National Guard January 2011 : Page 12

WASHINGTON UPDATE The latest Capitol Hill news from the NGAUS legislative staff Our Struggling Comrades By Richard M. Green As pressure mounts to reduce defense spending, some may forget the sacrifices of our all-volunteer force. COUPLE OF RECENT headlines caught my eye: “Six American Trainers killed by an Afghan Police Officer” and “Hoping to Avoid Bombs and Win Afghan Minds.” These articles are all too typical and un-derscore the steady flow of casualties and the psychological impact that combat service in these unconventional wars is having on our service men and women. To date, more than 5,000 U.S. service members have been killed in these post-9/11 wars. Many thousands more have suffered crippling wounds and even more endure the emotional wounds of combat. War is hell. It is hell because a warfighter’s life can end or be forever changed in the blink of an eye. For some, the war continues long after they leave the hostilities behind. The new enemies are unemployment and homeless-ness, divorce and depression. The number of troops using food stamps is also rising and our government doesn’t have a good handle on how many or what to do about fixing the problem. This, too, is hell. And because we have an all-volunteer force, few Americans are directly affected by the wars. To them, it is just another headline. One heartbreaking consequence of the war was highlighted recently on the square in downtown Mansfield, Ohio, where mem-bers of the 179th Airlift Wing, my old unit, conducted an event called “Silent Watch.” Organized by Master Sgt. Tim Chandler, the purpose was to raise awareness of the increasing suicide rate among military mem-bers and veterans. According to Sergeant Chandler, about 6,000 veterans commit suicide each year. More than 300 service members currently serving kill themselves annually. It is hoped that through increasing awareness, the general public will become more sensitive to the often deadly psycho-logical issues affecting many of our military members. A A recent article from USA Today noted that “nearly twice as many Guardsmen have killed themselves this year as did last year.” This is a tough issue and the military is trying various ways to bring it under control. One state that is having some success with the tragedy of citizen-soldiers who take their own lives is New Jersey. Following the story “Civilian Soldier Suicides Alarming” in USA Today , the newspaper published a letter from Christopher Kosseff, president of University Behavioral HealthCare of Piscataway, N.J. He described a program in New Jersey that requires each Guardsman returning from deployment to be seen by a mental health counselor. There is a free 24-hour help line and free access to counselors who are veterans. Since that program became operational five years ago, he said, not one New Jersey National Guardsman who has had contact with the program has committed suicide. The folks in New Jersey certainly seem to be on to something worth a close look by other states and territories and the Defense Department. Our concern at NGAUS is that as pres-sure mounts on the Pentagon and Congress to reduce defense spending, they may forget the sacrifices of our all-volunteer force. We will do our best to ensure that these men and women are provided the pay, ben-efits and health care they need. That’s what America promised, and that’s what these men and women have earned. The Soldier’s Creed states, “I will never leave a fallen comrade.” Even if this commit-ment is meant to apply on the battlefield, why wouldn’t we extend it to include life on the homefront? We must find the best programs out there and adequately fund them so no soldier is left on the battlefield of life. Contact your senators and representa-tive by phone, fax, letter, personal visit or by using our Write to Congress feature at www.ngaus.org. Let them know how a strong and ready National Guard is right for America. 12 | Na tional Guard

