Morning Muster: 11/3/2014

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey bumps fists with a U.S. Military Academy cadet during an Army versus Air Force football game at Michie Stadium, West Point, N.Y., Saturday.  Air Force beat Army 23-6 winning the Commander-in-Chief's trophy for the 19th time (DoD Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Hinton)

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey bumps fists with a U.S. Military Academy cadet during an Army versus Air Force football game at Michie Stadium, West Point, N.Y., Saturday. Air Force beat Army 23-6 winning the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy for the 19th time (DoD Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Hinton)

Obama announces VA general counsel nominee; new care regulations for Camp Lejeune Marines; DoD to find troops exposed to chemicals in Iraq; top officials asked for changes in VA IG report; female vets hit the campaign trail; vet homelessness down 33%; new book features veterans’ successes; ‘triple-dipping’ on benefits a misnomer

President Obama announced Saturday that he planned to nominate Leigh Bradley as general counsel to the Department of Veterans Affairs, a position she has held before. Bradley is the director of the Defense Department’s Standards of of Conduct Office and handles its ethics program and policies. She served as chief risk officer of the American Red Cross, and was VA’s general counsel from 1998 to 2001 under President Bill Clinton. She also served as principal deputy general counsel of the Navy from 1994 to 1998. She had been working as special counsel to the secretary, as well as handling investigations of whistle-blower retaliation.

Tammy Kennedy, principal deputy general counsel, serves as acting general counsel. Former general counsel William Gunn abruptly resigned in 2014, Military.com’s Bryant Jordan reported in July. 

Marines exposed to carcinogens in their drinking water at Camp Lejeune are having a difficult time getting benefits from VA, reports National Journal’s Mike Magner (who apparently was just named managing editor of CQ Weekly). Men exposed to the water have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and two of them died this year. Another, Magner reports, is dying of lung cancer and a third says he cannot afford treatment for his liver cancer.

The vets can’t get their benefits even though a 2012 law states Marines and their family members stationed there for more than three months from 1957 to 1987 who have breast, liver or lung cancer are eligible for benefits, Magner reports. But new rules for the law went into effect this week. Veterans diagnosed with any of the following conditions could be eligible for care: bladder cancer, miscarriage, breast cancer, multiple myeloma, esophageal cancer, myelodysplastic syndromes, female infertility, neurobehavioral effects, hepatic steatosis, non-hodgkin’s lymphoma, kidney cancer, renal toxicity, leukemia, scheroderma or lung cancer.

Tainted wells leaked the industrial cleaning solvents TCE and PCE as well, as benzene from fuel leaks, from the mid-1950s until the wells were shut down in 1985.

Troops exposed to chemical agents in Iraq from 2003 to 2011 will be assessed and treated by the Defense Department, reports Military Times’ Patricia Kime. The decision comes in response to a New York Times investigation detailing exposures. Kime reports the military will review how units handle such exposure and track those who may have been injured. They’ll also determine if exposed service members earned Purple Hearts.

Top government officials successfully asked that a VA inspector general report about the Phoenix VA medical center be changed to show there was no conclusive evidence showing delays had caused veterans’ deaths, reports The Arizona Republic’s Dennis Wagner. Emails showing the change came out after acting VA Inspector General Richard Griffin testified in Congress that there were no changes in the final report “dictated” by higher ups. Former acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson wrote Griffin a note in August asking him to make the change.

In a year with low veteran Congressional representation, The Hill’s Kristina Wong reports female veterans are making a move in record numbers. Both Reps. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, are expected to win their races.  But 11 more women are running for House and Senate seats, including five Republicans, four Democrats, one Libertarian and one Independent Green Party candidate.

Veterans homelessness has gone down 33 percent, reports Huffington Post’s Eleanor Goldberg. The Department of Housing and Urban Development attributes the success to a joint housing project with VA. They’ve handed out 50,000 rental vouchers since 2008, and about 45,000 formerly homeless veterans now live in their own places. Rather than forcing veterans to deal with substance abuse or job-loss issues before gaining housing, the program seeks to add the stability of permanent shelter first. The Obama administration hopes to end veteran homelessness by 2015.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the former Baghdad bureau chief of The Washington Post, sparked many conversations over the weekend as his book, c0-written with the CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, hit the newspaper editors’ desks. Veterans of both Iraq and Afghanistan will be familiar with Chandrasekaran’s exceptional military reporting, but this book was obviously dear to him in a way Imperial Life in the Emerald City may not have been. After watching service members in action in the war zone—as well as documenting the chaos and injuries accumulated there—he worked with Schultz to document how veterans recover from war, including how they used the same drive and skills that got them through difficult circumstances to help others when they came back home.

