Gary Cameron / Reuters

Cuts to military veterans benefits in December’s budget deal have outraged veterans groups, but as Congress and President Obama return to Washington this week, the cuts don’t appear to be going anywhere soon.

The budget agreement reached before Christmas puts into place a 1% across-the-board reduction to the cost of living adjustment for military pensions, a move that on principle alone has upset many veterans after 13 years of war. Veterans groups plan to push back against the provisions in the recent budget deal — but so far they’ve been met with radio silence from the White House.

“It is a big surprise for us,” said Michael Hayden, a retired Air Force colonel and director of government relations for the Military Officers Association of America. Hayden’s group has had “informational” conversations with the White House about the impact of cutting veterans benefits, he said, but so far has no insight into whether President Obama will come to their aide.

Top military brass below the president have also been a disappointment, Hayden said.

“We’re really kind of surprised the chairman [of the Joint Chiefs Of Staff] and the Joint Chiefs haven’t come out and said this is wrong,” he said.

But the groups acknowledge the focus will be on Congress even as they hope for the White House aid.

“[Congress] screwed this up, they’re going to have to fix it,” said Tom Tarantino, government affairs director at the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

“I would like to see the president be more vocal,” Tarantino added, praising the president on his advocacy for veterans and their families. “He’s probably been the most active president we’ve had in 50 years on this stuff. But I think this took everyone by surprise. I would like to see the president continue supporting our community.”

The veterans benefits cuts are proving to be the most controversial part of the bipartisan budget deal. The two prominent partisans who led the crafting of the deal, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), have already agreed to remove the cuts to disabled veterans’ benefits, calling them a “technical error.”

But both Ryan and Murray have taken stands that make it hard to undo the rest of the cuts. Ryan has defended the cuts, saying they’re necessary to prevent the military from suffering sequestration cuts.

Murray, meanwhile, has said she’s open to replacing the cuts with other spending cuts equal to the $6 billion in savings created by retirees’ COLA increase, but is not in favor of dropping the cuts all together.

Hill sources on both sides said the White House has not pressured budget writers to repeal the COLA cuts or to stand by them. But some suggest the president’s signature on the budget deal, which in theory will prevent another round of fiscal crises in 2014, signals that he’s on the side of the cutters.

“President Obama signed the Bipartisan Budget Act into law,” a source familiar with the process said. “[Defense] Secretary Hagel voiced support for the law generally and the need for compensation reform specifically.”

The White House did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the veterans’ complaints.

The COLA cuts don’t go into effect until late 2015, a lead time that veterans’ groups say gives them plenty of time to help allied members of Congress who have condemned the cuts find a way out of them. And though they want the president to lend his voice to their efforts, Obama is so far not the focus when it comes to lobbying Washington to find its $6 billion in savings somewhere else.

A pressure campaign over the cuts launched by the MOAA and its allies before the bill passed last month was restarted Friday with a call for veterans to push their representatives of Congress to repeal the COLA cuts. Before the bill passed, the MOAA campaign and a letter sent by veterans advocate umbrella The Military Coalition included Obama among the recipients of the pressure messaging. In the latest iteration, the president has been left out.

“Our focus is to work on the Hill,” said John Davis, legislative affairs director at the Fleet Reserve Association and co-chair of The Military Coalition.

“It doesn’t surprise me that Obama’s not going to jump out and take a position one way or the other on this until he sees something moving,” he added. “It’s standard operating procedure for presidents. We’re hoping to force his hand.”

Tarantino expects the White House to go along with changes to the benefits cuts if Congress can find them.

“I am not anticipating a lot resistance from the White House. If there is resistance we will push back hard,” he said. “But I’m not anticipating a lot of resistance.”

Update (1:35 p.m.): An administration official provided the following statement to BuzzFeed, which leaves unaddressed the cost of living adjustment:

“The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 represents a compromise between Democrats and Republicans in Congress. As the president made clear, the law doesn’t include everything that he would have liked. Importantly, the law unwinds some of the damaging sequester cuts that have harmed our military, our students, and our seniors, and has acted as a headwind our businesses have had to fight. Without this deal, the Pentagon faced the prospect of additional cuts that would have further degraded our military readiness and support for our troops. The administration supports the effort underway to fix the unintended reduction in COLAs for working-age military retirees with service-related disabilities.”

