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FEATURED ARTICLES AND LEGISLATIVE UPDATES
AAFES Offers Online Savings
Army and Air Force Exchanges worldwide are providing a variety of exclusive savings through the mail and online. Exchange shoppers in the continental United States can text Exchange to 95613 for additional savings delivered to their mobile devices. Shoppers who "like" the Exchange on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aafes.bx.px can receive coupon offers. Customers can also log on to www.shopmyexchange.com and check the Savings Center to see what "Super Daily Specials," "Weekly Promotions" and "Advertised Specials" are available. Complete details concerning coupon redemption, shopping and saving at the Exchange are available at the Exchange website.
For more discounts for military families, servicemembers and veterans, visit the Military.com Discount Center. (From Military.com)
AF Museum Receives Award
The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force was recently selected by the U.S. Air Force History and Museums Program as the recipient of the 2013 Air Force Heritage Award for an exhibit titled Destruction from High Above: The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress in Southeast Asia. This was the first exhibit in the museum's history to feature a floor graphic or composite photograph that makes it appear as though three bombs are falling from the B-52's bomb bay. The National Museum of the United States Air Force is located in Dayton, Ohio. It is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. To 5 p.m. (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day). Admission and parking are free. For more information, visit the National Museum of the Air Force website at www.nationalmuseum.af.mil or telephone the museum at (937) 255-3286. (From Military.com)
Helping Homeless Veterans
In 2009, President Obama and VA Secretary Shinseki announced the goal of ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. Together with partners and supporters nationwide, VA is attempting to meet that challenge through the Homeless Veterans Outreach Initiative. Read more about the initiative on VA's VAntage Point Blog.
For complete guides on veteran benefits, visit the Military.com Benefits Center. (From Military.com)
Sail Away: Princess' Cruise for Veterans
Sail away on Princess Cruises' first veterans fundraising cruise in November. Prices start at $604. Book now to receive $50 onboard ship credit. Mention code E5. (From Military.com)
Beneficiaries Must Sign Up for TRICARE Automatic Payment by May 31
WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Beneficiaries enrolled in TRICARE Reserve Select or TRICARE Retired Reserve who pay monthly premiums by check must switch to an electronic form of payment by May 31 to avoid losing coverage.
TRICARE will only accept monthly premium payments using recurring automatic payments by credit or debit card, or by recurring electronic funds transfer from a linked bank account. To avoid confusion, beneficiaries should verify that their bank sends EFT payments electronically.
The Defense Manpower Data Center notified current TRR and TRS beneficiaries directly by email, and new beneficiaries were informed in their welcome package information when enrolling.
Electronic payments streamline account management and ensure continuous coverage for beneficiaries. Failure to pay premiums by the due date results in termination of coverage.
Beneficiaries can contact their regional contractor to set up automatic payments and get more information.
"There are still a considerable number of Air Force reservists in the west region who have yet to establish their automated payment option with TRICARE for their monthly TRS/TRR premiums," said James F. Walsh, the Air Force Reserve chief of Benefits and Entitlements Policy. "Those members who do not have this requirement established by the deadline will have their coverage suspended and possibly terminated for 12 months come June 1."
Contact information for each region is available online at www.TRICARE.mil/contacts. (From Air Force Link)
Nationwide 2K Event Will Support Homeless Veterans and Promote Employee Wellness
WASHINGTON - The Department of Veterans Affairs is once again hosting a nationwide 2K “Walk and Roll” event at more than 170 VA sites across the nation on May 15 to coincide with National Employee Health and Fitness Day. The event will also encourage employee and local community support of homeless Veterans.
“This third annual VA2K is an opportunity to not only promote employee health but also show the commitment of VA employees to ending Veteran homelessness in 2015. Last year, more than 22,000 employees participated and VA collected donated goods estimated at $240,000 for homeless Veterans,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “I am proud of all VA employees who participated in the past and challenge even more individuals to walk or roll in support of homeless Veterans.”
VA's employee wellness program is known as WIN (Wellness Is Now). WIN empowers employees with the knowledge, skills and tools they need to create a culture of health and wellness. Further, WIN encourages employees to use their appreciation of wellness to inspire Veterans to have healthier lifestyles.
WIN integrates traditional occupational safety and health programs with health promotion activities, addressing both workplace and worker health. Through this program staff find opportunities to embrace healthy and positive lifestyle choices that sustain and improve their own health, reduce preventable injuries and illnesses, reduce absenteeism and enable them to do their important work of serving the nation's Veterans.
Email AskVHAEmployeewellness@va.gov to find out if your VA facility is hosting a 2K event. VA facilities can be located by visiting www.va.gov/directory. (From VA NEWS)
VA Mandates Overtime to Increase Production of Compensation Claims Decisions
Latest Initiative aimed at reducing the backlog
WASHINGTON - As part of its ongoing effort to accelerate the elimination of the disability compensation claims backlog, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is announcing today that it is mandating overtime for claims processors in its 56 regional benefits offices. This surge, which will be implemented through the end of fiscal year 2013, will be targeted to eliminating the backlogged status of claims. The additional overtime hours that will be worked during this period will be used to help eliminate the backlog with continued emphasis on high-priority claims for homeless Veterans and those claiming financial hardship, the terminally ill, former Prisoners of War, Medal of Honor recipients, and Veterans filing Fully Developed Claims.
“VA is dedicated to providing Veterans with the care and benefits they have earned and deserve,” said VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki. “This increased overtime initiative will provide more Veterans with decisions on their claims and will help us achieve our goal of eliminating the claims backlog.”
This is the latest effort in support of the Secretary's plan to reduce the backlog. Last month, the VA announced an initiative to expedite compensation claims decisions for Veterans who have waited one year or longer. On April 19, VA began prioritizing claims decisions for Veterans who have been waiting the longest, by providing provisional decisions that allow eligible Veterans to begin collecting compensation benefits quickly. With a provisional decision, a Veteran has a year to submit additional information to support a claim before the decision becomes final. More information can be found here.
“We're committed to getting Veterans decisions on their claims as quickly and accurately as possible,” said Undersecretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey. “We need to surge our resources now to help those who have waited the longest and end the backlog.”
Claims for Wounded Warriors separating from the military for medical reasons will continue to be handled separately and on a priority basis with the Department of Defense through the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES). On average, Wounded Warriors separating through IDES currently receive VA compensation benefits in 2 months following their separation from service.
Veterans can learn more about disability benefits on the joint Department of Defense-VA web portal eBenefits at http://www.ebenefits.va.gov.
More information about filing Fully Developed Claims is available at: http://www.benefits.va.gov/transformation/fastclaims/. (From VA NEWS)
Lawmakers Outraged Over another Military Sex Case
WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel informed President Obama of the latest sexual assault allegations against a soldier who was assigned to prevent such crimes - the second soldier involved in similar accusations - and the president made clear he wants that behavior stopped, officials said Wednesday.
Hagel spokesman George Little told reporters that Hagel's staff is working on a written directive that will spell out steps aimed at resolving a problem that has outraged lawmakers.
“The president has made very clear his expectations on this issue,” Little said, adding that Hagel told Obama on Tuesday about the allegations facing an Army sergeant first class at Fort Hood, Texas. The sergeant is facing allegations involving three women, including that he may have arranged for one of them to have sex for money, according to a defense official.
The accused soldier, whose name has not been made public, was assigned as a coordinator of a battalion-level sexual assault prevention program at Fort Hood. He has been suspended from all duties but has not been charged with any crime.
Little said Hagel and Obama see the sexual assault problem in the same light.
“They expect prevention measures at all times, and when prevention isn't achieved, then both expect accountability,” Little said. He said those are the “core principles” of Hagel's approach to resolving the problem within the military.
The allegations at Fort Hood are only the latest in a string of cases. A defense official in Washington said it was not yet clear if one of the three women was forced into prostitution.
