24 March 2009

Georgia Tech Announces New PhD for Returning GIs

With President Obama’s accelerated timetable for withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq scheduled to be complete in August of next year, the nation will soon be faced with the task of reintegrating members of the U.S. armed forces into the workforce. Georgia Tech is leading the way by announcing today the development of an interdisciplinary Ph.D. to help returning GIs capitalize on the skills and military experience they’ve received while overseas. The new Ph.D. will be an interdisciplinary effort between the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts and the College of Engineering.

“This new Ph.D. will prepare our military men and women to re-enter the civilian workforce as leaders in rebuilding America’s roads, schools, health, governance, energy and utility systems,” said Sue V. Rosser, dean of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.

“As the country’s top producer of engineers and the home of active ROTC programs training future members of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, Georgia Tech is a natural place for members of the armed forces to continue their education,” said Don P. Giddens, dean of the College of Engineering.

In just a few weeks, Tech will begin conducting an extensive survey of the needs and interests of GIs so that the new degree best capitalizes on their expertise. In addition, Georgia Tech plans on making this survey data available to all institutions so that they can use it in planning their own programs for returning GIs.

“There is a strong synergy between the engineering skills and experience of our Post 9/11 GIs and the nation’s need for such skills under President Obama’s initiative to rebuild America’s infrastructure,” said Rosser. “This survey will enable us to develop an interdisciplinary Ph.D. that precisely targets the intersection of the two, and can become a model for graduate engineering programs for returning GIs at institutions around the country.”

While the specifics of this new degree largely depend on what the survey data uncovers, Tech anticipates it will include courses in systems engineering, public policy, economics, project management and organizational behavior. The College of Engineering will work closely with the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts and its Sam Nunn School of International Affairs in developing the degree.

Georgia Tech anticipates recruiting students for the new degree program at the end of 2009 and beginning the new Ph.D. in the fall of 2010, in time for veterans to take advantage of the educational benefits afforded by the new GI Bill.

“Georgia Tech demonstrates its leadership by winning National Science Foundation support for ‘Bridge to the Future for GIs.’ The project will both serve our returning veterans and will contribute to revitalizing our engineering and infrastructure,” said Susan Kemnitzer, deputy director for the Engineering Education and Centers Division of the National Science Foundation.

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Afghanistan Mission Critical to Protecting United States, Obama Says

President Barack Obama called his decision to send an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan the toughest so far in his presidency, but said last night the mission there is critical to protecting the United States and its interests.

The top priority in Afghanistan is "making sure that al-Qaida cannot attack the U.S. homeland and U.S. interests and our allies," Obama said during an interview on CBS' "60 Minutes."

That requires a multifaceted, highly focused strategy that he said goes beyond military power. "What we can't do is think that just a military approach in Afghanistan is going to be able to solve our problems," he said. "So what we're looking for is a comprehensive strategy.

"We may need to build up economic capacity in Afghanistan. We may need to improve our diplomatic efforts in Pakistan," he continued. "We may need to bring a more regional diplomatic approach to bear. We may need to coordinate more effectively with our allies."

In doing so, the president said, the United States "can't lose sight of what our central mission is: the same mission that we had when we went in after 9/11." The United States "cannot tolerate" allowing extremists the ability to project violence against U.S. citizens, he said.

Part of the Afghanistan strategy being developed must include an exit strategy, the president said. "There's got to be a sense that this is not perpetual drift."

"We need to be careful what we're getting ourselves into in Afghanistan," Obama said, warning that the United States has come to be considered an occupying force by many Afghans as well as Pakistanis. "I'm very mindful of that, and so is my national security team. So is the Pentagon," he said.

"Afghanistan is not going to be easy in many ways," he said. "And this is not my assessment. This is the assessment of commanders on the ground."

The Iraq war was easier than what the coalition is facing in Afghanistan, Obama said. Iraq's terrain is less daunting, its population more educated, and its infrastructure more developed. In addition, "Afghanistan has proven to be very hard to govern" historically, he continued, and contends with destabilizing issues on its border with Pakistan.

"And so this is going to be a tough nut to crack," he said. "But it is not acceptable for us to simply sit back and let safe havens of terrorists plan and plot."

Obama called sending more troops to Afghanistan "the right thing to do," but conceded that it was a "weighty decision" because he made it while the strategic review of Afghanistan operations is still under way.

