WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Aiming to grant military families far greater say to challenge hazardous housing, the U.S. Air Force told Reuters Monday it will push Congress to enact a tenant bill of rights allowing families the power to withhold rent or break leases to escape unsafe conditions.
The proposed measure, outlined in an interview at the Pentagon by Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff David L. Goldfein, follows complaints from military families who say they are often powerless to challenge private industry landlords when they encounter dangerous mold, lead paint and vermin infestations.
“Clearly there are areas where we have issues,” Goldfein said.
Added Secretary Wilson: “That could put a little more leverage into the hands of the renters.”
The Air Force push adds to a drumbeat of reforms to emerge in recent weeks following a Reuters series, Ambushed at Home, that documented shoddy housing conditions at bases nationwide and described how military families are often empowered with fewer rights than civilian tenants.
Read the series Ambushed at Home at www.reut.rs/2t1Y2UA
Wilson said the Air Force is actively working with the Army and Navy to push a tenant bill of rights that would give military families a stronger hand in housing disputes. She wants to strengthen the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, a law that includes active duty housing protections. As one example, Wilson proposed expanding the act to allow base families to end their lease or withhold rent if their landlords fail to correct health and safety problems.
Beyond that effort, she said wing commanders of each U.S. Air Force base have been directed to inspect all 50,000 privatized family housing units in the force’s portfolio by March 1. She cited housing breakdowns at Air Force bases including Tinker in Oklahoma, Maxwell in Alabama, MacDill in Florida and Keesler in Mississippi.
In addition, she said, the inspector general’s office will launch a review of how Air Force bases respond to housing health and safety complaints.
Last week, the U.S. Army vowed to renegotiate its housing contracts with private real estate firms, test homes for toxins and hold its own commanders responsible for protecting residents. And on Friday, the Army issued a letter directing senior commanders to conduct inspections of all housing within the next 30 days.
The military action plans follow a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing this month in which members of Congress sharply questioned private industry landlords and Defense Department leaders over conditions at U.S. bases.
Wilson said the Air Force is also considering working with Congress to renegotiate its contracts with housing companies to allow the service to withhold all incentive fees from low-performing landlords.
A sign apparently posted by a nurse practitioner at the women’s health clinic at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri that told patients she would not provide them with contraception has been removed, officials told Air Force Times.
U.S. Army aviation faces a diverse threat environment, spanning broad categories of threats from ballistic munitions and guided missiles to directed energy and cyber weapons. It also spans generations of technology, ranging from constantly evolving sophisticated systems to widely proliferated legacy equipment. The modern threat environment presents both a technical challenge and a moving target to Army aviation. Historically, the science and technology (S&T) community has played an important role in developing advanced technologies to outpace the evolution of the threat. In an increasingly challenging threat environment, S&T is now even more critical.
FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) - Soldiers and their spouses have told Army leaders at Fort Hood of disgraceful housing at the Central Texas post that includes mold and lead paint along with other problems.
Families living at the post detailed their frustrations with housing during a meeting Thursday that the Austin American-Statesman reports came about a week after a congressional hearing that exposed longstanding problems at privatized housing complexes.
Thousands of homes at Fort Hood are owned by the Australian firm Lend Lease, and the U.S. government oversees 141 barracks that house 18,000 soldiers.
Lawmakers have set aside nearly $300 million to renovate 24 barracks but U.S. Rep. Roger Williams and others have expressed concern that the money could be siphoned away as part of President Donald Trump's emergency declaration to fund a border wall.
An unclassified 1,300-page “unvarnished history” of the Iraq War is at the center of a heated debate among Army leaders and historians over who gets credit for what, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The infighting has reportedly stalled the publication of the study, which was commissioned in 2013 by then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and remains unpublished. Sources told the Journal that Odierno urged a team of researchers consisting of some of the Army’s “brightest officers” to work expeditiously so that the history could publish while the lessons of the war “were most relevant.”
But it seems not everyone is convinced the general’s motives were pure.
- A chief concern of those who took issue with the first draft of the history — which was completed in 2016 — is how the authors chose to portray Odierno.
- According to the Journal, the study “hails President George W. Bush ‘surge’ of reinforcements and the switch to a counterinsurgency strategy overseen by Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Odierno.”
- Odierno also apparently circumvented the standard process for “publishing the Army’s official conflicts,” after the Army’s Center of Military said the history would take five to 10 years.
- Time seemed to be of the essence. “Some of the officials foresaw trouble if the study wasn’t published before Gen. Odierno retired, which he did in August 2015,” the Journal writes.
- Furthermore, the study team was originally helmed by Army Col. Joel Rayburn, who served as an advisor to Petraeus in Iraq, according to the Journal.
- The tangled web of loyalties reportedly prompted one Army historian to draft a memo proposing major revisions to the study and raise the question of whether it was intended to “validate the surge” and thus, as the Journal puts it, “burnish Gen. Odierno’s and Gen. Petraeus’s legacy.”
