A truly insightful look into the 1st, 2d, and 3d order effects of breaking the military retirement promise

This is a repost of Tony Carr’s exceptional piece on the effects, both intended and unintended, of breaking the nation’s commitment to its military retirees.  The implications of changing the COLA for the military retirement plan go infinitely deeper than simply saving the taxpayer six billion dollars.  In my humble opinion this article is the best yet written on the COLA debate, and you can go to the original posting at John Q. Public.

Risk and Promise: Strategic Advice for Congress

Since 1973, America has relied on volunteers to fight its wars, and they have relied on America to take care of them when the fighting is over.

Led by Paul Ryan and Patty Murray but abetted by Barack Obama, Congress recently gambled with our nation’s future for an extremely modest short-term gain. In doing so, it was given aid and comfort by knowledge-starved pundits, axe-grinding editorial boards, and self-anointed armchair analysts everywhere, as it  left the military and veteran community standing with their jaws on the ground in despairing disbelief.  Exploiting pressure to strike a budget compromise, Ryan and Murray entered into an unholy alliance to reduce veteran pensions – including those already vested under previous covenants – by an average of $84,000 to $120,000.  They obscured this act, as often happens when attempting to mislead, by employing complex-sounding budget doublespeak to minimize the magnitude of the associated moral breach as well as the consequences to veterans and families.  In a way, this debacle can be seen as part of our nation’s continual inability to comprehend and bear the costs of being a global superpower with quasi-imperial interests secured by less than one-half of one percent of its population.  But the particulars in this case suggest something more disturbing lurking behind the standard wallet-grabbing Congressional milieu: a startling absence of strategic deliberation.  When such a deficit impairs elected leaders responsible for national security, potentially grave consequences attend.

Good strategists always ask of any potential course of action two key questions.  First, what will this do for us?  And second, what will this do to us?  Given the dearth of statesmanly impulse at the national level in modern America, it is perhaps unsurprising that in crafting the recent budget, Paul Ryan and Patty Murray asked only the former question, leaving the latter for others to worry about.

The provision at issue retroactively renegotiated the deferred compensation of more than two million military veterans – including tens of thousands still serving in harm’s way — who did their duty in reliance on promises around which they structured their lives. The vast majority of these veterans endured historically abusive operational tempos. Most will carry with them the invisible scars of war for the rest of their lives, running up against psychological limits that in subtle but consequential ways – ways no one who hasn’t served could possibly understand even if veterans were immodest enough to attempt explanation.

Many transitioned out of military service (or will in the future) to find that their skills and capabilities did not translate well in the private sector.  This can slow earnings growth, making an earned military pension critical during the adaptation to civilian life in a down economy.  Those retirees fortunate enough to preserve their marriages have typically dragged spouses through a dozen or so relocations, never giving them a chance to establish professional footing.  This is key, not just in terms of the sacrifices rendered by military families, but in economic terms; in modern America, two incomes are now required to generate the same standard of living one income provided thirty years ago, and this is often beyond the reach of retired military families who have led very abnormal lives prior to retirement.

The All-Volunteer Force relies heavily on the 17% of its members who choose to serve for a career, most of whom are NCOs.

The shorthand employed by Ryan to sell his beloved pension cut envisions healthy, well-adjusted, fattened mercenaries stepping into corporate America to collect millions during the balance of their working years.  How he arrived at this vision boggles the imagination; most retirees struggle to integrate into a new workplace with skills that don’t directly translate while trying to keep pace with competitors roughly half their age.  73% of retirees are noncommissioned officers whose pensions are barely sufficient to keep them above the poverty line.  As a rule of thumb, these people are figures of sympathy rather than valid targets of the socialistic “they don’t need it anyway” notion behind Ryan’s sales pitch.

Ryan and Murray obviously weren’t thinking about these issues.  They also weren’t thinking about the fact that every veteran who has retired since the year 2000 made a decision upon reaching 15 years of service: either turn down a $30,000 career status bonus and retain an inflation-protected pension upon reaching retirement, or accept the bonus and also accept a 1% annual reduction in cost-of-living adjustment with a one-time “catch-up” at age 62.  Most veterans chose inflation protection, which ends up being worth far more in most calculations than the bonus. In summarily removing inflation protection from all military pensions, Congress breached the contract formed with those who turned down the 15-year bonus.  It did this without holding a single committee meeting or public hearing. In a clear signal it wasn’t thinking strategically, Congress did this in a back room not populated by the joint chiefs, who claim to have been surprised by the provision altogether.

