Political dysfunction threatens our military and national security…again

In an era of fiscal uncertainty, the military continues to feel the pain of Washington dysfunction. With the ill effects of the partial government shutdown we witnessed in October still fresh in our minds, we are now facing a Congress that may not pass a defense authorization bill. This would be the first time in 51 years that the bill has not passed. Political partisan infighting has become so intense that it is threatening our national security. Why should our military and national defense be held hostage to political gridlock?

Time is running out. The House and Senate are only in session together through Friday, December 13. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2014 is already three months late, which has added to budget ambiguity and weakened our national defense.

We cannot afford to put off the NDAA until January. The continuing resolution ends January 15 and we will reach the debt-ceiling limit on February 15. That means there is only a maximum of 30 legislative days in 2014 to accomplish the goal. And with this Congress, it’s hard to believe that’s enough time.

There are serious repercussions for not passing the NDAA by the end of the year. Many of the ramifications will directly affect military service members and their families, as well as our national security.

(Update:) Although combat pay to our soldiers who are putting their lives on the line in Afghanistan will be spared, special pay and bonuses will not. Authority will not be extended for health professionals’ pay and re-enlistment and aviator bonuses. Worst of all, authority will not be extended to compensate caregivers of our wounded warriors, who are usually family members. Military healthcare for service members and their families will be affected as well. Authority for these forms of special pay will expire on December 31 if the bill does not pass.

Military construction projects essential to military training and readiness will be delayed. This includes projects for a CYBERCOM Command center, laboratories, hospital projects, nuclear power training facilities, as well as projects vital for training requirements overseas. This will vastly affect military readiness that is critical to our national security.

Development, modernization, and procurement of military equipment essential to fighting the war in Afghanistan and other global conflicts will not proceed. This includes: M1 Abrams Tanks, the USS Ford aircraft carrier (the Navy’s newest one), Stryker vehicles, Joint Light Tactical Vehicles (JLTV), F/A-18s, ballistic missile submarines, Virginia-class submarines, UH-72A Light Utility Helicopters (LUH), F-22s, C-130J, and many types of imperative military equipment. Delays to these programs could end up costing hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in the long run.

Reform of the security clearance process will be delayed as well. There have been significant security breaches due to an out-of-date clearance process, which include Edward Snowden and the Navy Yard shooter. It is critically important that the failures of the security clearance process are addressed and realistically reformed.

Delays or interruptions in the capabilities of Special Operations, Cyber Command, counterterrorism and counternarcotics, training of other military forces, and certain programs that support the troops in Afghanistan are also possible.

It is critical that Congress put partisan differences aside and come together for the greater good for our military, national security, and for our nation as a whole. Too much is at stake.

It’s time to stop putting our military men and women on the frontline of Washington politics. For too long they and their families have had to suffer the consequences of political division. Congress’s constant infighting and lack of resolve creates uncertainty within the military ranks and breaks trust. And during a time of war, as we still are, you do not want the troops’ primary concern to be how their paycheck is fluctuating every few months or how they feel ill-prepared for war because they haven’t received adequate training. This uncertainty leads to instability, which weakens our military readiness. Military members must be reassured that their government has their best interest in mind and will continue to make decisions that reflect it.

Congress must address the requirements that are associated with a strong defense. It is critical that members of Congress put aside their own political agendas and pass the NDAA. A powerful defense must remain a priority in uncertain times and in an unforgiving world. For a military that has served and sacrificed in two wars over the past 12 years, they deserve nothing less than certainty that they will receive proper care and benefits, and access to the best equipment and resources to ensure they are taken care of on the battlefield.

Let’s hope Congress agrees.

Originally published at The Daily Caller: http://dailycaller.com/2013/12/12/political-dysfunction-threatens-our-military-and-national-security-again/#ixzz2nnBrKeCm

Sexual assault and the chain of command

The sexual assault epidemic in today’s military is appalling and threatens the safety of all of our brave men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our nation. In a nation that has been at war for over 12 years, it significantly undercuts military readiness.

The Pentagon understands the fragile nature and urgency of this issue and has moved combating sexual assault to the forefront of priorities. Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno has said that fighting sexual assault is the Army’s number one priority. Change will not happen overnight, but they have begun the process, and that is the first step towards handling this crisis.  Prevention of sexual assault is the goal.  Rash and emotional legislation taking away command authority will not move us towards that goal.

