Officials reaffirm DoD’s commitment to fighting sexual assault

At an open house marking the Defense Department’s launch of a new peer-support service for sexual assault victims, senior Pentagon officials last week reaffirmed the department’s commitment to eradicating sexual assault in the military.

The Defense Department has joined with a private organization to launch the DOD Safe Help Room - a private online chat room for servicemembers and military families to seek help following an assault. The new service gives victims and survivors access to chats with their peers, through an agreement with the nonprofit Rape, Incest and Abuse National Network.

"Sexual assault is a crime DOD will not tolerate," said Jessica L. Wright, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness and a 35-year military veteran. "Our servicemembers sign up to protect the United States, and they have to feel safe within our ranks. "I know what it’s like to be asked to do risky things, and we don’t want to put our servicemembers at risk as they’re doing (their jobs)."

From the newest private to the secretary of Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff "and everybody in between," Wright said, "we’ve locked arms against this crime, and we will work diligently to eradicate it from our ranks."

In May, The American Legion approved a zero-tolerance resolution regarding sexual assault in the military.


In other news:

Stolen Valor Act sent to Obama: On May 28, the Stolen Valor Act of 2013, was sent to the White House for President Barack Obama’s signature. This measure will make it a crime to knowingly benefit from false statements about receiving certain military awards and decorations. Rep. Joe Heck of Nevada – a fellow Legionnaire – introduced the bill in January, right after the start of the new Congress.

The Stolen Valor Act of 2005 (Public Law 109-437) made it a crime to lie about military service and awards, but was overturned by the Supreme Court on June 28, 2012. Based on the Supreme Court’s ruling, Heck’s legislation would be constitutional because it focuses on those who seek to benefit from misrepresentations of military service and awards. His more narrowly focused bill states, "whoever, with intent to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit, fraudulently holds oneself out to be a recipient of a decoration or medal shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than one year, or both." The legislation covers issues such as lying to receive veterans or health-care benefits, lying to obtain a government contract to be awarded to a veteran, or lying to get a job reserved for a veteran.

H.R. 258 is supported by The American Legion.

Job fair: A Hiring our Heroes job fair was held at the Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Harrison Township, Mich., on May 30. This event was sponsored and hosted by the 127th Wing Air National Guard. There were 52 employers, nine service providers and a total of 178 jobseekers at the job fair. Overall there were 474 resumes accepted, 170 interviews conducted, 39 tentative job offers and one on the spot hire.

Last week, work continued with planning for upcoming job fairs in Puerto Rico, Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey and New York.

In-state legislation tuition: The Economic Division is reviewing in-state tuition legislation (S. 944) that is sponsored by Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the Senate Veterans Affairs chairman, and Richard Burr of North Carolina. The Veterans’ Educational Transition Act would require public colleges and universities to charge in-state rates of tuition and fees for student veterans if the schools want to receive Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits for any student. It would also require public institutions of higher learning to charge in-state tuition rates for student veterans, regardless of their state of residence. The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee passed its own legislation (H.R. 357, the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act) three weeks ago. The Legion will be submitting testimony on S. 944 on June 5.

The Economic Division met on May 30 with former Congressman Patrick Murphy, who is now working for the Center for American Progress (CAP), along with representatives from other veterans service organizations. CAP’s division focused on veterans has identified the following areas of concern and focus:

1. Veteran unemployment

2. GI Bill/proprietary school concerns

3. Military/veteran suicide

4. VA backlog

5. VA health care

As CAP begins to fully implement the program, Murphy has asked that The American Legion offer our positions regarding issues, bills, etc. as they arise.

$60 million to combat homelessness: Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki announced May 29 that HUD will provide $60 million to local public housing agencies across the country to provide permanent supportive housing to homeless veterans, many of whom are living with chronic disabling conditions. The supportive housing assistance announced is provided through the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program that combines rental assistance from HUD with case management and clinical services provided by VA. Since 2008, 48,385 vouchers have been awarded and 42,557 formerly homeless veterans are currently in homes because of HUD-VASH.

HUD-VASH is a critcal part of the administration’s commitment to end veteran and long-term chronic homelessness by 2015. HUD’s annual "point in time" estimate of the number of homeless persons and families for 2012 found that veteran homelessness fell by 7.2 percent (or 4,876 people) since January 2011 and by 17.2 percent since January 2009. On a single night in January 2012, 62,619 veterans were homeless.

Resolution No. 306 states that The American Legion:

• Renews its commitment to assisting homeless veterans and their families.

• Continues to support the efforts of public and private sector agencies and organizations with the resources necessary to aid homeless veterans and their families.

• Seeks and supports any legislative or administrative proposal that will provide medical, rehabilitative and employment assistance to homeless veterans and their families.

Letters of support: The American Legion on May 29 sent letters of support to Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, giving the Legion’s support for H.R. 1796 and S. 700, companion legislation entitled the Troop Talent Act of 2013. This measure would bolster efforts to streamline the process of obtaining certifications and occupational licenses and help veterans put to use skill learned in the military. Continuing high levels of unemployment and ongoing troop withdrawals underscore the need to build job opportunities for returning veteranss (supporting resolution).

Claims: During the week ending May 24, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals reached dispositions on 153 American Legion represented appeals. Of those dispositions, 71.2 percent of the denials were overturned with outcomes favorable to the veteran. In 38 cases, the board granted benefits outright after considering The American Legion’s arguments. In 71 cases, The American Legion was able to point out errors in the development of the veteran’s claims that mandated corrective action under the law. Of the total number of dispositions, 35 (22.9 percent) were outright denials.

POW/MIA Update: Army Pvt. William Yawney, 105th Infantry Regiment, 27th Infantry Division, was lost at the Mariana Islands. His remains were recovered in September 2011 and were accounted for on May 20, 2013.