Military News

Friday, December 31, 2010

Is The “New” Post-9/11 GI Bill Really A “Win” For Vets?

By Daniel Caldwell

Towards the end of the lame-duck session of Congress, the House and Senate passed a bill that will enact major changes to the Post-9/11 Bill, which will most certainly be signed by President Obama. The bill, entitled the “Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010,” was universally praised by veterans’ organizations. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America considered it a victory for veterans along with the American Legion, which had its legislative director, Tim Tetz, present at a ceremony celebrating the passage of the bill. However, these groups along with many in the media having not been highlighting some of the changes in the “Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010″ that will negatively impact thousands of veterans currently using the Post 9/11 GI Bill. These groups who claim to advocate for veterans (and in some cases collect dues from said veterans) on Capitol Hill have been disingenuous in praising this legislation without highlighting the obvious problems with it. Overall, while there are clearly some positive reforms that will be made to the GI Bill as a result of this legislation, this is by no means a huge win for veterans and will potentially force many veterans to change their educational plans.

Probably the biggest change that will hurt many veterans in several states is the new national cap on yearly tuition and fees of $17,500, which replaces the current state-by-state cap. In states like Massachusetts were fees and tuition exceeds $20,000 at most schools for resident students who attend classes year-round, the student veteran will be forced to make up the difference either through utilizing the Yellow Ribbon Program, applying for a scholarship, or worse, taking out a student loan. While this might simplify the process for paying schools and save money, the change in the tuition and fees cap will negatively effect the ability of veterans in certain states to pay for their education.

The legislation also changes how the BAH stipend is paid. Right now, as long as you taking one credit more than a half load (in the case of my school, Arizona State, seven credits out of twelve) you received the full BAH stipend for your school. However, beginning in August 2011, the BAH stipend will be prorated based on the number of credits a veteran is taking. This might seem like a logical and “fair” thing to do, but considering that many veterans do not take a full credit load in order to work or do an internship (which are often unpaid) and considering the fact that many veterans rely on the BAH stipend to survive, this amounts to a pay cut for thousands (if not tens of thousands) veterans in 2011. For me personally, this will negatively impact me since I will most likely not need to take more than three classes (or nine credits) my last semester and I was planning on doing an internship in order to beef up my resume. However, due to the impending changes to the GI Bill, I will most likely be forced to revaluate these plans.

The bill will also add BAH benefits for distance-learning (aka online) students; however the amount will only be half the national average. I was always under the impression (and I could be wrong) that the reason why the post-9/11 GI Bill didn’t have BAH benefits for distance-learning students was to discourage veterans from attending shady online for-profit universities. However, online programs are more flexible, especially for veterans with families and jobs and many state schools offer online degree programs that are cheaper than traditional programs. If anything, the VA should be encouraging certain veterans to enroll in online programs.

It would not be fair if I didn’t point out some of the positive changes the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010 makes the post-9/11 GI Bill. The legislation expands GI Bill eligibility to over 85,000 National Guardsmen and enables active duty troops currently using the GI Bill to receive the annual book allowance. In addition, wounded veterans currently going through vocational rehab will receive increased allowances. However, in order to pay for these changes, the cuts listed above were made. This bill literally robs one group of veterans to pay another.

If in the original Post 9/11 GI Bill, BAH stipends would have been prorated and there would have been a national cap on tuition and fees, veterans would have been able to properly plan their education. However, veterans were led to believe that they would be receiving a certain level of compensation and now beginning in 2011 tens of thousands of veterans will be receiving less if changes are not made. To quote Representative Steven Buyer, a veteran and one of the few people to openly criticize this bill, parts of the bill “[are] nothing but a lump of coal for veterans.”

Daniel Caldwell served four years as an infantryman in the U.S. Marine Corps. For the first two years, he was part of the Presidential Support Program. During his last two years, he served with the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines and deployed to Iraq in 2009.  He uses the Post-9/11 GI Bill to attend Arizona State University

Adm. Allen receives Great American Patriot Award

Written by: LTJG Stephanie Young

Yesterday, Adm. Thad Allen was presented with the 2010 Great American Patriot Award during halftime of the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl between Army and Southern Methodist University.

The award, presented annually by Armed Forces Insurance, honors an American patriot who has spent a career going above and beyond the call of duty to serve and protect our country. Allen joins Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen and Army Gen. David Petraeus as a recipient of the award.

Allen was recognized for his 39 years of active duty service in the Coast Guard, culminating with his selection as the 23rd Commandant of the Coast Guard, and his willingness to continue to serve his nation as the National Incident Commander in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill after his retirement in June 2010.

San Diego Area Submariners Prepared for New Smoking Ban in 2011

By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Christopher Farrington, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West

SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- With the upcoming arrival of 2011, San Diego area Sailors were prepared Dec. 30 for the implementation of a new Navy-wide smoking policy that bans smoking below decks aboard all U.S. Navy submarines.

