Author : jason-van-steenwyk

House Passes Bill to Fund VA

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk house funds va during shutdownThe House of Representatives moved to fund the Veterans Administration through the shutdown and into fiscal year 2014. The House passed the bill, H.J. Res. 72., on Thursday, October 3rd, with overwhelming Republican support. Democrat opposition was strong, but they still got 35 Democrats to sign on as well. The final vote was 259 in favor, 157 opposed. 

The bill, dubbed the “Honoring Our Promise to America’s Veterans Act,” restores funding for disability compensation, monthly stipends under the GI Bill and survivors’ benefits. 

The bill required a two-thirds majority for passage. It failed to pass on a first attempt on Tuesday, when just 33 House Democrats voted in favor. 

The House of Representatives, controlled by Republicans, has passed a series of bills providing partial funding for various popular segments of government. This tactic puts Democrats in an uncomfortable position, as it forces Democrats to either go on record voting against funding popular government programs or provide their leadership, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and President Obama, progressively less leverage with which to negotiate with Republicans to keep the Affordable Care Act intact. 

“Today, more than 160 House Democrats chose to put politics before the needs of America’s veterans and their loved ones,” said Rep. Jeff Miller (R – FL) in a statement. “November payments to veterans and their survivors for a variety of earned benefits are now in jeopardy in the event of a prolonged government shutdown. Our veterans have already gone above and beyond for our nation. The last thing they deserve is for the country they courageously defended to abandon them. It’s unfortunate that some in Congress seem to be fighting to ensure that happens.”

The bill is not a complete restoration. The House did not authorize funding for IT, nor the VA Inspector General’s office, the National Cemetery Administration and for state veterans homes. 

The total funding package for benefits also results in a $6 billion reduction compared to its own 2014 funding appropriation back in June, according to reporting from Rick Maze at the Military Times.

The Democratic-controlled Senate does not, however, plan to take up the bill, so its own Senators will not be forced into the vote. The White House staff has also indicated the President will veto the bill if it reaches his desk. 

Curiously, the Department of Veterans Affairs itself is not arguing to make the case for its own funding. 


The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs has scheduled a hearing tomorrow, October 9th, at 10:30 AM, to gather information and testimony regarding the impact of the shutdown on veterans and their families. 

DoD to Deployed Sports Fans: DROP DEAD

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk no sports for deployed troopsThe Armed Forces Network has cut off access to American pro sports programming until further notice, due to the current government shutdown. The announcement comes just as the Major League Baseball playoffs are getting underway. 

Meanwhile, the same DoD that funds the Armed Forces Network found the funds to keep the golf course open at Andrews Air Force Base – the same golf course frequented by President Obama, members of Congress, and senior officers at the nearby Pentagon. 

The Armed Forces Network has therefore reduced itself to strictly airing “news” stories and public service announcements reminding servicemembers to wear condoms and report waste, fraud and abuse. 

The announcement affects not just baseball, but all major sports programming. 

A spokesperson for the Armed Services Network told the Stars & Stripes that they are unable to continue providing sports coverage because of federal workers who have been furloughed.

We’re calling foul. 

It requires far less manpower to flip a switch to allow a satellite feed through a control station and leave it on than it does to operate a news service. I say this as someone who has actually run four separate TV channels simultaneously in a control booth providing live feeds with the technology of 20 years ago. 

There is the matter of broadcast rights. It would surprise us if Major League Baseball was not willing to make a deal to make the playoffs and World Series available to our troops in Afghanistan. If that were really the issue, we would expect that the AFN spokesperson would have referred to it already. 

Some REMFs may argue that servicemembers can watch the games via the Internet, or through civilian satellite networks. Those individuals probably have not been deployed to austere locations. 

We have the Early Bird news, now. We have Internet news sources. We have a chain of command and an NCO support channel to disseminate mission-critical information. None of them can bring the World Series to our sports fans deployed. 