The official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter, said that the sergeant is also being investigated for allegedly sexually assaulting one of the other two women. The allegations involving the third woman were not known.
The case, along with another one involving an Air Force officer, highlights a problem that is drawing increased scrutiny in Congress and expressions of frustration from Hagel. Lawmakers said it was time for Hagel to get tough with the military brass.
“This is sickening. Twice now, in a matter of as many weeks, we've seen the very people charged with protecting victims of sexual assault being charged as perpetrators,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said. “It's an astonishing reminder that the Pentagon has both a major problem on its hands and a tremendous amount of work to do to assure victims - who already only report a small fraction of sexual assaults - that they are changing the culture around these heinous crimes.”
“Secretary Hagel needs to act swiftly to re-examine sexual assault services across the department to ensure that these disturbing betrayals of trust are ended,” Murray said.
Hagel said he was directing all the services to retrain, re-credential and rescreen all sexual assault prevention and response personnel and military recruiters, spokesman Little said after Tuesday's announcement that the Army sergeant was accused of pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates.
The soldier was being investigated by the Army Criminal Investigation Command. No charges had been filed, but officials say they expect them fairly soon.
Little said Hagel was angry and disappointed at “these troubling allegations and the breakdown in discipline and standards they imply.” He said Hagel had met with Army Secretary John McHugh and ordered him to “fully investigate this matter rapidly, to discover the extent of these allegations and to ensure that all of those who might be involved are dealt with appropriately.”
The Fort Hood soldier had been assigned as an equal opportunity adviser and coordinator of a sexual harassment-assault prevention program at the Army's 3rd Corps headquarters when the allegation arose, the Army said.
“To protect the integrity of the investigative process and the rights of all persons involved, no more information will be released at this time,” an Army statement said.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., said in a statement he was “outraged and disgusted by the reports out of Fort Hood.”
McKeon, noting he has a granddaughter in the Army, said he saw “no meaningful distinction between complacency or complicity in the military's latest failure to uphold their own standards of conduct. Nor do I see a distinction between the service member who orchestrated this offense and the chain of command that was either oblivious to or tolerant of criminal behavior. Both are accountable for this appalling breach of trust with their subordinates.”
He called on Hagel to conduct a review of the military and its civilian leadership “to determine whether they continue to hold his trust and his confidence to lead in this area.”
Just last week an Air Force officer who headed a sexual assault prevention office was himself arrested on charges of groping a woman in a Northern Virginia parking lot.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said his panel was considering a number of measures to counter the problem, including changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and will act on them next month.
“Tragically, the depth of the sexual assault problem in our military was already overwhelmingly clear before this latest highly disturbing report,” Levin said.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said she intends to present new legislation on Thursday to overhaul the military justice system by removing chain-of-command influence from prosecution of sex abuse crimes.
“To say this report is disturbing would be a gross understatement,” Gillibrand said.
“The sad thing is that this is not a unique case,” Anu Bhagwati, former Marine captain and executive director of the Service Women's Action Network, said in an interview. “Week after week, we're hearing of cases across the branches of military leaders taking advantage of their positions of authority.”
The Pentagon is struggling with what it calls a growing number of sexual assaults across the military. In a report last week, the Defense Department estimated that as many as 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year, based on survey results.
Of those, fewer than 3,400 reported the incidents, and nearly 800 of those simply sought help and declined to file formal complaints against their alleged attackers.
There also is an ongoing investigation into more than 30 Air Force instructors for assaults on trainees at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, as well as the recent arrest of the Air Force's head of sexual assault prevention on charges of groping a woman.
An Arlington County, Va., police report said Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski was drunk and grabbed a woman's breast and buttocks in a parking lot earlier this month. The woman fought him off and called police, the report said. A judge has set a July 18 trial date for Krusinski.
Such cases and two recent decisions by officers to overturn military juries' guilty verdicts in sexual assault cases have precipitated a storm of criticism on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is holding up the nomination of Air Force Lt. Gen. Susan Helms, tapped to serve as vice commander of the U.S. Space Command, until McCaskill gets more information about Helms' decision to overturn a jury conviction in a sexual assault case. (With permission of the Air Force Times)
Hagel Orders Retraining of Recruiters, Sexual Assault Responders
WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Amid a spate of allegations of criminal behavior by military recruiters and service members involved in the Defense Department's efforts to prevent sexual assaults and help that crime's victims, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered the services to retrain, re-credential and rescreen all sexual assault prevention and response personnel and military recruiters.
In a statement, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said Hagel was informed yesterday about allegations of criminal behavior against an Army sergeant first class who was a sexual assault prevention and response coordinator at Fort Hood, Texas.
"I cannot convey strongly enough his frustration, anger and disappointment over these troubling allegations and the breakdown in discipline and standards they imply," Little said.
Hagel met with Army Secretary John M. McHugh and directed him to fully investigate the matter rapidly, to discover the extent of the allegations, and to ensure that all of those who might be involved are dealt with appropriately, the press secretary added.
Little said Hagel directed the retraining, re-credentialing and rescreening to address the broader concerns that have arisen out of these allegations and other recent events.
"Sexual assault is a crime, and will be treated as such," the press secretary said. "The safety, integrity, and well-being of every service member and the success of our mission hang in the balance. Secretary Hagel is looking urgently at every course of action to stamp out this deplorable conduct and ensure that those individuals up and down the chain of command who tolerate or engage in this behavior are appropriately held accountable."
Army officials announced yesterday that the Army Criminal Investigation Command is investigating the Fort Hood soldier for pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates.
In a statement, Defense Department officials said the soldier had been assigned as an equal opportunity advisor and sexual harassment and sexual assault response and prevention program coordinator with a 3rd Corps battalion at Fort Hood when the allegations surfaced. The soldier was immediately suspended from all duties by the chain of command once the allegations were brought to the command's attention, officials said, adding that charges had so far not been filed or preferred. (From Air Force Link)
Obama Calls Meeting on Military Sex Assault
WASHINGTON - The nation's top defense leaders were summoned to the White House on Thursday to talk about the military's sexual assault crisis as the Pentagon's top general said women in uniform were losing confidence the problem will be solved.
President Barack Obama planned to meet Thursday afternoon with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretaries of all the service branches and senior enlisted advisers to discuss the issue, an administration official said Thursday. The official was not authorized to discuss the meeting publicly because it had not been announced and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Allegations of sexual assault in the military have triggered outrage from local commanders to Capitol Hill and the Oval Office. Yet there seem to be few clear solutions beyond improved training and possible adjustments in how the military prosecutes such crimes. Changing the culture of a male-dominated, change-resistant military that for years has tolerated sexism and sexist behavior is proving to be a challenging task.
“We're losing the confidence of the women who serve that we can solve this problem,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, said Wednesday.
“That's a crisis,” Dempsey said in remarks during a flight from Europe to Washington that were reported by the Pentagon's internal news service. He suggested that a deepening of the sexual assault problem may be linked to the strains of war.
“I tasked those around me to help me understand what a decade-plus of conflict may have done to the force,” he said. “Instinctively, I knew it had to have some effect.”
Dempsey added: “This is not to make excuses. We should be better than this. In fact, we have to be better than this.”
The Pentagon scheduled a briefing for journalists Thursday with Hagel and Dempsey.
As new sexual assault allegations emerged this week involving an Army soldier who was assigned to prevent such crimes - the second military member facing similar accusations - the Pentagon said Hagel is working on a written directive to spell out steps aimed at resolving the escalating problem.
But President Barack Obama, fuming at a news conference last week, warned that he wanted swift and sure action, not “just more speeches or awareness programs or training.” Sexual offenders need to be “prosecuted, stripped of their position, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period,” he said.
“The president has made very clear his expectations on this issue,” said Pentagon press secretary George Little, adding that Hagel told Obama on Tuesday about an Army sergeant first class at Fort Hood, Texas, who faces allegations of sexual misconduct. The case involves the soldier's activities with three women, including an allegation that he may have arranged for one of them to have sex for money, according to a defense official.
