Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Monday, November 19, 2018, which is “Have a Bad Day” Day, International Men’s Day, Women’s Entrepreneurship Day and National Blow Bagpipes Day.
Today in American Legion History:
- Nov. 19, 1927: Howard College defeats Birmingham-Southern College 9-0 in the first football game at Legion Field, named for The American Legion, in Birmingham, Ala. The 21,000-seat stadium, built in one year at a cost of $439,000, draws 16,800 spectators to its inaugural game. Over the years, through multiple expansions, it today seats 71,594, and has been used as a soccer stadium, concert venue and as the site of the Drum Corps International World Championships. Drum Corps International, for high school drum and bugle corps competitors, and Drum Corps Associates for adult participants, which was co-founded by American Legion Past National Vice Commander Dr. Almo “Doc” Sebastianelli, evolved from earlier American Legion drum and bugle corps programs.
Today in History:
- On November 19, 1863, at the dedication of a military cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln delivers one of the most memorable speeches in American history. In just 272 words, Lincoln brilliantly and movingly reminded a war-weary public why the Union had to fight, and win, the Civil War.
- For action this date in 1967, Chaplain (Major) Charles Watters of the 173rd Airborne Brigade is awarded the Medal of Honor. Chaplain Watters was serving with the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry when it conducted an attack against North Vietnamese forces entrenched on Hill 875 during the Battle of Dak To. The Catholic priest from New Jersey moved among the paratroopers during the intense fighting, giving encouragement and first aid to the wounded. At least six times he left the defensive perimeter with total disregard regard for his own personal safety to retrieve casualties and take them for medical attention. Once he was satisfied that all of the wounded were inside the perimeter, he busied himself helping the medics, applying bandages, and providing spiritual strength and support. According to reports filed by survivors of the battle, Father Watters was on his knees giving last rites to a dying soldier when an American bomber accidentally dropped a 500-pound bomb onto the group of paratroopers. Father Watters was killed instantly. He was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor on November 4, 1969, in a ceremony at the White House.
- On this day in 1776, Congress pleads for the states to send more soldiers to serve in the Continental Army, reminding them “how indispensable it is to the common safety, that they pursue the most immediate and vigorous measures to furnish their respective quotas of Troops for the new Army, as the time of service for which the present Army was enlisted, is so near expiring.”
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Washington Post: Trump’s attack on retired admiral who led bin Laden raid escalates a war of words
By Paul Sonne and Philip Rucker | November 18 at 7:54 PM
President Trump has long put the American military at the center of his presidential brand, tapping retired officers to serve as advisers, touting increases in defense spending, and citing support from troops and veterans as a sign of his success.
But the commander in chief has risked alienating parts of the military community by escalating a fight with one of its most revered members, retired Adm. William H. McRaven, amid other recent remarks and decisions that have fanned controversy in the ranks and among some who served.
In an interview with Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday,” Trump went after McRaven, the retired Navy SEAL and Special Operations commander who oversaw the killing of Osama bin Laden and the capture of Saddam Hussein during his 37 years in the U.S. military.
Trump derided McRaven as a “Hillary Clinton fan” and an “Obama backer” before suggesting that the four-star admiral, who recently left his post as chancellor of the University of Texas amid a battle with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, should have caught bin Laden faster.
“Wouldn’t it have been nice if we got Osama bin Laden a lot sooner than that, wouldn’t it have been nice?” the president said. “You know, living — think of this — living in Pakistan, beautifully in Pakistan, in what I guess they considered a nice mansion, I don’t know, I’ve seen nicer. But living in Pakistan right next to the military academy, everybody in Pakistan knew he was there.”
The comments escalated a war of words that began last year when McRaven called Trump’s description of the news media as the “enemy of the people” the greatest threat to American democracy he had ever seen.
This past summer, McRaven went to bat for John Brennan, defending the former CIA director as a man of integrity in an article in The Washington Post, after Trump revoked Brennan’s security clearance.
In a rare moment of political candor, McRaven wrote that Trump, instead of putting others above himself and setting an example as president, had “embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation.”
In a statement initially released to CNN and confirmed by The Post, McRaven said he didn’t back Clinton or anyone else in the 2016 presidential election and was a fan of Barack Obama and George W. Bush, both of whom he worked for while in uniform.
“I admire all presidents, regardless of their political party, who uphold the dignity of the office and who use that office to bring the nation together in challenging times,” McRaven said.