- The 2007 surge coincided with a dramatic decline in the sectarian violence that had surged across Iraq the previous year, leading many to conclude that the extra troops and the counterinsurgency strategy Petraeus employed had succeeded in winning a seemingly un-winnable war. That narrative lost some of its luster in the ensuing years as the results proved temporary.
- But the history commissioned by Odierno has plenty of champions while Rayburn “defended the study’s portrayal of the ‘surge’ as a success,” according to the Journal.
- Meanwhile, retired Gen. Dan Allyn, who served as Army vice chief of staff when the history was completed in 2016, told the Journal that the brass sought to distance itself from the study in part because “senior leaders who were in position when these things happened, and they were concerned on how they were portrayed.”
- Among the many mistakes identified in the study, according to the Journal, are a chronic shortage of boots on the ground, heavily lopsided contributions by the various coalition partners, the consolidating of troops on large forward operating bases from 2004 to the troop surge, and the failure to prevent Iran and Syria from bolstering their favored militant groups in Iraq.
- Despite all the drama, however, the Army finally came around. Last week, the current Army chief of staff, Gen. Mark Milley, told the Journal that he had discarded plans to tweak the study and said it will be released in its original form — and with his stamp of approval — hopefully by Christmas.
Army Veteran Joni Mulvania (above, left) got a birdie on the first hole. No, really. Her tee shot hit a bird in mid-flight.
“The bird was not injured but my game never recovered.” That good-natured approach and her considerable athletic ability earned Mulvania one of the top awards at last year’s TEE tournament. She will be back this week. All birds are duly notified.
The TEE tournament is an annual golf rehabilitation program for Veterans who are legally blind, amputees, those who use wheelchairs and Veterans with other disabilities. It’s underway this week in Iowa City, Iowa.
The award Mulvania received was the 2017 Wayne Earle-Hampton Hill Award given to the Veteran who best exemplifies the spirit of the games. And there are numerous other awards in her golf bag. Her teams were the champions in 2008, 2009 and 2015.
The event provides legally blind Veterans and those with other disabilities an opportunity to participate in a therapeutic golfing event as well as other sports activities. The games enable Veterans to develop new skills and strengthen their self-esteem.
Mulvania, a retired Army Veteran who served three tours in South Korea lives in Rock Island, Illinois, “With my min pins Bonnie and Scooby Doo.” She has been diagnosed with PTSD, Military Sexual Trauma, seizure disorder and chronic pain, but never misses the TEE tournament because she enjoys encouraging other Veterans and building her endurance and strength through swimming, biking and golf.
“I love sports. My favorites are swimming, golf, and riding my trike. I also co-sponsor a women’s softball team. I enjoy cooking and barbecuing with friends and family. I also enjoy attending Veterans’ events and spending time with my best friend, my mother.”
TEE is an acronym for Training, Exposure and Experience. Participation is open to Veterans with visual impairments, amputations, traumatic brain injuries, psychological trauma, certain neurological conditions, spinal cord injuries and other life changing disabilities.
The TEE Tournament uses a therapeutic format to promote health, wellness, rehabilitation, fellowship and camaraderie among its participants. This is the 25th year of the tournament.
Mulvania encourages Veterans to contact their local VA. “There are a lot of amazing opportunities out there.”
The Army is increasingly relying on waivers for bad conduct or drug use for potential recruits in order to help meet its recruitment goals this fiscal year, the Associated Press reports.
Anna Mae Hays, an Army nurse who served in a mud-caked jungle hospital in World War II, guided the Army Nurse Corps through the bloodiest years of the Vietnam War and became the first female general in American military history, died Jan. 7 at a retirement home in Washington. She was 97.
If you’re a wartime Veteran who meets certain age or disability requirements, and your income and net worth are within certain limits, you may qualify for monthly payments through our Veterans Pension program. Find out if you can get this benefit.
Can I get Veterans pension benefits from VA?
You may be able to get pension benefits if you meet the requirements listed below.
Both of these must be true:
- You didn’t receive a dishonorable discharge, and
- Your yearly family income and net worth meet certain limits set by Congress. Your net worth includes all personal property you own (except your house, your car, and most home furnishings), minus any debt you owe. Your net worth includes the net worth of your spouse.
And at least one of these must be true about your service. You:
- Started on active duty before September 8, 1980, and you served at least 90 days on active duty with at least 1 day during wartime, or
- Started on active duty as an enlisted person after September 7, 1980, and served at least 24 months or the full period for which you were called or ordered to active duty (with some exceptions) with at least 1 day during wartime, or
- Were an officer and started on active duty after October 16, 1981, and you hadn’t previously served on active duty for at least 24 months
And at least one of these must be true. You:
- Are at least 65 years old, or
- Have a permanent and total disability, or
- Are a patient in a nursing home for long-term care because of a disability, or
- Are getting Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income
How do I know if I served under an eligible wartime period?