"When I make a decision to send 17,000 young Americans to Afghanistan, you can understand that intellectually," he said. "But understanding what that means for those families, for those young people when you end up sitting at your desk, signing a condolence letter to one of the family members of a fallen hero, you're reminded each and every day at every moment that the decisions you make count."

Turning the conversation to his plans to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Obama said the United States has to come up with a better alternative to deal with suspected terrorists.

"I think we're going to have to figure out a mechanism to make sure that they not be released and do us harm -- but do so in a way that is consistent with both our traditions, sense of due process international law," he said.

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

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23 March 2009

Five Star Offers Free Books to Members of Military

To show their appreciation and support of our troops, Arizona publishing company Five Star Publications, Inc. is proud to offer free signed copies of any of their titles to members of the military.*

To take advantage of this offer, military members simply need to send a request to info@FiveStarPublications.com indicating “Military Request” in the subject line.

They can then request a signed copy of any Five Star Publications book available through their online bookstore.

For a listing of Five Star’s books, visit www.FiveStarPublications.com and select the link to their bookstore.

Through this promotion, Five Star Publications hopes to boost the morale of our troops, while providing them with some great reading material at the same time.

Five Star Publications would also like to extend an invitation for those military members who take advantage of this great opportunity to submit photos of themselves reading their free Five Star book.

Their photos along with a message to their friends and family members back home will then be posted on our Web site.

Five Star Publications, founded by company president Linda Foster Radke, has a very interesting history. “My mother grew up in a family of nine brothers and sisters,” Radke explained.

“Five of the family, including my mother, served in World War II. During the war, parents who had sons or daughters in the service displayed stars in their window – one for each child.
It was a patriotic gesture and also expressed the deep hope that each would return home safely. One of my mother’s brothers was captured and held as a prisoner of war.

Fortunately, all five eventually returned home.” She continued, “My Uncle Art used the name ‘Five Star’ when he opened his first grocery store in Indiana.

Five stars became the symbol of my mom’s family and is carried on in my company.”

For more information on Five Star Publications or this promotional offer, visit www.FiveStarPublications.com or call 480-940-8182.

*Limit one free copy per military member. Requests honored up to 25 copies of each title in Five Star’s online bookstore. This offer is good while supplies last.
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Marines' Health Takes Top Priority

(NAPSI)-The Marine Corps continues to reach out to individuals who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune in 1987 or before. To date, the Corps has successfully registered more than 100,000 individuals through its call center and its online registration Web site.

Reaching Out

The registrant increase comes from extensive efforts by the Marine Corps to locate individuals beginning in September 2007. The Marine Corps collaborated with the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to have notification letters forwarded on its behalf. To further reach potential registrants, the Marine Corps continues to work with local and regional media, veterans facilities and military associations. The project maintains an official Web site and a fully staffed, toll-free call center that has received more than 35,000 calls.

Identifying The Problem

In the early 1980s, two solvents, trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE), both unregulated at the time, were found in two water systems serving the Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point areas. When it was determined that specific groundwater wells were impacted, they were taken out of service in 1984 and 1985.

Funding Research Initiatives

The Department of the Navy is funding two independent research initiatives. The CDC's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is researching to determine if there is an association between exposure to the water and certain adverse health effects. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is evaluating potential risks associated with exposure. NAS results are expected in April 2009. The Marine Corps will notify registrants of the research results.

Register Today

The Marine Corps remains committed to reaching individuals who were at Camp Lejeune to continue building a comprehensive registry to notify individuals of results from these research initiatives. If you or anyone you know lived or was stationed at Camp Lejeune in 1987 or before, please visit www.marines.mil/clsurvey or call (877) 261-9782.

The Marine Corps is committed to reaching individuals who were at Camp Lejeune in 1987 and before to notify them of future research results.

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18 March 2009

White House Makes Correct Decision On Veterans Insurance Proposal

/PRNewswire-- "The White House made the correct decision to withdraw its proposal for the Department of Veterans Affairs to have military veterans' personal insurance companies pay for their service-connected disability and wounds," said VAdm. Norb Ryan, Jr., USN-Ret., president of the Military Officers Association of America.

Adm. Ryan said he advised President Obama that "pursuing this insurance proposal would detract from the outstanding 2010 Department of Veterans Affairs budget he has put forth -- the best budget for veterans care in 30 years and the largest annual increase proposed by any President."