One must understand how the chain of command functions in the military’s sexual assault procedures. It is speculative and unfounded to imply that removing command authority will fix sexual assault in the military and ensure every victim will come forward. In reality, this crisis will not be fixed by creating a new law that does not address the problem. The chain of command is not the problem. A fundamental change to military culture is the only answer to reducing sexual assault within the military.

We should not fail to acknowledge the military procedures and methods that are currently in place for sexual assault victims:

  • Each unit has a nationally certified Victims Advocate (VA) or Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC), whose sole mission is to handle sexual assault cases and provide support care for the victims.
  • Service men and women are taught in mandatory courses the methods that are available to them for utilizing the VA or SARC. This allows an unbiased assessment of the situation, outside of the chain of command, and ensures all victims are treated with dignity and respect.
  • Victims may decide to report the assault confidentially (a “restricted report”), so no one within their chain of command/co-workers/friends is aware of the assault. This also prevents any possibility of retaliation or coercion when reporting a sexual assault. There is also the option of an “unrestricted report,” which involves the chain of command, but it is solely at the discretion of the victim.
  • Mandatory Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention or Sexual Assault Prevention and Response training is required for every military individual.
  • 24-hour hot lines and “Safe Help Room” online support groups are available.

The military culture has already begun to shift away from command involvement in sexual assault and is focusing on utilizing the victims’ advocates and sexual assault response coordinators. While this does not remove command authority, the military has recognized the fragile and specific needs of the victim. Reporting has increased, meaning service men and women now feel like their report will be taken more seriously.

Stripping military commanders of the authority to manage sexual assaults will have significant repercussions. The military is a government bureaucracy like any other government agency, but the reason it is able to operate as an effective and efficient organization is because of the chain of command. It creates an environment of respect, authority, and command.  It operates well, because of the backbone of the command and rank structure. Without it, the military would not be as capable and accomplished.

Commanders are involved in all aspects of their soldiers’ lives, especially legal issues. And they have to be. They are tasked with maintaining situational awareness of everything that weakens combat readiness. And sexual assault not only weakens combat readiness, it poisons the entire unit’s morale and esprit de corps.  You train as a team, and you fight as a team. Removing military commanders’ authority to contribute to the process of sexual assault cases discredits their influence to lead their soldiers, weakens them as leaders on the battlefield, and, therefore, weakens the entire military force.

We must move beyond political factions, personal preferences, and posturing and address the culture at hand. The problems do not begin and end in the military, but there is an opportunity for the military to lead from the front and set the tone for society. If our nation’s military leaders lead in restoring dignity and respect, then the nation will have a unified force serving as an example for the rest of us.

Originally Published at The Hill http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/judicial/191775-sexual-assault-and-chain-of-command

This article was co-authored with Penny Nance, the president and CEO of Concerned Women for America, the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization. For more information visit concernedwomen.org.  Amber Barno is a military adviser to Concerned Veterans for America. She is a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. For more information visit amberbarno.com

Follow Amber on Twitter @AmberBarno

The Best Way to say thank you to a vet on Veterans Day — Fix the VA

This weekend and on Monday we salute our veterans: Past, present, old, young, those who served in combat and those who have not.

Each and every one of them answered the call to defend freedom at all costs to benefit something larger than themselves; the greater good of the United States of America.

There are currently over 20 million veterans in America. Each one has a story, has family, and friends. Each with hopes and aspirations for the future. Each put them on hold to defend the Red, White, and Blue.

President John F. Kennedy once said on Veterans Day, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that our highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

How do we thank our veterans? 

Not with a handshake or a hug, but with a population that understands their sacrifices do not come without a price and by ensuring that all of our nation’s heroes receive the proper care and benefits they deserve when they come home from war and transition back into civilian life.

That means not having to suffer through the bureaucratic disarray of the Department of Veterans Affairs or trying to find work in an unstable economy where post 9/11 veterans faced 10.1% unemployment in September.

It means that our nation and government have our veterans best interest as their priority. Our veterans deserve better than what they are currently facing.

Instead, veterans were recently locked out of their war memorials that they fought for, that their friends died for.

They were told that their benefits checks would not go out during the partial government shutdown.

Death gratuity benefits were initially denied to grieving families of those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Many veterans are struggling to find work as unemployment for post 9/11 veterans has consistently been in the double digits in recent months.

Some employers are apprehensive about hiring veterans because of the outrageous PTSD stereotype that follows our modern vets due to the false stigma about PTSD in the media and Hollywood.

On average, 22 veterans commit suicide every single day.

The Department of Veterans Affairs data shows that more than one third of new mental health care patients have to wait more than the standard of 14 days to receive an appointment. And in some instances, veterans have to wait more than a month to receive care.

