TREA: The ENLISTED ASSN
NEWS FOR THE ENLISTED
FOR JUNE 29, 2012
Happy 4th of July to You All
Of course the big news in Washington was the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Health Care Act/Obamacare. But there was other big news. For the first time in a very long time- this was a good week for incumbents. Both Senator Orrin Hatch- Republican of Utah and Representative Charlie Rangel- Democrat of New York defeated challengers in their primaries (though there seems to be some recounting in the Rangel race.) There was another Supreme Court decision on the Stolen Valor Act (please see below) as well as other decisions on questions of immigration, convicted juveniles and political speech.
1) 11th QRMC Recommends Significant Changes for Active Duty, Guard and Reserve and Survivors
FROM TREA HQ:
Last Friday the 11th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation’s (QRMC) report was released by the Department of Defense. Every 4 years DoD is required by law to study and assess “the effectiveness of military pay and benefits.” The President directs which areas they should focus on. This time (starting in 2010) President Obama directed them to study “special and incentive pays for critical career fields; combat compensation; wounded warriors, caregivers, and survivor compensation; and Reserve and National Guard compensation and benefits.” These recommendations are studied by the Department of Defense and Administration and are influential in determining policy changes and proposed legislation.
There is a great deal to study. Some of these are very complicated proposals. We will present in depth analysis in the future but a quick rundown of the proposals include:
Special and incentive pays. The QRMC is very enthusiastic about special and incentive pays throughout both the active duty and the Guard and Reserve. They recommend the establishment of creating career incentive pay authority for “high demand career fields.”
Reserve Compensation, Benefits and Duty Structure. The study proposed numerous changes in the Guard and Reserve’s compensation structure (which they term transitioning from the present structure to a total force pay structure.) These include changing the retirement system to align more closely to the active duty system and recommending that they start receiving retired pay on their 30th anniversary of military service having completed 20 years of qualifying years. It also proposes changes in benefits in health care, education and disability. The report states that these substantial changes should be made since DoD intends to continue to use the reserve components on a regular basis to support operational missions as well as their original purpose of providing strategic depth.
“The QRMC found that the reserve duty structure is complicated, confusing and cumbersome. Thus the QRMC recommends reducing the number of authorities under which a reserve component member can be called or ordered to duty from 30 to 6.”
Combat compensation. The report “concluded that the relationship between combat compensation and the degree of danger to which a member is exposed has eroded, with members most likely to be exposed to the hazards of combat receiving the smallest benefit. It concludes that the present system is unfair to younger enlisted troops who on average face greater danger than more senior officers. “There is little correlation between exposure to danger and compensation benefits,” concluded the report. Thus, the QRMC recommends that combat compensation be restructured so that those who are exposed to the greatest danger receive higher compensation, regardless of grade by: establishing differentials in hazardous duty pay, and replacing the Combat Zone Tax Exclusion with a refundable Combat Tax Credit and a refundable Direct Support Tax Credit.”
Wounded warriors. The report concluded that that presently the present disability payments, on average made up for the loss in income. However, the QRMC also noted that they were only studying the effects of lost income for 4 years post-deployment. But they went on to state that in the workforce people normally have an increase in income based on promotions, changes and careers, that may very well be foreclosed from the seriously injured. This would be more than simple COLA increases. They also noted that there is likely to be additional costs for wounded warriors when dealing with their disabilities as well as the need to consider the non ecomomic costs of pain and suffering. And so while they did not recommend any changes in the compensation system at this time but said that studies should continue to see the long term financial needs of our wounded warriors.
Caregivers. The QRMC did not reach any conclusions on the sufficient of the new program in DoD and the VA to financially help the caregivers of wounded warriors. They said the programs were too new to see if they were sufficient but noted that the programs should be better coordinated.
Surviving spouses. The report concluded that the recurring financial survivor benefits programs did “replace a significant portion of income loss.” It did, however, recommend that 50% of the SBP/DIC offset be eliminated saying that approximately 50% of the SBP program for these widows/widowers are financed through premiums rather than tax dollars. The report also concluded that the Survivor Benefit Plan payments should be equalized when a guard or reserve member dies while performing inactive duty training to the SBP payments when a member dies when on active duty. These recommendations are dramatic changes in the present positions of DoD on these matters.
As soon as we have time to analyze these proposals in more detail we will provide additional information.
The full 292 page report can be found at:
While all the attention on Thursday was on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on healthcare they issued another important ruling on the First Amendment. The Court found that the “Stolen Valor Act” 18 USC 704 violated the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech.
The law made it a federal crime to lie about having been awarded a medical decoration or medal punishable of up to 1 year in prison depending on what decoration was involved.
Fundamentally two opinions of 6 Justices found that even knowingly making false statement of facts (when not immediately intending to defraud is protected by the First Amendment.) In other words the right to lie is protected.
