Tuesday, July 26, 2011

ROA Opposes Push to Ratify Law of the Sea Treaty

Last week, at a State Department roundtable hosted by Tom Nides, deputy secretary of state for management and resources, interested groups met to discuss how to pass the Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST). Despite the treaty’s endorsements by the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Marine Corps, ROA has taken an independent position as stated in its resolution 10-04: Non-ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty.

ROA does not disagree with the codification sought by the naval services, as they are seeking to get a formal international agreement on historical international law practices. But the Law of the Sea Treaty goes far beyond that, and as a broader agreement includes articles that affect the economic zones (and in turn national security) and the environment (including seabed mining, navigation, fishing, ocean pollution, and marine research).The treaty also sets up an international seabed authority to tax exploration of and control sea- bottom resources.

The ROA resolution was renewed by the delegates at the 2010 National Convention. ROA has concerns that LOST presents more risks than gains, as the treaty does not introduce any new protections for safe navigation on the high seas but could have an impact on the sovereignty of the United States. Many of the attendees at the State Department roundtable were international corporations and non-government organizations who have participating interests that will be strengthened by ratification of the treaty.

The State Department wants to proceed with LOST as its next major treaty following last year’s passage of New START. Many believe the Senate will attempt to push the treaty through in advance of the 2012 elections. ROA will be working with other groups to discourage ratification.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Updates to VA Services

On 20 July, representatives from ROA attended a briefing given by the Department of Veterans Affairs. ROA was one of a small group of veteran and military service organizations who received updates from officials such as John Gingrich, Chief of Staff of Veteran Affairs, and John Sepulveda, Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration. Below are detailed highlights from the VA's update:
New Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IEDS): Currently a pilot program, the process will be changed to permit VA claims to begin when a serving member is still on active duty. IDES was authorized as part of the FY-2008 National Defense Act. For years there was concern that Title 10 benefits (military) could not overlap with Title 38 benefits (Veteran Affairs). Under the new program, while V.A. disability payment will not start until after the discharge and terminal leave period, the VA claim can coincide with the discharge processing. This is anticipated to reduce the “benefit gap” in half.
Improvements in Information Technology(IT): This should help improve the existing claims backlog for benefits, and is also expected to improve the quality and access to health care made available to disabled veterans. Improvements are being made to ensure quality customer service, while providing the next generation of IT security. As V.A. IT supports several computer network systems, operational metrics are being put in place to determine service availability.
eBenefits: is a comprehensive benefits portal available at www.ebenefits.va.gov. The program which began as a joint DoD and VA initiative, provides personalized self service capabilities and draws data from various sources to do so. As of the third quarter of FY-2011, 368, 156 serving members and veterans have registered as users. Individuals with Common Access Cards (CAC) or MyHealthyVet accounts can easily register. For Military retirees, registration can be accomplished using the MyPay Account, but the individual has to wait for an activation number. This site allows individuals to call-up copies of DD-214, generate Veteran Preference letters for federal employment, and even VA approval letters for home loans. eBenefits allows a registrant to track VA claims status, and can provide a benefit summary.
Changes to Transitional Assistance Program (TAP): With the exception of the Marine Corps, the TAP in a voluntary information seminar provided to serving members just the prepare to separate. The biggest problem is that it is a program that hasn’t changed in decades. Anticipated change beside a major overhaul of the TAP agenda, will be that it will be taught by peer instructors rather than contractors, and attendance won’t be limited to those who are about to leave the military. A long range view is being taken with this, so that serving member can better learn about life after the military. In addition, TAP is going to be going online so that individuals can take the course over computers, use the online information as a refresher, or even access it at any time during their career.
Hiring more veterans and military retirees: The goal set by the VA Secretary is to have 40 percent of DVA’s employees veterans. While veterans preference will still be an advantage, military retirees are still be sought for positions. Skill matches with vacancies of primary importance. Under current law if an individual is an 0-4 or above in retirement pay, they lose their veteran preference, unless they are disabled.
Improvements to the compensation claims process: With the authorization of hiring more claim processors, training takes on added importance. Changes have been made expanding the four week course to an eight week session. Part of the education is to include hands on training with both mock and actual claims that are then reviewed and also measured against the VA’s quality assurance system. Additionally, course instructors are taken from processing offices from different geographic locations to help establish a nationwide standard not influenced by a particular office culture. This acts as cross training for the instructors as well as give broader insights to the students. The VA has two rating systems, one local, and another done nationally. By approving the training and quality standards, not only are claims been processed faster, but the number of appeals is being reduced.
Implementation of the new Caregiver Law: An Interim Final Rule was published and only ten comments were received. While driven by the current conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq, the DVA did make note how this might be extended to pre-9/11 veterans requiring care and for those suffering illnesses as well as injury. The program provides a special allowance to those family caregivers who are helping veterans who can help themselves. More information about the VA’s Caregiver Support program can be found at www.caregiver.va.gov

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Web-Mailed Ballots: A Long Term Solution for Overseas Voters?