But this all makes sense if Ryan and Murray were only asking “what will this do for us?” And it did a couple of things.  First, it bought them the public acquiescence of the service chiefs, who are desperate for funds given the limits of sequestration imposed without mission relief.  Their only option to preclude mission failure is to hold open the gate while others raid the pensions of the very people whose interests they’re charged to safeguard.  This perversely explains why they said nothing as a provision impacting the career decisions of every active duty and retired member of the military sailed through uncontested.

But what the provision really did for those who championed it was to lay the groundwork for a new funding stream to perpetuate pork barrel spending.  If this provision sticks, Congress will have retroactively renegotiated the compensation contracts of more than two million war veterans during a time of war.  If a promise of this magnitude can be rendered so cheap with so little effort, nothing is sacred. This will create broad legitimacy for further pension and benefit raiding, making this just the first of many breached promises and a lucrative source of cash by which Congress can purchase electoral advantage.  It does this by funding needless bases and infrastructure (to supply jobs in their districts), by acquiring and continuing to operate needless weapons (again, jobs), and by continuing to support the nation’s promiscuous involvement in wars of choice that are a boon for defense contractors and war profiteers . . . and therefore, a steady source of votes and contributions.  Footnote: this is an election year.

The Ryan-Murray pension-raid was not a “mistake” as some have claimed and as I’ve suggested elsewhere is a fallacious notion.  It was a calculated breach of the faith for short-term political advantage.  Ryan, Murray, Obama, Hagel, and the rest of those who pushed and supported this knew they were acting immorally, but were willing to accept doing so out of a rational calculation of what it would do for them.  What they didn’t ask is what it might do to them . . . or more importantly, what it might do to us, the nation they claim to lead.

In the modern age, politicians tend to be tacticians rather than strategists.  They’re interested in winning a series of short-term battles that supply them with talking points for use in the next election.  This is so because getting elected has replaced principled leadership as the contemporary political raison d’etre.  By extension, raising campaign funds has come to dominate the activity of elected representatives, displacing time and focus essential to strategic reflection. But in failing to take a sober, adult look at the future when making decisions, politicians assume huge risks on the behalf of the nation as they collect rewards that fall narrowly to them.  When it comes to the legal heist recently carried out against veteran pensions, the risks are enormous.

Alienating today’s warriors risks destroying the willingness of others to step forward in the future.  Military service is very much a family business; it’s difficult to find an active member who isn’t acting on the example of a relative or ancestor. Military service immerses individual warriors in a system of values rooted in honor, trust, and commitment.  This makes them particularly sensitive to moral compromises.  Ordinarily content to serve with quiet obedience, military members will not hesitate to sound off when they see an obvious moral wrong perpetrated (and woe betide us as a country if ever they became blithely accepting of such wrongs).  They’ve shown in the past few weeks that attempts to breach trust with them will not go unnoticed or unmarked.  The implication for politicians is clear: when you break a promise, you’re tampering with the delicate formula upon which the strength and vitality of the all-volunteer force is based.  The consequences to future American security could be severe, and should be studied carefully before risking even the perception of a moral breach.  Pension formulas were last disturbed in the mid-1990s, creating a retention crisis that sent the joint chiefs panicking to the Hill, where they persuaded Congress to restore a 50 percent, inflation-adjusted retirement package.  All we’ve done since then is ask even more of our volunteers, and nothing suggests they are today any less sensitive to these kinds of budgetary shenanigans.

Politicians claim a choice between readiness and personnel funding, but this is a false choice. Tampering with promised pensions could fundamentally injure readiness by hurting morale and chilling volunteerism.

But there’s a deeper and more insidious risk already touched upon, and that’s the risk attendant to avoiding genuine reform of our defense institutions.  It’s true that current defense spending is unsustainable.  It’s not true that this is a result of personnel costs.  They’ve remained constant at about 25% of defense spending since 2001 (despite two manpower-intensive wars) and are down from 30% of spending since 1991.  Other elements of defense spending have grown explosively over the same period of time.  The nation has expensively fast-tracked new capabilities from scratch as a result of being caught strategically off-guard by 9/11 (this, in turn, is attributable in part to the recklessly rapid pace of intelligence downsizing in the prior decade, which afforded America reduced global awareness as the calculus of national security shifted wholesale). It has also fielded costly new weapons systems in an attempt to contend with an uncertain future, virtually all of them coming up short of expectations and over budget as a result of a dated acquisition process riddled with misplaced influence and needless red tape.  Meanwhile, unneeded bases remain open and their facilities remain operating due to Congressional obstruction, and no serious discussion concerning service roles and missions has been undertaken in nearly three decades.  As a result, the services are tripping over one another with duplicate weapons and capabilities, a bonus for defense contractors but an injury to taxpayers.