Adm. Ryan and leaders from several military and veterans service organizations (MSO/VSOs) met with President Obama Monday and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel Monday and again Wednesday with Emanuel to voice their concerns and attempt to reach a workable solution to the Administration's payment idea. All organizations were against the initiative, and numerous Members of Congress also voiced their strenuous objections. The White House asked for the meeting after receiving a February 27 letter signed by 11 VSO and MSO leaders opposing the plan.

"The VA has a solemn obligation to care for those who have served in the military and fought for this nation," said Adm. Ryan. "We deeply appreciate that the President asked the veterans organizations to meet with him to discuss the issue and present our case."

According to Ryan, "The President indicated on Monday that he was there to listen to our concerns and was willing to drop the proposal if we could not support its merits. Both he and his Chief of Staff kept their promises by promptly withdrawing the proposal after today's meeting. To their credit, they listened and responded promptly, and we appreciate that."

"MOAA looks forward to working with the President and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki to maximize the impact on this unprecedented budget that supports veterans and their families," Adm. Ryan said.

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17 March 2009

VVA Praises President's Budget Submission for Veterans Affairs; Condemns Ill-advised Revenue Proposal

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- "Despite our concerns about the ill-advised proposal to require veterans' healthcare insurers to pay for treatment by the VA for service-connected health conditions, Vietnam Veterans of America hails the budget submission of President Obama for its generosity in assisting all veterans and, particularly, disabled veterans," said VVA National President John Rowan.

"VVA joins fellow veterans' service organizations in condemning the proposal advanced by the Office of Management and Budget to raise revenue by charging a veteran's private health insurer for services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs for service-connected health conditions.

"However, as far as veterans are concerned, this is the best budget submitted by a President in the 30-year history of VVA." Rowan cited the proposed $25 billion increase above the baseline over the next five years; the restoration of health-care eligibility for veterans of modest incomes, which the administration predicts will enable half a million eligible veterans to access the VA health care system by 2013; and making highly disabled veterans who are medically retired from service eligible for concurrent receipt of disability benefits from the VA, in addition to the retirement benefits they receive from the Department of Defense.

"Given this administration's unprecedented willingness to work with the veterans' community to make sure this budget will be one that all veterans can support enthusiastically," Rowan stated, "we feel comfortable that, with President Obama having met with veteran leaders yesterday in the White House and the willingness of senior staff to conduct follow-up meetings, they are receptive to our ideas on how to make this budget better for veterans.

"We look forward to working with the White House, now and in the future, to ensure that veterans don't have to fight and scrape for every additional dollar in the budget," Rowan added. "We call on Congress to make its adjustments and pass this budget, not only on time for the 2010 fiscal year, but early enough so VA managers will know what they can expect to receive so they can plan to accommodate the needs of the veterans they serve."

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16 March 2009

The American Legion Strongly Opposed to President's Plan to Charge Wounded Heroes for Treatment

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The leader of the nation's largest veterans organization says he is "deeply disappointed and concerned" after a meeting with President Obama today to discuss a proposal to force private insurance companies to pay for the treatment of military veterans who have suffered service-connected disabilities and injuries. The Obama administration recently revealed a plan to require private insurance carriers to reimburse the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in such cases.

"It became apparent during our discussion today that the President intends to move forward with this unreasonable plan," said Commander David K. Rehbein of The American Legion. "He says he is looking to generate $540-million by this method, but refused to hear arguments about the moral and government-avowed obligations that would be compromised by it."

The Commander, clearly angered as he emerged from the session said, "This reimbursement plan would be inconsistent with the mandate '... to care for him who shall have borne the battle...' given that the United States government sent members of the armed forces into harm's way, and not private insurance companies. I say again that The American Legion does not and will not support any plan that seeks to bill a veteran for treatment of a service connected disability at the very agency that was created to treat the unique need of America's veterans!"

Commander Rehbein was among a group of senior officials from veterans service organizations joining the President, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki and Steven Kosiak, the overseer of defense spending at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The group's early afternoon conversation at The White House was precipitated by a letter of protest presented to the President earlier this month. The letter, co-signed by Commander Rehbein and the heads of ten colleague organizations, read, in part, " There is simply no logical explanation for billing a veteran's personal insurance for care that the VA has a responsibility to provide. While we understand the fiscal difficulties this country faces right now, placing the burden of those fiscal problems on the men and women who have already sacrificed a great deal for this country is unconscionable."