Under current law, we recognize the following wartime periods to decide eligibility for pension benefits:
- Mexican Border period (May 9, 1916, to April 5, 1917, for Veterans who served in Mexico, on its borders, or in adjacent waters)
- World War I (April 6, 1917, to November 11, 1918)
- World War II (December 7, 1941, to December 31, 1946)
- Korean conflict (June 27, 1950, to January 31, 1955)
- Vietnam War era (February 28, 1961, to May 7, 1975, for Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam during that period. August 5, 1964, to May 7, 1975, for Veterans who served outside the Republic of Vietnam.)
- Gulf War (August 2, 1990, through a future date to be set by law or presidential proclamation)
What should I do if I received an other than honorable, bad conduct, or dishonorable discharge?
If you’ve received one of these discharge statuses, you may not be eligible for VA benefits.
There are 2 ways you can try to qualify:
How do I apply?
You can apply online right now.
As the number of appeals filed with the VA increases, the average wait time for Veterans to receive decisions increases exponentially. In order to try and rectify the clogged up system, President Trump signed into law the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 which introduced the RAMP program. This Act revamps the entire VA disability benefits appeals process and will replace the current appeal system. The new appeals system is set to replace the current “legacy” system on February 19, 2019.
Any claims filed on or after February 19, 2019, will be worked under the new appeals system. If you currently have pending appeals in the legacy system and you did not opt your appeals into the RAMP program, they will continue to be worked under the legacy system. The plan is for the VA to work all of the legacy appeals until all appeals are under the new system, though this process could take years to complete. The VA will be conducting reviews of appeals in the legacy system and new system simultaneously.
Under the new system, once a Veteran receives a decision, he or she still has one year from the date of the decision to appeal it. If the Veteran decides to appeal the decision, he or she must choose between three appeal avenues or lanes: Higher Level Review, Supplemental Claim, or file a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) directly to the Board of Veterans Appeals.
Higher Level Review
Currently, there are two Regional Offices conducting Higher Level Reviews: Seattle and St. Petersburg. In the Higher Level Review lane, a more senior VA adjudicator (called Decision Review Officers in the Legacy system) will perform a de novo review of your file and make a decision based on the evidence already of record. De novo means that they will review your appeal without regard to prior decisions and make a decision based on their view of all of the evidence. In this lane, you are basically getting a different person to review the same evidence because you cannot submit new evidence in this lane. There is no duty by the VA to assist in gathering additional evidence or records; the decision is made based on the evidence in the record. This lane in the RAMP program could potentially be utilized for extremely blatant and obvious errors that could be easily rectified without the need for additional evidence.
The Supplemental Lane will be conducted at various Regional Offices throughout the United States. In this lane, new evidence is required to reopen a previously denied claim or file for an increased rating of a service-connected condition. The evidence must be “new and relevant” to the claim; “new” meaning not previously submitted or received by the VA and “relevant” meaning significant and related evidence to the issue you are claiming. For example, the new and relevant evidence could be evidence of symptoms warranting an increased rating or a nexus opinion for service connection. In the Supplemental Lane of the RAMP program, the VA has a duty to assist the Veteran in developing or finding evidence for their claim. For example, if you send correspondence stating that you have been receiving treatment at a specific facility and give details of the time period, providers, and other related issues, the VA has a duty to try and find these records for you. The more specific you are, the easier it will be for the VA to find the records. However, it may be better for you to get the records and send them to the VA as new and relevant evidence so that you know they will be added to your file.
NOD Direct to the Board
I find this to be the most interesting change in the new system. In the legacy system, a Veteran had to wait to get a rating decision and then appeal it with an NOD. Then the Veteran had to wait to receive a Statement of the Case and then file a VA Form 9 to get in line for review at the Board. This process could take an average of at least 3+ years. The new RAMP program cuts out Statement of the Cases and VA Form 9s allowing Veterans the ability to appeal directly to the Board after receiving a rating decision. This could potentially save a lot of time for more complicated issues that would likely not get granted at the Regional Office, like non-presumptive Agent Orange conditions.
If a Veteran chooses to file an NOD directly to the Board, there are three review options to choose from:
- Direct Review: This lane will most likely be the fastest lane at the Board. It is a review by the Board based on the evidence of record at the time of the prior decision. This means that additional evidence cannot be filed and there is no request for a hearing. The Board makes a decision based solely on the evidence of record.
- Evidence Submission: This lane allows for submission of additional evidence but within 90 days of filing the NOD. There is no request for hearing so the Board makes their decision based on the evidence of record and any additional evidence filed within the 90 day period.
- Hearing: This lane will most likely be the slowest lane as additional evidence can be submitted and there is a request for hearing. This means that evidence can continue to be submitted until the Board schedules and conducts a hearing with the Veteran.
There are many similarities but also differences between the legacy system and the RAMP program’s appeals system. It is important to know your options moving forward with your current appeals and any future appeals. These changes are expected to go into effect February 19, 2019, and we will continue to update on these changes as we enter this new chapter in VA appeals.