Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Tuesday, January 14, 2020 which is International Kite Day, National Dress Up Your Pet Day, National Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day and Ratification Day (Treaty of Paris).
Today in History:
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
· Air Force Times: Space Force Bible blessing spurs protest
· Lewiston Tribune (ID): American Legion hopes for membership boost
· Omaha World Tribune: Bill giving veterans a tax break advances in Nebraska Legislature
If you wish to be removed from this email list, kindly email 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 mseavey and hewill promptly add you to the list, that you might get the daily American Legion News.
Federal officials have just a few weeks to decide whether to go along with a court ruling giving thousands of veterans an extra year of college tuition benefits or appeal the order in hopes of reversing the potential billions of dollars in new payouts.
Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims issued its final ruling on the case of “BO vs Wilkie,” letting stand an earlier decision that the Department of Veterans Affairs practice of making veterans relinquish their Montgomery GI Bill eligibility in order to receive Post-9/11 GI Bill payouts is improper.
Federal officials argued in court that the arrangement is designed to make sure veterans aren’t doubling up on their government benefits for personal profit. But the court rejected that argument, saying that instead veterans eligible for both programs should receive each set of payouts, just not simultaneously.
That means that veterans who use up their 36 months of Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits would still have access to 12 months of Montgomery GI Bill benefits if they paid into the program while they were serving. Under existing federal statute, any government higher education payouts are capped at 48 months.
VA officials appealed the ruling of a three-judge panel to the full veterans claims court, but were denied. That started a two-month clock on appealing the case to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, or allowing the ruling to stand.
Department officials in past court filings have indicated that they intend to appeal. A VA spokesman referred questions on the case to the Department of Justice. Justice officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Tim McHugh, an associate with the legal firm Hunton Andrews Kurth who led the legal fight against the VA, said if an appeal is accepted by the higher court, he is hopeful they could get a ruling on an expedited basis, possibly early enough for resolution before the 2020 fall semester.
“When they are looking at the timing of a case like this, it is appropriate for the court to consider the impact on not just the plaintiff but also everyone else,” he said.
Under current rules, the Post-9/11 GI Bill provides 36 months of tuition assistance and living stipends to veterans (or their family members) who served at least three years on active-duty after Sept. 10, 2001. The total value of those payouts can top $20,000 a year, depending on where individuals attend school.
That benefit has largely replaced the Montgomery GI Bill as veterans’ primary education benefit. That program requires servicemembers to pay $1,200 in their first year after enlisting to be eligible for the program. Individuals who did so could receive 36 months of education payouts of nearly $2,000 last semester.
The Montgomery GI Bill still has an average of more than 130,000 new enrollees annually, but fewer than 6 percent of veterans eligible for both education benefit programs chose the Montgomery program in recent years.
VA officials have until March 9 to appeal but are expected to announce a decision sooner than that date.
President Trump plans to divert $7.2 billion from the Pentagon to go toward border wall construction this year, an amount five times greater than what Congress authorized in the budget, The Washington Post reported.
This would be the second year in a row that money is redirected to the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border from military construction projects and counternarcotics funding.
The administration will take $3.5 billion from counterdrug programs and $3.7 billion from military construction funding, according to internal planning figures obtained by the Post, compared to $2.5 billion and $3.6 billion, respectively, last year.
The Defense Department told The Hill that it deferred to the White House to comment. The White House did not immediately return a request for comment.
A total of $18.4 billion in federal funds has gone to the border wall during Trump’s presidency. The plans indicate that this new boost of funding would allow the administration to build about 885 miles of new fencing by spring of 2022, more than the 509 miles planned for the border, according to the Post.
So far, the administration has finished 101 miles of new barriers as the end of 2020 deadline by which the president promised 450 miles of new border wall approaches.
Legal controversy has surrounded the president’s campaign promise, with a federal district court in El Paso, Texas, freezing the $3.6 billion for new barriers because Congress designated it for something else. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, in New Orleans, reversed that ruling last week.
Administration officials told the Post that the New Orleans ruling influenced the president and his administration to redirect money again this year.
Several dozen military construction projects have been delayed or suspended from last year because of the redirection of funds, according to the Post.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a statement in response to the Post’s reporting.
"Multiple courts have already ruled that President Trump has no authority to take billions from service members for his xenophobic wall," said Dror Ladin, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project. "The ACLU won’t rest until the president’s illegal power grab is blocked once and for all."