Those allegations come on the heels of a Pentagon report last week that estimated that as many as 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year, based on survey results, out of 1.4 million in the services.
That report, and a recent series of arrests and other sexual assault problems across the military, have triggered a rush of initiatives from the Pentagon and proposed legislation on Capitol Hill.
But experts warn that stemming an increase in assaults will require concrete changes, both in law and in military culture.
“There is not a quick fix,” said Anu Bhagwati, former Marine captain and executive director of the Service Women's Action Network. “The military can't train its way out of this problem.”
She said that changing the prosecution system is critical but that victims also have to be convinced they won't be punished if they come forward. Changing the culture in the military to foster greater respect, she said, may require using outside groups and advocates to deal with assault cases so that victims don't feel intimidated by having to go to senior officers with their assault allegations.
According to Little, Hagel is considering changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice that would prevent commanders from reversing sexual assault convictions, along with other efforts to improve training, assist victims and strengthen discipline.
Hagel has also ordered the retraining, recertifying and rescreening of all sexual assault prevention and response personnel as well as military recruiters, who also have been accused in recent sexual misconduct cases.
“He is going to spare no effort to address the problem,” Little said, adding that additional training is “foundational” to any credible effort against sexual assault. He said Hagel is “open to any and all” ideas about how to improve training, and he said this will be just one element in a broader effort to fight the problem.
On Capitol Hill, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., planned to introduce legislation Thursday taking top commanders out of the process of deciding whether a sexual misconduct case goes to trial. For sexual offenses with authorized sentences of more than one year in confinement - akin to felonies in the civilian judicial system - that decision would rest instead with officers at ranks as low as colonel who are seasoned trial counsels with prosecutorial experience.
“What we need to do is change the system so victims know that they can receive justice,” Gillibrand said Thursday on CBS “This Morning.”
And, Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., introduced legislation Wednesday to require the Pentagon to establish strict new criteria for service members who can serve in sexual assault prevention programs throughout the military.
In the latest case, the Texas sergeant, whose name has not been made public, was assigned as a coordinator of a battalion-level sexual assault prevention program at Fort Hood. He has been suspended from all duties but has not been charged with any crime.
A defense official in Washington said it was not yet clear if one of the three women was forced into prostitution, adding that the sergeant is being investigated for allegedly sexually assaulting one of the other two women. The allegations involving the third woman were not known.
Another U.S. official said that the sergeant had served in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and that there were no obvious problems with his military record on an initial review.
Both officials spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
The soldier was being investigated by the Army Criminal Investigation Command. No charges had been filed, but officials say they expect them fairly soon.
Just last week, an Air Force officer who headed a sexual assault prevention office was himself arrested on charges of groping a woman in a Northern Virginia parking lot.
Little said Hagel was angry and disappointed at “these troubling allegations and the breakdown in discipline and standards they imply.” He said Hagel had met with Army Secretary John McHugh and ordered him to “fully investigate this matter rapidly, to discover the extent of these allegations and to ensure that all of those who might be involved are dealt with appropriately.”
In the recent Pentagon report, officials said that of the estimated 26,000 military members who may have been sexually assaulted last year, fewer than 3,400 reported the incidents. Nearly 800 of those simply sought help and declined to file formal complaints against their alleged attackers. (With permission of the Army Times)
VA Claims Processors on Mandatory Overtime Through September
In an expanding effort to eliminate the benefits claims backlog, the Veterans Affairs Department announced Wednesday it is putting its claims processing staff on mandatory overtime through the end of the fiscal year.
The aim, VA officials said, is to reduce the pile of 878,000 pending claims, including 592,900 that are older than the agency's 125-day processing goal.
The order applies to all 56 regional benefits offices, and extends through the end of September.
In a statement, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said the “increased overtime initiative will provide more veterans with decisions on their claims and will help us achieve our goal of eliminating the claims backlog.”
Shinseki, himself a disabled veteran and former Army chief of staff, has pledged the backlog of claims - considered benefits claims that have not received an initial decision within 125 days - will be eliminated in 2015, although there are many doubters.
One of the VA's toughest critics said the overtime announcement is a good step. "This is good to see, and we hope it helps reduce the backlog,” said Paul Rieckhoff, chief executive officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
Rieckhoff is not convinced this step will lead to the elimination of the backlog, however. “Bringing the backlog down to zero will not be achieved piecemeal,” he said. “Instead of chipping away around the edges, veterans need a comprehensive strategy.”
The overtime announcement comes after the VA's April 19 announcement that it was making it a priority to process claims of veterans who have been waiting the longest. This is being done by assigning a provisional rating to claims that are at least a year old if there is enough information in a file to make a decision. This effort is designed to reduce the claims backlog by about 250,000 cases within six months, although it is unclear whether this process might lead to more appeals of decisions that could further clog the VA claims system.
Allison Hickey, the VA's undersecretary for benefits, said the agency is “committed to getting veterans decisions on their claims as quickly and accurately as possible.” Mandatory overtime appears aimed at meeting the six-month goal for the oldest claims. “We need the surge to help those who have waited the longest and end the backlog,” Hickey said. (With permission of the Army Times)
The Pressure to go into Syria
Pressure is mounting on the U.S. to change its hands-off approach toward the 2-year-old civil war in Syria. Despite a strong reluctance from the White House, the Pentagon and the American public, events in recent weeks are rapidly recalibrating the strategic dynamics involved and appear to make some involvement from U.S. troops appear more likely.
Here's what you need to know about the current situation in the heart of the Middle East:
'Red lines' have been crossed
The geopolitics for the White House have grown increasingly uncomfortable amid reports that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons against the rebels. About nine months ago, President Obama described that as a “red line” that would result in more aggressive U.S. action. Now the White House appears to be confronted with a choice between backtracking on that comment or wading deeper into the messy conflict.
Weapons could wind up in the wrong hands
The basic fear that underpins U.S. decision-making is that any U.S. money, weapons or military support would fall into the wrong hands.
The Syrian rebel forces that the U.S. ostensibly supports are disorganized and rife with internal divisions. Intelligence reports suggest that some - perhaps many - are drawn from the same extremist Sunni Arab groups that were killing U.S. troops in Iraq's Al Anbar province just a few years ago. The potential for unintended consequences is high, officials warn.
Officials are considering their options
U.S. officials have publicly discussed military options ranging from providing rebels with offensive weaponry - such as artillery and portable surface-to-air missiles - to sending in U.S. military assets to impose a “safe zone” on the ground inside Syria. That could give rebels a safe haven to plan military operations against the Syrian regime.
But top Pentagon officials have warned about the size and scope of that mission, saying it would require strikes to knock out Syrian air defenses and maintaining air superiority over a safe zone, as well as controlling a buffer zone to prevent ground-based artillery strikes and protecting ground-based logistical supply lines connecting the safe zone to a neighboring country.
Syria's air defenses may be stronger than thought
Pressure on the U.S. may intensify after the reports in early April that the Israeli military conducted airstrikes on several Syrian targets. The strikes may undermine claims from the Pentagon's top brass about the strength and effectiveness of Syrian air defenses. Many advocates for military action in Syria have pointed to the successful six-month operation over Libya in 2011 that helped bring down Moammar Gadhafi. But for the past two years, many military experts inside and outside the Pentagon have suggested Syria has substantially more formidable air defenses.
No boots on the ground for now
Despite the pressure mounting in recent weeks, President Obama and other U.S. officials remain adamant that there will be no U.S boots on the ground in Syria.
“As a general rule, I don't rule things out as commander in chief, because circumstances change,” Obama told reporters on May 3. “Having said that, I do not foresee a scenario in which boots on the ground in Syria - American boots on the ground in Syria - would be good for America but would also be good for Syria.” (With permission of the Army Times)
Analysis: Why the Military Hasn't Stopped Sexual Abuse
A female soldier is groped inside a barracks, another in a base supply room, a third on a shooting range.
