President Orders Death Benefits Fix, Fisher House Helps Out

President Barack Obama Photo credit: White House

President Barack Obama Photo credit: White House

As a temporary fix, the non-profit organization, The Fisher House, has stepped up and agreed to temporarily pay death benefits to military families of service members killed in action since the government shutdown.

And the Pentagon’s legal department is looking for an immediate way to provide emergency help and death benefits to military families who have had a loved one killed, according to the NPR Two-Way.

After much criticism from Republican lawmakers over the halting of emergency benefits to families of service members killed, press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Wednesday that the president has directed lawyers at the Defense Department and White House budget office to find an immediate legal fix for paying death benefits.

“When [the president] found out that this was not addressed he directed that a solution be found and we expect one today,” Carney said.

NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman says 26 service members have died since the shutdown began, six of them in Afghanistan, but unless the issue is resolved, their families will not receive the $100,000 death benefit owed them.

Four of the service members died in a roadside bomb attack in Afghanistan on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Military Times is reporting that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has negotiated a deal so families who have been denied a $100,000 death gratuity the past week receive compensation.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the department has forged an agreement with the Fisher House, a private charity organization, to provide payments directly to troops families during the shutdown. When the government resumes routine operations, the Defense Department will reimburse the Fisher House.

“I am offended, outraged, and embarrassed that the government shutdown had prevented the Department of Defense from fulfilling this most sacred responsibility in a timely manner,” Hagel said in a statement announcing the agreement with Fisher House.

“I will continue to work every day to address the very real impact that the government shutdown is having on our people, and I once again call on Congress to fulfill its basic responsibilities and restore funding for the federal government,” Hagel said.

Many are voicing their frustration with the stalemate including one of the soldiers killed this past week. You can read his Facebook comments in the Military Times report made just days before he was killed in Afghanistan:

Troops killed in action whose families will be affected by the suspended death gratuity include Marine Lance Cpl. Jeremiah M. Collins Jr., 19, of Milwaukee, Wis.

Just days before his death, Collins vented his frustration with the government shutdown on his Facebook page.

“I am waiting for the moment they breach my contract. Just waiting, I am out here in Afghan so I can’t just leave, but I can sit the f— down and not give two s—-,” Collins wrote on Oct. 3. “Get it together Obama and not to mention Congress. Jesus! Make up your minds, I will protect the being of my country with my life, but do not go [messing] with the men and women that protect your sorry asses.”

Collins died Oct. 5, and his death remains under investigation.

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A Soldier Deals with Guilt of Surviving 9-11 Pentagon Attack

This article, written by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton, was originally published by Army.mil. Below is the first part. I encourage you to follow the link to read the conclusion on how Army National Guard Chief Warrant Officer 4 Clifford Bauman survived suicide and eventually did get to save three lives eight years after the terrorist attacks.

Army National Guard Chief Warrant Officer 4 Clifford Bauman examining the gloves, boots and hard hat he wore Sept. 11, 2001 trying to save lives at the Pentagon.

Army National Guard Chief Warrant Officer 4 Clifford Bauman examining the gloves, boots and hard hat he wore Sept. 11, 2001 trying to save lives at the Pentagon.

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. – Each year when the nation collectively remembers the attacks of 9/11, Army National Guard Chief Warrant Officer 4 Clifford Bauman tries everything possible to forget. But the memories of being in the attack on the Pentagon are too vivid to forget.

“There was stuff floating everywhere,” Bauman said, as he described his journey through knee-deep water into the Pentagon’s outermost ring, the E-corridor. “We made our way back around between C- and B-corridor and saw where the nose of the aircraft detached and shot through the building.”

Immediately the team stepped outside, set up equipment designed to locate active cell phones and went to work searching for signals.

“Once we started pinging, I re-entered the building, crawling,” he said. “We were there all day and into the night, looking for people – eighteen hours and no survivors — not one.”

Looking back at what he did — what he forced himself to do – Bauman said there was only one word to describe everything he experienced.

“Horrific,” he said. “Seeing your fellow soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines lying dead in an area where you would think it was impossible, was hard to deal with.”

Even though Bauman had steeled himself to seeing the remains of fallen service members and comrades, he continued to work through the night. The painful reality began to fester inside him like a cancerous wound. Continue reading

A New 9-11 Video from the Department of Defense

The Department of Defense released this video in remembrance of the September 11, 2001 attacks and to honor those killed then and afterward fighting terrorism.

 

The Department of Defense has planned two events commemorating the attack at the Pentagon 12 years ago.

 

The Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001 after the terrorist attack. Photo credit: Department of Defense

The Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001 after the terrorist attack. Photo credit: Department of Defense

A private memorial observance with President Obama, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chairman of Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin E. Dempsey is planned at the Pentagon Memorial for the family members of those killed during the 2001 terrorist attacks. The ceremony will include brief remarks, the laying of a  wreath and a moment of silence. The event will be also televised and streamed live via the Pentagon Channel and www.pentagonchannel.mil.

