Budget Deal that Penalizes Military Retirees Heads to Senate

retirementUpdate: February 15, 2014

Military Times: Vets Upset COLA Reduction Remains for New Troops

Veterans welcomed the repeal of the reduction of the cost-of-living-adjustment for retirees starting in 2016, but veterans’ advocate groups are disappointed the reduction will still apply to new troops.

The bill now awaiting President Obama’s signature grandfathers current retirees and troops as of Dec. 31, 2013, from COLA cuts that were created as a deficit reduction measure. However, troops entering service after that date will see smaller COLAs when they begin retiring in 2034.

Original Article:

By a vote of 332-94, the House passed a two-year budget deal Thursday, December 12th. The deal funds the government and temporarily ends the sequester, but comes at a huge financial cost to working-age military retirees under the age of 62.

If the same deal is also approved by the Senate Monday, December 16th and signed into law by the president, the provision will automatically subtract a full percentage point from annual COLA increases.

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For an E-7 retiring today at age 40, the cumulative loss of retirement income could exceed $80,000 by age 62.

“We know the federal government needs to curb its spending, balance its budget, and put an end to the sequester, but penalizing military retirees is not the solution,” said VFW National Commander Bill Thien.

“The troops view the attacks on pay and allowances, retirement and healthcare systems as a breach of faith, and a complete lack of support, understanding and appreciation for what it is they do daily for the rest of America.”

House Passes FY 2014 National Defense Authorization Act Addressing MST

BulletsFriday, June 14th the House approved (315-108) their version of the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The bill, HR 1960, authorizes $544.4 billion for DOD, Department of Energy and $85.8 billion for overseas contingency operations.

Among the key provisions were several changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) with regard to sexual assaults in the military. One would strip commanders of their authority to dismiss or reduce guilty verdicts in sexual assault cases and another would lift the five-year statute of limitations on assaults thereby allowing prosecution of these cases at any time.

The bill would also provide guidelines to commanders on the temporary reassignment or removal of someone who has been accused of committing a sexual assault and requires victim’s counsels to be specially trained to provide legal assistance to victims.

Senator Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Ranking Member Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., announced June 14th that their committee had also completed its markup of the National Defense Authorization Act – See Senate version here…

On May 7, 2013 President Obama said he has “no tolerance” for sexual assault in the military.

President Obama“I expect consequences,” Obama said. “So I don’t just want more speeches or awareness programs or training, but ultimately folks look the other way. If we find out somebody’s engaging in this, they’ve got to be held accountable – prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period.”

Read more hereDefense Authorization Bill to Address Military Sexual Assault

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Defense Authorization Bill to Address Military Sexual Assault

McCaskill  Collins  Turner  Tsongas Unveil Comprehensive Bill to Address Sexual Assaults in MilitaryFinally…Now that Military Sexual Assaults are up 35% since 2010, two U.S Senators and two members of the U.S. House of Representatives have combined to unveil bicameral, bipartisan legislation they hope will once and for all address Sexual Assaults in the Military.

The four championing ARM13982, a bill to reform the currently flawed Military Justice System are:

  • Senator Claire McCaskill, Missouri: Senate Armed Services Committee
  • Senator Susan Collins, Maine: Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee
  • Congressman Mike Turner, Ohio: Armed Services Oversight and Government Reform
  • Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, MA:Co-Chair of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus

The bill seeks:

To amend title 10, United States Code, to make certain improvements in
the Uniform Code of Military Justice related to sex-related offenses
committed by members of the Armed Forces, and for other purposes.

The bill contains reforms to better address sexual assault prosecutions and aid survivors including provisions that:
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  • Remove a commander’s ability to overturn the findings of a court-martial in most cases
  • Require a commander to provide written justification for any modifications made to a sentence, and require that they receive input from survivors before making any decision on clemency proceedings
  • Require that a person found guilty of an offense of rape, sexual assault, forcible sodomy, or an attempt to commit any of those offenses receive a punishment that includes, at a minimum, a dismissal or dishonorable discharge
  • Eliminate the five-year statute of limitations on Trial by Courts-Martial for sexual assault and sexual assault of a child.