Washington Update

Richard M. Green

The latest Capitol Hill news from the NGAUS legislative staff<br /> <br /> Our Struggling Comrades<br /> <br /> A COUPLE OF RECENT headlines caught my eye: "Six American Trainers killed by an Afghan Police Officer" and "Hoping to Avoid Bombs and Win Afghan Minds."<br /> <br /> These articles are all too typical and underscore the steady flow of casualties and the psychological impact that combat service in these unconventional wars is having on our service men and women.<br /> <br /> To date, more than 5,000 U.S. service members have been killed in these post-9/11 wars. Many thousands more have suffered crippling wounds and even more endure the emotional wounds of combat.<br /> <br /> War is hell. It is hell because a warfighter's life can end or be forever changed in the blink of an eye.<br /> <br /> For some, the war continues long after they leave the hostilities behind. The new enemies are unemployment and homelessness, divorce and depression.<br /> <br /> The number of troops using food stamps is also rising and our government doesn't have a good handle on how many or what to do about fixing the problem.<br /> <br /> This, too, is hell.<br /> <br /> And because we have an all-volunteer force, few Americans are directly affected by the wars. To them, it is just another headline.<br /> <br /> One heartbreaking consequence of the war was highlighted recently on the square in downtown Mansfield, Ohio, where members of the 179th Airlift Wing, my old unit, conducted an event called "Silent Watch."<br /> <br /> Organized by Master Sgt. Tim Chandler, the purpose was to raise awareness of the increasing suicide rate among military members and veterans.<br /> <br /> According to Sergeant Chandler, about 6,000 veterans commit suicide each year. More than 300 service members currently serving kill themselves annually.<br /> <br /> It is hoped that through increasing awareness, the general public will become more sensitive to the often deadly psychological issues affecting many of our military members.<br /> <br /> A recent article from USA Today noted that "nearly twice as many Guardsmen have killed themselves this year as did last year."<br /> <br /> This is a tough issue and the military is trying various ways to bring it under control.<br /> <br /> One state that is having some success with the tragedy of citizen-soldiers who take their own lives is New Jersey. Following the story "Civilian Soldier Suicides Alarming" in USA Today, the newspaper published a letter from Christopher Kosseff, president of University Behavioral HealthCare of Piscataway, N.J.<br /> <br /> He described a program in New Jersey that requires each Guardsman returning from deployment to be seen by a mental health counselor. There is a free 24-hour help line and free access to counselors who are veterans.<br /> <br /> Since that program became operational five years ago, he said, not one New Jersey National Guardsman who has had contact with the program has committed suicide.<br /> <br /> The folks in New Jersey certainly seem to be on to something worth a close look by other states and territories and the Defense Department.<br /> <br /> Our concern at NGAUS is that as pressure mounts on the Pentagon and Congress to reduce defense spending, they may forget the sacrifices of our all-volunteer force.<br /> <br /> We will do our best to ensure that these men and women are provided the pay, benefits and health care they need. That's what America promised, and that's what these men and women have earned.<br /> <br /> The Soldier's Creed states, "I will never leave a fallen comrade." Even if this commitment is meant to apply on the battlefield, why wouldn't we extend it to include life on the homefront?<br /> <br /> We must find the best programs out there and adequately fund them so no soldier is left on the battlefield of life.<br /> <br /> Contact your senators and representative by phone, fax, letter, personal visit or by using our Write to Congress feature at www.ngaus.org.<br /> <br /> Let them know how a strong and ready National Guard is right for America.<br /> <br /> Victory: Post-9/11 Education Benefits Will Soon Reach More Guardsmen<br /> <br /> Thousands of National Guard members who stood watch over federal facilities or flew air patrol missions above cities after America was attacked nine years ago soon can take advantage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill now that legislation prompted by NGAUS has passed Congress.<br /> <br /> Congress' action last month on the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act fills a hole in the original bill, which passed in 2008.<br /> <br /> However, the law inadvertently omitted fulltime Guardsmen who served under Title 32 status (federally funded but under state control). This includes most of the Guard's fulltime Active Guard Reserve personnel and those called by the president for such missions as Operation Jump Start on America's border with Mexico and Operation Noble Eagle, which provided security for airport and airspace operations following the 9/11 attacks.<br /> <br /> NGAUS pointed out the omission soon after the law passed and pushed Congress to take action. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, introduced legislation correcting the oversight in May.<br /> <br /> Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, introduced a measure in the House. Some of its contents were merged into Akaka's bill.<br /> <br /> More than 1,000 NGAUS members responded to a Legislative Alert in the 24 hours before the House vote.<br /> <br /> Retired Maj. Gen. Gus L. Hargett Jr., the NGAUS president, said, "We applaud Congress for bringing the letter of the Post-9/11 GI Bill in line with the spirit of the legislation. Thousands of National Guardsmen who helped secure our nation's skies, borders and sensitive facilities will soon be eligible for the education benefits they were denied by inadvertent exclusions in the original measure.<br /> <br /> "NGAUS was the first to bring the exclusions to the attention of Congress. And we worked hard with several members of the House and the Senate to eliminate them."<br /> <br /> Hargett praised the membership of NGAUS for keeping members of Congress informed of the bill's importance to men and women of the Guard.<br /> <br /> President Barack Obama was expected to sign the bill before the end of December.<br /> <br /> According to a report that accompanied the bill, an additional 131,000 Guardsmen will be immediately eligible for benefits. Each year, 8,000 more will qualify.<br /> <br /> The additional benefits include $1.8 billion in direct spending for the National Guard during the first 10 years it is in effect.<br /> <br /> But the costs will be more than offset by other provisions in the bill, according to the Congressional Budget Office.<br /> <br /> The new law also will:<br /> <br /> • Allow veterans to apply their benefit to vocational and trade schools and distance learning, in addition to four-year schools; <br /> <br /> • Expand the housing allowance to more veterans;<br /> <br /> • Increase assistance for the purchase of books and supplies; and<br /> <br /> • Extend the time severely injured veterans and their caregivers have to use the benefit.<br /> <br /> Congress Finds Funding To Delay TRICARE Reimbursement Cuts<br /> <br /> Congress kicked the TRICARE reimbursement cut down the road last month for the fifth time in less than a year, but this time the delay is for 12 months.<br /> <br /> The House of Representatives and the Senate both voted to transfer money from the health care reform effort and use it to pay doctors who treat TRICARE and Medicare patients.<br /> <br /> Those doctors were facing a 25 percent cut in their reimbursement for such care starting with the new year.<br /> <br /> The action by Congress is just the latest in several delays of the cut, which is the result of a 1990's law that was a failed attempt to rein in Medicare costs. Instead, it threatened to cut reimbursement rates so much that physicians would refuse to see patients who use Medicare or TRICARE. Both health insurance systems use the same formula and faced the same threats.<br /> <br /> The bill passed last month is expected to cost about $15 billion over 10 years.<br /> <br /> The delay gives Congress time to find a permanent fix to the problem, which is what NGAUS supports.<br /> <br /> The continuing series of delays does not give military retirees and senior citizens confidence that they will have continued access to affordable health care.<br /> <br /> As pressure mounts to reduce defense spending, some may forget the sacrifices of our all-volunteer force.<br /> <br /> NGAUS was first to bring the Post-9/11 GI Bill exclusions to the attention of Congress.<br />

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