If Congress is once again permitted to step over dollars to save dimes and mask the waste lurking in defense spending, we’ll continue tracing along the path of unsustainability without addressing it.  Eventually, those masked costs will come due, and it won’t be Ryan or Murray who pay for it, but every citizen who loses security.  To be fair to some counterarguments, there is a real need to study military compensation and benefit structures and ensure they fit within our means.  But this should be forward-looking in order to keep the faith with those who already kept their end of the compensation bargain, and it should be preceded by a genuine attempt to address the structural reforms Congress is avoiding.  If Americans really want to see a drastic reduction in defense spending, they must encourage their representatives to stop obstructing a Base Realignment and Closure Commission and to charter a Roles and Missions Commission. Moreover, Congress should bind itself to the recommendations of both in order to avoid the political mischief that has characterized previous reform efforts and led to the current morass.  But even more than that, if Americans want to see drastically reduced defense spending, they should stop electing and emboldening politicians who send American troops into wars without fully advertising the costs of doing so.

This is the greatest risk of all — a risk potentially fatal to our national life.  We’ve developed a nasty habit in the modern age of waging war without paying for it, and that has set us on a long road to ruin.  We’ve yet to pay for the wars fought in the last 12 years, having pushed the costs off on future generations by borrowing against the national debt (save for the $6B pick-pocketed from those who did the fighting).  No raised taxes (in fact, tax rates are at a record low as Congressional conservatives who voted overwhelmingly to authorize wars and troop surges complain about the national debt). No war bonds. No draft.  No appeal to our richest citizens to finance an expedition.  We’ve been at war for a dozen solid years without asking Americans at-large to make a single material sacrifice. Now we turn to veterans and expect them to foot the bill.

Veterans understandably refuse to willingly do so, not only because it is unspeakably wrong for them to have been asked in the first place, but because they understand covering up the cost of war is dangerous to our way of life.  When war no longer carries even the faintest whiff of sacrifice for the vast majority of citizens, they will readily support it without rigorously considering its necessity or the manner of its execution.  This is a path to endless war, and when we have warred enough that our interests have become overextended and we’re bogged down with inescapable obligations we can no longer sustain (hints of which are noticeable already), national collapse becomes inevitable.  It’s not a new story historically, and we’re not so exceptional that we can avoid it.  Paying our veterans what we owe them is one of the ways we feel the pain of having supported going to war (and by extension, failing to prevent it), and for that reason more than any other, we must pay what we owe . . . even (and perhaps especially) if doing so feels inconvenient.

So as Congress returns to session, it seems like a good moment for some unsolicited strategic advice, even if it disturbs the self-congratulatory saccharine party Washington has undertaken in the wake of a signed budget. Congress, you can either have an honorable military, or one that accepts broken promises.  You can either have a cheap military, or the world’s best.  And you can either have an expensive but secure way of life, or something less.  Oddly, doing the morally right thing leads to the best outcome in each of these choices, proving that strategy and morality need not be misaligned. Reconciling the two is matter of considering not only what a course of action does for you, but what it does to your country.  Thinking about it this way should compel a swift amendment to restore the promises made to our veterans and their families.

Posted by Tony Carr on January 2nd, 2014.  You can view the original here.

Well said.

Transitionnews 12/12/13

Transitionnews for Thursday, December 12th 2013:

Good news of the day

Bruce Willis Charity Bike Auction Raises Nearly $25,000 for Military Service Members and Their Families  (PR Newswire)  A year-long online motorcycle auction has raised nearly $25,000—monies that will go toward furthering the Boot Campaign’s dedication to cultivating awareness, promoting patriotism, and providing assistance to military, past and present, and their families.

Transition

Perception May Not Match Reality For Military Members Transitioning To Civilian Jobs, Reveals University Of Phoenix Survey  (The Street)  Military members leaving the service may end up underutilizing their skills when transitioning to civilian careers, according to a new national survey from University of Phoenix.

15-year retirements, enlisted retention boards coming next year  (Air Force Times)  The Air Force unveiled today a sweeping list of voluntary and involuntary force management programs it hopes will reduce the ranks throughout 2014.

Air Force announces personnel reduction initiatives  (Spangdahlem.af.mil)  To the Airmen of the United States Air Force:  We are the best Air Force in the world because we attract, recruit, develop and retain Airmen with the strongest character and commitment to our core values.