Former CIA deputy director Michael Morrell pointed out on Twitter that McRaven’s forces had nothing to do with locating bin Laden. Morrell said it was the CIA that did the “finding” and McRaven’s forces that did the “getting,” moving out within days of receiving the order.
The president’s remarks about McRaven came amid broader questions about Trump’s relationship with military matters.
During a recent trip to France, the president didn’t attend a ceremony commemorating the centenary of World War I because of the rain, with the White House saying his helicopter couldn’t fly in the inclement weather and a motorcade would have caused too much traffic. Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attended the ceremony.
Trump didn’t visit Arlington National Cemetery to mark Veterans Day this year because he was traveling home from France and didn’t go to the ceremony or hold any public events to honor U.S. veterans on the Monday holiday.
Trump admitted he should have gone to Arlington National Cemetery to mark Veterans Day.
“I should have done that,” Trump told Wallace. “I was extremely busy on calls for the country. We did a lot of calling, as you know.”
Trump recently has signaled discontent with the top retired generals serving in his administration, raising questions about whether he is souring on the military brass in his orbit. Earlier this year, he derided Defense Secretary Jim Mattis as “sort of a Democrat.” In Sunday’s interview, he said that there are things Kelly does that he doesn’t like and that at some point he will move on from the chief of staff position.
The comments followed the president’s decision to thrust the American military into the center of a political maelstrom ahead of the midterm elections by sending thousands of troops to the border with Mexico in what critics labeled a political stunt to fire up anti-immigrant sentiment among his base.
Trump said the move was a necessary measure to help U.S. Customs and Border Protection prepare for the “invasion” of thousands of migrants who he said, without evidence, included “unknown Middle Easterners” and “bad people.”
Ahead of the election, Trump said he was sending as many as 10,000 to 15,000 troops to the border, but the military said last week that the number of active-duty troops deployed in fact had peaked at about 5,900. An additional 2,000 members of the National Guard have been there since April.
Although Mattis defended the deployment as necessary support for the Department of Homeland Security and good training for troops, other members of the military community took offense at what they saw as a wasteful politicization of the armed forces.
Trump’s suggestion that soldiers would shoot migrants who threw rocks at them prompted retired Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, to tag the mission as wasteful, while clarifying that men and women in uniform wouldn’t use disproportionate force.
Trump, who attended New York Military Academy but avoided serving in the Vietnam War through draft deferments, also answered questions Sunday about why he hadn’t visited American troops serving in combat zones in Iraq or Afghanistan.
“I think you will see that happen,” Trump said. “There are things that are being planned.”
But former and current administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, didn’t recall hearing about the possibility of Trump visiting troops in Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria during his first year and a half in office. An attempt to visit the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea in late 2017 was scuttled by bad weather.
Trump has also been a vocal advocate of withdrawing from the conflicts where American troops are deployed abroad, but Mattis and other national security officials have persuaded him to stay the course in Syria and Afghanistan.
When Wallace pointed out during Sunday’s interview that Trump hadn’t visited troops in Iraq or Afghanistan, the president was quick to note that he opposed the war in Iraq, although it’s unclear if he ever voiced that opposition before the 2003 invasion.
“But this is about the soldiers, sir,” Wallace said.
“You’re right,” Trump replied. He promised to make a visit despite his “unbelievably busy schedule . . . on top of which you have these phony witch hunts.”
Monetary support for the military has long been at the heart of Trump’s political messaging.
When former first lady Michelle Obama said in a newly released book that she couldn’t forgive Trump for loud and reckless innuendos about her husband’s birthplace that endangered her family, Trump quickly shot back that he couldn’t forgive his immediate predecessor for “what he did to our military.”
Years of budget caps damaged the American military’s preparedness, according to the Pentagon, which says the consistent funding during the first two years of the Trump administration has helped assuage problems with training, maintenance, personnel and equipment.
In August, Trump signed a $716 billion defense bill, including a $639 billion baseline budget that was the nation’s largest in adjusted terms since World War II, a 2.6 percent pay raise for troops and critical investments in equipment maintenance. The overall defense budget, which includes active operations, was higher in the Bush and Obama years during the surge in Iraq.
In recent weeks, however, the Trump administration has signaled that budgetary largesse for the military that characterized the president’s first two years in office is unlikely to continue.
After the federal deficit jumped by 17 percent in part in response to last year’s Republican-led tax cut, Trump ordered government agencies to slash their budgets for the coming year by about 5 percent, which would amount to a roughly $33 billion reduction for the military.
Defense News: Services to deliver proposed budgets Monday. What will they cut?