Air Force Times
14 hours ago
The Very Rev. Randolph Hollerith, dean of the Washington National Cathedral, left, and the Right Rev. Carl Wright, bishop suffragan for the armed ofrces and federal ministries in the Episcopal Church, center, bless the official Bible of the newly created Space Force during a service at the cathedral on Jan. 12. Maj. Gen. Steven Schaick, the Air Force’s chief of chaplains, is holding the Bible on the right. The cathedral said in a social media post that the Bible will be used to swear in all Space Force commanders, drawing a strong objection from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. (Danielle Thomas/Washington National Cathedral)
Washington National Cathedral on Sunday posted online a photograph of clergy, alongside the Air Force’s chief of chaplains, blessing a Bible for the newly created Space Force — and a firestorm of controversy soon followed.
In the tweet, the cathedral called it “the official Bible for the new” Space Force, and said it “will be used to swear in all commanders of America’s newest military branch.”
Washington National Cathedral@WNCathedral
Reaction on social media was swift, with many commenters raising concerns about the potential violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which prohibits government actions favoring one particular religion over another. Some questioned whether the cathedral’s statement that the Bible will be used to swear in “all commanders” in the Space Force meant non-Christians would be excluded, even implicitly.
“So no Jews, Atheists, Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, Sikhs allowed in Space Force?” Princeton professor Steven Strauss tweeted in response.
But in an email Monday, Air Force spokeswoman Lynn Kirby said the description of the book as the official Space Force Bible is incorrect. And, she said, using it will not be required for commanders.
“In keeping with the Department of the Air Force historical tradition when swearing in a new service chief, the Bible mentioned in the tweet will be used during the swearing-in ceremony for the first chief of space operations,” Kirby said. “This option will remain a personal choice for each individual swearing in.”
Gen. Dave Goldfein and retired Gen. Mark Welsh, among others, were sworn in to serve as chief of staff of the Air Force while placing their hand on a Bible, according to photographs on the Air Force’s website. Goldfein spokeswoman Lt. Col. Teresa Sullivan said in an email that particular Bible is used by each incoming chief of staff at swearing-in ceremonies.
Kirby said the first Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Carl Spaatz, purchased the Bible used by subsequent CSAFs. But while it is a tradition, she said, there is no requirement that it be used.
“This historical tradition is only related to the swearing in of a new service chief and does not extend to any other personnel,” Kirby said. “There is no official religious or other sacred text, nor is there any requirement for a member to use any sacred or religious text during swearing-in ceremonies.”
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an organization that advocates for separation of church and state in the military, strongly condemned the blessing ceremony as sectarian, as well as objecting to the in-uniform participation of Chief of Chaplains Maj. Gen. Steven Schaick.
“For the record, military commanders are NOT ever ‘sworn in’ to their positions, let alone with the usage of a Christian Bible or other book of faith,” MRFF president Mikey Weinstein said in a release. “And especially not in 2020!”
Weinstein said MRFF has received many complaints from service members, Defense Department civilians and veterans, and plans to file a formal complaint to Defense Secretary Mark Esper. MRFF also plans to help its clients make formal inspector general and Equal Employment Opportunity complaints to stop the Bible from being used in this way.
MRFF also plans to sue in federal court if administrative remedies fail, saying using a Bible to swear in commanders of any military service violates several DoD regulations, as well as the First Amendment and the principle of the separation of church and state.
Washington National Cathedral spokesman Kevin Eckstrom said in an email that the Bible will be used to swear in Gen. Jay Raymond as the first chief of space operations for the Space Force. It is a King James Bible donated by the Museum of the Bible in Washington, Eckstrom said.
The Very Rev. Randolph Hollerith, dean of the cathedral, and the Right Rev. Carl Wright, bishop suffragan for the armed forces and federal ministries in the Episcopal Church, also conducted the blessing ceremony, Eckstrom said. He referred all other questions to the Air Force.
By: David B. Larter 1 day ago
WASHINGTON — Since taking over for the fired secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer, in November, acting Secretary Thomas Modly has made clear he’s not going to just keep the seat warm.
He’s been vocal about achieving President Donald Trump’s stated goal of a 350-ship Navy and has called on the service to prioritize fixing the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford.
Following reports of proposed cuts to shipbuilding and existing force structure on deck, Modly sat down with Defense News in his Pentagon office on Jan. 2 to discuss the headwinds he faces and the road ahead for a 355-ship fleet — a number identified during a force structure assessment.