Army Vet’s Film to Show Hope, Determination and Transition of Wounded Soldiers  (ABC News)  Ryan Curtis was selected among five talented veterans to produce a film for ABC’s “Home for the Holidays.

Veterans

Ramsey County launches veterans court  (SFGate.com)  A new court in Ramsey County is focused on helping veterans charged with non-violent crimes get their lives back on track.

Group buries America’s unclaimed veterans, one soldier at a time  (Fox News) They served their country, but they died alone.

In Fairfax, a fight to add Veterans Day as holiday to school calendar fails to garner support  (The Washington Post)  Governor Robert Bentley signed an executive order creating the Alabama Executive Veterans Network (AlaVetNet) to address ways to better provide services for Alabama service members, veterans and their families.

Wreaths to be laid at veterans’ graves  (News4Jax.com)  The gravesites of heroes buried in the Jacksonville and St. Augustine national cemeteries will not be empty this Christmas.

Veterans’ tour military sites in Las Cruces  (KTSM.com)  The Vet Voice Foundation (VVF) and local Las Cruces area veterans will be touring sites of critical historic importance throughout the proposed Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument on Friday, December 13.

Veterans Affairs

U.S. Veterans Affairs Lobotomized WWII Vets Suffering From PTSD  (Business Insider)  The Wall Street Journal published an investigation Wednesday into lobotomies performed on World War II veterans, some of whom are now thought to have suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

VA Official Outlines Progress in Reducing Claims Backlog  (Defense.gov)  A senior Veterans Affairs Department official today outlined progress made by the Veterans Benefits Administration in reducing the backlog of veterans’ disability compensation and pension claims by 36 percent since March, attributing the success to the combined impact of transformation initiatives and increased employee productivity.

Senator Questions Stats on Accuracy of VA Claims  (Military.com)  Since pressure was applied by veteran service organizations last year, the Department of Veterans Affairs has claimed that it is not only shrinking the backlog numbers but has raised the accuracy rate of the compensation claims it has completed, to where it’s now at 97 percent.

Study links traumatic brain injury and PTSD  (Stars and Stripes)  Traumatic brain injuries during deployments appear to increase the risk of troops experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder after returning home, according to Department of Veterans Affairs-sponsored research published Wednesday.

Governor Bentley creates commission to address delivery of services for veterans  (DothanFirst.com)  Governor Robert Bentley signed an executive order creating the Alabama Executive Veterans Network (AlaVetNet) to address ways to better provide services for Alabama service members, veterans and their families.

Blake’s Veterans pension bills win Senate approval  (GoLackawanna.com)  Legislation introduced by state Sen. John Blake to help veterans who are employed by the City of Scranton more quickly participate in its pension program have won the Senate’s approval.

House Votes to Dig up Veteran Involved in Homicide  (Associated Press)  The House has passed legislation that instructs the Veterans Affairs Department to unearth the remains of an Army veteran buried with military honors after police said he killed an Indianapolis woman and injured three others before taking his own life.

Why Congress Should Fully Fund the VA in Advance  (DefenseOne.com)  Congress is at risk of failing America’s veterans. With single-digit days left in the year’s congressional calendar, several important pieces of legislation to the veteran community remain on the floor of each chamber awaiting a final vote.

Benefits

Budget deal offers stability to Pentagon spending  (SunHerald.com)  Working-age military retirees would see fewer dollars in their federal pensions and the Pentagon would get some long-sought stability in spending under Congress’ budget deal.

Claims errors, long appeals still haunt disabled veterans  (Washington Examiner)  Mistakes and years-long appeals continue to haunt veterans seeking disability benefits even as the Department of Veterans Affairs achieves some success in reducing the backlog of initial claims, key senators warned a top agency official Wednesday.

Heller: Nevada veterans have longest wait for VA benefits  (Las Vegas Review-Journal)   Nevada veterans wait longer than any in the nation to have disability benefits claims completed, U.S. Sen. Dean Heller said at a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday.

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Transitionnews 12/11/13

Transitionnews for Wednesday, December 11th 2013:

Good news story of the day

‘Roof-raising party’ benefits veterans store in Ansonia  (New Haven Register)  An organization that helps veterans got some much-needed help of its own Saturday when volunteers replaced a roof on its thrift store.

Transition

Career transition program expands to cover spouses  (Stars and Stripes)  Spouses of troops and veterans are now eligible for courses through the Veterans Career Transition Program, a host of online courses designed to boost job seekers’ resumes.

