This column rounds up important developments in the military community for the week. It is focused on issues that affect military families, veterans, retirees, and those who may be considering a career in the Armed Forces.
This column does not concentrate on troop movements, new weapons systems, or other readiness issues. Instead, we focus on news that affects the community in terms of quality of life, career planning, benefits, and other important issues.
PACT Act Burn Pit Legislation Passes
The PACT Act has passed the United States Senate. The 86-11 vote sent the Act to the President’s desk for signature; it provides funding for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits while deployed overseas.
Why It Matters: Last week, we reported on the firestorm of controversy surrounding the federal government’s failure to pass the PACT Act; a prior vote had some 42 lawmakers (41 Republicans and one Democrat) voting NO.
In the aftermath of that vote, It’s likely that GOP opponents of the bill didn’t expect the public and messy backlash from Veteran Service Organizations and advocates such as Jon Stewart.
Stewart’s press conference following last week’s No vote included outrage at what appeared to be gamesmanship on the Senate floor with sick veterans being the victims. Particularly galling; the image of Senator Ted Cruz doing a fist bump with a fellow official following the vote last week.
What’s In The Act: The PACT Act was written to expand healthcare for certain qualifying post-9/11 combat veterans. It also requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to implement and maintain medical screenings for these service members, with the goal of detecting the symptoms of exposure to toxins from burn pits.
This Act provides expanded health coverage for some 3.5 million troops and former troops exposed to toxins associated with cancer and respiratory problems. This coverage is offered to those who served in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Those who were deployed to these war zones would be given “presumptive” approval for VA medical benefits to compensate for 23 medical issues associated with or aggravated by toxic burn pit smoke. VA disability benefits in this area could amount to thousands of dollars of additional benefits every month for qualifying vets.
What Happens Next: President Biden was quoted in the press saying he would sign the PACT Act the moment it reaches his desk.
Read More: How The PACT Act Changes VA Benefits
National Guard Efforts In Kentucky
When Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear declared an emergency in the state following the July floods there, he also called upon the National Guard to help rescue residents trapped by rising flood waters.
What Was The Result? Some 580 people have benefitted from the National Guard’s efforts there. Once rescue efforts are deemed completed, the Guard will change its focus to distributing supplies such as food and water to Kentucky residents.
Operations there include participation from both the Air National Guard and the Army National Guard, and there have been requests for additional help across state lines to nearby states like West Virginia and Tennessee.
Marine Corps Lieutenant General Michael Langley Makes Marine Corps History
This week, the Senate officially confirmed Michael Langley as its’ newest four-star general.
Why It Matters: Langley is the very first Black four-star general. His new assignment as commander of U.S. Africa Command marks a huge milestone for the Marine Corps, who previously approved promotions for a handful of Black generals to the three-star rank, but never four stars until now.
By Comparison: The United States Marine Corps has existed for more than 240 years and in that time, according to the Washington Post more than 70 white men were promoted to the rank of four-star Marine Corps generals.
DoD Autism Care Program Extended
In 2014, a program called Tricare Comprehensive Autism Care Demonstration began as a way to offer care to military dependents diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This program had established an end date in 2023, but the DoD has announced changes to those plans.
What’s Changing? The Defense Department plans to extend the program until 2028. This was done to provide more time to evaluate how it is working, and further study its results. This is the latest round in a series of changes to how TRICARE approaches autism care.
Why The Changes? Some sources report on a 2020 DoD report submitted to Congress which notes that in the past some autism care “is not working” for those using TRICARE. A year later a different DoD report noted major improvements for some who received autism care, but a significant number (more than 40%) had no improvements or actually got worse during the program.
There are numerous questions that still need to be answered about the program and the effectiveness of its approach. The extended sunset date allows researchers to continue addressing those issues.
Who Is Affected? There are some 16 thousand children enrolled in this program at press time.
Former Soldier Convicted Of Six Counts Related To January 6th
Former soldier Thomas Robertson was found guilty on all counts in the second jury trial related to the January 6th mob attack on the United States Capitol.
The Result: The Associated Press reports federal prosecutors are requesting an eight-year prison term for a Virginia police officer and Army veteran convicted of participating in the Capitol insurrection on January 6th in Washington D.C.
What Robertson Did: Former Police Sergeant Thomas Robertson was found guilty of blocking police officers trying to manage the mob at the Capitol on the 6th. Robertson’s actions may also have put him in the “stolen valor” category; some sources report he claimed to be an Army Ranger though his service records did not reflect that duty.
Prosecutors also say Robertson claimed to have been awarded a Purple Heart. Robertson was charged with a number of crimes including the accusation that he entered the Capitol with a large stick meant as a weapon.
By Comparison: As mentioned above, prosecutors are asking for eight years for Robertson. Fellow rioter Guy Reffitt got seven years and three months. Reffitt, a Texas follower of the hate ideology loosely organized as “Three Percenters”, was convicted of attacking the Capitol with what the Associated Press describes as a “holstered handgun”.