Read more: http://buzzfeed.com/evanmcsan/white-house-silence-on-benefits-cuts-irks-veterans-groups

Larry Downing / Reuters

WASHINGTON — As D.C. enters week two of the government shutdown, House Democrats find themselves in a very strange position: Most of them have now voted against funding nutritional assistance for women, national parks, the District of Columbia, pay for the National Guard, FEMA, veterans benefits, and cancer research at the National Institute of Health.

And they’ll tell you they are just fine with that.

Congressional Democrats have said from the beginning of the shutdown that they would not settle for anything short of a clean funding bill that reopens the entire government without any strings attached. Republicans have responded by introducing a series of narrow bills that would fund specific, highly visible parts of the government and nothing else. The GOP’s strategy is to force Democrats to vote against funding popular programs — thus convincing the public that the party of President Obama is being unreasonable.

“Hard to believe, but 164 Democrats voted against WIC yesterday. They would rather keep gov. shutdown than support WIC,” tweeted Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers after a House vote on funding nutritional assistance program during the shutdown.

Comments like that have left Democrats — who have long championed programs like WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) — infuriated and baffled to say the least. But they are also confident that no amount of Republican messaging can shift public opinion against them as the shutdown drags on.

“Everything that was up is now down, everything that was left is now right. It seems like it’s a bizarre divide and conquer strategy,” said Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell. “The tea party is maybe repenting for years of neglecting poor hungry children or veterans. It does feel like we’re in a strange land right now.”

Rep. Keith Ellison, one of the most outspoken progressives in the House, said even the vote to fund WIC was an easy one for him to oppose.

“No, it’s not hard because I know it’s not going anywhere,” he said. “People in my district and districts all over this country know who is for food stamps, they know who is for WIC, they know who is for education. [Republicans] cannot switch their identity that miraculously. They wanted to cut $40 billion out of food stamps two weeks ago. They are trying to get Democrats on bad votes. The American public isn’t stupid.”

“I don’t think anyone buys that Democrats are the heartless ones in Washington,” said Rep. Joe Crowley, a member of the Democratic leadership in the House.

It’s an uphill strategy for the GOP, considering it was Republicans who set the government on the path to a shutdown when they first insisted that any bill to fund the government would have to also defund or delay Obamacare. There’s now no clear plan for an end game. As one Republican lawmaker told The Washington Examiner last week, “We’re not in a situation that has been planned out and war-gamed and plotted.”

But in the short term, the latest strategy has caused a few dozen Democrats to buck party leadership on the piecemeal bills, giving Republicans some bipartisan cover. It also prompted an unforced error by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid when he was asked about funding for cancer patients at a press conference. So far, the House has passed seven mini-funding bills, all of which Reid has said he won’t take up and the president has threatened to veto.

And talk to any Republican and you’ll get virtually the same message : We’ve done something to end the shutdown. They haven’t.

The exception to that pattern is a bill that guarantees furloughed workers will receive back-pay once the shutdown ends, which the president has signaled he will sign. A bill that guarantees pay for the troops was passed and signed into law before the government shutdown.

Democrats said Republicans’ strategy resemble the successful one the GOP employed during the sequester battle, during which progressives effectively caved. This time, they say, they won’t make the same mistake.

“Their strategy for sequester was to try and piecemeal it. They thought they could have their cake and eat it too. They are trying to have that same cake now with the shutdown,” said Democratic Rep. Steve Israel. “The sequester was damaging enough, but a shutdown of the entire government of the United States of America is a completely different matter. We’re not interested in continuing a game.”

The face-off will continue this week with the added pressure of a deadline for hitting the debt ceiling on Oct. 17. House Speaker John Boehner said on ABC this Sunday that the House doesn’t have enough votes to pass clean continuing resolution despite the fact that more than 20 Republican members have signaled they’d vote for one with House Democrats should the bill ever come to the floor.

“Let me issue him a friendly challenge. Put it on the floor Monday or Tuesday. I would bet there are the votes to pass it. We have just about every Democrat, 21 Republicans have publicly said they would. There are many more Republicans who have said that they privately would,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, who followed Boehner appearance on ABC. “So, Speaker Boehner, just vote. Put it on the floor and let’s see if you’re right.”