“The problems the U.S. military have had dealing with this issue-whether it’s aggressively prosecuting perpetrators or effectively protecting survivors-are well chronicled and have gone on far too long,” said U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, a former county prosecutor and a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “It’s time for the reforms contained in this bill, and I’m going to work with my colleagues in both chambers and in both parties to ensure that they’re enacted.”

“The Department of Defense has a no-tolerance policy towards sexual assault, but the culture does not match that policy,” said U.S. Senator Susan Collins, who supported the 2011 DEFENSE STRONG act. “Individuals who commit acts of rape or sexual assault have no place in the United States Armed Forces, an institution that depends upon the high standards, ethics, and character of its service members. This is an unacceptable situation and we must work together to address it.”

“With more outrageous revelations regarding sexual assault in the military, it’s clear further action is needed on this issue. By updating the BE SAFE Act (Better Enforcement for Sexual Assault Free Environments), which we have included in this year’s House NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act), we will be taking  those additional steps. Specifically, enhanced rights for victims provided in this bill will ensure they not being re-victimized and are treated with respect through the judicial proceedings,” said Congressman Mike Turner, Co-Chair of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus.

While it is clearly felt by virtually everyone in the United States that no person should ever have to endure the physical suffering and mental trauma of Sexual Assault, it has also become very clear in recent years that, left alone, the Military Justice System reflects neither public opinion nor religious sentiment in their judicial processes.  Military judicial efforts have repeatedly shown to promote and retain those military members who commit rape, by systematically demoting and stigmatizing either the victim or any other military personnel who reports it.

Americans should all pray for guidance and support Congressional efforts to put a stop to the growing nightmare.  It is our moral, civil and civic duty to protect every last member of our United States Military from the current Military Justice System’s “Good old boy” practice of burying these traumatic injustices.  Sweeping these crimes under the rug is an unconscionable act that simultaneously encourages and rewards the sexual predators thriving inside the Military because of it.

-VFWlady, Laurie Cox

US House Veterans Affairs Committee Pushes Key Veterans Bills Forward

Veterans Affairs Committees in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate have been focused on packaging Veteran-related bills to get them on the floor.  They’ve heard testimony from many experts from a number of well-respected veterans support groups, and have moved some bills forward to the next phase of action.

The House VA Committee cleared six Veterans bills this week. The following bills will now move to the House floor for consideration and debate:

Ruth Moore

This bill was amended to include more stringent reporting requirements for VA which the committee hopes will pressure VA to update and improve its sexual trauma regulations. Unfortunately the bill still does not require a much-supported law change that would align Military Sexual Trauma claims with combat PTSD regulations.

Veterans in the ClassroomThis bill included the original provision which requires public universities to charge only what is equal to in-state tuition for veterans, and includes a controversial new amendment banning bonuses for senior VA executives for the next five years. It also contains provisions of 6 other bills including:

  • HR 1405, To amend title 38, United States Code, to require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to include an appeals form in any notice of decision issued for the denial of a benefit sought.
  • HR 1453, Work-Study for Veterans Act seeks to extend the authority to provide work-study allowance for certain activities by individuals receiving educational assistance by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Search and track all government legislation and bills in Congress at govtrack.us

 

U.S. Military Women Finally Allowed to Choose Frontline Combat

Department of DefenseWomen in CobatThe Secretary of Defense and Joint Chiefs Chairman reversed a longstanding policy this week that barred women from serving in frontline units and holding combat arms.  Women now have the option of choosing from a slew of hazardous duty Military Occupational Specialties previously only open to men.

According to DOD, the policy change could potentially open up 53,000 unit positions and 184,000 MOS positions to women by the January 2016 implementation date. The military services will be required to set the MOS standards and some specialties could still remain closed to women, but SECDEF must approve all exceptions.  A determination whether women should be required to register with the Selective Service System will also be made.

In a Statement on Women in Service, Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta stated, “Every time I visited the warzone, every time I’ve met with troops, reviewed military operations, and talked to wounded warriors, I’ve been impressed with the fact that everyone – men and women alike – everyone is committed to doing the job.  They’re fighting and they’re dying together. And the time has come for our policies to recognize that reality.