The VA has the funding, the assets, and the personnel to prevent this from happening, but instead our veterans are not receiving the adequate care they deserve.

The VA claims backlog is still out of control.

Hundreds of thousands of veterans have to wait well over a year to receive an answer on the decision of their enrollment eligibility for a first time claim. And follow-on claims or disputed claims can take years to receive an answer.

The VA is not performing as the service oriented department it was intended for. Instead veterans are suffering the stresses and hassles of a dysfunctional bureaucracy.

This is not the environment or the treatment that veterans deserve to come home to after putting their life on the line day in and day out.

If we allow this to continue, what does this say about us as a nation?  Are we are so willing to look past the current status quo of our veterans?

Right now there are still 54,500 US troops fighting the war in Afghanistan. That’s 54,500 people who are missing their families, missing their way of life and missing the freedoms that we as Americans get to enjoy each and everyday.

And you can bet that every time they wake up and strap on their boots before heading out on a patrol, a raid, a convoy or a flight that they remember why they chose to fight for freedoms and liberties that make this nation extraordinary.

Because it’s those who have answered the call to serve, those who are willing to sacrifice, and those that believe our nation should be handed down to future generations as we found it, they are the ones who truly understand the price of freedom.

This freedom that we have grown so accustomed to, that many take for granted in their everyday lives, is a privilege, not a right, which must be preserved.

It is bigger than you and me.

It is a vision of hope, opportunity, and prosperity.

It is fragile, yet resilient and will be defended at all costs.

Our veterans are our nation’s heroes. They stepped up to fight our nation’s wars without question or doubt.

They don’t ask to be paid as much as politicians or NFL players or to be Hollywood celebrities. Instead, they believe in their hearts that our unique nation, the United States of America, is not only worth fighting for, but worth dying for.

They believe the freedoms and liberties that make it exceptional are worth preserving at all costs. They ask for very little, if anything in return for putting their lives on the line.

They understand that they are contributing to the greater good for the sake of our future. The least we can do to show our appreciation is demand that our veterans are being taken care of when they come home.

So this Veterans Day think of what you can do to make our nation a better place here on the home front.

There is still plenty of work to be done. Because if you really want to thank our veterans for their sacrifices, their service to our nation, and for their dedication, we can do so by ensuring they are coming home to the America they fought for and that many died for.

It is because of them that we are able to enjoy the freedoms and liberties that we have grown so fond of.

It is because of them every American has the opportunity to pursue the American Dream. And it is because of them that we are still the most exceptional nation on earth.

Originally published at FoxNews.com http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2013/11/09/best-way-to-say-thank-to-vet-on-veterans-day-fix-va/

 

Follow Amber on Twitter @AmberBarno

 

Duty, Honor, Country…Unemployed?

Finding work when you get out of the military should be easy enough, right? You have been tried and tested, some even in combat. You have leadership experience and made life and death decisions that surpass anyone else your age.  You are organized, determined, and motivated to succeed. And because of your priceless experiences and training, you have unlimited potential to be an amazing employee. So what’s the problem?

The military veteran unemployment rate is astonishing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in August, it was 6.2%, but for post-9/11 veterans, the unemployment rate was 10%, which is significantly above the national average.  Our country’s persistent unemployment and underemployment problems has created a very intimidating and discouraging—not to mention fiercely competitive—environment for those transitioning from the military to civilian life.

While the overall numbers are slowly declining, finding long-term employment is still a significant problem for too many of our nation’s veterans. For veterans facing this predicament, here are a few things you can do to help you on your quest for employment.

First, treat unemployment as your ‘job.’ Use that time to perfect your résumé, write cover letters, and conduct practice interviews. This should be a 9-to-5 job. There is always more to be done to increase your odds of landing a job. Practice makes perfect. The job isn’t going to come to you, so make it happen. If you get turned down, get back up, and start looking for new prospects.

Stay organized. Applying for multiple jobs can get chaotic in a hurry. Create a file for each job you pursue and keep sticky notes on the front that remind you where you are in the application process. Each job you apply for requires a résumé specific to the job. Make sure you adjust each résumé to reflect the job description and requirements.

When you create resumes and cover letters make sure you accurately translate your military experiences and training into skills that someone with zero military experience will understand.  Your experience leading combat patrols in Afghanistan may make perfect sense to you, but a human resource professional may get confused and needs help to understand how this background applies to the desk job they are seeking to fill. This will result with your application quickly being moved to the NO pile. Ensure your military translation is clear and relevant to the civilian job position. Have your civilian friends and family members review your résumé to see if it makes sense to them.

