VFW Action Corps Weekly – January 15, 2016
In This Issue:
1. House Holds Hearing on VA Claims Backlog
2. Hearing on Commissary Reform
3. New Stolen Valor Case Isn’t
4. HASC Chairman Update
5. CNO Update
6. POW/MIA Update
1. House Holds Hearing on VA Claims Backlog: On Tuesday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing to discuss the effectiveness of the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) in improving the VA claims process and reducing the backlog. Initially deployed in 2013, VBMS is a paperless system that was designed to streamline the claims process and create greater efficiency. Although VA has made significant progress in reducing the backlog of initial claims since the introduction of VBMS, the system still suffers from several problems. Referencing its recent report on VBMS, the Government Accountability Office stated that the system contains significant software defects, and VA continues to lack performance goals and reliable cost estimates for correcting them. The VA Office of the Inspector General testified that the backlog reduction was more easily attributed to mandatory overtime and workforce reallocation than the success of VBMS. The VFW strongly believes that VA must be able to field a reliable paperless claims system without significant cost overruns. To watch a webcast of the hearing and read the full testimony, visit: http://veterans.house.gov/hearing/vbms.
2. Hearing on Commissary Reform: On Wednesday, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel held a hearing to hear views on proposed reforms to DOD commissaries. The subcommittee members discussed how DOD can reduce the cost of operating commissaries by establishing region-based pricing and Defense Commissary Agency labeled products. To read testimony or view a video of the hearing, visit:http://armedservices.house.gov/index.cfm/hearings.
3. New Stolen Valor Case Isn’t: The Associated Press released an article this week about the Ninth Circuit Court overturning a Stolen Valor conviction against Elvin Joe Swisher of Idaho. What AP failed to do was add context, because this story’s only “news value” is the Ninth Circuit Court released a ruling, but on an old case using an old law. This issue began in 2004 when Swisher wore a Purple Heart while appearing as a witness in an unrelated court case. In 2007, he was indicted on four counts: wearing unauthorized medals (he also wore others, to include the Silver Star); making false statements to obtain VA benefits; altering his DD-214 to obtain the benefits; and theft of government funds for receiving the benefits. Swisher was convicted and served time. He later challenged the Stolen Valor conviction for the same reason the same circuit court in “U.S. v. Alvarez” found the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 to be a violation of free speech, and therefore, unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s ruling and in 2012 overturned the 2005 law, but in their writings cleared a path for a new Stolen Valor Act that would be signed into law in 2013. The new law focuses on the intent to profit from the lie—to obtain money, property or something of a tangible benefit or value. The Ninth Circuit Court ruled this week that they were not barred from considering Swisher’s claim, even though his challenge was based on a Supreme Court decision that was decided five years after his conviction.
4. HASC Chairman Update: The VFW joined House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) at the National Press Club on Wednesday to hear his views going into the second half of the 114th Congress. He called the world more dangerous than it was in 2009, and said that America’s military superiority and technological edge was eroding. Among his top concerns are Iran, Russia, North Korea, China, cyber warfare, and ISIS. He stated the defense budget is not enough—not with the continuing need to modernize America’s nuclear forces as well as conventional forces, which will still require quality and quantity. His committee overhauled the military retirement system in 2015 and will use the new year to reexamine the military health care system, which could prove a tough fight, especially during a federal election year. Read more at: https://www.press.org/news-multimedia/news/world-more-dangerous-2009-armed-services-committee-chairman-thornberry.
5. CNO Update: The VFW joined Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson at the National Press Club on Monday to hear his views on the concerns and challenges facing the United States Navy. His presentation focused on maritime issues, global information, technology and budget, as well as the threats posed by Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and international terrorism. Read more at: https://www.press.org/news-multimedia/news/navy-chief-outlines-growing-challenges-technological-change.
6. POW/MIA Update: The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has announced identification and burial updates for two Army soldiers who had been missing in action since the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
– Army Pfc. David S. Burke, 18, of Akron, Ohio, is being buried today with full military honors in Rittman, Ohio. On Nov. 25, 1950, Burke was assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, when his unit was attacked by Chinese forces near the border between China and North Korea. Under heavy pressure, outnumbered and surrounded with no avenue of escape, the unit surrendered. It would be later learned that Burke died of malnutrition between March and May 1951. Read more at:http://www.dpaa.mil/NewsStories/NewsReleases/tabid/10159/Article/642074/soldier-missing-from-korean-war-accounted-for-burke.aspx.
– Army Staff Sgt. Kenneth L. Cunningham, 21, of Ellery, Ill., will be buried Jan. 21 with full military honors in Albion, Ill. As previously announced, then Private 1st Class Cunningham on Oct. 3, 1969, was an observer in an OV-1C Mohawk aircraft on a surveillance mission over the tri-border area of Cambodia, Laos and South Vietnam. Contact was lost and the aircraft was found two days later atop a 7,000-foot peak in a mountain range north of Kontum. Cunningham’s remains were not recovered. He was assigned to the 225th Aviation Company, 223rd Aviation Battalion, 17th Aviation Group, 1st Aviation Brigade.