Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Prominent Role Calls for a Prominent Voice

On Monday, November 28, 2011, the Senate approved an amendment to the annual Defense Authorization Bill that would give the National Guard its first seat on the nation’s highest military council, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). The amendment, which was introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC)[1] and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and has 71 cosponsors, will make the Chief of the National Guard Bureau a permanent member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff serves as the military advisory board to the President, Secretary of Defense, and the National Security Council. As it stands currently, the JCS Chairman has two assistants for National Guard and Reserve matters. This means that the National Guard and Reserves do not have a direct voice in advising civilian leaders on military and defense issues. The historic absence of a Reserve Component vote on the JCS has become increasingly tenuous as the Reserve Component has transitioned from a strategic to an operational force. 

Since 9/11, the role of the National Guard and Reserves has increased to over 800,000 activated service members. Of those members, over 400,000 serve in the Army National Guard or the Air National Guard. With the greater responsibility and presence in today’s national defense, both at home and abroad, the National Guard and Reserves should have a prominent voice when advising our nation’s leaders on matters concerning the military and national security.  

The effort to bring the National Guard to the forefront is a part of a series of reforms introduced by Senator Leahy and Senator Graham. Their National Guard Empowerment and State-National Defense Integration Act, also known as “Guard Empowerment II,” is part of a legislative attempt by the Senate National Guard Caucus to give the Guard a more meaningful voice in Pentagon circles where key policy and budget decisions are made that affect the Guard.  In addition to establishing a seat for the National Guard on the JCS, the bill will help reestablish the position of the Vice Chief of the Guard Bureau at the three-star level; enhance the Guard’s representation at the senior levels of U.S. Northern Command; and help clarify the disaster response command relationship among the Guard and the U.S. military commands. [2] 

The Reserve Officers Association believes that the voice of all Reservists and Guardsmen needs to be present at the highest levels of national security decision-making. Given their operational posture over the last decade these service members are entitled to have a larger say at the Pentagon and on the Hill. By allowing a seat for the National Guard on the JCS, there is more voice for Guardsmen as well as greater input on domestic matters and homeland security. The Senate’s passage of the amendment may be a step in the right direction for Guardsmen, however will it serve as a motivation for the Reserve to gain a voting seat as well? If equal sacrifice deserves equal representation, then it seems prudent that both Reserve advisers be elevated to voting members of the JCS. This stronger presence of Guardsmen and Reservists will only allow for a stronger national defense, both domestic and overseas, as well as the assurance of the necessary resources and incentives for recruitment, retention and preparation in today’s world.


[1] Senator Lindsey Graham is only one of three U.S. Senators currently serving in the Guard or Reserves. He is a colonel with the Air National Guard. He also was ROA’s Minute Man of the Year in 2004.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Breakthrough in Veterans Unemployment


On Monday, November 21, the Reserve Officers Association was invited to witness President Barack Obama sign into law the VOW to Hire Heroes Act. Combining both the Senate’s Hiring Heroes Act of 2011 and the House’s Veterans Opportunity to Work Act of 2011, or the VOW Act, the law represents a comprehensive bipartisan effort to lower the rate of unemployment among the nation’s veterans. This milestone reflects months of activism within the government to help lower unemployment among our nation’s veterans, many of whom serve in the Reserve and National Guard components. 

Throughout this process, ROA has maintained its focus on developing tangible solutions for employing our returning service members. While this law represents a positive step forward, ROA remains concerned that Reserve Component affiliation often serves as an element of discrimination against those individuals seeking employment. Through attending round table discussions and hearings, and submitting testimony on Veterans Affairs and employment issues, ROA supported both bills introduced by the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees that ultimately became the compromised bill. ROA is pleased that Congress and President Obama were able to recognize the importance of these issues and act promptly. Further, ROA is proud to have been a participant in the course of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act and looks forward to its results in the months ahead. 