Cut the BS. Stop the lies. 

Air the games.

Congress Approves Paying Troops During Government Shutdown

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Some things are still sacred. Both houses of Congress have passed a bill to allow uniformed servicemembers to get paid in the event of a government shutdown on October 1. Previously, the paychecks of soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors were at risk in the event of an increasingly likely government shutdown. 

The GOP-controlled House of Representatives, however, unanimously passed a bill on Sunday morning approving their pay, and the Senate easily approved it on Monday afternoon. It now goes to President Obama for signature. 

The bill also allows the federal government to pay Coast Guard members, as well as AGR members – that is, reserve component members on active-duty status. The bill also pays select other employees in the DoD and Department of Homeland Security designated as providing services to military servicemembers. 

The bill, dubbed the Pay Our Military Act was sponsored by Rep. Mike Coffman, a Colorado Republican and veteran of both the Army and Marine Corps.

The bill had four co-sponsors in the House – all Republicans: Jack Kingston of Georgia, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Tom Latham of Iowa and Jackie Walorski of Indiana. 

Although the President has been disinclined to compromise thus far, with unanimous support in the house and nearly unanimous support in the Senate (the Senate passed it with a voice-vote, so no individuals are on the record opposed), Congress appears to have a veto-proof majority in this particular issue.

ARMY E-4s – Have You Done Your SSD Coursework Yet?

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk E4s must complete paperwork for sergeant promotionTime is getting tight for tens of thousands of Army E-4s hoping to get their sergeant stripes. These soldiers must complete Structured Self-Development 1, or SSD-1 – an online course – by Jan. 1, 2014 in order to be eligible to be placed on the promotion list for sergeant. This applies both to corporals and specialists. According to the Army G-1, some 41,035 specialists have yet to complete the coursework to get placed on the list. Furthermore, 3,366 more specialists already on the list will lose eligibility, effective January 1, unless they complete the coursework, the Army said.

To check on their enrollment status, soldiers can visit the Army Learning Management System (ALMS) via AKO. Soldiers graduating AIT since Oct 10, 2010 have been automatically enrolled in the ALMS. But that’s very different than actually completing the course. The AKO system is notoriously tricky and unreliable – especially for reserve component soldiers who must try to access AKO from their home computers. Soldiers with various versions of Windows or who are trying to access from Macs have long had persistent problems with AKO access. 

The system doesn’t stop at SSD-1 for E-4s looking to pin on sergeant stripes. Similar requirements also apply to Army E-5s, E-6’s and E-7s looking for promotion.

Some reserve units may offer soldiers drill pay or other forms of compensation for completing the required coursework. However, the deadline applies whether the soldier gets paid for completing the coursework or not. 

To learn more, visit the NCO Journal, here. 

Brass Benefitted from Education Assistance – Now Pulling the Ladder Up After Themselves

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk military tuition assistance at riskSenior leaders at all four services would love to get rid of tuition assistance. In fact, they tried to get rid of TA last spring. Tuition Assistance is the benefit that provides servicemembers with money to attend college or grad school courses designed – in theory – to further their professional development.  

The Sergeant Major of the Army, Raymond Chandler, has publicly questioned the value of servicemembers earning degrees while on active duty. Regarding one soldier who had nearly completed a masters’ degree while serving, Chandler said, according to reporting from Military Times, “It’s commendable that he’s been able to do this, but what has this soldier been doing for the Army?”

You know these leaders: These are the ones who already got their bachelors and masters degrees, and who already got promoted to flag rank or or E-9 or senior GS level. Many of them got their masters degrees and in some cases, PhDs, while serving. For example, General David Petraeus received his Masters of Public Administration from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University in 1985 as did several of the colonels assigned to him in Iraq as a division commander in 2003. General Ray Odierno, the current Chief of Staff of the Army, received a Masters in Nuclear Effects Engineering from North Carolina State after being commissioned out of West Point. General Martin Dempsey, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, somehow completed a PhD in Literature from Duke University. 