A sailor is molested by her defensive-tactics instructor; a female Marine lance corporal is raped by a gunnery sergeant who's also a recruiter.
Two male soldiers, in separate hazing incidents, are wrestled to the ground by fellow GIs and sodomized with a broom handle or plastic bottle.
The cases last year are among thousands detailed in a searing 1,500-page Pentagon report on pervasive sexual abuse in the U.S military released last week. It estimates a rate of about 500 men and women assaulted each week of 2012.
The scandal is unfolding rapidly in an embarrassingly public manner, each new chapter confirming the report's finding that the abusive culture is endemic. Tuesday night, the Army revealed that an unnamed sergeant responsible for sexual assault prevention at Fort Hood, Texas, is under investigation for allegedly forcing another soldier into prostitution and assaulting two others.
He is the second sexual assault prevention officer in two weeks linked to abuse. Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, the chief sexual assault prevention officer for the Air Force, was arrested May 5 after allegedly groping a woman in an Arlington, Va., parking lot.
The pace of the assaults outlined in the Pentagon report - three an hour in 2012 - constitute a crisis of command that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says could undermine the very effectiveness of this country's voluntary military.
Yet despite a greater awareness among the Pentagon's brass, as well as mandatory annual training to snuff out sexual abuse and usher in an era of openness in the military, the problem has only gotten worse.
USA Today interviewed lawmakers, social scientists and people who have worked on the sexual assault issue inside the military to determine why the Pentagon hasn't been able to stem this predatory tide. All pointed to two factors - one a new plague, the other as old as the military itself - standing in the way:
* A military culture more coarse toward women in the ranks, the result of stress from a decade of war and the status of females as second-class warriors barred from combat roles. Male recruits are drawn from a society where violence and objectification of women are staple elements of films and video games.
* A military justice system with origins dating to the Revolutionary War that gives commanders of accused troops ultimate power over legal proceedings.
A starting point, experts say, might be the culture producing our soldiers.
“There's a coarsening of American life which is altogether too evident,” says James Burk, a sociology professor at Texas A&M University who specializes in the military, referring to the proliferation of violence toward women in films and video games. “I'm sure the recruits are bringing that in with them,” he says.
Army Maj. Gen. Gary Patton, head of the Pentagon's sexual assault prevention office, conceded in an interview with USA Today this week that deep-rooted cultural flaws in the American military must be eradicated, including disrespect for women in uniform.
“What we're after is a climate where sexist behavior, sexual harassment and sexual assault - that none of those are tolerated or condoned or ignored,” Patton says.
Deep within the massive, two-volume Pentagon study is evidence that a male-dominated culture fosters sexual abuse.
More female soldiers, sailors and Marines complain of hearing sexual jokes or stories; being the target of unwanted sexual advances; being treated badly when they refuse sex; or being treated in a sexist fashion on the job.
Last week, commanders said they are investigating whether Marines created a Facebook page portraying female Marines in vulgar and degrading photographs and comments. The site has been taken down.
A military under stress
Those who study the military say the coarsening of attitudes and the rise in sexual assaults should come as no surprise. David Segal, a military sociologist at the University of Maryland, says America's volunteer force has been under enormous strain after fighting two wars and enduring back-to-back deployments that lead to pathologies ranging from suicide to alcohol abuse and mental illness.
Although women have served in uniform for decades - and have fought and died in Iraq and Afghanistan - they have always been deemed lesser war-fighters, barred by federal law from serving in combat roles, social scientists say.
“That reinforced the traditional notion (among men in uniform) that there are differences between men and women: 'Women are not our equals,'” Segal says. “'They're not allowed to be 100 percent soldiers. They're not part of our culture.'”
When the military was desegregated in 1948 and gay troops were allowed to serve openly in 2010, cultural attitudes had to be changed. In both cases, black troops and gay men were considered the legal equals of heterosexual, white males as combat troops.
The same has never been true for women. Though they constitute 15 percent of the military, they have always been legally relegated by Congress to non-combat roles. Only recently has the Pentagon begun to explore lifting that legal restriction.
“Some men still think ... women are inferior,” says Bob Shadley, a retired Army major general who has published a book on sexual scandals he uncovered at Maryland's Aberdeen Proving Ground in the 1990s. “They don't fit in the male macho war-fighter image.”
A tradition two centuries old
American military justice evolved during the past century to closely resemble proceedings in a federal courtroom, with prosecution, penitentiary standards, witness testimony and trial by jury before a trained judge. There is one glaring exception.
The decision on whether charges should be brought, who sits on the jury and whether a conviction or punishment can stand is controlled by a high-ranking officer who is the defendant's superior. The officer is neither a lawyer nor a judge, although he or she receives written advice from a military attorney.
The arrangement is a core principle for maintaining order within a fighting unit. It is an age-old tradition the United States inherited from the British military when the nation was formed in the 18th century, says Gary Solis, former military lawyer or judge advocate in the Marine Corps and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center.
Britain, Canada and other countries have moved away from this principle of commanding officer's authority, but it lives on in American military's Uniform Code of Military Justice created by Congress.
That issue undercuts military fairness in prosecuting sexual assaults, some lawmakers say.
“The military has proven that it is incapable of doing the job,” says Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who decries the Pentagon's prosecution of sex offenders as “abysmal.” She is drafting laws aimed at removing the responsibility of these cases from unit commanders.
Those commanders reduce as many as a third of sexual abuse punishments, according to estimates provided to Speier's office.
“It's a tool the commander has to help ensure discipline and order and obedience to authority,” says Victor Hansen, professor of criminal law at New England Law Boston and a former Army judge advocate. “All those things that are essential to completing a military mission.”
Commanders have several ways of handling criminal charges:
* Among 1,714 servicemembers charged with sexual assault in 2012, cases against 509 defendants fell apart because victims declined to participate, evidence was lacking or the statute of limitations had run out, according to the Pentagon report.
* Commanders dismissed charges against 81 defendants. They prosecuted 244 troops for crimes other than sexual assault. For 286 defendants, commanders decided on lesser, non-judicial or administrative proceedings.
* A total of 594 faced a court-martial for sexual assault. For 302 whose trials ended last year, 238 servicemembers - or 14 percent of those originally facing charges - were convicted of sex crimes, according to the report.
Commanders then can set aside convictions. Two Air Force three-star generals recently threw out jury convictions for sexual assault, in one instance concluding that the defendant could not possibly be guilty because he was “a doting father and husband.”
“A commander's authority is not entirely misplaced,” Solis says. “But it can be abused, and I think we've seen some cases.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the personnel panel for the Armed Services Committee, is drafting legislation similar to Speier's House bill to remove these cases from the defendant's chain-of-command. They would be handled by military judges.
“We have the greatest military in the world,” Gillibrand says. “And we ask everything of them. We ask them to even die for their country. We should not be asking them to be subject to sexual assault and rape.
“I strongly believe that if we allow them to report outside the chain of command, allow that decision-making to be made by a prosecutor, not the commanding officer, you will see justice done more often,” she says.
'It's a trauma'
Sarah Bonner awoke in pain in the soldier's apartment. Her nose was bleeding, her body covered in bruises, and she was naked, clothing strewn around the room. The man who had sexually assaulted her was asleep on the other side of the room.
She would never forget the terror that swept over her just then, Bonner says. “My worst nightmare (had) come true,” the former airman recalls.
She quickly, quietly got dressed, found her way home and called a chaplain.
Two weeks into her deployment to Germany in 2005, Bonner had met the Army military police officer for drinks the night before, and then passed out in the taxi on the way home. She says she believes she was drugged.
Bonner was in the minority of those sexually assaulted in the military. Last year, only about one in 10 female victims reported the crime.
Bonner says that after the assault in 2005, her assailant was disciplined for beating her and shipped back to the USA. She was told to apply heavy makeup to cover the bruises and return to work.