By: Aaron Mehta | 2 days ago
WASHINGTON — With the Pentagon scrambling to meet a surprise order from President Donald Trump to cut the FY20 budget request from $733 billion to $700 billion, department planners are moving quickly to gather their options
According to Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, the military services will be delivering their preliminary options for cuts to his budget team on Monday. Those will be worked internal at OSD before being briefed up to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and potentially the White House, the week after Thanksgiving.
“What I want the president to understand when we bring [the budget] forward is, what are those tradeoffs?” Shanahan told reporters Thursday at the Pentagon. “Either you get reduced capacity, get lower quantities of procurement, a changed modernization.
“Those are the things that he needs to have. An awareness of what that number really translates to in terms of, you know, performance here at the department,” Shanahan added.
“By Monday we’ll have a better feel for which trades the of services want to make, whether it’s end-strength, or capability or capacity. And then we’ll have to look at, you know, how much we suck up the in discretionary cut for, like, the fourth estate,” he said.
The deputy acknowledged modifying “quantities” of things being procured would be one option, but avoided specifics, noting “I don’t want to say ‘tanks’ and I don’t want to say ‘combat vehicles,’ because then everybody who builds one of those thinks that’s something that’s an imminent decision.”
He also said changes to end strength for the services is being considered.
Asked what OSD would seek to protect from cuts, Shanahan emphasized the burgeoning cyber, space and hypersonics. He also said he had just recently finished a technical review of the Army’s modernization plan and would seek to protect a “number of the priorities” from that document.
The FY20 budget will be the first following the guidance laid out in the National Defense Strategy, as well as having inputs from the Nuclear Posture Review and the as-of-yet unreleased Missile Defense Review. Officials from the department have described the document as being a “strategy driven budget,” with Shanahan saying late last year that the FY20 request would be the Pentagon’s “masterpiece.”
Asked if he still felt that way, Shanahan smiled and said again “It’ll be a masterpiece,” even with the smaller than expected budget total, adding “I think in the end we’ll end up in a good spot, but there’s going to be a lot of, you know, back and forth and work.
However, a recently released report from a Congressional panel warned that the Pentagon is under resourced to be able to carry out the NDS as is, let alone if it takes a bigger cut.
Washington Post: Where ex-soldiers have socialized, they will soon find affordable housing
By Patricia Sullivan | November 17
A leak from the kitchen imperils a room where card players and potential pool sharks still occasionally congregate. The concrete-block walls exhale seven decades of cigar and cigarette smoke. The basement bar, built to accommodate more than two dozen, is never full — “On a good day, I might have five or six customers,” bartender Doris McNeil said.
So the Legion’s board decided it was time to sell the building, located on 1.4 grassy acres close to George Mason University in Arlington, Va. Developers pitched high-end, high-rise condos and housing for law students at nearby George Mason University.
But the old soldiers, sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen decided to sell to a local affordable housing agency, drawn to the possibility of a modernized Legion post that will be built as part of the project and of providing much-needed apartments for struggling vets.
It is an approach much like the one taken by religious organizations in the past dozen years to convert under-used space into low-cost housing in return for a new, smaller worship space and the moral satisfaction that they are living their faith.
The sale of American Legion Post 139, however — which will result in 160 new apartments, half set aside for military veterans — may be the first collaboration between a veterans organization and an affordable housing agency, experts say.
“I have not come across a similar project,” said Deborah Burkhardt, who is on the board of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans and founded the national “Bring them HOMES” initiative. Given the thousands of such facilities nationwide, she said, “This could be an example others follow.”
Addressing the need
The Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing paid about $6 million for the Legion post’s site along Washington Boulevard. It plans to replace the building with a seven-story structure, using $3 million it still has to raise from donors, a $20.5 million mortgage from the state, almost $10 million from the county’s revolving affordable housing loan funds and an expected $34 million in tax credits. The total cost of the project is expected to reach $72 million by the time it opens in 2020.
The Legion post will create a new headquarters on the first floor. In an effort to draw in younger veterans, the post will include computer labs and rooms for counseling and medical screening. The bar will be drastically downsized. Smoking will be banned.
The set-aside apartments could benefit veterans like Cyndi Bendt, 68, who left the Army as a lieutenant in 1978 and found herself homeless in Northern Virginia decades later, after years of teaching and counseling on Indian reservations in New Mexico and Arizona.
She mostly lived in her truck, until the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network found her an apartment in an APAH complex in 2015.