The late General Norman Schwartzkopf was paid to attend graduate school for two years, mid-career, at the pricey University of Southern California, where he earned a masters degree in aerospace and mechanical engineering on the Army’s dime. 

These are also the ones who, having made civilian education a factor in promotion, are looking to pull the ladder up after them. 

Nevertheless, the fiscal challenges confronting the DoD and the nation are real and significant – and benefits of all kinds are on the chopping block. Tuition Assistance is no exception. 

Most services already tried to eliminate TA dollars last fall. Congress blocked their efforts. But efforts to significantly restrict the benefit are already occurring.

The Army has not released any guidance as to what will happen to Tuition Assistance for its soldiers in the event of a government shutdown, though prudence indicates that soldiers and schools should not count on receiving that money at least until a new budget or appropriation is approved by Congress and signed by the President. In the meantime, the Army requires requests to be initiated not later than seven days after enrollment. It also set a deadline of midnight on 23 September for new requests if they were to be approved prior to the scheduled government shutdown on 1 October. 

The Navy has not issued any guidance for their sailors as of yet. The Air Force is continuing the program, but cutting it significantly in 2014. And with less than a week before the new fiscal year, Tuition Assistance for the Marine Corps is still undefined.

Meanwhile, while October paychecks for troops at risk, the President is pushing to send a third of a billion dollars to Syria.

The Commandant Strikes Back: USMC Sacks Whistleblowing JAG, Orders Psych Eval

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

USMC Sacks Whistleblowing JAG in Taliban urination caseA Marine Corps JAG officer who successfully got criminal charges dropped against a marine involved in the Taliban urination case has been relieved of his post and ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, the Marine Corps Times reports.

The JAG, Maj. James Weirick, had written a six-page complaint to the Inspector General accusing a number of senior Marine Corps officers, including the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Amos, himself, of exercising unlawful command influence in the prosecution of eight marines involved in the video showing a few marines urinating on the corpses of Afghan fighters. Unlawful Command Influence is a violation of Article 37 of the UCMJ. Weirick also accused the Marine Corps of suppressing evidence in favor of the defendants. has previously reported on the issue of unlawful command influence in UCMJ proceedings here.

According to Weirick and his immediate supervisor, Col. Jesse Gruter, both JAG officers have been subject to professional retaliation over the summer as a result of their report to the IG, including pressure from the staff JAG officer at the office of the Commandant of the Marine Corps (CMC) to remove Weirick from key cases.

They also pushed to have Weirick counseled, in writing, for going to the IG. Any kind of letter of reprimand or administrative discipline in Weirick’s file would be a likely violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act, a federal law outside the UCMJ that would restrict military commanders by prohibiting them from taking negative administrative action of any kind in retaliation for a marine going to the IG.

According to the Marine Corps, Weirick was relieved due to e-mail harassment of Peter Delorier, a civilian attorney and advisor to the CMC, and one of the individuals he named in his complaint to the IG.

The Marine Corps relieved Maj. Weirick of his post, ordered him to relinquish his personal firearms, and ordered him to report to Navy officials for a “psychiatric evaluation.”

The Marine Corps’ concern about the content and tone of Weirick’s emails to Delorier appears to bet the heart of their move to force Weirick into a psychiatric eval. According to the Marine Corps Times reporting, Weirick sent a series of emails in which he refers to himself in the third person – a peculiar construction which indicates that Weirick’s methods may have become… unsound, believes Jason Van Steenwyk, the author of this article. “He can’t offer you protection from Weirick. That protection can’t be offered by anyone. Ever,” Weirick wrote, referring to Delorier’s boss. 

The emails led Marine Corps officials to issue a restraining order barring Maj. Weirick from communicating with Gen. Amos, Delorier, and several other people, and prohibits Weirick from coming within 500 feet of them.