The 4 Judge plurality opinion in the case of United States v. Alvarez started with the statement:
“Lying was his habit. Xavier Alvarez, the respondent here, lied when he said that he played hockey for the Detroit Red Wings and that he once married a starlet from Mexico. But when he lied in announcing he held the Congressional Medal of Honor, respondent ventured onto new ground; for that lie violates a federal criminal statute, the Stolen Valor Act of 2005. 18 U. S. C. §704.
In 2007, respondent attended his first public meeting as a board member of the Three Valley Water District Board. The board is a governmental entity with headquarters in Claremont, California. He introduced himself as follows: “I’m a retired Marine of 25 years. I retired in the year 2001. Back in 1987; I was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. I got wounded many times by the same guy. 617 F. 3d 1198, 1201–1202 (CA9 2010). None of this was true. For all the record shows, respondent’s statements were but a pathetic attempt to gain respect that eluded him.”
The plurality plus 2 additional Judges in a concurring opinion reasoned that, with only narrow exceptions, content-based restrictions on speech face strict scrutiny, and with narrow exceptions (perjury, lying to a federal police officer, or claiming to be a federal officer) are therefore almost always unconstitutional. They then concluded that the statute was not necessary to protect the integrity of military honors and then struck it down.
The Court’s decision found that there was no evidence that the statement was for material gain and the law governed all speech including that “whispered” in another’s ear and said: “… the Stolen Valor Act is not so limited in its reach. Were the Court to hold that the interest in truthful discourse alone is sufficient to sustain a ban on speech, absent any evidence that the speech was used to gain a material advantage, it would give government a broad censorial power unprecedented in this Court’s cases or in our constitutional tradition.”
Finally, Justice Kennedy said:”The American people do not need the assistance of a government prosecution to express their high regard for the special place that military heroes hold in our tradition. Only a weak society needs government protection or intervention before it pursues its resolve to preserve the truth. Truth needs neither handcuffs nor a badge for its vindication.
The Nation well knows that one of the costs of the First Amendment is that it protects the speech we detest as well as the speech we embrace. Though few might find respondent’s statements anything but contemptible, his right to make those statements is protected by the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of speech and expression. The Stolen Valor Act infringes upon speech protected by the First Amendment.”
The dissenting opinion of 3 Justices written by Justice Alito started by reasoning:
“Only the bravest of the brave are awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, but the Court today holds that every American has a constitutional right to claim to have received this singular award. The Court strikes down the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, which was enacted to stem an epidemic of false claims about military decorations. These lies, Congress reasonably concluded, were undermining our country’s system of military honors and inflicting real harm on actual medal recipients and their families.
Building on earlier efforts to protect the military awards system, Congress responded to this problem by crafting a narrow statute that presents no threat to the freedom of speech. The statute reaches only knowingly false statements about hard facts directly within a speaker’s personal knowledge. These lies have no value in and of themselves, and proscribing them does not chill any valuable speech.
And ends by saying:
”The Stolen Valor Act represents the judgment of the people’s elected representatives that false statements about military awards are very different from false statements about civilian awards. Certainly this is true with respect to the high honor that respondent misappropriated. Respondent claimed that he was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1987 for bravery during the Iran hostage crisis. This singular award, however, is bestowed only on those members of the Armed Forces who “distinguish [themselves] conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of [their lives] above and beyond the call of duty.” 10 U. S. C. §3741; see also §§6241, 8741. More than half of the heroic individuals to have been awarded the Medal of Honor after World War I received it posthumously. Congress was entitled to conclude that falsely claiming to have won the Medal of Honor is qualitatively different from even the most prestigious civilian awards and that the misappropriation of that honor warrants criminal sanction.
The Stolen Valor Act is a narrow law enacted to address an important problem, and it presents no threat to freedom of expression. I would sustain the constitutionality of the Act, and I therefore respectfully dissent. “
Stolen Valor Act
§704(b)(c) statutory provisions:
“(b) FALSE CLAIMS ABOUT RECEIPT OF MILITARY DECORATIONS OR MEDALS.––Whoever falsely represents himself or herself, verbally or in writing, to have been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces of the United States. . . shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than six months, or both.
“(c) ENHANCED PENALTY FOR OFFENSES INVOLVING CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL OF HONOR.–– “(1) IN GENERAL.––If a decoration or medal l involved in an offense under subsection (a) or (b) is a Congressional Medal of Honor, in lieu of the punishment provided in that subsection, the offender shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 1 year, or both.”
This week the Department of Veterans Affairs held a national Small Business Conference and Jobs Fair in Detroit. But it also opened a new “state of the art 80 bed acute mental health center at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System. To see the new VA Palo Alto Mental Health Center go to http://www.paloalto.va.gov/construction_mhc.asp.