But if the last week was any indication, that’s not going to happen. Instead, the House will continue to take up the piecemeal bills: On Monday they’ll vote on one to keep the FDA running during the shutdown, and later in the week one that funds Head Start educational programs. Boehner has continued to insist that it is the president and Senate Democrats who are responsible for keeping the government closed because they refuse to negotiate.

“[I]t’s my way or the highway. That’s what he’s saying. Complete surrender and then we’ll talk to you,” Boehner said of Obama. “It’s about having a conversation. I gave the Senate majority leader some advice at the White House about how to proceed. I gave him some advice over a week ago about how to avert this. And yet they refuse to do it.”

Read more: http://buzzfeed.com/katenocera/defiant-democrats-say-theyre-not-afraid-of-republicans-shutd

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta addressed same-sex partner benefits in a memorandum signed Monday, February 11, 2013.

WASHINGTON — The Department of Defense will be extending certain benefits to same-sex couples in the military, a move announced Monday in a memorandum by Secretary Leon Panetta — a final punctuation mark to the outgoing defense secretary’s tenure at the Pentagon.

“Our work must now expand to changing our policies and practices to ensure fairness and equal treatment and to taking care of all of our service members and their families, to the extent allowable by law,” Panetta wrote of the post-“don’t ask, don’t tell” military in the memo.

The Defense of Marriage Act prohibits the federal government recognizing same-sex couples’ marriages limits those benefits, but both the Pentagon and advocacy groups had identified several benefits that could be extended, from joint duty assignments for couples in which both partners are in the military to allowing servicemembers’ same-sex domestic partner to have a military identification card.

Although several such benefits were extended — from those two areas to benefits involving commissary privileges and family programs — neither on-base housing nor burial benefits were granted by today’s memo. Secretary Panetta said their issuance involved “complex legal and policy challenges” and would continue to be reviewed.

An implementation plan for the new benefits will be issued in the next 60 days, with the expansion of the benefits, per Panetta’s memo, to take effect sometime between August 31 and October 1.

President Obama, who has received some pressure on the issue, “welcomes the announcement by the Secretary of Defense that the Department will extend certain benefits to the same-sex partners and families of service members based on its thorough and deliberate review of this issue,” White House spokesman Shin Inouye told BuzzFeed. “This step will strengthen our military and help ensure that all our troops and their families are treated with fairness and equality.”

Sen. John McCain, who had opposed the repeal of the military’s ban on out gay service but had not continued his opposition since the change was implemented, reacted without fanfare or opposition to the benefits announcement Monday afternoon, saying only, “I respect their decision.”

Activists likewise hailed the decision. “Today, the Pentagon took a historic step forward toward righting the wrong of inequality in our armed forces, but there is still more work to be done,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin told BuzzFeed. “Gay and lesbian service members and their families make sacrifices every day, and this country owes them every measure of support we can provide. Since the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ the Obama administration has shown true leadership on this issue.”

The issue of same-sex partner benefits has been one of three main issues pushed by advocacy groups like OutServe-SLDN since the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in September 2011. The benefits issue, along with an explicit nondiscrimination policy and an end to the ban on out transgender service, were not addressed in the legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in December 2010. Asked whether there was any plan to expand the nondiscrimination policy to include sexual orientation, a senior Defense Department official briefing the media Monday on background said there was no such plan.

Of today’s action, OutServe-SLDN executive director Allyson Robinson said, “Secretary Panetta’s decision today answers the call President Obama issued in his inaugural address to complete our nation’s journey toward equality, acknowledging the equal service and equal sacrifice of our gay and lesbian service members and their families. We thank him for getting us a few steps closer to full equality — steps that will substantively improve the quality of life of gay and lesbian military families.”

In recent months, a situation in which the same-sex wife of an Army officer was not allowed to join a spouses’ group that met at the Fort Bragg installation highlighted the ongoing issues with the military’s treatment of gay, lesbian, and bisexual servicemembers.

In addition to the benefits extended today, the advocacy group OutServe-SLDN has an ongoing lawsuit against the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs challenging DOMA to the extent it limits military and veterans’ spousal benefits. Although the Obama administration has not been defending that lawsuit, the House Republican leadership has taken up the defense of DOMA in the case as it has in other challenges to the 1996 law.

As recently as Friday night, the government response to inquiries over the past year had been that “the Department of Defense is conducting a deliberative and comprehensive review of the availability of benefits, when legally permissible, to same-sex domestic partners of service members.”