Today the men and women of our nation's Reserve Components face a challenge equally unique to their role as citizen warriors. After ten years of critical support to overseas operations, more than one in four veteran reservists are now unemployed. These service members are literally twice the citizen and yet they are nearly three times as likely to be unemployed. The Reserve Officers Association is deeply concerned that a fear of redeployment prevents civilian employers from recognizing the true value these individuals bring to the American work force. As thousands of veterans return home, ROA will continue a determined effort to ensure our nation's reservists are given the knowledge and support they need to be re-employed at rates consistent with their sacrifice. Passage of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act is an encouraging step forward, but we must not mistake this success for absolute victory. ROA remains committed to the complete reversal of veteran unemployment rates and the steadfast support of our service members.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

ROA Attends Meeting with Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee


The Reserve Officers Association was invited to participate in a roundtable discussion Wednesday morning with the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee.  The Committee, chaired by Senator Mark Begich (AK), brought together sixteen veterans’ services organizations (VSOs) for an open discussion on veterans’ issues.  Also in attendance were sixteen other Senate Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) and Chair of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Senator Patty Murray (WA). 
 
First to testify was ROA’s executive director, Major General Andrew Davis, USMC (ret.) who addressed the issue of high levels of unemployment among members of the Guard and Reserve, who are facing unemployment numbers above those of the overall veteran community.   He discussed how the VOW to Hiring Heroes Act of 2011 would help, but he also warned about concerns over hiring employers.  

“I fear the unemployment rate is so high because employers are shying away from hiring potential employees who are serving in the Reserve Components,” shared Maj. Gen. Davis.
Maj. Gen. Davis’s comments spurred discussion of the unique employment issues facing the Guard and Reserve as opposed to their peers, i.e. veterans who are no longer affiliated and are no longer at risk of being called up. 

Other associations brought up the challenges for returning veterans to transition back to civilian life. These challenges include education requirements, the need for mental health providers, the burdens on military families and survivors, and the limited services to those veterans and Reserve Component members who are remotely located. 

Later in the meeting, Senator Tom Harkin (IA) recognized the Reserve Officers Association and other organizations for working with his office on the issue of for profit schools that are seeking veterans who qualify for education using the Post 9/11 GI bill.  Sen. Harkin has been investigating the tactics used by some of the schools.  

Earlier this fall, at a previous meeting with the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee, ROA and other military and veterans service organizations urged the Senate leadership to pass a veterans’ jobs bill by this Veterans Day.  Last week saw the successful passage in the Senate of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, which provides tax incentives to employers who hire veterans and strengthens the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-Employment Rights Act.  

“Such bipartisan action sets the example for further congressional actions needed on veteran employment,” said Maj. Gen. Davis.  Employment issues for the Guard and Reserve are of profound importance to the Reserve Officers Association, and the opportunity to discuss them before members of the Senate leadership helps us to bring these issues to the forefront.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

New Initiatives to Get Veterans Working

Representatives from the Reserve Officers Association attended an event in the White House Rose Garden on Monday, November 7, during which President Obama announced new steps to improve employment opportunities for post-9/11 veterans.  ROA was pleased to be among the Veterans and Military Service Organizations invited to the president’s announcement.

Three new individual initiatives were outlined by the president during his address. The first initiative was a “Veterans Gold Card,” a download for post-9/11 veterans looking for work that gives them access to six months of case management and counseling at the over 3,000 career centers across the country operated by the Department of Labor.

President Obama also announced the launching of a new website, “My Next Move,” designed to help veterans learn about their career options.  This website, http://www.mynextmove.org/vets/, provides information on job skills, salary, and job listings. The website also provides an algorithm that translates the skills veterans acquired through their military occupations to search civilian careers.

The final of the president’s three new initiatives is a website, “Veterans Jobs Bank,” (https://www.nationalresourcedirectory.gov/) which allows employers to “tag” job postings for veterans by searching private and public partnerships with Simply Hired, Monster and LinkedIn.  Veterans can also use the online tool to search for available jobs by their skills or their zip code.