The move to sack Weirick, however, highlights General Amos’s earlier conduct in the case. Weirick and his team had filed a motion to open Amos’s Marine Corps and personal emails in discovery – a tactic that Weirick and other attorneys representing the marines involved in the Taliban urination video could show that Amos had indeed exercised undue command influence in prosecuting these cases.

Weirick also showed what appeared to be the favorable treatment of another Marine Corps officer, the son of a previous Commandant of the Marine Corps. According to the Marine Corps Times’ reporting, then Maj. James Conway, the son of former CMC Gen. James T. Conway, Ret., was also involved in the urination case, but senior Marine officials removed a flag blocking future promotions. This is in stark contrast to the case of Lt. Col. Christopher Dixon, the battalion commander, who was never accused of any wrongdoing in the case. Dixon was already selected for Colonel, But Marine Corps officials denied the promotion recommended by the board and revoked orders to attend prestigious career schooling. He has also had a hold placed on his promotions, which remains in place to this day, and which the Marine Corps has indicated will remain in place until all litigation surrounding the urination video is complete.

While Conway had direct supervision of the marines involved in the video, neither Conway nor Dixon was present on the operation, nor has either been accused of any wrongdoing. It is not clear why Conway has received more favorable treatment than Dixon. 

The disparate treatment of the two officers – one obviously connected to the highest levels of the Marine Corps because of his father – was among the points Weirick brought to the attention of the IG.

In the process of removing Weirick from his post, Marine Corps officials confiscated Weirick’s access card and computer and access to his emails on behalf of the marines he represented, potentially compromising the integrity of the attorney-client privilege normally afforded to JAG officers. 

Prediction: 2014 COLA Will Be Between 1.3 and 1.7 Percent

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk cost of living adjustmentThe annual Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) used to calculate military base pay raises will fall between 1.3 and 1.7 percent this year. That’s a projection made by the Military Officers Association of America, which keeps a close eye on issues relating to pay and benefits in the military.

Congress normally bases the annual COLA adjustment on the change in the Consumer Price Index between June and September. The August CPI has been published already, and reflects an inflation rate of 1.5 percent, according to MOAA. There is one month remaining in the calculation period. MOAA makes their prediction based on the normal variance in the September number. If inflation is modest or negative in September, the COLA adjustment is likely to be towards the bottom of the 1.3 to 1.7 percent range. If inflation is higher than 1.5 percent annualized, then the COLA is likely to be towards the top of the range.

However, the Cost of Living adjustment will likely do little more than to bring servicemembers’ base pay even with what their take home pay was two years ago. This is because with the Social Security payroll tax holiday ending at the beginning of 2013, the base pay of the vast majority of American workers, including military, fell by two percentage points. The COLA increase for the year did not cover the shortfall. So unless the servicemember got promoted or got a time in service increase in pay, they experienced a net reduction in take home base pay.

As of this writing, the budget negotiations for FY 2014 are still in flux. There may be adjustments to other allowances as well, including housing allowances and even TRICARE premiums. We will continue to report on these issues as they come up.

Of most immediate import is a scheduled DoD budget reduction of some $52 billion, which will occur effective FY 2014 unless Congress intervenes with another budget or appropriations bill.

What could that mean for military families?

  • A sharp pullback in PCS moves.
  • Those leaving the military may have to fund their own moves back to their homes of record.
  • A rollback in bonuses
  • Cuts in personnel. Increased involuntary separations.
  • U.S. commissaries could be closed – forcing military families to pay more out of pocket for food.


A reduction of this magnitude will also affect budgets for exercises, training, spare parts, maintenance, and nearly every other aspect of the DoD budget.      

One plan proposed by the Stimson Center, for example, looks to slash military spending on benefits beginning in 2015, chiefly from cutting health care for retirees still of working age, reducing retired pay by $2 billion, and cutting off funding for commissaries.

Report: VA Patients 33 Percent More Likely to Die of Overmedication

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk VA patients more like to overdosePatients at Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics are 33 percent more likely to die from accidental overdoses of medications than the general population, CBS News has found.