While the Pentagon’s decision was historic, activists weren’t wasting any time calling for further action.

“Even today, the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act makes inequality for gay and lesbian military families a legal requirement. It’s time to right this wrong. When the Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of DOMA in the coming weeks … [it] should reflect on the sacrifice made by Americans like Staff Sergeant Tracy Johnson, whose wife was killed in action late last year, or the family of Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan, who succumbed to cancer earlier this week,” Griffin said.

The ongoing Supreme Court challenge to the definition of “marriage” and “spouse” in DOMA also means that the groundwork that is the basis for the limits to this expansion could change by June, when the final Supreme Court decisions of the term are generally issued.

To that end, Panetta wrote in Monday’s memo, “In the event that the Defense of Marriage Act is no longer applicable to the Department of Defense, it will be the policy of the Department to construe the words ‘spouse’ and ‘marriage’ without regard to sexual orientation, and married couples, irrespective of sexual orientation, and their dependents, will be granted full military benefits.” The memo notes that, should that happen, the Pentagon will reassess whether to continue to allow “unmarried same-sex domestic partnerships” being the basis for eligibility of the benefits extended Monday.

Read more: http://buzzfeed.com/chrisgeidner/pentagon-announces-expansion-of-benefits-to-same-sex-couples

J. Scott Applewhite, File / AP

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder announced Wednesday that President Obama directed the executive branch to stop enforcing two laws that prevented same-sex married couples from receiving the same veterans’ benefits as are available to opposite-sex married couples.

The move is the latest fallout from the Supreme Court’s June decision in United States v. Windsor striking down the federal ban on recognition of same-sex couples’ marriages that was found in the Defense of Marriage Act.

“This announcement means gay and lesbian veterans who are legally married can better protect themselves and their children,” White House spokesman Shin inouye told BuzzFeed. “The President believes that all couples who are legally married deserve respect and equal treatment under the law, and his Administration continues to work to implement the Supreme Court’s Windsor ruling swiftly and smoothly.”

The laws, found in Title 38 of the U.S. Code, had been found unconstitutional this past week by a federal trial court judge in California.

The decision to stop enforcing a law, Holder wrote in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, “is appropriately rare.” In this situation, however, he wrote that “continued enforcement of the Title 38 provisions pending further judicial review is unwarranted.”

The Justice Department had earlier concluded that the DOMA and Title 38 provisions were unconstitutional. Until Wednesday, however, the Justice Department had a policy that, although it would not defend the provision in legal challenges, it would continue to enforce the law until a final judicial determination was reached as to its constitutionality.

On Wednesday, however, Holder wrote, “Although the Supreme Court did not directly address the constitutionality of the Title 38 provisions in Windsor,” the Supreme Court’s June ruling striking down the provision in DOMA, “the reasoning of the opinion strongly supports the conclusion that those provisions are unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment.”

Inouye told BuzzFeed, “The President has accepted the Attorney General’s recommendation and has directed that the Administration no longer enforce certain provisions of Title 38 that discriminate against legally married gay and lesbian veterans. This is an important step forward for the families of veterans and their ability to access survival, health care, home loan, and other benefits.

“As the Attorney General’s letter to Congress states, the circumstances of the situation demonstrate that this is the appropriate course of action. Even the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group has ceased to defend the constitutionality of those provisions of Title 38 in legal challenges.”

The American Military Partner Association praised the decision.

“No longer will Tracy Johnson, the surviving spouse of Staff Sergeant Donna Johnson who was killed in Afghanistan, be treated as if she doesn’t matter by the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Stephen Peters, president of AMPA, said in a statement. “All of our veteran military families will finally be recognized and supported for their service to our nation.”

Read more: http://buzzfeed.com/chrisgeidner/obama-directs-federal-government-to-give-gay-couples-equal-v

Jim Cole / AP

2. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen has been pushing for a bill to mandate equal treatment for same-sex married couples seeking services from the Veterans Affairs Department.

Shaheen introduced and has testified in favor of the Charlie Morgan Act — named in honor of Chief Warrant Officer Charlier Morgan, who died earlier this year after fighting “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act while facing cancer. The bill was advanced by the Veterans’ Affairs Committee in July.

In June, of course, the Supreme Court struck down the federal definition of marriage in DOMA, which prohibited the federal government from recognizing marriages between same-sex couples.