“I was thrilled there were three locks — one on the main door and two on my apartment door — because I had not felt safe for some time,” Bendt said in a recent interview. “To have a toilet that flushes and a hot-water shower? And then they brought me a new, queen-size bed! All I could say was thank you, God.”
An estimated 400 veterans in the region are homeless, Veterans Data Central reports say.
Legion officials say there is also a significant need for housing for vets who get out of the service and discover their civilian salaries are inadequate for paying rent in the high-cost Washington area.
In addition, currently enlisted personnel based at Arlington’s own Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, many of whom now commute long distances to find affordable neighborhoods, will qualify for the new apartments if they have served a minimum number of years, APAH chief executive Nina Janopaul said.
Finding land to build affordable residential complexes, even with significant taxpayer help, is extremely difficult in expensive urban areas. That is why the trend of churches, synagogues and other faith-based groups working with affordable housing developers has become so important.
About 30 houses of worship in the Mid-Atlantic region are working with Enterprise Community Partners, which helps finance and plan affordable housing, company Vice President David Bowers said. Civic groups like the American Legion, which has 222 posts in Virginia alone, could be a similar source of land, he said.
‘Depressing, dirty and dark’
After Bob Romano was installed as commander of Post 139 in 2014, his wife told him she would never go back into that building again.
“The downstairs is still a smoke-filled, raunchy, smelly place,” Romano said. “Our membership is very old. . . . When I looked at the budget, I said, ‘In five years, we’re not going to be here.’ ”
Of the 300 people on the membership rolls, half do not live in the area anymore, post leaders say. A dance group rents the upstairs ballroom each night. The commercial kitchen is rented to a lobster truck entrepreneur.
It was festive and cheery on Veterans Day, as several dozen vets and their families gathered to eat and listen to the “Arlingtones” barbershop chorus sing World War I-era songs.
“I’m not sentimental about this building, probably because I don’t spend much time here,” said Gary Wagner, who comes to the post once or twice a year.
Roger O’Dell, 82, who had lunch and a beer with his friend Jim Sheehan, 75, declared the affordable housing project “a great idea. I’m all for it.”
“This post is about dead,” he said. “Downstairs is depressing, dirty and dark, full of old guys like me.”
The time for a large Legion post had passed, he and others at the long buffet tables agreed, especially because young veterans have either opted not to join or formed their own service-specific groups.
“All the posts are losing members,” said Leroy Nance, historian of Dorie Miller American Legion Post 194, which has seen membership fall from 85 to 50. The post, named for an African American war hero, meets at a community center in South Arlington and is exploring whether to rent space from Post 139 once the new complex is built.
Ben Sims, 94, sat at a table wearing his American Legion campaign cap. He said he believes he is Post 139’s last living World War II veteran. When the current building went up in the early 1950s, Sims was on the post’s board.
It was a different world back then, he said, and everyone had to make their own entertainment.
“We had Christmas parties and one big fellow who played Santa Claus,” he recalled. “The ladies’ auxiliary would wrap up presents, and we’d always have a big feed.”
For him, the idea of a new building evokes mixed emotions.
“I feel like the World War I veterans, who didn’t understand when we went to build this,” he said. “We didn’t need their guidance; we were busting out of the old place. We were real proud of this place . . . but I’m sure [the current board members] are doing what they think we should do.”
Military Times: Court allows class-action suit against Navy over ‘bad paper’ discharges
By: Leo Shane III | 2 days ago
WASHINGTON — Veterans forced from the Navy and Marine Corps for what they say were undiagnosed mental health problems will be able move ahead with a class-action lawsuit against the military asking for denied benefits, a federal court ruled Thursday.
The move could affect thousands of so-called “bad paper” veterans who allege Defense Department officials unjustly ended their careers rather than deal with their military-related injuries.
“This decision is a victory for the tens of thousands of military veterans suffering from service-connected PTSD and TBI who are denied the support of VA resources because of an unfair discharge status,” Tyson Manker, an Iraq War veteran and plaintiff in the case, said in a statement Friday.
He called the court’s favorable ruling “further evidence of the Department of Defense’s disgraceful violation of the legal rights of the men and women who have served their country.”
The issue of improper military dismissals has grown in prominence in recent years as studies show that veterans with limited access to military benefits face greater rates of homelessness and suicide.
Veterans covered in the new lawsuit’s class would have little or no access to Veterans Affairs health care services, education benefits or other support resources because of their less-than-honorable discharge status.
However, many of those veterans argue that the infractions that led to the end of their military careers were linked to undiagnosed post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, or other service-related mental health problems. They have argued that if supervisors properly treated those issues, they may still be serving today.