The report focused on the case of a 35-year old Army veteran, Scott MacDonald, who was proscribed a cocktail of seven different medications for pain and psychiatric conditions, including narcotics like Percocet and Vicodin – both opiate derivatives.

According to CBS’s reporting, sources within the VA are saying that VA officials have been encouraging doctors to sign off on painkiller and other medications – including narcotics – on patients they don’t see. In the short run, the practice actually saves money, because patients with enough painkillers tend to make fewer appointments and consume fewer health care services.

In the long run, however, doctors signing off on these assembly line prescriptions are putting patients at risk of opiate or prescription medicine addiction and a host of negative side effects, including accidental fatal overdose. 

The CBS report builds on earlier reporting from a local NBC affiliate in Ohio, which found that the number of unintentional drug overdose deaths in Ohio tripled between 2001 and 2011. Furthermore, an earlier study published in the Journal of Psychiatry found that veterans had a significantly elevated risk of death due to accidental overdose compared to the general population nationwide.

In 2010, Dr. Pamela Gray, then a VA physician, became concerned because, as she states, VA officials were asking her and other doctors to sign off on continuing narcotics prescriptions on patients they had not even seen, much less evaluated. She took her concerns to Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), who in turn had the VA launch an investigation. Gray subsequently lost her job – she says because she blew the whistle, though the VA cites poor communications skills as the reason she no longer practices at the VA. However, according to reporting by the Virginian Pilot, the VA’s own internal investigation mostly cleared themselves of wrongdoing, though four of the fifteen physicians interviewed said they, too, had been asked to write prescriptions for patients they had not seen. The VA Inspector General’s office wrote that there was, indeed, a perception of pressure to write narcotics prescriptions and an expectation of retaliation against any doctor who failed to do so.

At the same time media reports are highlighting the possible overreliance on psychoactive medications such as anti-psychotics in more general settings. 

America’s Top 10 Military Musicians, #1 and #2

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

It’s Fun Friday! Have you been counting down (and singing along) with us to find out who the Top Ten Military Musicians have been? Well, today’s fun is finding out who is #1. Let’s get going…

(If you missed the previous installments, read about and listen to works by #10 and #9#8 and #7#6 and #5, and #4 and #3 before scrolling down.)


2. John Philip Sousa

John Phillip Sousa – best known for his immortal compositions that are still standards for military bands to this day – got his start from his father, a trombonist in the U.S. Marine Corps Band. Sousa’s father brought the 13-year-old Sousa into the Marine Band as a ploy to keep him from joining the circus. Sousa served an apprenticeship in the Marine Band, then learned to conduct as head of a pit orchestra, before returning to the Marine Band as its leader in 1880. He served in that position until 1892, mostly at the rank of sergeant major.

These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country.” — The visionary John Philip Sousa on the infant recording industry.

His list of notable compositions includes:

  • Semper Fidelis, the official march of the USMC
  • The Liberty Bell
  • Stars and Stripes Forever, the national march of the United States
  • U.S. Field Artillery, the official song of the United States Army (more commonly known as The Army Goes Rolling Along)

In addition, Sousa wrote a number of operettas – popular in the late 1800s – including Desiree, The Smugglers, El Capitan, Chris and the Wonderful Lamp, and The American Maid, or the Glass Blowers.

During World War One, Sousa was commissioned a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve, and put in charge of the Navy Band at Great Lakes Naval Station. While assigned there, Sousa donated is entire salary except for one dollar to the Sailors and Marines Relief Fund.

He died of heart failure in 1932, at the age of 77, one of the best-loved American composers in history.


1. Glenn Miller

Our selection for the greatest military musician in American history is Glenn Miller. There was never much doubt about where he would fall, under any criteria. Alone among the incredible musicians on this list, Major Glenn Miller was the only musician to have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of his country – missing and presumed KIA when his small aircraft disappeared over the English Channel.