US representative meets with student-veterans about easing transition from military  (The Daily Californian)  Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California’s 14th district, discussed ways to ease the transition for former service members into civilian life during a meeting with UC Berkeley student-veterans Monday.

Businesses Step Up Efforts to Hire Veterans  (Military.com)  It took Francisco “Frank” Miranda, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, about three years to find a job in the civilian world that was a good fit. Since August, Miranda has been working at Home Depot in Totowa, N.J., where he and two fellow vet employees refer to each other by their former military ranks.

Veterans

Could Community Service Be the Answer for Veterans Looking to Treat PTSD?  (The Pacific Standard)  Thousands of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder rely on the Department of Veterans Affairs for relief. They might be better served, however, if they tapped the hard-won wisdom of incarcerated Vietnam veteran Michael “Doc” Piper.

Reinventing Michael Banks: A Lesson in Empathy – recruitDC Guest Post  (RecruitDC.org)  Many veterans on the job hunt get frustrated because they feel like potential employers don’t understand or appreciate their experiences.

NM orders halt to investment scheme involving vet benefits  (Albuquerque Journal) The state Regulation and Licensing Department’s Securities Division said Tuesday it has ordered two investment companies involved in the illegal purchase of monthly pensions and disability payments from veterans and resale of them as investments to halt the scheme immediately.

Veterans, soldiers learn show biz with ABC  (Army Times)  Five Army veterans and current soldiers got the chance to write, direct and produce their own films for ABC television during the network’s November and December “Home for the Holidays” campaign — an initiative that encourages supporting and hiring veterans.

Veterans’ Law Attorney with Hook Law Center Explains Rules For Early And Delayed Social Security Benefits Claims  (Law Firm Newswire)  A recent survey indicates many U.S. veterans are uninformed about the advantages and disadvantages of delaying or hastening the start of their Social Security benefits.

Veterans Affairs

Hagan repeats call for action on VA backlog  (Winston-Salem Journal)  Sen. Kay Hagan on Tuesday again asked Eric Shinseki, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, to reduce an enormous backlog of appeals made by veterans in North Carolina and the U.S. on claims for disability compensation.

Legionnaires’ bacteria found at Texas VA hospital  (Stars and Stripes)  Officials say water sources at more than three buildings at a Central Texas veterans hospital have tested positive for legionella, a

Benefits

Retirees pushed off Tricare Prime may be allowed back in  (Army Times)  More than 171,000 military retirees and family members booted from Tricare Prime on Oct. 1 when the Defense Department cut coverage areas for its managed health program could get their old health plans back under the compromise 2014 defense bill under consideration in the House and Senate.

Path To Reclaiming Identity Steep For Vets With ‘Bad Paper’  (NPR)  When Michael Hartnett was getting kicked out of the U.S. Marine Corps, he was too deep into post-traumatic stress disorder, drugs and alcohol to care as his battalion commander explained to the young man that his career was ending, and ending badly.

Gay Dallas couple faces veterans home loan problems  (Military Times)  Just days away from closing on a new house, a Dallas couple has discovered the Veterans Affairs Department won’t guarantee their new home loan because it doesn’t count the income of a non-veteran spouse for same-sex married couples in states that don’t recognize such marriages.

Budget deal would reduce COLAs for some military retirees  (Military Times)  A bipartisan budget deal to avoid another government shutdown and reduce the impact of sequestration over the next two years includes thorns for working-age retirees.

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Transitionnews 12/10/13

Transitionnews for Tuesday, December 10th 2013:

Good news of the day

Students bring holiday show to veterans  (Orange County Register)  Students from Corona del Mar Middle School took their show on the road Thursday, putting on a holiday performance for veterans at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Long Beach.

Transition

Group helps Volusia veterans readjust to civilian life  (The Daytona Beach News-Journal)  After returning from his second “brutal” deployment to Iraq, Bobby Colella found himself teaching ROTC cadets at the University of Central Florida in Orlando who were just starting their military careers as he was preparing for retirement after 21 years in the Army infantry.

Florida Tech to Host Informational Webinar on Military Benefits  (The Business Journals)  U.S. News & World Report-ranked Florida Tech recently announced it will be hosting a webinar for military personnel and veterans on December 11, 2013.

Nonprofit Helps Veterans Learn Farming  (AARP.com)  American farmers are getting older, with an average age of 57 — and climbing. Farmers 65 and older are the fastest-growing group. At the same time, military veterans returning home face a 7.7 percent unemployment rate and a host of challenges as they negotiate the often-difficult transition to working and living outside of the armed forces.