Commander Rehbein reiterated points made last week in testimony to both House and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committees. It was stated then that The American Legion believes that the reimbursement plan would be inconsistent with the mandate that VA treat service-connected injuries and disabilities given that the United States government sends members of the armed forces into harm's way, and not private insurance companies. The proposed requirement for these companies to reimburse the VA would not only be unfair, says the Legion, but would have an adverse impact on service-connected disabled veterans and their families. The Legion argues that, depending on the severity of the medical conditions involved, maximum insurance coverage limits could be reached through treatment of the veteran's condition alone. That would leave the rest of the family without health care benefits.

The Legion also points out that many health insurance companies require deductibles to be paid before any benefits are covered. Additionally, the Legion is concerned that private insurance premiums would be elevated to cover service-connected disabled veterans and their families, especially if the veterans are self-employed or employed in small businesses unable to negotiate more favorable across-the-board insurance policy pricing. The American Legion also believes that some employers, especially small businesses, would be reluctant to hire veterans with service-connected disabilities due to the negative impact their employment might have on obtaining and financing company health care benefits.

"I got the distinct impression that the only hope of this plan not being enacted," said Commander Rehbein, "is for an alternative plan to be developed that would generate the desired $540-million in revenue. The American Legion has long advocated for Medicare reimbursement to VA for the treatment of veterans. This, we believe, would more easily meet the President's financial goal. We will present that idea in an anticipated conference call with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel in the near future.

"I only hope the administration will really listen to us then. This matter has far more serious ramifications than the President is imagining," concluded the Commander.

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15 March 2009

SBA Holding Veterans Symposium on March 26th

—Will Cover Agency Programs/Services Available to Veterans—

The U.S. Small Business Administration will present a symposium for veterans on March 26 in Atlanta which will cover agency programs and services for both active and retired military personnel who are starting or expanding small businesses.

The free symposium will run from 8:30 a.m. until noon at 75 Fifth Street, ATDC Community Room, Suite 202, Atlanta, GA 30308. The symposium will focus on loan programs and other assistance available from the SBA and its resource partners including the agency’s SCORE Program, the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center (SBDC) network and the Georgia Institute of Technology Procurement Assistance Center (GTPAC).

Attendees will also be given information on the SBA Patriot Express Loan Initiative. This program offers guaranteed business loans of up to $500,000. It can be used by:

Veterans, service-connected disabled veterans, active duty military personnel within 24 months of retirement or 12 months to transition into civilian society,

National Guard and Reservists and the current spouse of all the aforementioned,

The widowed spouse of a service member or veteran who died during service, or from a service-connected disability.

The symposium, also supported by the U.S. Minority Business Development Agency, will discuss unique federal contracting opportunities for service-connected, disabled veteran-owned small businesses. Small business provisions in the new Recovery Act will also be discussed including tax credits for hiring unemployed veterans.

Pre-registration is mandatory. To register, email Jorge Valentin-Stone at Jorge.valentin-stone@sba.gov. You can register by fax at 202/481-5239. To register online, go to www.sba.gov/ga and select Public Training and Seminars, “Register Now,” in the Spotlight section of the web site’s main page. Please include your name, telephone number and/or email address.

For additional information on SBA programs for veterans, go to www.sba.gov/vets.
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A Smart Way To Learn About Veterans Benefits

(NAPSI)-There's good news for veterans who want to learn more about the benefits they are entitled to and how to access them.

A new book, "Veterans Benefits For Dummies" (Wiley Publishing, Inc.), helps veterans navigate the often confusing world of governmental organizations. It includes information on the Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies that offer benefits to the estimated 26 million Americans who have served their country in the armed forces.

Among its many offerings, the book can help readers locate their nearest VA medical center and find out what medical benefits are available and how to apply for them. It offers similar information for education assistance, pensions and burial benefits.

Special sections are dedicated to timely topics, such as the pros and cons of VA home loans and recent changes to the GI Bill.

The book is available online and wherever books are sold. To learn more, visit the Web site at www.dummies.com.

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13 March 2009

Budget Would Transform VA to 21st-century Organization, Shinseki Says

President Barack Obama's fiscal 2010 budget proposal is necessary to transform the Department of Veterans Affairs into the 21st century organization he envisions, VA's top official said here yesterday.

VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki told the House Armed Services Committee's subcommittee on veterans affairs that the proposed budget is "critical to realizing the president's mission" for future veteran care.

"President Obama has charged me with transforming the VA into a 21st-century organization," Shinseki said. "Not change for the sake of change, not nibbling around the edges, but [to bring] a fundamental and comprehensive view in all that we do for veterans."

The proposal would raise the VA's budget to $112.8 billion for 2010, which is a $15 billion boost from the previous year. The proposal is the largest one-year dollar and percentage increase ever requested by a president for veterans, Shinseki said.

Nearly two-thirds of the $15 billion increase would go to mandatory programs, while the remaining $5.5 billion would be for discretionary funding, he said, noting that the total budget would almost evenly split between mandatory funding at $56.9 billion, and discretionary funding at $55.9 billion.

The 2010 budget proposal would fund the new Post 9/11 GI Bill and allow a gradual expansion of health care eligibility to Priority Group 8 veterans. Priority Group 8 comprises veterans whose injuries are not service-related. This group has been excluded from VA care since 2003, he noted.

The VA expects an expansion of 550,000 new enrollees by 2013, due to the Priority Group 8 veterans, Shinseki said.

"[The budget proposal] contains sufficient resources so that we will maintain our quality of health care for all veterans with no adverse impact on wait times or quality for those already enrolled," he said, noting that the VA's health care system sets the bar for the nation's.

The president's request will provide greater benefits for veterans who are medically retired from active duty and allows highly disabled veterans to receive both their military retired pay and VA disability compensation benefits, he said.

The proposal also supports additional specialty care for aging and homeless veterans, women, mental health and vision issues, and spinal cord injuries. It also will provide an outreach of VA services to rural communities that lack access to care, he said.

Shinseki also addressed the VA's desire to make enrollment and claims easier for veterans by working to go "paperless" and institute a joint venture called "uniform registration" with the Defense Department. The initiatives eventually will create a single electronic record that governs how each department will acknowledge, identify, track and manage its clients in both the active and reserve components, he said.

"From the moment [military members] take the oath of allegiance in uniform, our management decisions will be better, faster, more consistent and fair, and less subject to lost files or destroyed claims," Shinseki said. "We have benefited from the insights and experience and advice of [Defense Department officials], so we are committed to doing this smartly and differently from some of our past hard lessons learned."

The uniform registration initiative also will help control VA's backlogs of claims, he said.

Shinseki called the budget proposal a demonstration of Obama's commitment to the nation's veterans, and a sign that the president is "moving boldly to acknowledge new times, new demographic realities and leveraging new technologies to renew our commitment to veterans wherever they live," he said.

The details of Obama's federal budget proposal are still being assessed, but are expected to be finalized in April for congressional review.

By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

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Gates Describes Operational, Managerial Challenges, Strides Made

The war in Afghanistan poses the biggest challenge to the Defense Department, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday, but he expressed confidence that Iraq "is in a better place" and warfighters and wounded warriors are better provided for than two years ago.
Speaking on PBS' "Tavis Smiley Show," Gates reflected on the challenges he faces as defense secretary and the accomplishments he has helped to bring about.

"Clearly, the war in Afghanistan is our biggest current challenge," he said. "Getting the strategy right on that, having a path forward, and having clear and attainable goals, I think is the biggest challenge that we face right now."

Iran, too, poses "a real problem," Gates said. "I think it's one of the significant challenges that we're going to face over the next several years."

But Gates said he considers progress made in Iraq a highlight of his two years as defense secretary.

"Clearly, the war in Iraq is in a better place than it was when I took this job, and I think I've had some part in that," he said.

Gates emphasized that "a lot of people are responsible" for that success, including Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. Central Command leader who oversaw the surge as Multinational Force Iraq commander.

The recent increase in violence in Iraq is likely tied to al-Qaida's efforts to disrupt the impact of the successful provincial elections, Gates said.

"And even with the violence in the last couple of weeks, the level of violence in Iraq is dramatically lower than it has been, really from a year ago or from six months ago or any time since 2004," he said. "So I think that our commanders see these as isolated incidents."

Gates said he's also pleased "that we've been able to do some things to help the warfighters." He cited more heavy armored vehicles; more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability; and better care for wounded troops. "I think all of those things I feel pretty good about," he said.