Nonetheless, two provisions elsewhere in the law — found in Title 38 of the U.S. Code — separately define veterans benefits as only being available to opposite-sex spouses. As such, those laws were not specifically covered in the June 26 Supreme Court ruling about DOMA.

3. After the Supreme Court decision, Shaheen followed up with the Veterans Affairs Department on June 26, seeking information about whether the decision would end the need for her bill:

4. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki responded on August 14 that the Title 38 provisions still banned the department from granting equal benefits:

5. Court decisions, however, could end Title 38’s different treatment of same-sex couples:

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Shinseki also noted that three court cases are pending that raise the question of the constitutionality of the provisions in Title 38.

The House Republicans, who had been defending DOMA and Title 38 in court cases, withdrew from those cases during the month of July.

The Department of Justice, meanwhile, agrees with the plaintiffs that the Title 38 provisions are unconstitutional but also argued that the judge should not find in favor of the plaintiffs in one of those cases — a Massachusetts case in which Morgan had been a plaintiff — because of procedural issues the department had with the case.

7. Because the outcome of those cases are not yet known, however, Shaheen said Tuesday that she would keep pushing for her bill:

“We need to pass the Charlie Morgan Act to bring Department of Veteran Affairs benefits policy in line with the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down DOMA. I’m committed to making this happen. Every individual who serves in uniform deserves access to the benefits that they’ve earned and rightfully deserve. We can’t tolerate this type of discrimination, especially in the aftermath of a historic Supreme Court ruling that declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.”

8. Sen. Shaheen’s letter:

View this embed ›

9. Secretary Shinseki’s response:

View this embed ›

Read more: http://buzzfeed.com/chrisgeidner/same-sex-couples-still-barred-from-equal-veterans-benefits-s

The Pentagon formally recognized earlier this month that there are transgender veterans — a step that LGBT advocates say is a long way from open transgender service in the military, but also a significant first step in that process.

In a short letter dated May 2, a Navy official told Autumn Sandeen, a veteran and transgender activist: “Per your request the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) has been updated to show your gender as female effective April 12, 2013.”

Sandeen’s military identification card now reflects the change, a move called “quite significant” by the head of OutServe-SLDN, a national organization for LGBT service members and veterans and their families.

“The fact that a process exists [to change the gender listed] indicates that there are people in the Department of Defense who are aware of the needs of transgender retirees and who are working to see those needs met. And, in that sense, the significance of this symbolic act for our broader work and for our goal of open service becomes I think a little bit more apparent,” OutServe-SLDN executive director Allyson Robinson told BuzzFeed.

Although gay, lesbian and bisexual service members have been able to serve openly since September 2011, transgender people — those whose self-perception of their gender does not match the gender they were assigned at birth — continue to be discharged if they try to serve openly.

Sandeen had previously worked with the National Center for Transgender Equality to establish the standards used by the Department of Veterans Affairs for addressing transgender issues, and she also had changed her gender with other governmental entities.

“I have now done California, the Veterans Administration, State Department with a passport, and the Social Security office, I have changed all of this,” she said. “The one last place that shows me as male is the Department of Defense — from being a retiree there.”

Despite being a veteran, Sandeen is still listed in DEERS — a system generally used for current service members — because many veterans have their records and many of their benefits maintained by the Department of Defense, rather than the Department of Veterans Affairs, Robinson said.

Sandeen decided to address the fact that the Pentagon still listed her as a man by asking the Navy to change her gender to female.

“I had heard that it could be done; I had never heard of anybody actually doing it. So, I went and called up OutServe-SLDN, and told them, ‘OK, what I did with NCTE and checking the system there [in the Veterans’ Affairs Department], trying to find out what the rules are, what do you want me to try and do to see what … policy is.’ And they said, ‘If you can just show us that it can be done.’”

Sandeen did, submitting the documentation requested, and then, in May, receiving the notification that the change had been made.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time that the Department of Defense has recognized and affirmed a change of gender for anyone affiliated, in a uniformed capacity — in this case a military retiree. That alone makes it very significant, not just for this veteran herself, but for likely thousands of others who can have these corrections made to their DEERS documents,” Robinson said.

Sandeen said she saw it as a path forward for more movement.