There are reports about potential cuts to shipbuilding. How do you intend to balance the need for a larger fleet with the need to maintain readiness?
I think that’s the balance we always have to strike. With respect to the fiscal 2021 budget, I can’t get into the specifics other than to say that it has not been fully baked. We’re still in the process of making trades, and the secretary of defense is still in the process of working with the Office of Management and Budget on what the final numbers are going to look like.
We definitely want to have a bigger Navy, but we definitely don’t want to have a hollow Navy either. These are difficult choices, but the requirement to get to a bigger fleet, whether that’s 355 ships or 355-plus as I like to talk about, it is going to require a bigger top line for the Navy.
If you are growing the force by 25 to 30 percent, that includes people that have to man them. It requires maintenance. It requires operational costs. And you can’t do that if your top line is basically flat.
How is the Columbia-class submarine program impacting these discussions?
We’re investing in a brand-new strategic ballistic missile submarine, and that’s going to be eating up a big chunk of our shipbuilding budget. That’s coming at a time that we are trying to build a bigger fleet. We have to make a lot of trades, and it’s not easy.
But we hear the president. It’s what he wants, it’s what Congress wants and it’s what we want as well.
Virginia Democrat Rep. Elaine Luria had a confrontation with your predecessor in which she expressed concern that the carrier Ford wouldn’t deploy until 2024. Where do you see things with Ford and where do you see that deployment landing?
I think 2024 is not acceptable, from my perspective. I think we need to pull that in substantially. One of the things I did since taking this seat is put the entire Department of the Navy on notice that the Ford is a priority for me. And we’ve taken some concrete steps.
I’ve moved Program Executive Officer Aircraft Carriers [Rear Adm. Brian Antonio] down there permanently to Newport News so that he can be the accountable party. Fleet Forces Command has assigned a two-star as well to be the person on the fleet side to make sure we’re headed in the right direction.
We’re going to have a summit here next week with all the key stakeholders to talk through this. I want to look them in the eye and make sure we have a commitment on this, and I want to see if there is anything we can do to accelerate the timetable because I think it’s important.
I’ve said this before, but it’s not good for the Navy to have our most expensive asset be a poster child for what we can’t do right. It’s a complicated ship, it’s going to be an amazing ship once everything is working, and we all need to make sure that’s the case.
Maintenance has been a constant concern for the Navy for years now — especially in relation to surface ships and attack submarines. Do you see a path forward for stabilizing ship maintenance?
I certainly hope so. That’s another one of those areas: You can have a 355-ship Navy, but if it’s not working, it really doesn’t matter.
We need to invest in our [public] maintenance and repair facilities, it needs to be modernized to make sure we have the best flow. We have to invest in getting more qualified shipyard workers in place.
When I talk about a 355-ship Navy, I’m talking about all of it: The people that man it, the people that maintain it, and all of that needs to be modernized into the 21st century.
With Columbia on deck this year, are you on a good trajectory?
I think we are on a decent path with Columbia. We don’t have a lot of margin in that schedule, but to date the acquisition community thinks we are on a good path. And we have the best submarine builders on that ship, and I think we will get it right. It’s not something we can take our eye off of, however.
Lewiston Tribune (ID)
L.E.G.I.O.N. Act expands eligibility of membership; local post leaders encourage military vets to join
· By Kathy Hedberg, of the Tribune
· Jan 13, 2020 Updated 22 hrs ago
Members of the Lewis Clark Post 13 of the American Legion are hopeful a new law expanding membership eligibility will encourage more military veterans to join the organization.
Andy Jackson, the vice-commander of the post, said the legislation, signed by President Donald Trump in July, allows military veterans to join the American Legion whether or not they have served during times of war.
“Over the many years that the American Legion has been in existence, Congress has to approve who goes into the American Legion and who goes into the (Veterans of Foreign Wars),” Jackson said. “Until this new bill was passed, you could be in the American Legion if you were in the service during the war eras, like the Second World War, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, etc.
“But now anybody who’s in the military and gets an honorable discharge can be a member of the American Legion. Now, many thousands of people can be members of the American Legion where they couldn’t be before.”
The bill, signed by Trump July 30, declares that the United States has been in a state of war since Dec. 7, 1941. The American Legion sought the declaration as a way to honor the nearly 1,600 U.S. service members who were killed or wounded during previously undeclared periods of war, according to the American Legion website.