The secretary championed the effort to get more mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles to the combat theater faster to protect troops from improvised explosive devices. "These heavier armored vehicles ... have significantly reduced the number of our men and women in uniform who have been killed by these IEDs," he said.

Warfighters also are getting more intelligence and reconnaissance capabilities since Gates pushed the initiative to the front burner.

In addition, he said, he's pleased about progress in caring for wounded combat troops. Just two months after he took the top Defense Department post, news reports broke about unacceptable conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Gates responded by firing the top commanders and officials responsible and demanding across-the-board improvements.

"I think there have been dramatic improvements in the way we treat our wounded warriors over the last couple of years," he said. He cited the warrior transition units at military facilities, the family support programs and the proliferation of new support groups as examples.

"Have we got it just right now? No, and nobody in this building would say that," he said. "But we have made enormous strides over the last couple of years, and, frankly, with a lot of help from the Congress that has given us the resources to be able to do this. And we're going to keep working at it."

Gates called wounded warriors "our heroes."

"My mantra here is that after the wars themselves, we have no higher priority than taking care of our wounded warriors," he said.

Gates made it clear that other challenges remain at the department.

At the top of the list, he said, is getting the department to focus more on immediate wartime requirements. "One of my biggest frustrations here is that this is a building that for a long time has been more focused on planning for future war than effectively fighting current wars," he said.

The department needs to be able to do both, he said, as it keeps an unwavering eye on supporting those in the current conflict.

"One of my concerns is that there is no institutional base inside the Department of Defense where people come to work every morning asking, 'What can I do today to help the warfighter in Iraq or Afghanistan be more successful and come home alive?'"

Gates said he wants to institutionalize the lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan about fighting insurgencies.

"The Department of Defense -- and particularly our leaders in uniform, our men and women in uniform -- have probably learned better and faster because their lives have been on the line, than anybody else in the government or in the world," he said. "What we've had to relearn for the first time since Vietnam is how to do counterinsurgency."

This requires "a totally different set of skills" than required to fight a conventional conflict, he said.

"I think that we have institutionalized those," Gates said. "And one of my goals is to make sure that lessons that we have learned are not forgotten and that they are in fact institutionalized into our training and doctrine, so that officers 10 or 15 years from now still have access to the lessons that have been learned."

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
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Command Takes on Support Role to Aid Iraq

Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq is assuming more of a support and advisory role as Iraq moves toward self-sufficiency, a U.S. military official in Iraq said yesterday (3/8/09).

"The mission of the Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq is to help the Iraqi government ... take vital steps toward ensuring self-sufficiency during the critical transition from coalition- to Iraqi-led operations in support of the [U.S.-Iraq] security agreement," Navy Capt. William Couch, senior advisor for the Joint Headquarters Advisory Team, told bloggers and online journalists March 10 during a "DoD Live" bloggers roundtable.

As the Iraqi government assumes full responsibility for security, MNSTC-I operations are evolving as leaders support and advice the Iraqi Joint Headquarters.

"MNSTC-I works as advisors to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior to help develop the Iraqi security force and to shape them into a well-trained and professional force to protect the people of Iraq," Couch explained.

Iraq's Defense Ministry and MNSTC-I are modifying Iraq's counterinsurgency force, as well.

"We're partnering with them to help them develop force generation ... that transitions from what is basically a counterinsurgency ... to a more capable self-defense force for external threats," Couch said.

Iraq is developing capabilities to provide self-sufficiency in the areas of logistics, resupply, infrastructure, development and maintenance, and intelligence gathering, he said.

In the past, if the Iraqis were understaffed in any given area, they would recruit more to fill the void, Couch said. Now, with the help of the Iraqi Joint Headquarters, they're taking a more proactive approach to force generation.

"They've been very proactive in terms of providing guidance, especially in the area of force generation," Couch said. "The Iraqis are working towards the capability of directing forces from one division to another division, to move personnel and people so that an understaffed division gets up to their authorized limits, as opposed to simply having to recruit more."

While the Iraqis are making strides in certain areas, Couch said, he recognizes that tough challenges still lie ahead.

"There are some challenges in terms of technology and communications," he said. "But they're putting systems and procedures in place to do that."

As the Iraqi Joint Headquarters sees greater stability in the internal security of Iraq, the Iraqi army is shifting some of its focus from internal security to external defense, which allows the Iraqi police to assume more responsibility.