On the other side of the country they are holding the 32nd National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Richmond, Virginia. Over 500 disabled veterans are competing through tomorrow. Secretary Eric K. Shinseki speaking of the athletes said: “The Games display to the world what we already know about these Veterans. At this competition and during their rehabilitation throughout the year, they show the same determination and grit that they showed during their service to our Nation.”
“Veterans will compete in 17 different sports, including air guns, archery, basketball, bowling, field, handcycling, nine-ball, a motorized wheelchair relay, power soccer, quad rugby, softball, swimming, table tennis, track and field, trapshooting, weightlifting and wheelchair slalom. For the third year, stand-up events will be held in archery and table tennis for athletes who have amputations and choose to compete using prosthetic devices instead of their wheelchairs.”
Congress is proposing that the Department of Veterans Affairs provide treatment for veterans and dependents exposed to contaminated well water at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Up to 750,000 Navy and Marine Corps members and their families may have been exposed to water found to be contaminated by carcinogens from the 1957 to 1987.
The proposal is significant because traditionally the VA provides very little health care for dependents, concentrating care on veterans rather than their families.
To be eligible, victims must have lived or worked on Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days from Jan. 1, 1957 through Dec. 31, 1987.
The terms of a compromise reached June 21 between members of the House and Senate veterans’ affairs committees on a comprehensive set of veterans’ bills composed of legislation that has passed at least one side of Congress over the last two years.
Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) has been pushing the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee to get help for the former Lejuene residents for years, and has won a great battle for his state.
Among the items included in the compromise bill:
• Allow waiver of copays for veterans receiving tele-health and telemedicine visits, a change aimed at encouraging veterans who live far from a VA clinic or hospital to use the service.
• Require comprehensive reporting and tracking of sexual assaults and safety problems, an idea taken from a bill sponsored in 2011 by Congresswoman Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY) after unreported or underreported sexual assaults were discovered on VA property, including in hospitals.
• Allow service dogs, when trained by an accredited agency or organization, onto any VA-owned or -controlled property.
• Permanently authorize adjustable-rate mortgages and hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages under the VA home loan program, options that might be especially attractive to home buyers because of low mortgage interest rates.
• Make VA-backed loans available to some surviving spouses. This would apply to survivors of a totally disabled veteran who had been receiving disability compensation for at least 10 years or who died within five years of leaving active duty. It also would apply to survivors of former prisoners of war who had been totally disabled for at least one year prior to their deaths.
• Codify in law the prohibition against reserving gravesites at Arlington National Cemetery and prohibit more than one gravesite from being provided to a veteran or service member.
TREA: The Enlisted Association will keep you informed of any developments on these issues, many of which we have supported in the past.
The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, chaired by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), held a hearing on Wednesday, June 27th to consider a large number of bills pending before that committee. TREA: The Enlisted Association was represented at the hearing by Deputy Legislative Director Mike Saunders.
At the hearing, Tracy Keil, the spouse of a severely wounded OIF veteran discussed her family’s experience with VA’s fertility services. Veterans who have severe reproductive and urinary tract injuries and spinal cord injuries (SCI) often need highly specialized treatments and procedures like in-vitro fertilization (IVF) to conceive. However, under current law, IVF is expressly excluded from fertility services that are provided by the VA to veterans or their spouses. In order to have a family, people such as Mrs. Keil have been forced to go to the private sector, at their own expense, in order to conceive. Senator Murray’s Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvements Act of 2012, S. 3313, introduced last week, would expand fertility treatment and care options for seriously wounded veterans, their spouses, and surrogates.
Senator Murray also discussed her new servicemembers and veterans mental health legislation, the Mental Health ACCESS Act of 2012, S. 3340. The legislation would improve oversight and accountability of mental health services in DOD and VA, expand services for family members, and make other improvements. TREA: The Enlisted Association supports both of these bills.
Ranking Member Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) was strenuous when discussing his bill, the Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act, S. 1707. The bill would require that veterans be determined to be a danger to themselves or others before losing their right to own a firearm. Today, a veteran deemed by the Department of Veterans Affairs to require a fiduciary representative because they are judged incapable of handling his own finances is included on the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. Inclusion on this list means they cannot own a firearm, nor can anyone else in the household.
VA estimates that about 127,000 veterans have been put on the list because the department determined they couldn't handle their personal finances. Approximately 185 veterans have petitioned to be taken off the list, and currently only 19 have been removed from the list. TREA: The Enlisted Association supports this legislation.
One more notable bill out of the many that were covered at the hearing was Senator Kelly Ayotte’s Remembering America’s Forgotten Veterans Cemetery Act, S. 2320. The bill would require the American Battlefield Monuments Commission to be responsible for the cleanup of the Clark Air Force Base Cemetery in the Philippines. She showed moving pictures of the graves covered in 18 inches of soot, and gave a moving speech where she declared is a moral obligation and a travesty that those who gave their lives in defense of this nation have been forgotten by those they died defending. TREA: The Enlisted Association strongly supports this bill.
FROM TREA HQ:
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