In his three-prong initiative, President Obama said he’s determined “ to do everything in [his] power to see to it that America’s veterans have the opportunities that they deserve and that they have earned.”

President Obama also spoke about the provisions included in the American Jobs Act to help veterans get back to work, such as tax credits for employers who hire veterans and wounded warriors.  These initiatives he introduced are a supplemental effort to assist unemployed veterans.  

The provisions in the American Jobs Act are among several veterans employment bills in Congress right now.  Combining both the Senate’s Hiring Heroes Act of 2011 (introduced last May), and the House’s Veterans Opportunity to Work Act of 2011, or the VOW Act, (passed last month), the Senate passed the “VOW to Hire Heroes Act” just last week. This bill is a bipartisan, bicameral, comprehensive legislation that would lower the rate of unemployment among the nation’s veterans. According to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, the bill blends provisions of the House Chairman Miller’s Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) Act and Senate Chairman Murray’s Hiring Heroes Act, and veterans’ tax credits into a comprehensive jobs package that will aggressively attack the unacceptably high rate of veterans' unemployment by: 
  •  Expanding Education & Training: To begin moving veterans out of the unemployment lines, the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 provides nearly 100,000 unemployed veterans of past eras and wars with up to 1-year of additional Montgomery GI Bill benefits to qualify for jobs in high-demand sectors, from trucking to technology. It also provides disabled veterans who have exhausted their unemployment benefits up to 1-year of additional VA Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment benefits.
  • Improving the Transition Assistance Program (TAP): Too many service members don’t participate in TAP and enter civilian life without a basic understanding of how to compete in a tight job market. Therefore, the VOW to Hire Heroes Act will make TAP mandatory for most service members transitioning to civilian status, upgrade career counseling options, and job hunting skills, as well as ensuring the program is tailored to individuals and the 21st Century job market.
  • Facilitating Seamless Transition: Getting a civil service job can often take months which often forces a veteran to seek unemployment benefits. To shorten the time to start a federal job after discharge, this bill would allow service members to begin the federal employment process by acquiring veterans preference status prior to separation.  This would facilitate a more seamless transition to civil service jobs at VA, or the many other federal agencies that would benefit from hiring our veterans.
  • Translating Military Skills and Training: This bill will also require the Department of Labor to take a hard look at how to translate military skills and training to civilian sector jobs, and will work to make it easier to get the licenses and certification our veterans need.
  • Veterans Tax Credits: The VOW to Hire Heroes Act provides tax credits for hiring veterans and disabled veterans who are out of work. 
Veterans’ unemployment, particularly the staggering number of unemployed Guardsmen and Reservists, is of great concern to ROA, and the Association is in support of the President and Congress to take prompt and aggressive action.  The new initiatives set in motion by the President and Congress are a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done to protect and ensure the employment of our Citizen Soldiers.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Military Health Care Faces Draconian Recommendations

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has urged the Super Committee, which has been tasked to make $1.2 trillion in cuts from the federal budget, to consider recommendations by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that would not only bar retirees under 65 from using TRICARE Prime, but would add Draconian fees to the existing military health care system. 

The CBO proposal would  impose a huge new enrollment fee for TRICARE Standard, require annual enrollment, bar TRICARE from acting as second payer to other insurance, and raise the retiree catastrophic cap from $3,000 to $7,500 a year.  Normally, CBO recommendations do not generate legislation, but in the current environment, as suggested costs savings are being considered in the current environment, Sen. McCain’s recommendation to the Super Committee could end up getting the CBO proposal serious consideration.

Such changes would be in addition to the President's recommendation to add a $200 a year enrollment fee to TRICARE for Life.  Recommended increase in prescription co-payments will cost military families and retirees more, and will reduce the effectiveness of preventative medicine, likely raising the Department of Defense's actual medical expenses.