“By showing you can actually change your gender marker with the Department of Defense, it shows that the Department of Defense actually will do that, and if they do that then it’s another stop toward figuring out a way to have open service for trans people,” she said.

Robinson noted that the decision itself is “limited in its reach” because “[i]t does not go back and correct historical records that the Department of Defense maintains on retirees, but it does correct all documents going forward, including the ID cards that veterans are issued that allows them access to the same kinds of military facilities that active-duty service members have.”

Robinson pressed the importance of that change because it would mean that trans military retirees would have ID cards coded with the gender that the retiree would be presenting themselves as if they were using a military service.

“When transgender people are inadvertently outed on documents that don’t match … that they become more susceptible to harassment and discrimination, more likely to face those kinds of responses. In a broad sense, having documentation that matches one’s day-to-day presentation of gender is very important,” Robinson said.

The limits to the move are significant. As both Sandeen and Robinson noted, the military will not alter the gender listed on a DD-Form-214, the Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, because the Pentagon considers it to be an historical document.

Sandeen, though dissatisfied with the military’s unwillingness to alter that form, said the DEERS change is an important first step.

“They’re starting with ‘you can change your reported gender with the Department of Defense,’ and then [transgender people can] take that into the next couples of questions: ‘Why can’t we update our DD-214s?’ and ‘Why can’t we serve openly?’” she said.

“I would say that it is a very early and very small step in a long process to achieve our goals here,” Robinson said. “But, it is significant, as the earliest steps always are, because it reflects a shift, even if it is a small one, in the way that transgender people are viewed within the institution of the United States military.”

For Sandeen, it is that simple. “I’d like to see trans people being able to serve openly, and that’s my end, and I think this is going to be a step to get there,” she said.

UPDATE: Department of Defense spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen released the following statement to BuzzFeed Thursday afternoon:

For the last several years, the Department has made requested changes to gender in the Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System (DEERS) for military retirees. A gender change in DEERS may be accomplished by the retiree presenting the following documents:

– A letter from the doctor who performed the surgery, documenting completion of a gender reassignment surgery
– A court order, legally changing the gender in accordance with applicable state law
– An original birth certificate
– A document, reflecting the sponsor’s name and if applicable, gender following completion of the gender reassignment procedure for a spouse

The Department will not change a gender in DEERS if it results in a loss of benefits to the spouse of the retired member due to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Read more: http://buzzfeed.com/chrisgeidner/pentagon-recognizes-transgender-veteran-advocates-see-a-shif

1. Here is what Star and Stripes wrote:

Esquire magazine claims “The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden … Is Screwed.”

The story details the life of the Navy SEAL after the successful raid to take out the No. 1 terrorist, and it asserts that once the SEAL got out of the military he was left to fend for himself.

“…here is what he gets from his employer and a grateful nation:

Nothing. No pension, no health care, and no protection for himself or his family.”

Except the claim about health care is wrong. And no servicemember who does less than 20 years gets a pension, unless he has to medically retire.

Like every combat veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the former SEAL, who is identified in the story only as “the Shooter”, is automatically eligible for five years of free healthcare through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

2. Here is Esquire’s aggressive response relating to VA benefits:

Now granted, “The Shooter” is a long story, lots of words to sort through, but McCloskey is wrong here. We refer her to this paragraph deeper in the piece: “There is a Transition Assistance Program in the military, but it’s largely remedial level, rote advice of marginal value: Wear a tie to interviews, not your Corfam (black shiny service) shoes. Try not to sneeze in anyone’s coffee. There is also a program at MacDill Air Force Base designed to help Special Ops vets navigate various bureaucracies. And the VA does offer five years of benefits for specific service-related claims—but it’s not comprehensive and it offers nothing for the Shooter’s family.”

3. Here is the cached version from yesterday:

4. Here is Esquire’s article as it appears today:

5. [Update] This sentence now appears in the Esquire piece, but does not specifically mention adding the VA benefits:

6. [Update] Mike Nizza, an Esquire digital editor tweets this line about the VA benefits was left out of the online story:

7. [Update 2] Esquires response to Stars and Stripes now has a lengthy editors note:

8. A section criticizing the Stars and Stripes reporter has also been toned down:

The headline of this piece has been updated to reflect the latest developments.

