recruited through the MAVNI program, which is designed to bring in non-citizens with language skills or health care and technology expertise needed by the military, according to the DoD.
Two previous lawsuits have been filed against the policy for MAVNI service members from the Selected Reserve, but the ACLU described the current suit as the first to represent all non-citizen service members.
In addition to Samma, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit include:
- Pfc. Abner Bouomo, with the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
- Pvt. 2nd Class Ahmad Isiaka, serving in the Selected Reserve with the 644th Transportation Company in Houston, Texas.
- Pvt. 2nd Class Michael Perez, with 2nd Battalion, 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment, at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
- Pvt. 2nd Class Sumin Park, also serving with 2nd Battalion, 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment, at JBER.
- Spc. Yu Min Lee, serving at Schofield Barracks.
12 hours ago
Defense Secretary Mark Esper was quick to distance his department and the U.S. government at large from a bizarre attempt at overthrowing Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro that failed on Monday.
The raid resulted in the arrests of two U.S. citizens and roughly a dozen Venezuelans by local authorities. The Americans were later identified as two former Army Green Berets by a third former Green Beret whose company, Silvercorp USA, was purportedly behind the incursion.
“The United States government had nothing to do with what’s happened in Venezuela in the last few days,” Esper said during a Pentagon press briefing Tuesday afternoon.
Former Green Beret turned private contractor Jordan Goudreau used his company’s Twitter account to announce the raid Sunday, tagging President Donald Trump’s own Twitter account in the process.
An Associated Press investigation published Friday reported that Goudreau worked with retired Venezuelan military Maj. Gen. Cliver Alcalá — who separately was indicted by U.S. prosecutors on narcotics charges — to train Venezuelan defectors at secret camps in Colombia.
The two U.S. citizens now in Venezuelan custody were identified as Luke Denman and Aaron Berry. Maduro held up what appeared to be an expired military ID with Denman’s name on it and a Veterans Affairs ID with Berry’s name during a televised address to Venezuelans on Monday.
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Trump also denied any connection to the incident and told reporters before departing the White House on Tuesday that he had only just learned of Denman and Berry’s detention by Venezuelan authorities.
“Whatever it is, we’ll let you know,” Trump said. “But it has nothing to do with our government.”
Goudreau, who is based in Florida, has said he’s working to help his detained colleagues. He alleged that he signed a contract with U.S.-backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó to overthrow Maduro, an agreement Guaidó denies.
The United States has been at odds with Maduro’s government, sanctioning and indicting officials there, as it attempts to pressure the leader to step aside and allow Guaidó to take control.
“Our view remains that Maduro is a brutal, corrupt leader who has oppressed the people of Venezuela,” Esper said during the briefing. “They deserve better and we will continue to make the case that he should step aside and allow an elected government to form and take that country in the rightful direction that it should go, a very democratic prosperous path that it was on many years before.”
Goudreau provided to Miami-based journalist Patricia Poleo an eight-page “general services agreement” he said Guaidó and his advisers signed in October 2019 with Silvercorp USA. Though the contract was for $213 million, Goudreau said Guaidó never paid.
Due to the diplomatic row between the two countries, there is no U.S. embassy operating in Venezuela’s capital of Caracas that could immediately assist the detained U.S. veterans. All consular services were suspended in March 2019 as crime, civil unrest and the economic outlook of Venezuela declined dramatically, according to the State Department.
Leo Shane III
14 hours ago
The number of deaths from coronavirus connected to the Veterans Affairs health system rose more than 80 percent over the last week as department officials updated their public accounting of cases of the fast-spreading virus.
As of Tuesday morning, at least 770 patients had died from complications related to the illness, an increase of 346 cases from April 26. One month ago, on April 5, VA had reported only 103 deaths connected to coronavirus.
Of those total deaths, 582 are inpatient cases at VA medical centers around the country. The rest includes veterans who died at home or at outside private medical facilities.
Across the VA system, 98 facilities have seen at least one death connected to the virus. More than 68,000 Americans have died from the illness in the last two months.
The sharp increase comes amid “enhancements” from VA officials in how they are publicly reporting coronavirus cases, a move which had stopped public announcement of any new patient cases for nearly four days.
In a statement on Tuesday, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the change in department coronavirus reports was prompted by “the accelerating pace of VA’s response to the national emergency” which required creation of “a timely, automated biosurveillance process.” He said the new site shows “all known VA COVID-19 cases that are tested or treated in VA facilities.”
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According to the department’s revamped site, the department was tracking 9,691 cases as of Tuesday morning, an increase of nearly 900 cases from the end of last week.
However, that new figure includes 1,133 cases of VA employees who have tested positive for coronavirus. It also encompasses 432 cases the department classified as “civilians admitted to VA hospitals as humanitarian cases, Tricare patients, active-duty military, and other groups.”
When pressed for an explanation, VA officials did not say if those individuals were included in earlier case counts but emphasized that “patient cases did not drop, they increased.”
The department’s official count of employee coronavirus cases did decrease significantly, however. On April 28, VA publicly reported 2,153 cases among staffers, and 20 deaths.
On Tuesday, the department revised that figure to 1,133 cases and 23 deaths. In a statement, VA press secretary Christina Noel said the new totals only include employees who were tested and confirmed positive at department facilities.
“We found that the previous employee case numbers, which were based on employee self-reports, were likely being duplicated in some cases, which was skewing the numbers high and delaying reporting,” she said. “We’re currently developing a system that will verify employee self-reports to ensure greater accuracy.”
The varied figures on the new VA reporting site put the fatality rate among coronavirus cases at between 8 and 9 percent, well above the national rate of about 5.8 percent for all positive virus reports.
In a statement, VA said the mortality data for their patients “cannot be used to compare VA infection or mortality rates with the community because of differences in population risk, test availability, and follow-up.”
Almost 62 percent of total coronavirus cases within the VA system are already in recovery. Department officials defined that as individuals who are “either post-hospital discharge, or 14 days after their last positive test.”
Five sites have more than 100 active cases: VA’s medical center in East Orange, New Jersey (317 cases), the Harbor Health Care System in New York City (150 cases), the Philadelphia VA medical center (148 cases), the Boston VA medical center (108 cases), and the North Chicago VA medical center (105 cases).