Be honest and true to yourself, but don’t be too humble and reserved. In the military, we are used to ‘the quiet professional’ being the standard.  Your years of selfless service were about putting others ahead of yourself. In the civilian world, you need to be more vocal and even self-promotional. You have a small window of time to let hiring personnel learn about you and your experiences. Talk yourself and your accomplishments up.  If you don’t do it, no one else will.

Use social media. Coming from the military, it may seem strange to place such an emphasis on social media when job hunting, but it is critical for networking in today’s job market. If you haven’t already, consider joining Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Follow companies you are interested in working for. They will often post job positions or hiring events. Additionally, when you don’t have business cards, LinkedIn is an excellent tool for professionals to find more information about you and possibly contact you.

Use veterans’ organizations. There are many organizations whose sole purpose is to help military veterans become gainfully employed. They specialize in helping with creating resumes, generating a strategy and providing guidance throughout the job search. Contact them and use their services.

Lastly, do not forget about your GI Bill and education benefits. If the job search is not going as planned, consider furthering your education in your field, which in the long run will increase your probability of landing your desired job. Often colleges have job placement programs to help assist with employment.

Most importantly don’t give up. Remember it is better to be under-employed than unemployed. Any form of employment will allow you to get on your feet, reduce financial stress, further network, and advance your skills. Be patient but motivated and never ever give up. Those are skills that will help any veteran excel and that any employer would be happy to have on his or her team.

Additionally published at: http://www.examiner.com/article/duty-honor-country-unemployed

 

Follow Amber on Twitter: @AmberBarno

Semper Fi: Gary Sinise, Honorary Marine

Semper Fidelis now has a new meaning to actor and musician Gary Sinise. On August 29, the long time veterans advocate was awarded as an Honorary Marine at a dinner at the home of Marine Corps commandant, General James Amos. During the dinner Sinise was pinned with the coveted Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. This is quite unique an honor as only 76 people have shared the title since the Marines inception.

 “This was one of the most extraordinary nights. I was totally surprised by what the general gave me tonight, I’m humbled, shocked, moved and motivated to keep standing up for our men and women and giving back to them,” Sinise said in a statement after being awarded the honor.

General James Amos, who hosted the dinner said “There is little I can say to enhance the rich reputation Gary Sinise has earned, both in the spotlight as an immensely talented actor, and less conspicuously as a tireless advocate for our men and women in uniform. What I can do, what I am privileged and proud to do, is to recognize this humble patriot’s selfless service by making him an Honorary Marine.”  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey attended the dinner as well.

Gary Sinise is a prominent actor, known for his role as Vietnam War veteran LT Dan in the epic film Forest Gump and as Detective Mac Taylor in the TV show CSY: NY.  His interest in helping veterans was sparked in 1994 from his role in Forest Gump as LT Dan. He went on to create a music group called the LT Dan Band and has toured around the globe to different military bases to provide free concerts to military members and their families. Additionally, he created the Gary Sinise Foundation and has raised millions of dollars that provides veterans, troops, and wounded warriors and their families with programs that help give back through education, housing, and entertainment, and more.

Gary Sinise is truly an admirable American who understands the value of our troops and veterans. His continued selfless service and passion for veterans awareness has changed the lives of countless service members and their families. Thank you for your outstanding service to our veterans and congratulations on your well deserved title of Honorary Marine. Once a Marine, always a Marine. Semper Fi!

For more information on the Gary Sinise Foundation, visit: www. garysinisefoundation.org

Follow Amber on Twitter: @AmberBarno

Additionally published at Concerned Veterans for America: http://www.concernedveteransforamerica.org/2013/09/05/semper-fi-gary-sinise-honorary-marine/

The Money is Gone: Army Feeling the Pressure of Sequestration

Budget cuts to the Department of Defense (DOD) are not going to stop anytime soon. The DOD was hit with $37 billion in cuts this year and is likely to face an additional $52 billion in cuts next year.

But the Army is missing the big picture when it comes to handling sequestration. It should be about making the right cuts verses the easy cuts the first time around—in order to avoid having to deal with the same problem in the near future. Unfortunately, that’s not the approach they’re taking.

A case in point is last week’s memo from Army leadership ordering commanders and staff to develop a comprehensive plan to cut 25 percent of the budget and personnel at all Army headquarters with the rank of 2-star and above. The deadline for the plans is in nearly two weeks, on September 11, 2013.