This week the director of the nation's leading military assistance voting program expressed his support for web-delivery as a long term solution to military absentee voting issues. Robert Cary, Director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program expressed confidence in use of the internet as a expedient form of ballot delivery. Cary stopped short of embracing a full transition to online voting, instead citing the reliability and time-saving benefits of making absentee ballots available via the internet. However, the return and accurate counting of these overseas ballots still remains an item of pressing debate. With the spotlight of the 2012 Presidential election approaching, thousands of overseas and absentee service members continue to await a clear and actionable solution to ensure their votes are counted accurately and consistently.

ROA has been a leading advocate to ensure that every deployed service member has adequate voting rights: ROA's efforts have focused on:
  • Working with the Federal Voting Assistance Program
  • Supporting Electronic Voting
  • Ensuring that every military absentee ballot is counted
ROA's Resolution No. 11-05 outlines actions and priorities in further detail.

These efforts have been led by the guidance and expertise of Service Members Law Center Director, CAPT Sam Wright. CAPT Wright has authored and co-authored over 500 reviews on areas of law affecting citizen warriors. The Law Review Library contains dozens of reviews addressing with military voting rights.

As Federal efforts to improve the quality and consistency of the overseas voting process progress ROA will continue its advocacy for processes which ensure a complete accounting of all service members' votes.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Discuss: Reservists allege mistreatment by Army

AH-64D Longbow Apache in Iraq
The story, from USA Today (7/15/11): Reservists allege mistreatment by Army

Reservists with a Kentucky-based attack helicopter battalion have signed a complaint accusing the Army of mistreatment and discrimination during the four-month training period before their deployment to Iraq.

The soldiers (including company commanders) say they experienced virtual "lockdown" confinement to base and had their movements and freedoms severely restricted. The Army commander who oversees Reserve units during preparation for war says the restrictions were necessary to bring the soldiers up to speed on flying the latest version of the AH-64D Longbow.

What do you suspect? Is this another case of different (worse) treatment for reservists and Guardsmen? Or were the restrictions appropriate?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

DEF Event: The Role of Congress in Authorizing the Use of Force

Bob Feidler, Director, Defense Education Forum

At a recent program cosponsored by the Defense Education Forum and American Bar Association Committee on Law and National Security, legal scholars and staff from key Congressional committees reviewed the role of Congress in approving discrete, limited use of force today, either against state actors like Libya or diffuse terrorist groups like al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  

Some of the panelists expressed the belief that the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed in the wake of 9/11, has become dated and needs to be rewritten by Congress to clarify the powers of the Administration and whether the War on Terrorism is still primarily a military use of force or should be handled as a criminal issue, which is the European approach. 

In the case of Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, an alleged senior al-Shabab Somali terrorist with links to AQAP who was captured on April 19th, what we’ve seen is a new hybrid approach - military capture and civilian trial – that attempts to bridge the extremes of the military versus the criminal approach to terrorism.

By not bringing Warsame to Guantanamo, and by bringing him to New York for civilian trial, Congress and the Administration seem to be odds over the proper way to handle terrorists. Congress has been adamant about NOT permitting Guantanamo detainees to come to the United States. Of course, Warsame never was a Guantanamo detainee – perhaps to ensure that he could be brought to the United States and tried in the Federal courts. 

Also discussed was whether Bin Laden’s death and the Arab Spring, a potential strategic defeat for al-Qaida in the region, obviate the need for the AUMF, or least necessitate its clarification. If they have been defeated, are we any longer at war? If we are not at war, does the AUMF need more precision?

For further reading, I recommend a July 2011 article by David Kris (who recently stepped down as the Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division at the Department of Justice) titled “Criminal Prosecution as a Counterterrorism Tool.”  The following is an excerpt from the introduction:

“This article argues that we should continue to use all of the military, law enforcement, intelligence, diplomatic, and economic tools at our disposal, selecting in each case the particular tool that is most effective under the circumstances, consistent with our laws and values.”

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Discuss: New type of commander to coordinate domestic disaster response

The AP reports that "the Defense Department is grooming a new type of commander to coordinate the military response to domestic disasters, hoping to save lives by avoiding some of the chaos that plagued the Hurricane Katrina rescue effort."

Read the full article

A National Guard Soldier from the 148th Medical
Company helps a stranded man to the roof of a
New Orleans school building Sept. 6, 2005, during
Hurricane Katrina flooding. Photo Credit: Brien Aho
According to the article:
  • A dual-status commander would get temporary authority to command active-duty and Guard troops and would report up both chains of command, to the president and the state's governor. 
  • The goal is to have at least one officer in each of the 50 states and in four U.S. territories qualified and ready to be a dual-status commander on a moment's notice.
Question: Do you think this will significantly improve disaster response operations? Do you think the states and the federal government can move beyond historical disagreement on who should command federal forces responding to a disaster in a state?