Overdue changes finally reach Veterans Affairs (The Atlantic)
Veterans Day is a lightly-observed midweek holiday that is often overlooked amid the other annual celebrations of the military. But the new secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert McDonald, is moving to restore some substance to the commemoration this year. Three-and-a-half months on the job, McDonald on Monday announced the first steps of a major reorganization of the much-maligned department, with the changes centered around his goal of focusing on the VA’s core customer: Veterans. McDonald, a former chairman of Procter & Gamble who served as a captain in the army, took over an agency in July that was plagued by reports of preventable deaths at VA healthcare facilities and months-long lines for veterans seeking care. In a note to employees, he announced the creation of a new customer service organization led by a “chief customer service officer” who would report directly to him, along with a veterans advisory council and other initiatives aimed at streamlining the bureaucracy of a department that serves 22 million U.S. veterans. “Please keep in mind that this is a long-term process, and we are just beginning to plan how this will all unfold,” McDonald cautioned. He said the department would launch a new website on Tuesday—Veterans Day—to solicit new ideas from employees.
Veterans, families sue six banks claiming they helped Iran fund terror groups (Fox News)
ore than 200 veterans and their families have filed a lawsuit against six international banks, accusing them of helping Iran transfer millions of dollars to militant groups that targeted and killed U.S. soldiers during the Iraq war. The suit, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, alleges that the banks helped Iran move billions of dollars through the U.S. financial system, with some of the money ending up with Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps and its proxies like Hezbollah, which orchestrated attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq. Five of the banks accused in the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Brooklyn Monday, are HSBC, Barclays, Standard Chartered, Royal Bank of Scotland, and Credit Suisse. A sixth bank named in the suit is the Britain-based subsidiary of Bank Saderat Iran. The suit details one 2007 attack in Iraq by terrorists who, according to the suit, were trained and armed by Iran’s Qods Force, with help from Hezbollah. In a brazen attack at a center about 30 miles south of Baghdad, they opened fire and threw grenades at U.S. and Iraqi forces. One American died after jumping on a grenade; four other Americans were abducted from the scene and later killed.
Cold War veterans seek recognition for their service (USA Today)
They may have served in the U.S. military overseas or at a missile base in America. They may have been on secret missions in submarines, in aircraft or on the ground. Or they may have been, like Tom Cameron of Troy, Mich., driving a tank in Germany, always on guard. They are millions of Cold War veterans, who served in the military from September 1945 to Dec. 26, 1991 — the day the Soviet Union dissolved — during pockets of peacetime tension that came during the expansion of communism and the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago Monday. And as America marks Veterans Day today, they are looking for a little recognition — an authorized service medal or a memorial in Washington, D.C. “That’s always on my mind, what I went through,” Cameron, 76, said of his time in the U.S. Army’s 12th Calvary, 3rd Armored Division. His unit lost 16 people — including Cameron’s gunner — when an 8-inch howitzer shell with an incorrect charge was overshot and exploded at a training ground in Germany on Sept. 2, 1960.
For Afghanistan veterans, the war will never end (Washington Post)
Commentary: “America closed Camp Leatherneck the other day. The flag was lowered, the Marines looked on, and then, memories in hand, they left. The sprawling desert outpost is empty now, waiting for its new Afghan tenants, or the Taliban or a dust storm that will consume it like a lost Egyptian city. I read all about this on my phone, and as I scrolled through the article, my chest tightened and the world got a little blurry. “It can’t be over,” I said to no one in particular. Was this how my grandfather felt when they signed the Armistice on the USS Missouri in 1945? How the world felt when Hitler died in his bunker? Is this how my war ends? The Islamic State is in the Middle East, and F/A-18s are still taking off from aircraft carriers and dropping bombs, and some people still want boots on the ground. The Endless War is marching on, but my Afghan War is ending with a whimper.”
Remember: 83,000 American veterans are still missing (National Journal)
Veterans Day is a time to reflect on the service and sacrifices of the men and women who have put themselves in harm’s way for this country. But it is also a time to remember and acknowledge that the government’s various programs often stumble and fail in the handling of veterans’ issues. Here’s a statistic: 83,000 American service personnel are still missing in action. These soldiers are assumed dead, but are still unaccounted for. They rest in unmarked graves in foreign countries, or are taking on sediment at the bottom of the ocean. 73,500 of them fought in World War II; 9,645 in the wars since. The Defense Department’s Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office, known as DPMO, and the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, or J-PAC, are charged with matching remains with names. But these offices “find” and account for only around 70 of these veterans every year. It doesn’t take a lot math to conclude that several dozen identifications per year is barely a scratch on an 83,000 total. The problem isn’t that DOD doesn’t know where the remains are. The problem is institutional—a bureaucracy using slow, outdated processes in lieu of faster scientifically backed techniques. “DOD’s capability and capacity to accomplish its missing persons accounting mission is being undermined by long-standing leadership weaknesses and a fragmented organizational structure,” a 2013 Government Accountability Office report concluded in summary.