A courtyard remembrance ceremony is set at 1 p.m. at the Pentagon’s Center Courtyard with Washington Headquarters Service’s Director of Administration and Management Michael Rhodes, Hagel and  Dempsey who will speak. This ceremony is for the staff and general community at the Pentagon and it too will be streamed  via the Pentagon Channel and www.pentagonchannel.mil.

Defense Secretary Attends Military Sexual Assault Panel

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel served in the senate from 1997-2009 representing Nebraska. Photo credit: Congress.com

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel served in the senate from 1997-2009 representing Nebraska. Photo credit: Congress.com

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made clear “that his goal is to eradicate the crime of sexual assault from the military, and that he is open to all their ideas on how to accomplish this objective,” according to a readout from the Pentagon.

Pentagon Press Secretary George Little provided the written comments about the secretary’s meeting with the panel today.

The Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel is charged with conducting an independent review and assessment of the systems used to investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate crimes involving sexual assault and related offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

It will develop recommendations to improve the effectiveness of those systems.

Hagel believes the panel’s findings and recommendations will play a critical role in ensuring that the department, working closely with Congress, makes well-informed decisions to improve sexual assault response and prevention — considering all the options on the table.

“The Secretary asked the panel to work deliberately and carefully, based on thorough research and analysis, but also emphasized the importance of acting quickly.  He pledged the department’s full support for the panel’s efforts,” according to the Little press readout.

“In addition to today’s meeting, Secretary Hagel continues to hold regular weekly meetings of the top civilian and military leadership of the department focused solely on sexual assault prevention and response efforts.”

Women Veterans: Military Sexual Trauma and Resources

womenVetsFlorida has an estimated 142,000 women veterans and many likely had their eyes on the Pentagon this week.

First, there was the deadline for the services to submit plans on how to integrate women into combat units or explain why women should remain banned. Many women already are serving in units exposed to combat but aren’t officially acknowledged.

And there is more news related to the growing problem of military sexual trauma.

We talked with an Air Force woman veteran, Larri Gerson, who now serves as a claims examiner with the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs and is a member of the federal, VA Advisory Committee on Women Veterans.

Courtesy Dept. of Defense

Courtesy Dept. of Defense

“I’m glad to talk about how important right now the topic of military sexual trauma (is) because if we had this year 29,000 cases, they estimated suffer from military sexual trauma, that’s going to be too much to wait for next year to talk about it,” Gerson said.

Recently allegations of sexual misconduct have been brought against two military members who are part of the military sexual trauma prevention programs.

Gerson said congress is taking testimony and considering legislation

She said the issue of women in combat also is important but is being addressed over a longer period of time.

Gerson provided several resources for women veterans and contacts.

For Florida women veterans issues, contact Florida’s State Women Veterans’ Coordinator Cynthia T. Brown at brownc@fdva.state.fl.us.

For national women veterans issues, contact Larri Gerson at gersonl@fdva.state.fl.us.

 

Health Care Costs Now 10 Percent of Defense Budget

Photo courtesy of CBO.gov

Photo courtesy of CBO.gov

Health care costs are soaring at the Pentagon. A recent report by Associated Press finds that military medical costs are now 10 percent of the Department of Defense budget and rising:

Even more daunting, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that military health care costs could reach $65 billion by 2017 and $95 billion by 2030.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that the military faces budget threats not from the $487 billion cuts over the next decade but from internal spending on things like medical care.

Congress has rejected previous attempts to increase fees and enrollment for retired military and military families.

Yet,d increased  health care fees is expected to be part of President Barack Obama’s 2014 fiscal budget plan. He will send his budget to Congress this week.

It is expected to include other unpopular items like military base closings in 2015 and 2017 and pay raises of only 1 percent. You can read more details on the Pentagon health care budget problems in Stars and Stripes.

AP: Secretary Panetta Lifts the Ban on Women in Combat

Sec. of Defense Leon Panetta

Sec. of Defense Leon Panetta

The Associated Press is reporting that Pentagon chief Leon Panetta is removing the military’s ban on women serving in combat. The move opens hundreds of thousands of front-line positions and potentially elite commando jobs to women in the military

The groundbreaking move recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff overturns a 1994 rule banning women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units.

Panetta’s decision gives the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women.

The Defense Secretary was sued last year by four women in the military and the American Civil Liberties Union who claimed the exclusion of women from combat positions was unconstitutional.

NPR reports that the ACLU website  published a post from one of the plaintiffs, Major Mary Jennings Hegar, who has been deployed twice to Afghanistan.

She tells the story of being shot at in a helicopter while trying to rescue a fellow soldier and concludes:

“If there is one thing I’ve learned about the differences between us all throughout my years of service, it’s this: putting the right person in the right job has very little to do with one’s gender, race, religion, or other demographic descriptor. It has everything to do with one’s heart, character, ability, determination and dedication.

“That’s the problem with the military’s combat exclusion policy. It makes it that much harder for people to see someone’s abilities, and instead reinforces stereotypes about gender.

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