The L.E.G.I.O.N. Act, which stands for “Let Everyone Get Involved In Opportunities for National Service,” opens the door to about 6 million veterans to access American Legion programs and benefits for which they previously had not been eligible.
The legislation changes the American Legion’s criteria from seven war eras to two: April 6, 1917, to Nov. 11, 1918, and Dec. 7, 1941, to a time later determined by the federal government. No other restrictions to American Legion membership are changed.
Jackson, 76, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force from 1967 to 1971, said it is hoped more people will become interested in the American Legion and seek membership. Currently the organization is hurting for members.
“We usually have 35 (veterans) pass away each year because of the age group, and there’s a lot of them that are in this doughnut hole that couldn’t become members of the American Legion, and they can now if they know about it,” he said.
Legion posts in Kamiah and Grangeville reportedly have had a few more inquiries about membership, Jackson said, and veterans are trying to get the word out whenever the Legion sells raffle tickets.
The challenges of publicizing the new rules, however, aren’t the only obstacle to increasing participation in the organization. Jackson said the local Legion post has about 300 members on the books, but when they hold regular meetings once a month, about 20 people show up. The Saturday of the Veterans Day parade in Lewiston last year, only about four members participated in the Legion’s float, even though 51 people were notified about the event.
“Well, most of them that aren’t active say they want to be a member, but they don’t want to do anything,” Jackson said. “When we get a new member, I usually call and welcome them to the post and ask them if they want to become active. And most of them say they want to be a member but don’t want to be active.”
Twice each month, the local post sets up booths at Rosauers, North 40 and Sportsman’s Warehouse to sell raffle tickets for items such as guns and cash drawings. These efforts help raise money for the five $750 scholarships the post awards to students of Lewiston High School each year. Veterans who are contacted at these sales are also asked about possible membership in the American Legion.
“When we sell tickets, we ask if they are a member of post 13, and, if not, ask if they’re military,” Jackson said. “I’ve had several say I would like to be, but I was not in the military in a war era.”
Jackson said anyone who is interested in membership in the American Legion may call him at (208) 791-9960 or Joe Tanner, who is the commander of the post, at (208) 790-3549.
Hedberg may be contacted at kathyhedberg or (208) 983-2326.
Omaha World Herald
· Jan 13, 2020 Updated 15 hrs ago
LINCOLN — Veterans, many wearing American Legion hats, stood and applauded Monday after state lawmakers gave resounding first-round approval to a bill granting a 50% state income tax break for military retirees.
Legislative Bill 153 advanced on a 46-0 vote. It would apply to only those veterans who are receiving a pension, which one lawmaker pointed out was about 10% of all military veterans in the state.
But State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, a decorated veteran, said that while he’d like to give a tax break to everyone, such a bill wouldn’t pass. So his proposal was an effort to do what could be done to help retain skilled military retirees from leaving Nebraska.
“Understand, there’s a cost if we do nothing,” said Brewer, who introduced the bill on behalf of Gov. Pete Ricketts. “Right now, we don’t have much to offer.”
The senator handed out an analysis that showed that Nebraska was the only state among its neighboring states that has seen a recent drop in the number of military retirees receiving pensions.
Five of the six adjacent states do not tax military retirement pay, and the only one that does, Colorado, offers tax breaks of between $20,000 and $24,000 a year for such retirees 55 and older. Nebraska has a pair of small tax breaks available for veterans now, but one expires after only seven years, and the breaks have been criticized as being complicated and inadequate.
Brewer and the governor have argued that it’s wise to retain military retirees in the state because they are often younger — retiring after only 20 years — have developed job skills and could help address the state’s workforce shortage.
The bill would impact about 13,000 of the state’s 130,000 veterans, and would cost between $12.6 million and $14 million a year.
A trio of senators — Tom Brandt of Plymouth, Curt Friesen of Henderson and Mike Groene of North Platte — pointed out that all retirees, including veterans who served only a short time, deserve a tax break. During a public hearing on the bill last year, two tax think tanks cautioned against providing such a tax break, saying all taxpayers deserve relief, and few people decide where to live based on tax breaks.
Friesen said Monday that he withheld his support last year because he wanted property tax relief for all to advance first. Groene made a similar argument.
But all three of those senators voted Monday to advance the bill. It now faces two more rounds of debate before heading to Ricketts for his signature.
John B. Raughter
Deputy Director, Media Relations
Phone: (317) 630-1350 Fax: (317) 630-1368