Marcademys New Scholarship Program Helps U.S. Veterans, National Guard and Reserves Learn Internet Marketing and Land Jobs  (ITBusinessnet.com)  Marcademy, Inc. announced that it is accepting applications for its 2014 class of Marcademy Fellows.

Veterans

Military Invasion! Veterans As a Part of Your Multicultural Advertising Mix?  (The Huffington Post)  25 million Americans have served in the U.S. armed forces, and you just need to look online or watch TV to see how advertisers are increasingly pursuing them.

Paralyzed Veterans of America Launches National Vehicle Donation Program  (Business Wire)  Paralyzed Veterans of America, a non-profit organization working to serve the needs and challenges faced by American veterans with disabilities and their families, today announced the national launch of its vehicle donation program, Wheels Helping Warriors.

Yeshiva students honor local veterans  (Jewish Journal)  Marv Levine, 77, is the chairman of the Men’s Club at the Forest Trace Luxury Resort Senior Community in Lauderhill, where he is a resident. He also is a veteran of the Korean War.

One Thousand Job Seekers Attend Congressman Garamendi’s Job Fair, Veterans Hiring Program Unveiled  (InsuranceNewsnet.com)  Reflecting the continued struggles of far too many Americans in search of work, the Solano County Job Fair and Jobs Boot Camp hosted today by Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield, CA) was exceedingly well-attended. 971 jobseekers, including 146 veterans, talked with more than 50 employers, labor unions, and job skills organizations and two dozen resume counselors.

Cintas Awarded Outstanding Veteran Employer Award  (BusinessWire)  Cintas Corporation today announced its Maumelle, Little Rock and Searcy, Ark. facilities have received the Outstanding Veteran Employer Award from ARVets, an organization that provides support and resources for military personnel, veterans and their families.

Veterans Affairs

VA Offers New Dental Insurance Program  (ABC10up.com)  The Department of Veterans Affairs is now offering dental insurance at reduced premiums for Veterans enrolled in VA health care as well as beneficiaries of VA’s Civilian Health and Medical Program (CHAMPVA).

Veterans bonus deadline approaching  (TheVWIndependent.com)  Just a reminder that Ohio veterans who served during the time of the Persian Gulf War have until December 31 to apply for the Ohio Veterans Bonus and receive a “thank you” for their service awarded by Ohio’s citizens.

Effort to clear national backlog of veterans benefits claims makes things worse in Minnesota  (StarTribune)  An effort to clear a national backlog of veterans benefits claims is making things worse in Minnesota.

PTSD rates similar among defense contractors and veterans, report says  (The Washington Post)  Federal contractors who worked in war zones reported post-traumatic stress disorder and depression at rates similar to military personnel in a recent survey by the RAND Corporation.

Benefits

Feds: Woman pocketed dead brother’s VA benefits  (WFTV.com)  While thousands of veterans wait for their backlogged benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, one Orange County woman who has never served watched her bank account grow for years.

VA Loan Benefits Explained In A New Loan Love Guide   (StreetInsider.com)  LoanLove.com is a home loan borrower advice website that provides in-depth information in and easy to understand, concise and even entertaining way that both new borrowers and experienced home owners can benefit from.

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Transitionnews 12/9/13

Transitionnews for Monday, December 9th 2013:

Good news of the day

Veterans honored, remembered in wreath-laying ceremony  (Asbury Park Press)  A military aircraft streaked over west Cumberland County Saturday morning just in time for its pilot to witness an extraordinary sight.

Transition

Institute for Veterans and Military Families and JPMorgan Chase Expand Veterans Career Transition Program to Include Military Spouses  (Globe Newswire)  The Institute for Veterans and Military Families has expanded eligibility to enroll in its Veterans Career Transition Program to spouses of eligible veterans and active duty servicemembers.

Special hunt helps veterans transition  (JournalGazette.net)  Cecil Stroud grew up hunting deer. But for the last 10 years, he couldn’t do it. He wouldn’t do it. War will do that to you, he’d say.

Discharge upheld for airman who reported sexual assault  (Air Force Times)  A medical board has upheld the discharge of a security forces airman who claims he was improperly diagnosed with a personality disorder after he reported being sexually assaulted by a superior.

Veterans

Veterans First works to house homeless female vets  (SFGate.com)  Two decades ago, Dana Oviatt started her career in the Army as a combat photographer.