How for-profit colleges target military veterans (and your tax dollars) (Time)
For-profit colleges have targeted veterans for recruitment, leading to shady marketing and troubling outcomes for the nation’s service men and women. Veterans who applied to Corinthian College can be forgiven for giving the school special preference, even though the for-profit institution has a withdrawal rate of roughly 60 percent. After all, the institution had the imprimatur of their old employer: The United States Military. Or so it seemed. According to a civil complaint, filed by the state of California in October of 2013, Corinthian had been illegally using the official seals of the United States Navy, Army, Air Force, and Coast Guard in its advertising in an effort to recruit recently discharged service men and women. That wasn’t all. The college, or perhaps more accurately, company, was also accused of advertising for programs that it did not offer and misrepresenting job placement rates to students and investors. In late June, Corinthian announced it would shut down—finally caving under the weight of regulatory and legal pressure. But it’s far from the only for-profit university accused of using misleading tactics. And, perhaps most disturbingly, it’s one of many such institutions that appeared to prey specifically on military veterans.
Sponsors condemn Cuomo for vetoing veterans pension bill (Capital New York)
The sponsors of a bill that would have allowed veterans to buy pension credit for service during peacetime condemned Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday for his decision to veto the measure. The bill, sponsored by Senator Bill Larkin and Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, would have allowed veterans who served during peacetime to purchase up to three years of extra pension credit at a greatly discounted price. Cuomo said in the memo accompanying his veto that passing the bill showed the Legislature “has chosen to ignore its commitment to shield property taxpayers from the costs of new statewide pension enhancements.” Cuomo’s veto message on Friday said the bill would create $57 million in “near-term commitments” for local governments by failing to establish a state funding stream for the added pension time.
How veterans are outperforming in today’s economy (Washington Post)
Today, the country honors the men and women in the armed forces and the sacrifices they have made for America. But Veterans’ Day shouldn’t just be a reminder of hardships. It should also be a celebration of their achievements — and we don’t just mean on the battlefield. When it comes to school, work and outlook on life, veterans outperform on many fronts.
Ohio’s Iraq veterans face deadline to seek bonus (Columbus Dispatch)
Time is running out for Ohio veterans of the Iraq war to apply for a state bonus of as much as $1,000. The application deadline for this phase of the Ohio Veterans Bonus is Dec. 31, said Tim Gorrell, director of the Ohio Department of Veterans Services. Since 2009, the state’s overall veterans-bonus program has made 84,453 payments totaling $68.3 million. The number of people receiving bonuses is somewhat smaller because there are multiple eligibility periods.
The worst cities for veterans (Forbes)
Returning veterans face multiple challenges which make it tough to decide where to live. Many are coping with debilitating injuries and psychological trauma. A large share does not have a college degree. Lots of vets have no career background outside of their military service. Ideally they need to settle in spots with good health care for veterans, a surplus of military-related jobs and veteran-friendly employers, high job growth, low unemployment, rapid wage growth, affordable housing and an attractive cost of living index. Now a personal finance website, WalletHub, has rated 100 cities from best to worst for veterans. Since we already ran a best places story, we decided to take the cities from the bottom of WalletHub’s list and highlight them here.
Michelle Obama puts Veterans Day focus on the challenges of military women (Washington Post)
Michelle Obama’s advocacy for military families focused this week on an often overlooked slice of the veteran community: women. Before hundreds of veterans gathered for a day of workshops at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, Obama laid bare the challenges faced by women who have served in the armed forces. “Last month, the unemployment rate for women veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan was 11.2 percent — five points higher than men who served in the same conflicts, and more than double the rate for civilian women,” Obama said. “And that’s just wrong.” She told the story of one veteran, a woman who had worked in logistics operations in the Air Force for eight years. When looking for employment after leaving the military, the vet was told “that since her skills were mostly in male-dominated industries, she should try using only the first initial in her first name on her résumé so that employers wouldn’t know she was a woman,” Obama said. The Monday event, attended by more than 200 people, was hosted by Redbook and the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation. It was inspired by the first lady’s work with Joining Forces, a program started in 2011 to highlight and support service members and their families.
Private sector tackles veteran joblessness (U.S. News & World Report)
More than a decade after 9/11 and the two wars that followed it, U.S. military veterans of those conflicts continue to face employment challenges that are likely to persist for years. Though the economy has firmed, many veterans also still deal with the same post-crisis unemployment hangover as civilians. One alliance to boost veteran employment is on track by the end of 2014 to beat its own goal – by five years – of hiring at least 200,000 U.S. military veterans, according to a report released Monday commissioned by RAND and JPMorgan Chase. Known as the 100,000 Jobs Mission, the coalition consists of 179 private sector companies that formed in 2011 with a mutual goal of advancing their veteran hiring practices. Meg Harrell, the director of the Army Health Program at RAND and a co-author of the report, calls veteran unemployment in the U.S. an “unconscionable situation.” “The military is downsizing, so now we’re going to have people that may have actually not opted to become veterans but that are going to become veterans,” Harrell says. “When people look at veteran unemployment, they tend to judge it against civilian unemployment, but veterans are a proven capability. In my mind, I never want veteran unemployment to be at civilian unemployment [levels].”