“I'm glad I served,” says Bonner, 32, who has since left the Air Force and is attending college. “I'm proud of my service. But there's that thing there. It's a trauma.”
If Pentagon estimates are correct, more than 20,000 troops declined to report what happened to them last year. About half the women who decided not to say anything did so because they feared everyone would find out. Nearly half thought they would be labeled a “troublemaker.”
Forty-three percent said they did not expect to be believed, according to the survey. At least one in five who did seek prosecution said if they had it to do over again, they would keep silent.
The Marine Corps had the biggest problem - an average of four women sexually abused each day in 2012. The percentage of female Marines alleging sexual assault last year was 10.1 percent up from 6.6 percent in 2010.
Confidentiality is elusive
Former Army Sgt. Lucretia Gordon did double duty as a victim advocate at Fort Drum, N.Y. Each service trains members on working confidentially with victims and assisting them through the aftermath of a sexual assault.
Gordon, who left the Army in 2008, remembers one female soldier she assisted in 2006. The young woman said a soldier in her unit sexually assaulted her after they had been drinking alcohol. By the next day at the battalion picnic, word had spread, and everyone knew about it. The accused soldier was boasting.
The young woman, humiliated by the attention and overwhelmed by the sense that she had somehow been responsible, eventually dropped the charges, Gordon says.
Gordon, who assisted nearly a dozen victims, including some in the Iraq war zone during deployment, has strong memories of the women she helped. She remembers the vacant look in their eyes after an assault, how they tended to blame themselves, how commanders sometimes gave accused soldiers with a good service record the benefit of the doubt in a he-said/she-said criminal case.
“You need an outside eye, somebody who is unbiased,” Gordon says. “They need to take (oversight of these cases) out of the unit or out of the command.” (With permission of the Army Times)
DoD Health Care Money Could Run Out in August
The Defense Department could run out of health care money in August, with a risk of disruption in Tricare coverage, according to a new congressional report that looks at the government wide impact of sequestration.
The report, issued Wednesday by Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee, comes one day after DoD officials announced that 82 percent of the defense civilian workforce will be furloughed as a result of the $40 billion cut in spending required under sequestration.
“All military services indicated they will significantly reduce equipment and facilities maintenance,” the report says. “This will curtail the reset of equipment returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, and may create equipment shortfalls if forces have to respond to emerging contingencies.”
And, it warns, recovering from cuts will not be quick. “Longer-term effects will further degrade readiness, the morale of personnel and have macroeconomic effects,” the Democrats' report says.
Effects of cuts on health care funding are unclear, the report says, but defense and service officials project a $2.6 billion reduction in the defense wide health care budget, with funding “likely to be exhausted” by August 2013.
Health care officials told the committee that to continue providing health care to service members, their dependents and eligible retirees, “priority will be placed on maintaining operations at the military treatment facilities,” the report says. However, civilian health care workers are among those facing furloughs.
The “main burden” of defense health care cuts “is likely to fall on Tricare contracts,” the report warns.
“To date, DoD has not provided specific plans on when or how Tricare contract payments may be deferred or whether Tricare network health providers will continue to provide care if payments are suspended,” the report says. (With permission of the Army Times)
Lawmaker Seeks to Prevent Retirees From Being Forced off Tricare Prime
Two Republican lawmakers introduced a bill Tuesday that would require the Defense Department to offer the Tricare Prime managed health care option in places where the department plans to discontinue the program on Oct 1.
The “Keep Faith with Tricare Prime Act,” sponsored by Rep. John Kline of Minnesota and Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry would provide a one-time choice for affected military retirees and their families to stay on Prime or choose Tricare Standard.
In a release, Kline said the bill “ensures our veterans are given the choice they earned.”
“Promises made should be promises kept and the Pentagon should not break faith with our nation's heroes,” said Kline, a retired Marine colonel.
The Pentagon announced earlier this year it will shrink Tricare Prime areas to within 40 miles of active or former military bases, a move that will force 173,000 retirees and family members to switch to Tricare Standard.
According to the Defense Department, the cuts will save the government $45 million to $65 million a year, based on estimates that DoD pays an average of $600 more per year to provide Prime to a beneficiary compared to Standard.
Military retirees in Prime pay annual enrollment fees of $269.26 for an individual and $538.56 for families, and their co-pays for outpatient care are $12. Prime requires no deductibles.
Tricare Standard has no enrollment fees but carries greater out-of-pocket costs, including cost shares of 25 percent for retirees and annual deductibles for outpatient care of $150 for an individual and $300 for a family for retirees.
According to DoD data, a family of three using Tricare Standard averaged $2,075 in out-of-pocket costs for health care in fiscal 2009, while a similar family in Prime paid about $1,375.
Kline said his proposed bill, H.R. 1971, would help Tricare Prime beneficiaries on a fixed income who might not be able to afford the extra cost.
The legislation would “reduce the immediate impact imposed by the new policy by allowing military retirees to make informed decisions on how to best utilize their military retirement health care benefits while they consider future life decisions,” according to a statement released by Kline's office.
“My legislation keeps faith with nearly 4,000 veterans in Minnesota and more than 170,000 nationwide,” said Kline, a House Armed Services Committee member.
The decision will affect retirees and their dependents in Prime, as well as those using Tricare Young Adult Prime. That totals 98,771 people in the Tricare South region, 37,404 in the North and 36,706 in the West.
The Tricare system was designed to maximize use of both military and civilian facilities, with an eye toward making optimum use of military hospitals and clinics.
In the 1990s, however, contract managers for the Tricare regions expanded Prime into areas not located near military bases at a time when managed care networks were thought to be a model for health care cost savings and health maintenance. In recent years, the entire Tricare South region has been considered a Prime service area.
Defense Department officials say things have changed.
“We basically have found that Prime is not a cost savings and not ... cost-neutral. When we first proposed doing this, we thought it would be cost-neutral at worst,” Dian Lawhon, Tricare's beneficiary education and support division director, said in a teleconference with reporters in January.
Active-duty members and their families will not be affected by the impending reduction of Prime service areas; they can use Standard or enroll in Tricare Prime Remote, a program for those living in rural areas.
DoD has introduced a number of measures designed to rein in ballooning health care costs, including the reduction of Prime service areas and proposals in the 2014 budget to increase Tricare fees on all retired beneficiaries except those medically retired for service-related injuries.
The Congressional Budget Office, which does budgetary analysis of legislation, has not determined the estimated cost of Kline's proposed bill. (With permission of the Army Times)
DoD Employees to Get 11 Furlough Days
The Defense Department plans to furlough some 680,000 civilian employees for 11 days by the end of September as the result of sequester-related budget cuts.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel outlined the plan Tuesday in a department wide memo, adding that “I deeply regret this decision.”
Furloughs will start the week of July 8 and run one day a week until the end of September, Hagel said in the memo.
The roughly 28,000 employees who work at the Navy's four shipyards in Maine, Virginia, Washington state and Hawaii will be exempted, as will be foreign nationals, civilians serving in a war zone, and those needed to protect the safety of life or property, Hagel said in the memo.
“Fewer than one fifth of all civilians paid with appropriated funds will be excepted from furloughs,” Hagel said. That would mean that at least 600,000 of the department's estimated 750,000 employees would be affected.
At a town hall meeting Tuesday at a Defense facility in Alexandria, Va., Hagel said Defense officials worked as hard as they could to get the original 22-day furloughs down, first to 14 days, and then to 11 days. He said he tried to cut them further, but “we got to a point where I could not responsibly go any deeper” without jeopardizing the nation's military readiness.
“We've taken it as close to the line as we can,” Hagel said.
If Defense finds itself in a more stable fiscal situation later this year; Hagel said the agency may be able to shave off a few more furlough days. But Hagel stressed that he could not promise that will be the case.
Hagel acknowledged that the current pay freeze - now in its third year - will make the furloughs even harder on Defense civilians. The Obama administration has proposed a 1 percent pay raise next year to break the freeze, but Hagel said it is up to Congress to pass it, and a raise is not certain.
