26 May 2010

Microsoft Teams With Democracy Live to Assist Military Voters Secure Easier Access to Ballot

/PRNewswire/ -- Microsoft Corp. and Issaquah-based Democracy Live recently announced a partnership that aims to make voting more accessible for the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are living and serving overseas during elections and want their vote to count. The Democracy Live system has already been selected by numerous elections jurisdictions for use in the coming August primary election.

By delivering virtual ballots to voters around the world, Democracy Live and Microsoft have eliminated a long standing problem for voters stationed in the military and overseas. Using the Democracy Live technology called "LiveBallot" a voter living anywhere in the world can access their ballot immediately online. Historically voters have had to wait as long as 2-3 weeks for their ballot to arrive. The delay often meant military men and women overseas would have not have their ballot counted. LiveBallot is hosted and supported by Microsoft's Azure cloud platform.

A new federal law was recently passed (called the MOVE ACT) that aims to make voting more accessible for voters living and serving abroad during federal, state and local elections. LiveBallot is offered to states and localities to immediately comply with the new federal law.

"In the past, voting has been difficult for troops and other Americans living or serving overseas," said Bryan Finney, president, Democracy Live. "We are pleased to be teaming with Microsoft and using the Windows Azure platform to deliver the most vital tool to our democracy - the ballot. By using Microsoft Azure, LiveBallot allows states to provide U.S. voters with a convenient, safe and secure way to participate in elections from anywhere in the world."

LiveBallot allows voters to print and mail their ballot and track their ballot online to monitor when it is received and processed by their county elections office. This technology gives overseas voters the assurance their ballot is correctly processed, no matter where in the world they vote.

"Running on Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud platform, LiveBallot will help state and local governments reduce the costs associated with sample ballots, voter pamphlets and other paper-based voter information," said Gail Thomas-Flyn, vice president, state and local government at Microsoft. "By utilizing a cloud-based platform Democracy Live can scale up for elections and down once results are determined, which will only further reduce strain on limited election resources."

Multiple counties in Washington State have already used LiveBallot in numerous elections. Kitsap County, Wash., was one of the first jurisdictions to field the solution and has now used the LiveBallot technology in multiple elections.

Retired Navy Chief and Kitsap County resident Dearl Hankins stated, "When I was stationed overseas in the military, during election time it always felt like I had to fight two battles: One battle was against the enemy and one just to be able to vote. A system like LiveBallot makes voting a lot easier for us to concentrate on the mission and not have to worry if our ballot was counted."

"LiveBallot is designed to deliver each of the 200 million eligible voters in the U.S. their specific ballot and balloting information," Bryan Finney said. "The Microsoft Azure cloud provides the scalability and security required to meet the coming demand for any voter, anywhere from Dubai or the dentist chair, to access their ballot from any online screen or device."

Finney went on to say that LiveBallot is not Internet voting, but simply delivering voter information, including a voter's specific ballot. Voters still must print and mail their ballot back in, Finney stated. "Voters are beginning to use LiveBallot to access and print their ballot. This system will save taxpayers significant dollars by eliminating or reducing the number of mail ballots and paper voter pamphlets."

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20 May 2010

Senate Committee Hears American Legion Testimony on Bills Affecting Veterans

/PRNewswire/ -- The American Legion testified in Congress yesterday on several pieces of pending legislation that would affect veterans if signed into law.

Appearing before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, Ian de Planque conveyed The American Legion's support for several bills being considered by the committee. De Planque is deputy director of the Legion's veterans affairs and rehabilitation division:

S. 1939: Agent Orange Equity Act of 2009

The American Legion strongly supports the extension of presumption of exposure to Agent Orange for veterans who served on naval vessels located in the territorial waters of Vietnam (known as the "blue water" Navy veterans).

De Planque cited a 2008 study by the Institute of Medicine, which builds a solid case for making blue water veterans eligible for benefits arising from Agent Orange-related disabilities. He said the report "provides scientific justification for this current legislation, which admirably seeks to correct the grave injustice faced by 'blue water' Navy veterans. The American Legion strongly supports this legislation."