Unclaimed S.C. veterans to be buried in Beaufort National Cemetery Friday  (The State)  The remains of 10 military veterans from South Carolina will be interred Friday at a ceremony in Beaufort National Cemetery by an organization that aims to give military funerals to unclaimed veterans, an organization spokesman said.

Veterans Writing Project comes to William & Mary  (Los Angeles Times)  After Ron Capps saw five wars in 10 years, the horrific images began to collide.

Map: Where the World War II veterans are  (The Washington Post)  More than 2,300 Americans died in the attack at Pearl Harbor exactly 72 years ago on Saturday.

VETERANS’ AFFAIRS: American Legion donates $4,000 to cognitive impairment program at Walled Lake Schools  (The Oakland Press)  Sons of the American Legion Post 224 recently donated $4,000 to the Moderate Cognitive Impairment Transitions Program at Walled Lake Schools.

Veterans Affairs

VA pushes online health info for vets, servicemembers  (WeatherfordDemocrat.com)  The Department of Veterans Affairs is urging all veterans and service members to join the millions already accessing VA health care information and service online.

Backlog of claims to VA shrinking  (FloridaToday.com)  David Scheimreif waited for more than a year while his disability claim sat in limbo, along with hundreds of thousands of others, at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

VA Home Loan Benefits Now Available Through Blue Loan Services  (PR Newswire) Blue Loan Services is a full service mortgage company that has been helping residents of California to find the best loan products and home loan rates for many years.

Roy Exum: Woeful Care Of Veterans  (Chattanoogan.com)   The United States spends $150 billion each year to fund the badly-maligned Department of Veterans Affairs.

Benefits

TRICARE Tools: Worldwide Online Access to Worldwide Coverage  (Tricare.mil)  TRICARE is the worldwide health care program serving active duty service members, Guard and Reserve members, retirees, family members, survivors, certain former spouses and others entitled to TRICARE benefits.

Hawke: Share cost for vets’ benefits  (Sentinel & Enterprise)  Massachusetts has some of the most generous veterans benefits in the country, but Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke said the cost of supplying many of those benefits is falling disproportionately on communities like his.

Help Is Hard To Get For Veterans After A Bad Discharge  (NPR)  More than 100,000 troops left the service with other-than-honorable discharges in the last 10 years.

Military Benefits For Same-Sex Couples Blocked At State Level  (USC Annenberg)  The Supreme Court’s recent ruling to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has paved the way for military members and their same-sex spouses to receive the same military benefits as married heterosexual couples.

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Transitionnews 12/6/13

Transitionnews for Friday, December 6th 2013:

Good news of the day

Veterans kayak program: ‘4 Star Award’ winner   (Examiner.com)  On December 2, 2013, the Tennessee Recreation and Parks Association awarded the Chattanooga Department of Youth & Family Development the prestigious “4Star Award,” which recognizes the best overall programs, facilities and marketing in the state of Tennessee. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the “4 Star Aquatics Program Award” or “Veterans Kayak Program,” which the Department of Youth and Family’s Therapeutic Recreation division created in January 2013.

Transition

Fort Drum expected to lose 2,800 soldiers and civilian workers from 2012 to 2017  (Watertown Daily Times)  Fort Drum is projected to lose about 2,800 soldiers and civilian workers over the next few years, according to an Army analysis outlined Thursday.

Focus on Agriculture: Program helps vets transition from military to farming   (Richmond News)  When Dustin Ladenburger climbs up into his tractor seat these days he finds he cannot reach the pedals.

Veterans

Disabled Veterans National Foundation Reminds Veterans of VA’s 2014 COLA Increase  (PR Newswire)   The Disabled Veterans National Foundation (www.dvnf.org), a nonprofit veterans service organization that focuses on helping men and women who serve and return home wounded or sick after defending our safety and our freedom, is reminding veterans of the VA’s recently announced cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in 2014.

Ex-congressional staffer lied about war injuries to get VA benefits, prosecutors say  (Deseret News)  A man who worked for a Utah congressman through the Wounded Warrior Project faces criminal fraud charges for allegedly lying about being injured in the Iraq war to collect disability benefits.

Budget cuts might slow improvements in veterans’ homelessness  (CharlotteObserver.com)  The country has made progress toward its goal of ending veterans’ homelessness by 2015, but budget cuts might stand to threaten the momentum, according to federal officials.

Legion Challenges VA Claims Accuracy  (Military.com)  The American Legion testified at a Dec. 4 hearing on Capitol Hill that examined VA’s track record in processing complex disability claims that deal with conditions such as traumatic brain injury (TBI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and military sexual trauma (MST).