"Our goal is to develop a self-reliant and effective headquarters that can command, generate and sustain Iraqi [forces] in accordance with the approved national military strategy," Couch said. "And it's been very rewarding for me to be here and help develop the capability for them so that they can stand on their own two feet ... with a democratically elected government."

(Author Navy Seaman William Selby serves with the Defense Media Activity's Emerging Media directorate.)
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U.S. Military Makes Last Payment to 'Sons of Iraq' American Forces Press Service

The U.S. military made its last payment to "Sons of Iraq" civilian security group members March 2 in Kirkuk province's city of Sudayra.

The Iraqi government will assume full responsibility of payments April 1. "This is one of the many milestones that the [Iraqi government] is hitting day by day," Army Capt. Justin Michel, commander of 1st Cavalry Division's Company A, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team. "This transfer is a necessary step that the [Iraqi government] is taking to show its citizens that it is taking the lead on more programs."

U.S. military members played the role of observers as Iraqi soldiers handled the payments. "This is a great step in the right direction," Sheik Farhan, a Sons of Iraq leader in the Sudayra region, said. "Each day the government of Iraq is growing stronger, and we are becoming more independent."

By assuming responsibility for the payments, "Iraq is showing us that they are truly taking over from coalition forces," Sheik Razzaq, of the Sons of Iraq, said.

Though the U.S. military will no longer be responsible for making payments to the Sons of Iraq, they will not be completely removed from the process in the coming months. "

Just because the [Iraqi army] is going to be in control doesn't mean we are going to be gone altogether," said Army Lt. Col. David Lesperance, commander of 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team. The Iraqi army, Sons of Iraq and coalition forces are going to be working side by side in the coming months to ensure that the transition goes well, he added. As security improves in the region, transferring control of the Sons of Iraq to the Iraqi government marks another step toward self-sufficiency and increased security in Iraq. The Sons of Iraq and Iraqi army have done a great job so far at improving security, Michel said.

"I think that will continue to build upon the foundation they have now, and the region will steadily become safer," he added. (From a Multinational Division North news release.)
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09 March 2009

Disabled Veterans Leader Presses Issues with Key Lawmakers

/PRNewswire/ -- The National Commander of the Disabled American Veterans begins a series of meetings with key lawmakers seeking their support for budget reform legislation to ensure sufficient, timely and predictable funding for veterans' health care. He also is urging them to reject a contentious proposal that would shift the cost of treating veterans for service-connected conditions from the government's side of the ledger to insurance companies.

"For too long the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system has had to struggle with budgets that were too little, too late," said DAV National Commander Raymond E. Dempsey. "It's time to reform the funding system to enable the Department of Veterans Affairs to work better and smarter in caring for the nation's sick and disabled veterans."

Dempsey has scheduled meetings with Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka and Ranking Republican Richard Burr, House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner and Sen. Tim Johnson and Rep. Chet Edwards, who chair their respective Appropriations subcommittees that fund veterans programs.

A top priority for the DAV and other groups is passage of the recently introduced Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act. The measure would authorize Congress to approve VA medical care appropriations one year in advance of the start of each fiscal year. The legislation also would add needed transparency to the process by having the Government Accountability Office review and report on the VA budget request.

"This legislation is all about making government more efficient, transparent and accountable. These are three key elements that President Obama, Congress and veterans all agree are needed in these challenging times. And if enacted in conjunction with the fiscal year 2010 budget, advance appropriations for 2011 would not add one dime to the 2010 deficit," Commander Dempsey said.

While urging support for the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act, Dempsey is raising concerns shared by the entire veterans community that a proposal to shift the cost of treating veterans for service-connected conditions to their insurance companies will worsen the health care affordability crisis.

Dempsey said this "cost shifting scheme amounts to a betrayal of a sacred trust as it abandons our government's moral and legal responsibility to the men and women who have sacrificed so much for our freedoms."

"As a native of Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, I can't help but note the irony of such a proposal. Lincoln's famous quote, 'To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan,' has been adopted as the VA's official motto. But if the current president -- who also calls Illinois home -- expands third-party collections to service-connected conditions, that motto will be rendered meaningless and should be removed from the VA building," Dempsey said.