Read more: http://buzzfeed.com/andrewkaczynski/esquire-claims-they-mentioned-va-benefits-in-original-story

Arkansas Republican Rep. Tim Griffin told BuzzFeed he’s looking for ways to end delays have kept tens of thousands of student veterans from receiving their tuition and housing stipends on time, with some facing eviction or being shut out of classes at school.

“The least we could do is have a federal government administration or agency that facilitates [veterans] getting the benefits we’ve promised. It’s a pretty basic concept,” Griffin said.

Griffin criticized the failings of the VA described in a BuzzFeed report last week as “the type of things that happen with massive federal agencies.”

Griffin, an Iraq war veteran and former George Bush campaign aide, praised VA for promising to correct the G.I. Bill backlogs this week, as they did in a statement apparently released in response to BuzzFeed’s story.

But, he said, “we are looking at the legislative side. I’m not willing to say we’re settled on a particular legislative fix, but I’m absolutely willing to introduce legislation if need be.” Griffin, who has sparred in the past with the VA, introduced three G.I. Bill-related pieces of legislation to the House in November 2011.

The issue is of particular interest to his district, Griffin said: “We have doubled up our personnel working on those issues and we have a lot of veterans in our congressional district, so we are very attuned to this issue.”

Read more: http://buzzfeed.com/rosiegray/arkansas-congressman-considering-gi-bill-fix

Macey Foronda

WASHINGTON — Former Senators Bill Bradley, Tom Daschle, Christopher Dodd and Alan Simpson — all of whom voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 — told the Supreme Court Friday that “the original justifications for DOMA can no longer be credited today,” concluding that “our constitutional commitment to equality does not tolerate such discrimination.”

In urging the Supreme Court to strike down the federal prohibition on recognizing the state-sanctioned marriages of same-sex couples, the former senators tell the court:

DOMA is an especially poor candidate for any claim of deference to the constitutional judgment of the political braches. It was enacted hastily, with little independent consideration of its constitutionality, against the backdrop of a constitutional jurisprudence this Court has since abandoned. It was premised in large part on fears that subsequent experience has proven unfounded. And it effects a discrimination that we now have come to recognize as incompatible with our constitutional commitment to equal treatment under the law.

After detailing societal and legal changes — from state marriage law to the military — they conclude, “In short, the suggestion that our country’s vital institutions need protection from gay families has been thoroughly discredited by our national experience.”

Regardless of whether the Constitution prohibits the federal government from treating those gay and lesbian couples differently under the law, a group of law professors who hold differing views on that question told the Supreme Court that the DOMA is nonetheless unconstitutional because Congress has no right to pass such a law.

As groups and people opposing the Defense of Marriage Act’s federal definition of marriage file amici curiae, or friends of the court, briefs in advance of Friday’s deadline, the professors — primarily those with a libertarian focus in their work — oppose DOMA as an unconstitutional intrusion on states’ rights to define marriage.

This federalism argument has figured into the reason why two federal appeals courts have struck down Section 3 of DOMA, the federal definition of “marriage” and “spouse,” as unconstitutional. It is not, however, directly advanced by either Edith Windsor, the lesbian widow challenging DOMA at the Supreme Court, or the Obama administration, which has taken Windsor’s side in the case.

Several former senior cabinet and agency officials, including Health and Human Services secretaries under Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton — Louis Sullivan and and Donna Shalala, respectively — also filed a brief opposing DOMA on Friday. Other department or agencies represented among those who signed the brief are the Social Security Administration, the Department of Defense, the Department of Labor, the Office of Personnel Management, the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Contrary to the defense of the law raised by House Republican leaders, the brief argues that “Section 3 of DOMA does not ease administrative burdens or simplify the determinations made by federal agencies.” The officials go on to note, “Despite significant differences among the states over the validity of marriages, Congress never imposed a single federal benchmark before 1996 and then did so only with respect to one particular aspect of marital eligibility.”

Military and intelligence officials — from former Defense Secretary William Cohen and counterterrorism official Richard Clarke to retired Army Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy and retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark — spoke out against the impact of DOMA on the military after the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Calling the limits that DOMA places on servicemembers “simply untenable,” the brief — authored by prominent Supreme Court lawyer Carter Phillips of Sidley Austin — contends that “DOMA harms the military by depriving a subset of legally married servicemembers and their families of the very benefits—including healthcare, housing, equal pay, and survivorship benefits—that common sense, military experience, and research have demonstrated to be essential to all military families and more fundamentally to military effectiveness.”