For Love of Country: What Our Heroes Can Teach Us About Citizenship, Heroisim and Sacrifice argues that too few Americans know any veterans, and their portrayal in the media often comes when they are in trouble.  Many have made the argument that “the greatest generation” born of World War II could easily come of the men and women who have served in recent years, but after previous wars, every newly employed young man was likely to be a veteran, while now, only one out of 10 men ages 24 to 34 are veterans, while 3 percent of women in the same age group are veterans. Fewer than 1 percent of Americans served in the recent wars.

In other words, people simply don’t see veterans in action as they did in previous generations. Instead, they see headlines about post-traumatic stress disorder, amputations, traumatic brain injuries and homelessness—and they should. These are issues that need to be addressed. But perhaps if they saw the aftermath of healing, or of veterans who have worked through many difficult issues and came out strong on the other side, employers would be quicker to hire veterans; neighbors would be quicker to ask questions like, “Where did you serve?” or “What did you learn?”; and communities would be quicker to embrace their skills to improve their cities.

The book tells the traditional “hero” stories of war, but also the at-home stories of helping after natural disasters, teaching in inner-city schools or working to help other veterans with their disabilities. And then, the authors explain how employers and communities can embrace, engage and share those stories and skills.

One more thing: They’re donating the proceeds to Onward Veterans, which helps veterans transition to civilian life.

Chandrasekaran and Schultz wrote about it in the Post this weekend, saying, “pity isn’t a sustainable strategy. A better recognition of the overall veteran experience—the bad, the good and everything in between—is essential to forging a lasting compact between those who have served and the rest of us.”  And The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd also focused her column on the book this weekend, writing that ovations at ballgames aren’t enough to acknowledge service and appreciate skills—and veteran unemployment rates prove it. She wrote of the authors’ “need to weave the vets, recovering from the strain of multiple tours and terrains strewn with I.E.D.s, back into the American narrative.”

In the meantime, The Associated Press reported that 60,000 veterans are “triple dippers”—but the headlines come from something that’s entirely legal. Glenn Bergmann, a partner at Bergmann & Moore, a national law firm representing veterans in disability benefits claimssaid the headline is “misleading” because all of the “dipped” benefits are earned:

· Veterans earn military retirement from spending at least 20 years in the Armed Forces.

· Veterans earn disability benefits to compensate for injuries received while in the military. For example, a Marine who lost a foot to an improvised explosive device in Iraq is not being paid for his disability; he’s being paid for the foot he gave up while serving. So, even if he works full-time as a business executive, he will be compensated for the foot (or hearing loss or knee pain or exposure-related cancer) he lost to his military service.

· And Social Security benefits work like insurance in case a person, who has been paying into the Social Security pool, is injured and unable to work. Veterans whose military injuries leave them unable to work are eligible for Social Security disability benefits.

AP reported that 60,000 vets received $3.5 billion in military retirement pay, plus veterans and Social Security disability benefits. The news comes after the Government Accountability Office released a report in response to a request from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

“Current law allows individuals to receive concurrent military retirement benefits from the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs disability compensation and SSDI,” wrote Seto Bagdoyan, acting director of GAO’s Forensic Audits and Investigative Service.

Still, The Washington Times’ Stephan Dinan chose this account: “Veterans caught triple-dipping on benefits.”

Dinan quoted Coburn, who argues that veterans should not be allowed concurrent receipt of their benefits. “We should fulfill our promises to the men and women who serve, but we need to streamline these duplicative programs,” Coburn said.

But The AP reported that Louis Celli Jr., a Washington representative for the American Legion, said critics of the multiple benefits are “misguided and uninformed.”

Concurrent receipt was not allowed until 2004, when veterans service organizations argued that disability compensation pays for a service member’s loss, not his or her ability to work. Lawmakers pushed the legislation after fearing they would lose the support of veterans’ organizations, and Pres. George W. Bush signed a compromised version that allowed some veterans to receive both military retirement and military disability retirement.

GAO gave some examples of recipients: A 27-year-old specialist medically retired in 2011 after developing lung disease and multiple neurological conditions after six years in service receives $19,000 annually from the Defense Department, VA and Social Security. A 63-year-old staff sergeant medically retired in 1987 for an endocrine system disorder and limited movement in his spine after 20 years in service receives $38,000 annually. About $15,000 comes from the Defense Department, $3,000 comes from VA and $19,000 comes from Social Security. A 60-year-old first sergeant who retired in 2002 with a neurological condition, arthritis and hearing loss after 21 years in service receives about $82,000 annually.

Bergmann & Moore, LLC, is a national law firm dedicated to serving the needs of veterans in compensation claims before and against the Department of Veterans Affairs. For more information, contact Kelly Kennedy at kkennedy@vetlawyers.com.


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