The Reserve Officers Association feels it is inappropriate to "tax" the 1.6 percent of the population that has been willing to defend the rest of the U.S.  population from external threats.  Current and former uniformed service members earned their benefits not only through their service, but also through the stress and sacrifice that is without comparison faced by the common citizenry.  Please contact your elected officials and the White House by going to ROA's Website and sending letters to our elected officials at www.roa.org/write_2_congress.

Friday, November 4, 2011

ROA Attends Roundtable Discussion on Veterans Issues


House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 12 Democratic members of Congress hosted a roundtable discussion with leaders of Veterans’ and Military Service Organizations in the Capitol on November 2.  Topics included jobs, veteran ownership of business, veterans health, and the super committee and defense.  The Reserve Officers Association had a seat front and centered.  

Two members of the super committee were in attendance.  While they were unable to provide specifics, they acknowledged that veterans’ benefits were protected and that the super committee’s role was not to take a comprehensive look at military retirement. Nevertheless, they were sensitive to the issue.  The committee is making a distinction between military personnel and Pentagon programs and, according to these representatives, the committee is hoping to achieve a balanced approach between increasing tax revenues and making budget cuts.

The invited associations had the opportunity to voice their concerns.  One concern in particular focused on the Hiring Heroes Act. An argument was made that the tax incentives for hiring a veteran is inequitable compared to the veteran’s length of service. In other words, veterans are worth more than tax credits as they bring skills from the military that add value to the employer’s workforce. In addition, several associations challenged suggested military retirement reforms, reminding congressional members that military service has unique stresses and challenges.  It was pointed out that it was not only unfair to change the retirement system for those currently serving, but for the next generation as well. Finally, Tricare rates, veteran education, housing, and the need for the Doc Fix were also mentioned.  

ROA’s statement follows:

Statement by CAPT Marshall Hanson, USNR (ret.), ROA Legislative Director.
Part of the continuum of the Total Force is the National Guard and Reserve members who have fought in the current contingencies. 
Leader Pelosi, the Reserve Officers Association would like to thank you and the members of the House for supporting Rep. Waltz’s bill, H.R.1025, recognizing the service of certain Guard and Reserve members as veterans, and passage of needed recognition, as many while on active duty haven’t served long enough to receive DD-214’s or be recognized as veterans.
Oftentimes, not only has their contributions been downplayed, but the place in their community is overlooked.  And surprisingly, recognizing their military service is even important to the economy.  Too often business take their signals from the federal government, and don’t offer the same type of incentives to Reserve Component members as they do to active duty military.  Be it discounts into amusement parks, or rebates from auto manufactures, purchasing decisions by over 1.75 million Guard and Reserve members and retirees are often negated by lack of recognition of their service.
We hope that the leadership in the room can help get needed support in the Senate so that we can pass this legislation into law.  We aren’t asking for new benefits, just the recognition that these individuals need.
The dual status of veteran and serving member also complicates the employment of Guard and Reserve members returning from mobilization.  High numbers of these individuals are unable to find reemployment in the current economic environment. 
The largest group that is unemployed is the 18 -24 year olds (over 35 % in August Department of Labor numbers).   This group is entirely made up of Guard and Reserve members who either are affiliated with the Reserve, or leave Active Duty and are placed in the Reserve.  ROA is concerned that the risk of recall causes employers to hesitate to hire this age group.  ROA has published a list of USERRA corrections that would help.
Equally important is the reintegration of these returning veterans, but with a tightening budget there are indications that funding for the Yellow Ribbon program will no longer be federally funded.
We also must ensure that preventive and follow-up counseling and mental health services for service members and families and training continue to be funded so they know when to seek professional help related to their circumstances. This is more difficult for Guard and Reserve members who don’t have easy access to military facilities, the military health network, or the Veteran Affairs health support.
Thank you again for the invitation to share these concerns and the Reserve Officers Association would like to work with you and your staffs in any way to correct these issues.