And Defense is already looking forward to fiscal 2014, which could deliver additional severe budget cuts.
“I can't guarantee you that we're not going to be in some kind of a similar situation next year,” Hagel said. “I'm not saying that's going to happen. But ... we're just trying to survive and get through this fiscal year. I would hope [next year is better], but you can't lead an operation ... based on hope. We're all trying to get to some high ground for FY 2014, and then we'll see.”
Hagel said Defense scaled back spending on contracts and other accounts to help mitigate furloughs as much as possible.
“We've looked at this in every way we could possibly look at it,” Hagel said.
But one Army civilian in Pennsylvania, who asked for his name not to be printed, told Federal Times in a phone interview he is angry that many contractors he works with won't be affected by the furloughs.
“If we should have to take a furlough, they should have to take a furlough,” the Army civilian said. “It's not sounding too fair for us.”
The Army civilian said his wife recently lost her job, which already put his family in a tough financial situation. He said his family will cancel its newspaper subscription and cable television because of the furloughs. And his family may also have to cut back on grocery shopping, stop going to the movies, and even put off paying some bills to absorb losing one-fifth of his pay for 11 weeks.
Other Defense civilians are having even more trouble making ends meet, the Army civilian said, and will be especially hurt by the furloughs.
“There are people who will be in serious trouble,” he said.
Furlough notices are to go out between May 28 and June 5.
Hagel defended the decision to exempt naval shipyard employees from the furlough, saying “it would be particularly difficult to make up delays in maintenance work on nuclear vessels and these vessels are critical to mission success.” He said that “all other depot employees, whether mission-funded or working capital funds employees, will be subject to furlough.”
Some DoD intelligence personnel also may escape the furlough, depending on how their salaries are funded. If their salaries are funded with National Intelligence Program (NIP) funds, the director of national intelligence will decide if they are to be furloughed. Employees who are funded with Military Intelligence Program (MIP) funds will be subject to the furlough, Hagel's memo said.
Also, employees who support foreign military sales will not be furloughed because their salaries are not paid for through appropriations, but rather with proceeds of the Foreign Military Sales program. As a result, any furloughs would not save money.
Because of the sequester, the Pentagon is having to absorb about $37 billion in across-the-board cuts this year. DoD officials had originally planned to furlough employees for up to 22 days, but then reduced that number in March to 14 following passage of a final 2013 spending bill that provided more spending flexibility.
Hagel said the department is taking many other steps to accommodate the sequester cuts. “We have begun making sharp cuts in the training and maintenance of our operating forces - cutbacks that are seriously harming military readiness,” he said in the memo.
“The Army, for example, has terminated most remaining FY 2013 training rotations at its combat training centers. The Air Force has or soon will stop all flying at about one-third of its combat-coded squadrons in the active forces. The Navy and Marine Corps are cutting back on training and on deployments - including a decision not to send a second carrier strike group to the Gulf,” he added.
While Hagel said he would have liked to further cut the number of furlough days, “he decided that we really don't have a choice but to save money for the remainder of [fiscal 2013] to support military readiness, operations and training,” a senior Defense official said in an email on condition that he not be identified. “No one is happy with having to make this tough decision, especially him.”
Federal unions and lawmakers have been pressing Hagel to give flexibility to individual military branches and Defense Department agencies to decide whether furloughs are necessary. Hagel rejected those calls, saying the department would adopt a consistent furlough policy that would apply to all DoD components as a matter of fairness.
Overall, the furloughs will save less than $2 billion, Hagel's memo said.
“We think this is a political decision, not a decision about money,” said Matt Biggs, legislative and political director of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, in an interview following a Pentagon conference call with unions representing DoD civilian employees.
Hagel said he will reassess later whether continued furloughs are needed. “If our budgetary situation permits us to end furloughs early, I would strongly prefer to do so. That is a decision I will make later in the year,” he said in the memo. (With permission of the Army Times)
Sequestration Effects Will Last Years
VIRGINIA BEACH, VA. - Degrading the Army's readiness through budget cuts now will only be the beginning of the service's problems from sequestration, the Army's budget director said today to an audience of military members and defense industry professionals.
“The impacts are not immediate for the nation and not for the Army, but over time for these units who could not go and train, their readiness posture is eroding, and if we need them, if they have to be called upon, it will take us longer to be able to train them,” said Maj. Gen. Karen Dyson. “It will require more resources to get them back to where they were before we found ourselves in this situation.”
She spoke on a panel of leaders from the services, Defense Department and industry today at the EAST: Joint Warfighting 2013 conference in Virginia Beach, Va.
The biggest problem the Army has now in terms of budget issues is with the overseas contingency operations account, she said.
“Our problem is the Army is the executive agent for funding the warfight, and the budget we have for fiscal year '13 is short about $8 billion,” Dyson said. The Army can realign funds to solve about $5 billion of that, which leaves the Army with a $3 billion bill for the war fight, she said.
“The only place we can go is into operations and maintenance accounts, which will further degrade the readiness of our units. That is our biggest challenge that we see today.”
The Army's prioritization drill led to cuts in maintenance on some equipment, some of it coming out of theater, and maintenance on facilities. The service also cut some combat training center exercises and some command and staff training exercises, she said.
Dyson said the Army is working on its strategy for fiscal 2014 but that will be affected by the challenges of '13.
“We have absorbed sequestration for '13 but if we go into '14 in the same posture, under a continuing resolution, under automatic sequestration, we will have further degradation to Army units,” Dyson said.
People are beginning to take sequestration for granted, said Dr. Dov Zakheim, panel moderator and former DoD comptroller who is now with CNA Corp., who warned of a sense of complacency exacerbated by practices such as exemptions from furloughs.
“Defense is essentially collateral damage to a major campaign between those who want to raise taxes and those who want to cut entitlements,” he said. “Defense is not collateral damage.” (With permission of the Army Times)
VA Announces New Grants to Help End Veterans' Homelessness
WASHINGTON - The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has announced two new grants to support Secretary Eric K. Shinseki's goal of ending Veterans' homelessness in 2015. Under these new programs, homeless providers can apply for funding to enhance the facilities used to serve homeless Veterans, and acquire vans to facilitate transportation of this population.
“Those who have served this Nation as Veterans should never find themselves on the streets, living without care and without hope,” said Secretary Shinseki. “Homeless prevention grants provide community partners with the opportunity to help prevent and end homelessness on the local level. This is a crucial tool to get at-risk Veterans and their families on the road to stable, secure lives.”
Approximately $22 million in rehabilitation funds will be available to current operational Grant and Per Diem grantees as part of the effort to increase the useful life of the facilities previously funded under the program. VA expects current Grant and Per Diem grantees will apply for funding to rehabilitate their current project location and enhance the safety, security and privacy issues associated with the homeless Veteran populations they serve. A maximum of $250,000 is available per award and the award will not be more than 65 percent of the estimated total cost of the rehabilitation activity. VA has established funding priorities to support its oldest capitally funded projects.
In addition, approximately $2 million in funds will be available for current operational Grant and Per Diem grantees to assist in the acquisition of vans in order to facilitate transportation of Veteran participants to medical appointments, employment opportunities in the community, and facilitate grantees' outreach activities. The maximum award for a van will be $35,000. The amount of the award will not exceed 65 percent of the total cost of the van.
Applications for both awards are due to the Grant and Per Diem office by no later than 4 p.m. Eastern time on June 28, 2013.
This funding is available under VA's Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program for current operational Grant and Per Diem grantees. The Grant and Per Diem Program provides community-based organizations with funding to develop and operate transitional housing and supportive services for homeless Veterans. The Grant and Per Diem Program has over 15,000 operational transitional housing beds nationwide.