From the text of the memo:

Let there be no mistake, aggregate reductions WILL TAKE PLACE. The money is gone; our mission now is to determine how best to allocate these cuts while maintaining readiness. We expect Army leaders, military and civilian, to seize this opportunity to re-shape our Army. This effort will take PRIORITY OVER ALL other Headquarters, Department of the Army activities…

…. To ensure Army readiness at these reduced budget levels, we must make the best and maximum use of every single dollar provided to the Army.

While headquarter reductions are necessary, especially as the Afghanistan war is coming to a close, giving the Review Group a two week deadline is only setting them up for failure. There is no doubt the Review Group will meet the deadline. But it will merely mean decisions will be rushed and the outcome will likely be ill-considered and incomprehensible, rather than the careful, strategic consideration of future needs that is required.

These cuts are essential but the Review Group must be given the adequate time to make decisions that will effectively reduce unnecessary spending. Forcing commanders and other military personnel to make these decisions in two weeks is illogical and will only result in poor decision-making and reduced readiness.

Originally published at: http://www.concernedveteransforamerica.org/2013/08/23/the-money-is-gone-army-feeling-the-pressure-of-sequestration/#sthash.lGxzJect.dpuf

Follow Amber on Twitter: @AmberBarno

The Debt Isn’t Going To Fix Itself

Convincing politicians to deal with the debt is like convincing someone to quit smoking. People know it’s bad for them, but don’t want to make any changes because in the short term they see no effects, even if they know that eventually, their habit is likely to kill them.

With all of the commotion in Washington, it is easy to overlook  our nation’s spending addiction. The debt is rapidly approaching $17 trillion, just another record level of debt, but it’s hardly news since the next record is just around the corner. Both Congress and the President seem to welcome the opportunity to turn America’s attention elsewhere.  The government spying on American citizens, the IRS targeting conservative groups, and the State Department’s failure with Benghazi are all issues that require attention, but they cannot be used as an excuse to postpone handling the debt crisis.

Americans need to send politicians a simple message when it comes to the debt:  Enough with the political small talk. We want action. We the People want spending reform and debt management to become a priority. We know that serious consequences face our nation if our debt problem continues to be ignored and mismanaged.

Sequestration helped reduce the deficit on a very small scale, but it is far from a solution to our spending problem. It is merely a temporary band-aid to a long term, severe problem. Until the White House and Congress, on both sides of the aisle, wake up and come to terms that the debt is not going to fix itself, there will be no change to the nation’s spending habits.

Importantly, any serious conversation about the spending problem has to begin with an adult discussion of reforming entitlement programs.  Sadly, no one seems to want to address the elephants in the room: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and safety net programs. Some perspective: entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and safety net programs make up 64% of the total budget while the Department of Defense makes up 17%. This was one of the key problems with sequestration:

Half of the cuts from sequestration went to the Department of Defense.

The Pentagon needs spending reform like every other department across our government, but putting the majority of the cuts on defense is foolish and allowed America to avoid a much needed, more urgent conversation about the real drivers of our fiscal imbalance, entitlement programs.  Sequestration also failed to target those areas of the budget, including the defense budget that would be the best for reductions.  This year, for example, the Pentagon was able to make the majority of the cuts through civilian employee furloughs and military training cuts.  But if sequestration happens again for fiscal year 2014, as it seems increasingly likely, it’s not going to be as easy as furloughing civilian employees or canceling public tours at the White House. This time military troops will directly feel the effects of sequestration. There will be a reduction in force (meaning soldiers will be involuntarily forced out of the military), less training, outdated weaponry, technology, and equipment. This will significantly affect our military readiness and eventually weaken our defense

This doesn’t need to happen, and shouldn’t be allowed to happen.

More members of Congress must realize that all politicians are going to have to make sacrifices and consider sensible changes to even popular programs if we are going to move toward a stable fiscal situation Reforming entitlement programs—yes, that means touching those third rails of politics—must become a priority, as we cannot afford them in their current state.  This means that all Americans have to encourage this conversation and make politicians pay a penalty for avoiding this topic.

It may be easy to forget about the accruing national debt—how many millions more were added, just in the time it took you to read this short piece?—but that doesn’t mean it’s not a serious issue.  We need to make real spending reform a priority today, before it’s too late.

Originally Published at The Tennessean: http://www.tennessean.com/article/20130802/OPINION03/308020047/2071/OPINION?nclick_check=1

Follow Amber on Twitter: @AmberBarno