VFW WASHINGTON WEEKLY
July 1, 2011
In This Issue:
1. Senior Leadership Changes
2. Government Hiring More Vets
3. Arlington National Cemetery Update
4. Houston National Cemetery Censorship?
5. Senate VA Committee Actions
6. VFW to Testify on Pending Legislation
1. Senior Leadership Changes: Robert Gates stepped down yesterday as Secretary of Defense. Replacing him is Leon Panetta, who the Senate confirmed unanimously for the position on June 21. Replacing Panetta as CIA director will be Army Gen. David Petraeus, who the Senate confirmed unanimously yesterday. Replacing Petraeus as commander of all coalition forces in Afghanistan is expected to be Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John R. Allen, who appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday for the position and nomination for promotion to the rank of general. Also appearing was Navy Vice Adm. William H. McRaven, who has been nominated for promotion to the rank of admiral and appointment as commander of U.S. Special Operations Command. Sgt. Maj. Michael Barrett is now the new Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, succeeding Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent, who is retiring after 35 years service.
2. Government Hiring More Vets:
Despite a decrease in overall hiring, the federal government brought on more veterans in fiscal year 2010 than in 2009, according to a report
released by the Office of Personnel Management. The number of veterans hired rose by about 2,000 to 72,133 in fiscal 2010. Veterans accounted for a higher percentage of new hires, rising from 24 percent of new employees in 2009 to 25.6 percent in 2010. The hiring of disabled veterans also rose from 7 percent of new hires to 8.2 percent. The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs hired the most new veterans, while Commerce, Energy, and the General Services Administration hired the least. "The Veterans Employment Initiative is off to a strong start, but this is only the beginning," said OPM Director John Berry in the report. "We must work even harder in the months and years to come."
3. Arlington National Cemetery Update: The Army's Criminal Investigation Command announced this week that no laws were broken when eight sets of cremated remains were found buried together at Arlington National Cemetery last fall. Three of the eight sets have been positively identified, and despite ongoing forensic testing, four sets might be reinterred as "unknowns." Just because no laws were broken doesn't make this anymore palatable. The VFW trusts that the Army will fix what's broken, but Army must also realize that there is only one Arlington National Cemetery, and how it is run is more important than who runs it. Per VFW Resolution 426, which passed at last year's convention, the VFW would support the transfer of Arlington National Cemetery from the Army to the VA, provided assigned military units remained intact in both mission and responsibility to render proper courtesies to those who have the honor of being interred there.
4. Houston National Cemetery Censorship?:
Texas-based Liberty Institute has filed suit on behalf of the VFW, American Legion, and The National Memorial Ladies over allegations of religious hostility and unlawful censorship by the VA and its director of the Houston National Cemetery. "They've told the VFW and the American Legion that they cannot have prayer during the burial services of our veterans, unless the family requests it in writing and submits the prayer for pre-approval," said Liberty Institute general counsel Jeff Mateer. The VA, meanwhile, insists its national cemeteries welcome appropriate religious recitations. The "VA values and respects every veteran and their family's right to a burial service that honors their faith tradition," said Keith Ethridge, director of VA's National Chaplain Center. The Houston cemetery superintendent has declined to speak to the press despite numerous requests. Read more about the lawsuit at http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/veterans-affairs-bans-mention-of-god-at-funerals-for-vets-124680358.html
5. Senate VA Committee Actions:
The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee approved several VFW-supported bills this week, including an omnibus health and benefits bill, a fix to the GI Bill, and a measure to help veterans find employment. The committee also approved legislation that would require the VA to provide medical and nursing care for any veterans or family members who are ill because of contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
The omnibus bill includes provisions related to health, homeless veterans, housing, compensation, burial and construction, among other high-profile initiatives, such as preventing military and veterans' funerals from being disrupted by protesters, and punishing businesses who falsely claim they are veteran-owned in order to obtain government contracts.
The GI Bill legislation would protect current private school students in seven states from a drop in tuition payments when VA switches to a new method of calculating payments on Aug. 1.
The Hiring Heroes Act of 2011 would provide a a comprehensive overhaul of programs that are supposed to help separating service members find jobs, to include making Transition Assistance Program attendance mandatory, and requiring the military services to provide follow-up services, especially for wounded and disabled veterans.
The Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act is an effort to get federal help for families experiencing adverse health effects from being exposed to contaminated well water. Bill sponsor and Committee ranking member Richard Burr (R-N.C.) estimates that 750,000 Marines, sailors, family members and civilian employees may have been exposed from the mid-1950s till the mid-1980s, when the contamination was discovered.
Read more about the hearing at http://veterans.senate.gov/
6. VFW to Testify on Pending Legislation: The VFW is scheduled to testify July 7 before two House Veterans Affairs subcommittees on a series of bills currently under consideration.
- At 10 a.m., VFW Senior Legislative Associate Shane Barker will testify before the House VA Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity on H.R. 2274, which would close a reporting loophole in the Post-9/11 GI Bill; on H.R. 2301, which would change VA's payment cycle for the Post-9/11 GI Bill; and on H.R. 2302, which would require VA to report to Congress on department-hosted conferences.
- At 1:30 p.m., VFW National Legislative Director Ray Kelley will testify before the House VA Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs on H.R. 1025, which would extend veterans' status to retirees of the Guard and Reserve; on H.R. 1898, which would ensure Second Amendment gun right protections for veterans; and on H.R. 2349, which would create stringent quality control guidelines for VA claims adjudicators.
Hearing details will be available next week on the committee's website at http://veterans.house.gov/
. To watch the hearings live, go to room 334 of the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill, or visit http://veteransaffairs.edgeboss.net/wmedia-live/veteransaffairs/58214/100_veteransaffairs-hvac2_090402.asx
Happy 235th Birthday, America!