The 2012 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress, prepared by The Department of Housing and Urban Development, estimated there were 62,619 homeless Veterans on a single night in January 2012 in the United States, a 7.2 percent decline since 2011 and a 17.2 percent decline since 2009. The AHAR reports on the extent and nature of homelessness in America. Included in the report is the annual Point-in-Time (PIT) count, which measures the number of homeless persons in the U.S. on a single night in January 2012, including the number of homeless Veterans.
Additional information is available at http://www.va.gov/HOMELESS/GPD.asp or contact the Grant and Per Diem National Program Office at 877-332-0334. (From VA NEWS)
Questions of Independent Prosecution Hang Over Sex Assault Legislation
Lawmakers are wrestling with changes in the military justice system to improve investigation and prosecution of rape and sexual assault cases, with a push toward handling have sex crimes handled outside the normal chain of command.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., sponsor of one of the proposals and chairwoman of the Senate Armed Services Committee's personnel panel, said an unfortunate confluence of events - a study showing rising reports of sexual assault in the ranks, and two cases of people in charge of sexual assault prevention programs accused of perpetrating what they were supposed to be stopping - have focused attention to the problem and created the momentum to do something.
“For all of us, we believe enough is enough,” Gillibrand said. “We have to seize cease this opportunity and act now.”
One of the unresolved questions is how much independence is needed to create a culture in which victims feel comfortable reporting incidents without interfering with the military command hierarchy. An answer is likely to come in the next two months as Congress works on the 2014 defense authorization bill, the likely vehicle for sexual assault and abuse legislation.
Getting the most attention is Gillibrand's Military Justice Improvement Act, a bipartisan and bicameral bill unveiled Thursday that would remove from the chain of command decisions about prosecuting crimes that carry a possible sentence of a year or more in jail. That would extends beyond just sex crimes, and would exclude only crimes of a military-unique nature, such as disobeying orders or unauthorized absence.
It also would codify a decision made last month by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to limit the authority of court-martial convening authorities to overturn or reduce guilty verdicts, while adding a provision that would require written justification by the convening authority for any change in the sentence handed down by a judge or panel in a court-martial.
Gillibrand said an independent judicial system for some crimes would give confidence to victims that reported crimes will be investigated and prosecuted.
The bill confronts this issue head-on by removing decision-making from the chain of command and giving that discretion to experienced trial counsel with prosecutorial experiences, where it belongs, she said.
“That is how we will achieve accountability, justice and fairness,” she said.
“This is a sensible bill to stop an epidemic,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, one of the bill sponsors, who added that the chain of command has not been responsive in the past when she raised questions about rape and sexual assault in the ranks.
Gillibrand's position as leader of the Senate panel responsible for personnel policy gives her bill an edge. But there are concerns about it.
A senior congressional aide who asked not to be identified said there is bipartisan concern that Gillibrand's bill “is overbroad and potentially unworkable.”
“It is written as a large-scale overhaul of the military justice system, instead of being targeted specifically at sexual abuse cases,” said the aide.
This raises questions about how cases would be separated between military-unique and not-unique legal processes, the aide said.
“There are questions about whether the JAG personnel exist to make determinations about the influx of cases they'd see and what it will mean to military commanders' ability to impose discipline, when many infractions beyond sexual assault are taken out of their purview,” the aide said.
A competing and less sweeping bill, the Combating Military Sexual Assault Act, also bipartisan, is sponsored Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
That measure would require that all rape and sexual assault offenses be considered for a general court-martial.
Presenting the case to a general court-martial convening authority, usually a flag or general officer, is aimed at preventing lower-level commanders from disposing of a case through non-judicial punishment or no punishment, a frequent complaint of critics of the current military justice system.
This is less sweeping than Gillibrand's measure, while still taking the decision on prosecution away from the accused's immediate command.
A bill with the same name but different provisions was introduced in the House by Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio. Ryan's bill creates a special victims counsel to handle sexual assault and rape cases, providing guidance and assistance to any victim, regardless of whether the victim files an unrestricted incident report that would lead to charges against an alleged perpetrator.
Murray said the aim is to provide support and confidence for rape and assault victims. “Not only are we subjecting our men and women to this disgusting epidemic, but we're also failing to provide the victims with any meaningful support system once they have fallen victim to these attacks,” she said.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., a cosponsor of Murray's bill and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the legislation is clearly needed. “When a service member fails to live up to our values and commits sexual assault, we must ensure the victims have the support they need and the perpetrators face justice,” she said.
Ayotte said Murray's bill would “strengthen existing laws and policies so that all victims can come forward without fear of retribution and with confidence that they will receive the support, care, and justice they deserve.” (With permission of the Air Force Times)
Obama Calls on Congress to Fund Embassy Security
WASHINGTON - President Obama on Thursday tried to turn the tables on Republicans who have criticized his administration's response to last year's deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya, calling on lawmakers to approve his request to increase funding for diplomatic security.
Obama's call was the second step in as many days designed to combat GOP charges that his administration misled Americas about the circumstances of the attack. Playing down the terrorist strike that killed four Americans came amid the presidential race, Republicans contend. Obama has angrily rejected those claims.
“I want to say to members of Congress in both parties, we need to come together and truly honor the sacrifices of those four courageous Americans and better secure our diplomatic posts around the world,” Obama said at a Rose Garden news conference with the Turkish prime minister. “That's how we learned the lessons of Benghazi, that's how we keep faith with the faith with the men and women who we send overseas to represent America, and that's what I will stay focused on as commander in chief.”
The State Department is seeking about $1.4 billion for increased security. The money would come primarily from funds that haven't been spent in Iraq. That would include $553 million for 35 more Marine Security Guard units, $130 million for 155 diplomatic security agents and $376 million for security upgrades and construction at new embassies.
Since the attack on Sept. 11, 2012, Democrats have complained that Republicans cut $300 million from the Obama administration's budget request of $2.6 billion for diplomatic and embassy security in 2012.
Obama also said his administration is increasing intelligence and warning capabilities to secure diplomats and that he's directed the Pentagon to ensure that the military “can respond lightening quick in times of crisis.”
“But we're not going to be able to do this alone. We're going to need Congress as a partner,” Obama said.
His comments came the day after the White House released 99 pages of emails and a single page of hand-written edits showing the interagency debate over the talking points under pressure from Congress. The emails show that White House staff only requested minor edits, but there were repeated requests from the State Department to take out information that could be used to criticize them.
Democrats rallied behind Obama, arguing that the email disclosure undermined Republican claims of a cover-up.
“Let's be honest about what's happening here,” Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said Thursday in a speech on the Senate floor. “It's not about doing all we can to find the truth and making sure it never happens again; it's about political-gamesmanship and finding someone to blame.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the emails “prove there simply was no cover-up.”
“Yet Republicans, with full knowledge of these emails, claimed the White House was hiding the truth,” Reid said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., agreed with Obama that the GOP focus was a “sideshow.”
Yet Republicans made clear they have no plans to back down, with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, telling reporters that the GOP members on five committees were “working overtime” on the Benghazi issue.
Eight months after the attack, the issue remains a political winner with the Republican base as conservatives have been ferocious in assailing Obama. Rank-and-file GOP members and outside groups have pressured Boehner to appoint a special select committee to investigate. Instead, Republicans are pursuing their own inquiries and promising to call more witnesses to testify publicly, including the veteran diplomat and retired admiral, Thomas Pickering, who led an independent review of the attack that widely criticized the State Department's insufficient security at the facility.
Pickering and former Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen sent a letter Thursday to the House oversight committee chairman saying they will testify in public but not submit to private interviews with staff investigators prior to their testimony.
“The public deserves to hear your questions and answers,” Pickering and Mullen told Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. They offered to appear before the panel either May 28 or June 3.
The emails disclosed on Wednesday underscored the turf battle between the State Department and CIA, as neither wanted to take the blame for the attack. They also showed the reluctance within the administration about saying anything definitively as officials scrambled to write talking points for lawmakers and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who discussed the attack on Sunday talk shows.