Rocky named a top college for veterans; MSUB opens veterans lounge  (Billings Gazette)  With the number of veterans pursuing higher education continuing to rise, Billings colleges are working to expand the services they provide and recently earned national rankings for their efforts.

Veterans Affairs

VA Medical Center’s Ladies’ Night 2013 honors women veterans  (DC Military.com)On Nov. 22, the Washington DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s Atrium was transformed into a festive ballroom and mini concert hall.

VA regional offices improperly paying out disability claims, IG tells House panel  (Fierce Government)    Veterans Affairs Department disability claims processing problems at the regional level resulted in improper payments that the VA will likely never recover, Deputy Assistant Inspector General Sondra McCauley told a House panel Wednesday.

Veterans Affairs medical centers failed to properly review patient incidents, GAO says  (Fierce Government)  Veterans Affairs medical centers didn’t properly review incidents where patients were injured due to a doctor’s intervention, a Dec. 3 Government Accountability Office report says.

Benefits

Big battle is brewing over move to rein in military pay, benefits  (Omaha.com)  The Pentagon is pulling out its big guns in a fight over the growing cost of compensating the men and women who fight our wars.

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Transitionnews 12/5/13

Transitionnews for Thursday, December 5 2013:

Good news story of the day

WINE COUNTRY: New home gives Army veteran, a double amputee, chance at freedom  (The Press Enterprise)  It’s more than wood, steel, plaster and granite.  The home that was built for U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Wallace “Ha’a” Fanene, a double amputee wounded during his service in Iraq, is a chance for a more normal life. It’s freedom. Mobility.

Military Transition

Latest Transition Guide from Stars and Stripes Prepares Service Members for Post-military Civilian Life  (PR Web)  The Stars and Stripes Transition Guide provides military men and women the opportunity to jump-start their transition into civilian life.

Tailored Career Guidance Resource is Free for Sailors’ Lifetime  (Navy.mil)  Sailors planning ahead for an eventual transition from naval service, are encouraged to take advantage of the Kuder Journey career guidance system; a pilot program available through the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) that ends enrollments Dec. 31.

Veterans

The Government’s Best-Kept Secret  (Fox Business)   If you ask an elderly Veteran if they qualify for an additional pension from the VA to help pay for their long-term care costs, they will probably tell you, “I’m not eligible because I wasn’t injured in the war.” This is a common misconception, which keeps many Veterans from tapping into a benefit they deserve.

Michael Roof: Veterans Evaluations Services not a scam  (The Daily Journal)  If there is one thing that all veterans can agree upon, it’s that when the Department of Veterans Affairs sends out paperwork, it takes a Ph.D. to decipher it. To add to the complexity, veterans waiting for compensation and pension exams are getting phone calls and letters from a company called Veterans Evaluations Services.

Department of Veterans Affairs

Phoenix VA program gives ASU nursing students career experience  (Downtown Devil)  Students at ASU’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation say the Phoenix Veterans Affairs program at the school has provided them with valuable practical skills.

VA benefits set to slightly increase in 2014  (Federal News Radio)  When veterans and their families, who receive disability compensation and retirement benefits from the Veterans Affairs Department, receive their annual cost-of-living increase next month, for the first time ever, it won’t be rounded down to the nearest dollar.

Slow and sloppy review procedures endanger patients at Veterans Affairs hospitals, GAO finds  (Washington Examiner)  Patients at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals are not being adequately protected from doctors who have histories of providing substandard treatment, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

House lawmakers to examine VA’s handling of disability appeals  (The Washington Post)  House lawmakers plan to examine how the Department of Veterans Affairs is dealing with a growing backlog of appeals for denied disability benefits.

Benefits

Big battle is brewing over move to rein in military pay, benefits  (Omaha.com)  The Pentagon is pulling out its big guns in a fight over the growing cost of compensating the men and women who fight our wars.

Louisiana to process military benefits for same-sex spouses despite state ban  (The Washington Post)  The Louisiana National Guard has reached a deal with the Pentagon to process military benefits for same-sex spouses despite the state’s constitutional ban on recognizing gay marriage.

More veterans eligible for benefits as agent orange perimeter expands  (Oelwein Daily Register)  More veterans of the Vietnam War were recently included to benefit coverage due to Agent Orange Exposure.

Schumer wants to ensure veterans get their benefits  (The Telegram)  Steve Sadlon, a 92-year-old World War II veteran, recently started receiving his property tax benefit for his years of service decades ago.

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