Miller was born in Clarinda, Iowa in 1904, and learned trombone, cornet and mandolin as a child. He started his first dance and swing ensemble while still in high school, and was already a professional musician when he graduated.

During the 20s and 30s, he made a living as a freelance trombonist, back in the days when trombonists could still make a living as freelance trombonists.

“America means freedom and there’s no expression of freedom quite so sincere as music.”  –Glenn Miller, 1944

Miller wrote his first tune, Room 1411, with another legend of big band, Benny Goodman, and also wrote his signature tune, Moonlight Serenade, while still in his early 20s. He played in two orchestra pits for the Broadway productions of Strike Up the Band and Girl Crazy, with two other musicians who would soon become legends in their own right, Gene Krupa and Benny Goodman.

Miller also played as a sideman along with Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey and swing violinist Joe Venuti in the All-Star Orchestra under the direction of Nat Shilkret. Later, Miller became a trombonist, arranger and composer with The Dorsey Brothers.

As a bandleader, Miller was a relentless perfectionist, and rehearsed his band thoroughly.

When the war broke out, Miller was already established. He was 38, too old for the draft, and he didn’t have to serve. Nonetheless, he volunteered to serve in the Navy, but was rejected. He then wrote to the Army, and asked to “be placed in charge of a modernized Army band.” He went in at the rank of captain and was soon promoted to major.

He then started a large marching band, which would become a sort of feeder system into the Army and Army Air Force stage bands. Miller eventually put together a 50-piece band for the Army Air Force and flew them to England, where they gave over 800 performances for American and British troops. General Jimmy Doolittle, the Medal of Honor recipient and leader of the famous Doolittle raid, said of Miller’s band, “Next to a letter from home, that organization was the greatest morale builder in the European Theater of Operations.”

Miller’s compositions and arrangements became mainstays in the jazz/swing repertoire, and attained iconic status. Among his works: 

  • In the Mood
  • Moonlight Serenade
  • Chattanooga Choo-Choo
  • Fools Rush In
  • Pennsylvania 6-500
  • Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)

Glenn Miller’s musical journey ended on December 15th, 1944, when his single-engine aircraft disappeared over the English Channel while Miller was on his way to a performance in France. No trace of Miller’s body nor the aircraft was ever found.


So what do you think of our list? Hopefully your toes are tapping and you’re humming a few tunes. Enjoy your weekend. We’ll see you here next week!

SHOCKER: Lengthy Deployments Increase Risk of Divorce in Military Families

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk deployments lead to military divorcesApparently, it took a dozen years of war and a study to figure this one out, but yes, lengthy deployments are, in fact, correlated with an increase risk of divorce, according to a new RAND corporation study.

Among couples married before the 9/11 attacks, those that experienced deployment of 12 months to war zones were 28 percent more likely to become divorced within three years of marriage as compared to peers who experienced similar deployment before the wars began.

The study, published in the Journal of Population Economics, found that the divorce risk was lower for couples married after the 9/11 terrorist attacks than for couples married before 9/11. Researchers theorize that couples who married after the 9/11 terrorist attacks were better prepared for the challenges posed by being married in the military than those who married before the conflicts began. This is consistent with the hypothesis that only the couples willing to accept the risks associated with military life went ahead to marry in the post 9/11 era.

According to the RAND corporation study, deployments were particularly hard on the marriages of female service members.

The relationship between the number of months the servicemember spent deployed and the percentage chance of that servicemember going through a subsequent divorce was clear: The longer the period of time spent deployed, the greater the likelihood of divorce.

Couples with children were less likely to divorce than childless couples.

The latest study, conducted by researchers Sebastian Negrusa, Brighita Negrusa and James Hosek, actually contradicts the counterintuitive findings of earlier studies, some of which found that deployment had no significant effect on divorce rates, or even made divorce less likely.

The full study is available for purchase here.