The smoking ban, announced by Vice Adm. John J. Donnelly, Commander, Submarine Forces via Naval message April 8, will become effective no later than December 31, 2010.

Exposure to second hand smoke, and the health risks to non-smokers has been cited as the impetus behind the change of policy.

In San Diego, a large-scale smoking cessation program is being offered to assist submarine Sailors in their efforts to quit smoking. The program incorporates education techniques and nicotine replacement therapy, such as nicotine patches and nicotine gum.

Sailors serving aboard submarines stationed at Naval Base Point Loma, Calif., are preparing for the smoking ban by taking advantage of the programs.

"Although we have isolated smoking areas aboard ship there is no way to escape the smoke and if a person who doesn't smoke is around then they are left exposed to second hand smoke," said Fire Control Technician 1st Class (SS) Nick Church, a Sailor assigned to USS Asheville (SSN 758).

The submarine force chartered the Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory to conduct a study on U.S. submarines. The study indicated that non-smoking Sailors were exposed to measurable amounts of second hand smoke. The year-long study was conducted in 2009 on nine different submarines, including at least one from each class of submarine in the force.

"The smoking ban limits second hand smoke and is helping to make the Navy healthier," said Electronics Technician 1st Class (SS), Orlando Apodaca, an Asheville Sailor.

According to the Surgeon General's 2006 report on smoking, non-smokers who are exposed to second hand smoke on a regular basis increase their risk of developing heart and lung disease.

Air Force Secretary Visits Bases in Wyoming, North Dakota

By Air Force Capt. Mary Danner-Jones and Air Force Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 31, 2010Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley thanked airmen for their service during holiday visits to bases in Wyoming and North Dakota. He praised the troops’ commitment, skill and achievements while visiting F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., on Dec. 23 and Minot Air Force Base, N.D., on Dec. 23 and 24.

While visiting F.E. Warren, Donley recognized Air Force Global Strike Command airmen who carry out the nuclear deterrence mission.

"We have missile crews and Airmen standing alert over the holidays, and we want them to know their leaders appreciate the sacrifices they make," Donley said.

“We appreciate our Airmen and their families for the support they provide every day of the year, but especially during the holiday period when some of our Airmen can't be with their families,” he said.

Capt. Mike Ralph, 319th Missile Squadron flight commander, was one of those on hand to meet the secretary.

"A visit such as this shows how much our senior leadership cares about the nuclear mission and our Airmen here,” Ralph said. “It means a lot that Secretary Donley took time out of his busy schedule to come here."

During his visit, the secretary met with 20th Air Force and 90th Missile Wing maintainers, operators, security forces, support personnel, and leaders to express his appreciation for the dedication and professionalism of everyone who supports the mission here.

Donley said the great performance of the 90th Missile Wing during the first Global Strike Challenge in November was reflective of the training, precision, dedication and professionalism of F.E. Warren airmen.

“This was a major accomplishment for the ‘Mighty Ninety,’” he said.  “Awards in several different areas really indicate you have some stand-out units and performers here.”

Those honors included the Blanchard Trophy recognizing the best ICBM wing, as well as three other top Global Strike Challenge awards.

Secretary Donley said the work performed by Warren professionals is “critical” and “truly remarkable,” adding that the mission across the nuclear enterprise is nonstop.

Acknowledging the Air Force’s 50-plus years of nuclear heritage, he added that nuclear deterrence remains the backbone not only of the Air Force, but also of national military capabilities.

This is the second year in a row an Air Force senior leader has traveled to F.E. Warren during the holiday season.  Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, the Air Force’s top uniformed leader, made a holiday visit here last year.

During his trip to Minot, Secretary Donley visited several of the base’s key facilities, including a missile alert facility, Dock 7, and the Dakota Inn Dining Facility.  He also met with several key community leaders during a dinner meeting in the city of Minot.

“The airmen here are doing an outstanding job,” Donley said. “Minot carries a heavy load and is always very busy, but I feel the airmen and leadership team here are very supportive of each other and key to accomplishing the Air Force mission.”

Donley said what impressed him the most was the dedication and professionalism of all who served at the base, particularly given the challenging mission and weather climate.

Minot has a very important mission of two dimensions -- bombers and missiles,” Donley said. “This two-dimensional mission can be complicated to support.  It is complicated even more by the harsh environment our Airmen face here.”

Donley noted the support of family and community is important to Airmen being able to accomplish the nuclear deterrence and global strike mission.

“Our Air Force is hardworking -- 24/7 for 365 days a year,” he said. “We can’t do what we do, as efficiently and productively, without the support of our families and the communities we live in.”

As such, the secretary said Minot bears a great responsibility and expressed his appreciation for Team Minot’s performance.

“This community serves a very important mission and Minot is doing an outstanding job,” he said. “I would like to say thank you for your integrity and commitment to service.”

(Air Force Capt. Mary Danner-Jones is assigned to the 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs Office, and Air Force Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton is assigned to the Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs Office.)