Between 20 and 30 percent of troops who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have dealt with post-traumatic stress, according to Defense Department estimates.
The new ruling will allow veterans advocates an easier path in demanding relief from the Navy, the service’s review boards and other related agencies.
Last year, Pentagon officials ordered that those review boards use more discretion in evaluating veterans’ discharge status appeals when those cases involved “conditions resulting from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, sexual assault or sexual harassment.”
Officials have said the goal is to make sure missed medical problems don’t result in lost benefits or support services. But advocates for those veterans say those corrections remain slow and erratic.
The National Veterans Council for Legal Redress, which is party to the lawsuit, said that in 2017, while more than half of cases to come before the Army and Air Force review boards were granted discharge upgrades, only 16 percent of cases before the Navy board received the same consideration.
That has raised concerns from both advocates and the federal court that authorized the class action.
More information on the lawsuit is available through the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic, which is also involved in the suit.
Defense News: Saving America’s military edge will take money — and new ideas, Dunford says
By: Joe Gould | 1 day ago
HALIFAX, Canada — The U.S. military needs Congress to provide sustained defense spending to maintain its eroding military edge against Russia and China — but also needs to start innovating, its top uniformed officer said Saturday.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford’s remarks at the Halifax International Security Forum came days after a National Defense Strategy Commission report concluded the U.S. would, “struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia.”
Citing that report, Dunford said whoever is in his job in 2023 and beyond will be at a disadvantage — “if we don’t change the trajectory we have been on, if we don’t have sustained, predictable, accurate levels of funding, if we don’t look carefully at the areas where we are challenged — in space, in cyberspace, in the maritime domain.”
Dunford offered some caveats: U.S. alliances would provide a decisive advantage in any major conflict. The U.S. would not lose a war with Russia or China, but such a war would be lengthy. And the U.S. has the edge today.
With an eye toward Russian and Chinese technological advancements, the 2020 budget will invest heavily in research and development, in line with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ priorities, Dunford said, to strike a “balance” with traditional capabilities like ships and manned aircraft.
Asked if U.S. defense spending’s growth is economically sustainable, Dunford said, “I reject where economically we can’t be competitive.”
“It isn’t just a question of money, it’s a question of money, technology, ideas and doing things in totally disruptive ways,” he said, adding: “We can’t buy our way out of many of the challenges we have, we have to think our way out of them.”
The Pentagon has identified the 14 technological areas where Russia and China are investing, projected where they will be in 2025 and which technological areas require investment from the U.S. and its allies, Dunford said.
Yet the Pentagon has had some hiccups in attempts to partner with Silicon Valley innovators. Asked about Google’s recent abandonment of Project Maven, a Pentagon project involving using machine learning to distinguish people and objects in drone videos, Dunford hit back.
“Without highlighting any specific company, I have a hard time with companies that are working very hard to engage the market inside of China — where intellectual property is shared with the Chinese, which is synonymous with sharing it with the Chinese military — and don’t want to work with the U.S. military,” Dunford said.
“We are the good guys, and the people in this room that stand for democracy are the good guys, and the relationships the military has had with industry go back to World War II,” Dunford said.
The remarks, especially on defense spending, are sure to echo to Washington ahead of a fiscal 2020 defense budget season. Downward pressure is expected from the Democratic-led House, and the White House has already ordered a budget cut for national defense, from a planned $733 billion to $700 billion.
Earlier this month, White House National Security Adviser John Bolton called the national debt “a threat to the society” and said Pentagon spending will “flatten out” in the near term.
The U.S. defense industry has pushed back against potential cuts. Citing the National Defense Strategy Commission’s report, defense hawks in Congress have, too.
Earlier this week, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said defense funding needs to be able to “undertake essential nuclear and conventional modernization while rectifying readiness shortfalls.”
“That is why I believe the $733 billion defense budget originally proposed by President Trump for fiscal year 2020 should be considered a floor, not a ceiling, for funding our troops,” Inhofe said in a statement.
Last year, Mattis and Dunford testified to lawmakers that defense spending needed to increase 3 to 5 percent, year over year, to restore the U.S. military’s competitive advantage.
Speaking at Halifax on Saturday, Dunford parried a question about whether the White House-ordered cut would mean strategic insolvency, saying, “It’s not that simple.”
“Various levels of resources can be accommodated if there is a path of predictability that allows us to make sound investments over five or seven years,” Dunford said.