S. 1940: To study the effects on children whose parents were exposed to Agent Orange

This bill directs VA to complete a study - and report its findings to Congress - on how servicemembers' exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam has affected their children (including possible links to multiple sclerosis and asthma).

Such a study, de Planque said, "can help establish the associations necessary to allow the VA to provide entitlement to all benefits due to the child or children of any veteran exposed to a Vietnam-era herbicide agent."

S. 3035: Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury Care Improvement Act of 2010

VA would establish a polytrauma rehabilitation center in the northwestern United States. The American Legion believes this center will help VA health-care outreach to many rural areas.

The American Legion is urging the committee to consider funding additional areas of TBI studies and emerging treatments in the private sector, such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) and the Mt. Sinai Hospital's Brain Injury Screening Questionnaire.

"The American Legion remains concerned that the private sector uses a 100-question screening test, while DoD and VA only use a four-part questionnaire," de Planque told the committee, chaired by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii.

S. 3234: Veterans Employment Assistance Act of 2010

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., introduced this legislation less than a week after The American Legion testified to a House subcommittee on the seriousness of unemployment in the veterans community.

Updating the Senate committee with current data, de Planque said that 14.7 percent of OIF/OEF veterans are jobless; the rate is 30.2 percent for veterans aged 18 to 24. "The total number of unemployed veterans of the two wars is about 250,000," he said. "This legislation would provide these veterans with the training and additional skills they need in order to acquire gainful employment in today's marketplace."

The bill has several provisions The American Legion has backed for some time: extend GI Bill benefits to vocational and apprenticeship programs, more training and counseling for small businesses, and creating pilot programs to help veterans market their military experience and training more effectively.

"No mission is more critical at this time in our history - given the nation's involvement in two wars and the uncertain economic situation - than enabling America's veterans to have a seamless transition from military service to the civilian workforce," de Planque said.

S. 3368: Allows certain individuals to sign VA claims on behalf of claimants

The VA's fiduciary program is addressed in this legislation, which would give legally designated representatives the authority to sign and file VA claims for veterans who are incapable or unable to do so themselves.

The American Legion supports this bill, but emphasizes the need for proper oversight to ensure that veterans' rights are protected.

"Dedicated oversight is necessary to ensure that the veterans affected, most of whom have little ability to protect themselves in such situations, are not subject to being taken advantage of by unscrupulous individuals or institutions," de Planque told the committee.

In previous congressional testimony, The American Legion recommended that VA should allocate more staff solely to administer its fiduciary program.

S. 3348: Allows misfiled disability claims appeals to be treated as motions for reconsideration

Many veterans, unfamiliar with the procedure for filing disability claims appeals, mistakenly file their appeals with VA instead of the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC).

If veterans disagree with the decisions made on their disability claims by the Board of Veterans Appeals, they have 120 days after notification to appeal that decision to CAVC. This legislation would offer protection to veterans who file their cases in error.

"This legislation can serve as a safety net for veterans already confused by a complex system, such as the system for adjudication of veterans benefits," de Planque said.

The American Legion also wants to extend the appeals filing period from 120 days to one year.

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14 May 2010

The American Legion to DoD: Nonaction Medal is 'Nonstarter'

/PRNewswire/ -- Calling a proposal to award U.S. troops medals for holding fire in a war zone "misguided," the head of the nation's largest veterans organization voiced concern that overly restrictive rules of engagement would ultimately cost lives.

"Nobody likes to see innocent civilians killed in a war zone but the blame for these tragedies lies with the terrorists who caused the war in the first place," American Legion National Commander Clarence E. Hill said. "The proposal to award medals for holding fire is troubling because it is symptomatic of a growing culture in the military that will punish troops for making split-second decisions while they are expected to defend themselves and their comrades. This proposal is an insult to our men and women in combat who already do an extraordinary job of exercising restraint. Too much restraint will get our own people killed."

Hill also worried that rewarding those who don't use force sends the wrong message to those that do. "Vietnam veterans were outrageously slandered as 'babykillers,'" he said. "This was tragic because the overwhelming majority of those who served there tried to prevent innocent casualties. Now, by awarding those who supposedly practice restraint, we would be implying that our heroes who have to fire their weapons are somehow failing in their mission or coming up short. It's a bad idea and the Pentagon should kill it."