Rice's widely debunked remarks that cited protests over an anti-Islam video as the cause of the attack fueled the criticism of the administration and later cost her a chance at becoming secretary of state.
A senior U.S. intelligence official, speaking on a condition of anonymity without authorization to discuss the matter on the record, said CIA deputy director Mike Morell edited the talking points after a meeting at the White House on Saturday, Sept. 15. The White House document release showed Morell's hand-written notes, scratching out from the CIA's early drafts mentions of al-Qaida, the experience of fighters in Libya, Islamic extremists and a warning to the Cairo embassy on the eve of the attacks of calls for a demonstration and break-in by jihadists.
The emails show that Morell's boss, then-CIA Director David Petraeus, apparently was displeased by the removal of so much of the material his analysts had proposed for release. “Frankly, I'd just as soon not use this, then,” Petraeus wrote after receiving Morell's edited version. (With permission of the Air Force Times)
HAPPY ARMED FORCES DAY
It has been another amazing week in DC. The town is full of thousands of police officers, in a myriad of uniforms. At the same time the city is swirling around the Bengazi story; the IRS story, the AP story and more. In the meantime Congress is working on the farm bill and the House has passed the DoD construction-VA apropos bill. (please see below) Then to add to all the drama we have royalty visiting all over our country. (The Retired Enlisted Association (TREA))
Focus on Veteran Owned Businesses
The VA has rolled out its plans for the 2013 National Veterans Small Business Conference (This is very good news since there were real worries that during this time of sequestration it would occur.) It is going to be held in St. Louis Missouri on August 6-8 2013. This should be very helpful for Service Disabled Veterans-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSB) and Veteran Owned Small Businesses (VOSB) Once again the focus this time will be connecting these businesses with procurement offices (called Procurement Decision Makers PDMs) There will also be over 100 training session and networking events. To find out more go to: www.nationalveteransconference.com
Two months earlier there will be another veterans owned business conference. From June 10-13 the VETS2013 Conference (Veterans Entrepreneur Training Symposium) will be held in Reno Nevada. This is a conference focused on helping veterans create businesses that will service the federal government. To find out more about this go to: www.veterantrainingsymposium.com
The conferences as well as small business cyber security, what is going on at the Small Business Administration and the VA was discussed at the month's VET- Force meeting (Veterans Entrepneu Task Force). TREA's Washington Executive Director Deirdre Parke Holleman attended the meeting o this organization that TREA is a member. VET-Force was created in 1999 to” advocate for support of America's veteran and service disabled veteran owned small entrepreneurial enterprises, as one way for veterans to provide economic security and prosperity for their families and the communities where they live and provide job opportunities for veterans especially service disabled veterans.” The meetings provide up to date information as well as small business trading. (And can be joined by conference call as well as in person. If you might be interested in joining please go to: www.vet-force.org. (The Retired Enlisted Association (TREA))
House Appropriations Subcommittee Passes Milcon/VA Bill
This past Wednesday the House Appropriations subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans' Affairs passed a $73.3 billion spending bill for Fiscal Year 2014. It was the first spending bill the House Appropriations Committee has moved this year.
The bill contains $1.4 billion more than the funding level in FY 2013 and $1.4 billion below President Obama's FY 2014 budget request.
It provides $9.9 billion for military construction projects and $63.1 billion in discretionary funding to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an increase of $2.1 billion compared to last year's levels.
The committee included additional funds to the Department of Veterans Affairs to help deal with the claims backlog, and it offset that increase with reductions in military construction. Dealing with the backlog has been a major issue for lawmakers in recent months.
While TREA: The Enlisted Association is grateful for the increase in funding to help deal with the backlog, we were concerned about the level of funding that the Administration's budget proposed for VA construction; a reduction in that level is very problematic in our eyes.
The appropriations bill also includes an additional $54.5 billion that was provided in advance funding in last year's bill.
The $1.4 billion increase for military construction and veterans affairs is in contrast to what other House appropriations committees are planning for: reductions from 2013 levels.
Senate Democratic leaders are still debating how to move appropriation bills this year.
TREA will keep you updated on any developments. (The Retired Enlisted Association (TREA))
Proposed VA Budget Has No Funding For Burn Pit Registry
The Army Times reported last week that the Administration's proposed Department of Veterans' Affairs fiscal 2014 budget contains no funding to establish or maintain a registry for service members exposed to open-air burn pits as required by law.
The Dignified Burial and Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2012, signed by President Obama on Jan. 10, 2013, is intended to force the VA to establish a burn-pit registry by January 2014.
While VA officials say they are working to develop one, they could not provide a cost estimate for starting or completing the project and say they now are conducting budget assessments to determine how much money will be needed.
VA claims that the FY 2014 budget request was developed prior to the enactment of the Dignified Burial and Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2012, and that they have begun trying to meet the requirements of the law using money from the FY 2013 budget.
The law, which TREA: The Enlisted Association strongly supported, is intended to determine how many veterans were exposed to smoke from burn-pits while deployed so that VA can track their medical histories and keep them apprised of new treatments for associated conditions once VA determines that their conditions are service-connected.
Service members who lived and worked near burn pits in Iraq & Afghanistan have complained of a range of respiratory problems, as well as elevated instances of certain cancers.
Troops deployed in support of contingency operations and stationed at a location where an open burn pit was used will be eligible to register. VA will announce directions for signing up when the registry becomes available. TREA will keep you updated on this important topic. (The Retired Enlisted Association (TREA))
Protecting Service Members and Veterans From Consumer Fraud
On Tuesday representatives of the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau held a VSO briefing (attended by TREA Washington Executive Director Deirdre Parke Holleman) about what they are doing to protect Service members and veterans from consumer fraud. DOJ has a particular focus on fraud being committed by educational institutions to take advantage of the service members' educational benefits. Of course this has been a focus of DoD and the VA as well. The Department of Justice's Civil Division of Consumer Protection is also focusing on payday lending and third party payment processors. They ask if you believe that you have been a victim of these (or other types of fraud to report it to them at: www.stopfraud.gov/report.html
Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a huge library of consumer and business articles available free of charge at www.consumer.ftc.gov.They are also going to hold their first Military Consumer Protection Day this July 17. They expect to have a web page up and running in the next couple of weeks. (The Retired Enlisted Association (TREA))
Budget Forecast: A Category 3
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its budget forecast this week showing the annual budget deficit should shrink this year to its smallest level since 2008 - $642 billion - down from an earlier estimate of $845 billion.
The reason for the adjustment is a combination of spending cuts and tax increases enacted over the past two years, coupled with a stronger than expected economy.
Although positive, it's important not to construe this forecast as anything close to sunny skies ahead.
Instead of a Category 5 budget deficit “hurricane,” you could call it a Category 3.
A deficit is still a deficit - a hurricane is still a hurricane.
The overall federal debt sits at $16.9 trillion and is forecasted to grow, but at a slower rate in the near-term, to $25.2 trillion by 2023 in the absence of any changes to laws that govern federal taxes and spending.
According to the report, CBO's rising budget projections are due to growing health care costs, expansion of federal subsidies for health insurance, an increased strain on Social Security as baby boomers become eligible, and mounting interest payments on the nation's debt.
In the short term, the better than expected balance sheet could have one practical effect on politics this year - it could further delay the expected showdown over the statutory “debt ceiling,” which now may not be reached until September or October of this year.
We have a long way to go to reign in our debt, but this news may blunt calls for continued deep, across-the-board spending cuts - especially on the backs of our men and women in uniform. (c) 2010, The Military Officers Association of America. Used with permission.
COLA Dips in April
Inflation dipped slightly in April, but the Consumer Price Index is still above zero for the fiscal year. Where exactly do we stand so far for FY 2013? Check out the trends on MOAA's COLA Watch webpage. The Military Officers Association of America. Used with permission.
Although every effort is made to verify the information contained on this website, neither the editor nor the RAO staff can guarantee the accuracy of information received from outside sources.
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