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03 March 2009

President Affirms Commitment to Veterans

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- President Barack Obama's proposed Fiscal Year 2010 budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) affirms his administration's promise to swiftly address the needs of America's veterans, particularly those who are serving in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 15% increase proposed by the president will greatly improve delivery of critical health care, seamless transition from military service to veteran status, and the processing of veterans' benefits claims.

An equally historic testament of Obama's commitment occurred days before the release of his budget plan. On February 24, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan attended a historic meeting with the Board of Directors of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV). They pledged their personal support to the community-based organizations working to end and prevent homelessness among veterans.

NCHV, which represents those organizations, has played a key role in reducing veteran homelessness by more than 40 percent in the last eight years, and has led the campaign for record funding levels in the budgets of several federal agencies: http://www.nchv.org/news_article.cfm?id=496.

"Many of us are veterans ourselves," NCHV Board Vice Chairman Patrick Ryan said to the new Cabinet officers. "Most of us have been involved directly addressing the needs of homeless veterans in our communities in every state in this nation.

"In the last eight years, there has been a significant increase in federal support for funding available to NCHV member organizations that provide direct support for homeless veterans. Not coincidentally, there has also been a significant decrease in the estimated number of homeless veterans. While our members are grateful for the federal support and are proud of the tens of thousands of veterans who have regained their dignity and ability to contribute to society, we cringe when we recall the opportunities that have been lost to serve more veterans during this time frame."

Shinseki and Donovan acknowledged the role of NCHV in the expanding campaign to end veteran homelessness as Ryan offered the organization's resources and experience to achieve that goal. "We understand no single agency can adequately address all the needs of homeless veterans," he said. "We offer our help to break down the silos which prevent government departments from working together in the most effective manner possible. NCHV member organizations work with our cities, counties, states, federal agencies, and other community organizations - including veteran service organizations - to obtain the resources to be successful. We truly believe we are the most effective instrument in the quest to end chronic homelessness among veterans."

Ryan commended Congress for recent actions based on NCHV recommendations to expand funding for veteran permanent supportive housing initiatives within HUD and VA, citing those as critical examples of what is possible through effective partnerships.

"We would also note that VA and Department of Defense own significant vacant land and unutilized buildings, and VA has nearly $50 million in unspent funds intended to provide housing for veterans but which cannot be spent due to changes in the housing landscape. We believe these assets are the cornerstones of an aggressive program for thousands of new units of permanent supportive housing for veterans who, due to health and economic hardships, deserve this nation's help in their greatest hour of need."

Record spending levels for successful community-based homeless assistance programs in partnership with the VA, HUD and Department of Labor in Fiscal Year 2009, and the president's first federal budget plan for FY 2010, signal a new era in the campaign to end and prevent homelessness for our nation's veterans.

Congress, the Obama administration, and our federal partners are on course to do what most Americans thought impossible just a decade ago. NCHV has helped change the history of this great nation, but the credit belongs to the sacrifices and triumphs of the military veterans we all serve.

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02 March 2009

Creators of Military Gay Ban Tell Author It Was 'Based On Nothing'

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Military officials exaggerated the threat to unit cohesion and ignored research and data when formulating the current policy on gay troops, according to the much-anticipated new book, "Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America," out tomorrow.

The book, based on a decade of research and hundreds of interviews, was written by Dr. Nathaniel Frank, senior research fellow at the Palm Center, and one of the nation's most widely recognized authorities on gays in the military. Dr. Frank is appearing with Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher today at the Center for American Progress to discuss her proposed legislation to repeal the ban.

Publication of the book by St. Martin's Press falls on the 15th anniversary of "don't ask, don't tell." Frank spoke to key military and political architects of the policy, many of whom acknowledge in the book that it was "based on nothing" but "our own prejudices and our own fears."

General John Shalikashvili, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tops the list of prominent leaders who have endorsed the "Unfriendly Fire," saying it "should be mandatory reading for anyone with an interest in the state of our society or the readiness of our military." Congressman Patrick J. Murphy, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the only Iraq War veteran in Congress, said Frank's "timely book should put to rest any lingering doubt about whether 'don't ask, don't tell' is working--it's been a failure from day one and should finally be put behind us."

The Palm Center has launched "Send UNFRIENDLY FIRE to Congress!" which is an online campaign to put a book into the hands of every member of Congress by this spring.

Information about that campaign and about Frank's speaking tour that kicks off today to Washington, California, Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, New York and Philadelphia is available at www.unfriendlyfire.org.

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