With a current membership of 2.5 million wartime veterans, The American Legion was founded in 1919 on the four pillars of a strong national security, veterans affairs, Americanism, and youth programs. Legionnaires work for the betterment of their communities through more than 14,000 posts across the nation.

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11 May 2010

Desecration of Mojave Desert Cross Does Not Deter The American Legion in Its Fight to Protect Memorials

/PRNewswire/ -- The American Legion vowed to continue its fight to preserve a veterans' war memorial in the Mojave desert, even after vandals have apparently removed the cross in the middle of the night.

"This was never about one cross," said The American Legion National Commander Clarence E. Hill. "It's about the right to honor our nation's veterans in a manner in which the overwhelming majority supports. The American Legion strongly believes the public has a right to protect its memorials."

The lawless act is just the latest chapter in a decade-long legal fight pitting The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Liberty Institute and several other organizations against the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups that find the cross offensive.

According to a statement issued by the Mojave National Preserve, the cross was reported missing on Monday morning by staff of the National Park Service who went to the site to replace the wooden cover that had been removed from the cross sometime earlier. The cross has stood for the last 76 years as a memorial to World War I soldiers. The American Legion and its allies won what was widely believed to be a Supreme Court victory on April 28, when the court ruled that the memorial was not an overtly religious symbol. Moreover, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that "the Constitution does not oblige government to avoid any public acknowledgment of religion's role in society." The Supreme Court ordered a lower court to reconsider the case.

The desecration of the memorial did not sit well with Hill. "Reports that the Mojave Cross was illegally removed overnight are very disturbing," he said. "The American Legion expects whoever is responsible for this vile act to be brought to justice. While the memorial has been attacked, the fight will continue to ensure that veterans memorials will remain sacrosanct."

"This is an outrage, akin to desecrating people's graves," said Kelly Shackelford, president / CEO of Liberty Institute. "It's a disgraceful act on the selfless act of our veterans. We will not rest until this memorial is re-installed."

A $25,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest of those responsible. Anyone with information about the crime is asked to call (760) 252-6120.

With a membership of 2.5-million wartime veterans, The American Legion was founded in 1919 on the four pillars of a strong national security, veterans affairs, Americanism, and patriotic youth programs. Legionnaires work for the betterment of their communities through more than 14,000 posts across the nation.

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America's Solution for a More Cost-Effective Defense: Leverage the National Guard

/PRNewswire/ -- Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has a ready solution at his disposal as he looks for ways to cut excessive overhead, bloat and needless spending in the Defense Department.

The solution is the nation's most cost-effective defense organization, one that provides nearly half of the Army's combat power and a third of the Air Force's combat capability for about 7 percent of the defense budget.

It's the National Guard, which National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) officials today said does more with fewer resources than any other component in the U.S. military and which can do even more with only a modest increase in funding.

"It's time for the nation to start talking about cutting the active-duty military and growing the National Guard," said retired Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett, the NGAUS president. "Relying more on the Guard may be the only way America can reduce defense spending without cutting American military power."

In a speech over the weekend in Abilene, Kan., Gates said he wants the Pentagon to take a hard, realistic look at what defense capabilities America really needs in the 21st century.

Hargett said NGAUS welcomes the effort, but added that the discussion and debate should not be confined to Defense Department officials, who are often too wedded to active-component institutions to see defense solutions from other sources.

Congress, the nation's governors and the American public all need to be heard, he said.

"Today's economic and fiscal realities call for all of us to put America's future defense ahead of America's current defense institutions," he said.

"Unfortunately, the Army and the Air Force are already considering plans to cut the Guard at the end of today's conflicts," the NGAUS president said. "With a largely part-time force and barebones infrastructure, our overhead is much less. We simply can do the same job cheaper. But, too often, that does not matter to some decision-makers. Perhaps it will now.

"Our goal should be nothing less than maintaining the required military power to defend our nation, taking care of our troops, and saving money," Hargett said. "We can do all three, but only if we consider every possible solution."

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