Other briefs have come in from 212 members of Congress, the American Bar Association and, perhaps most surprisingly, a former CIA officer who argues that “DOMA dissuades countless patriotic and intelligent Americans from entering or continuing federal service, regardless of the agency involved.”

The professors who signed on to the federalism-focused brief are Jonathan Adler from Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Lynn Baker from the University of Texas School of Law, Randy Barnett from Georgetown University Law Center, Dale Carpenter from the University of Minnesota Law School, Ilya Somin from George Mason University School of Law, and Ernest Young from Duke Law School.

In explaining Friday’s filing, however, the law professors write:

The signatories of this brief hold a variety of opinions about same-sex marriage and about how the Constitution’s individual-rights provisions may bear on regulation of those marriages. But we agree that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is an unconstitutional and unprecedented incursion into States’ police powers.

Describing why, they note, “DOMA shatters two centuries of federal practice. Read plainly and fairly, DOMA creates, for the first time, a blanket federal marital status that exists independent of States’ family-status determinations.”

Addressing the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group’s defense of the law, they conclude:

DOMA falls outside Congress’s powers. Marriage is not commercial activity, and DOMA is not limited to federal-benefit programs that might rest on the Spending Clause. Any action by Congress that falls outside its specifically enumerated powers must be justified under the Necessary and Proper Clause, and DOMA cannot pass that test. …

BLAG is wrong. The legitimacy of same-sex marriage is a difficult and divisive issue, yet it is one that our federalism has been addressing with considerable success. Congress may regulate in this area to the extent necessary to further its enumerated powers. But it may not simply reject the States’ policy judgments as if it had the same authority to make domestic-relations law as they do.

The former CIA officer, Graham Segroves, worked for the CIA from 2002 through 2012, and argues that “one of the Federal Government’s most essential functions is to defend national security.” To that end, he tells the court:

Our Nation’s foreign enemies typically speak languages far different from our own, practice customs far different from our own, and, in some cases, do not recognize our right to exist. As a result, the threats that face our Nation today are exceedingly complex. Our defense against those threats requires a diverse workforce of dedicated public servants with unique skill sets, including the ability to speak foreign languages, understand foreign customs, operate discreetly within foreign nations, and develop leading-edge technologies.

DOMA hampers the Federal Government’s ability to attract and retain the personnel necessary to meet these unique challenges.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the DOMA challenge, United States v. Windsor, on March 27.

3. Former Senators, Opposing DOMA

View this embed ›

4. Federalism Professors, Opposing DOMA

View this embed ›

5. Former Cabinet and Agency Heads, Opposing DOMA

View this embed ›

6. Military & Intelligence Officials, Opposing DOMA

View this embed ›

7. Former CIA Officer, Opposing DOMA

View this embed ›

8. American Bar Association, Opposing DOMA

View this embed ›

Read more: http://buzzfeed.com/chrisgeidner/law-professors-congress-didnt-have-the-right-to-pass-doma

Allison Shelley / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee advanced legislation Wednesday to expand veterans’ benefits eligibility for same-sex couples who are legally married.

According to a news release from the committee, the measure — the “Charlie Morgan Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act of 2013” — introduced by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen “would bring the [Department of Veterans Affairs] into conformance with” the June 26 ruling striking down the federal definition of marriage in the Defense of Marriage Act.

“Every individual who serves in uniform should have access to the benefits they’ve earned,” Shaheen said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed. Of the now-deceased veteran after whom the bill is named, she added, “Charlie served on the front lines for our country, but because of her sexual orientation, her family has been wrongfully being denied many of the same benefits given to those who stood beside her.”

After the June Supreme Court ruling, committee chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders said in a statement that the committee would “take up this legislation next month if VA cannot implement the Supreme Court’s decision without congressional action.”

Shaheen praised the committee action and urged the full Senate to vote on the bill.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA was a victory for the belief that all Americans are to be treated equally under the law, and I am pleased the Veterans’ Committee has built on the landmark progress we’ve seen for marriage equality. I hope the full Senate will move forward on the Charlie Morgan Act so that finally no spouse, child or family is denied benefits they have earned and deserve,” she said.

Read more: http://buzzfeed.com/chrisgeidner/veterans-affairs-committee-advances-gay-couples-benefits-bil