According to a USA Today Report, the military has different physical standards based on age and sex for the Army and Marines. In either service, the standards for both sexes would be the same for those trying to get into the infantry and other combat arms specialties.

“The department’s goal in rescinding the rule is to ensure that the mission is met with the best qualified and most capable people, regardless of gender,” Panetta said.

“I’m not talking about reducing the qualifications for the job — if they can meet the qualifications for the job, then they should have the right to serve,” he said.

According to VFW National Commander John Hamilton, “there is no question that women have and will continue to serve our nation in uniform with great valor and sacrifice. We fully recognize that not everyone volunteers for the combat arms career fields, but the VFW wishes all who apply much success in meeting the arduous physical and demanding performance standards.”

Stolen Valor Act Re-Introduced in January 2013

Congress.gov

U.S. Military Awards for Valor   Top 3The Stolen Valor Act of 2013, legislation that would make it a crime to knowingly benefit from lying about receiving a military valor medal was introduced to the 113th Congress this week by Congressman Joe Heck (R-NV).  The bill, H.R. 258 currently has 69 cosponsors and was referred for consideration to the House Judiciary Committee, the very same panel that approved Heck’s Stolen Valor Act of 2012 last year by a vote of 410 to 3.

The original Stolen Valor Act of 2005, signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2006,was a U.S. law that broadened the provisions of a previous U.S. law addressing the unauthorized wear, manufacture, or sale of any military decorations and medals. The law made it a federal misdemeanor to falsely represent oneself as having received any U.S. military decoration or medal. If convicted, defendants might have been imprisoned for up to six months, unless the decoration lied about was the Medal of Honor, in which case imprisonment could have been up to one year.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 28, 2012 (see United States v. Alvarez), that the 2005 Stolen Valor Act was an unconstitutional abridgment of  freedom of speech under the First Amendment,  and struck down the law in a 6 to 3 decision.  One month later, the U.S. Department of Defense quickly responded by unveiling a helpful new website, valor.defense.gov.  The DOD’s website provides a public record of medal of honor recipients as well as recipients of many other distinguished service medals.

Other important Veteran related bills, all of which carried forward from 2012 to be reintroduced to Congress this week, include:

H.R. 303 legislation that would extend full concurrent receipt to all military retirees receiving VA disability pay and their retirement pay—current law provides concurrent receipt on a phase-in schedule for only those retirees rated 50% or above by VA.

H.R. 288 which allows dependent children of veterans covered by CHAMPVA to remain eligible until age 26 (this provides equity with DOD and the Affordability Health Care Act which increased eligible age from 23 to 26 under their plans)

H.R. 32 (Military Surviving Spouses Equity Actthat would repeal the offset for military spouses receiving survivor annuities under the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) and DIC from VA – also referred to as the Widows Tax.

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Key Veterans Bills Include New Burn Pit Registry in 2013

United States Capitol west

On Thursday, January 10th President Barack Obama signed key veterans’ bills into law.  One of the bills was the Improving Transparency in Education Opportunities for Veterans Act (HR 4057), which was crafted by the VFW.   The bill ensures that the VA will offer quality consumer information and consumer protections for student-veterans.  Another key bill, S. 3202, is a comprehensive bill that improves cemetery protections for grieving families of veterans and also:

Here is a list of all bills signed recently signed into law that relate to and either directly or indirectly affect veterans issues:

H.R. 1339, which designates the City of Salem, Massachusetts, as the birthplace of the U.S. National Guard;

H.R. 4053, the “Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Improvement Act of 2012,” which clarifies requirements for Federal agencies to use improper payment information to determine program or award eligibility; establishes a Do Not Pay Initiative; and expands OMB responsibilities in the effort to eliminate and recover improper payments;

H.R. 4057, which requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to establish a comprehensive policy for providing information regarding higher education and training programs to veterans and members of the Armed Forces;

H.R. 6620, the “Former Presidents Protection Act of 2012,” which restores lifetime Secret Service protection of former Presidents who did not serve as President prior to January 1, 1997, and their spouses; and provides for protection of all children of former Presidents until they become 16 years of age;

S. 3202, the “Dignified Burial and Other Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2012,” which amends authorities of the Department of Veterans Affairs related to: cemetery matters; health care; and miscellaneous matters.

 

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