Metro-East News

Senators block Pentagon effort to privatize military base commissaries

A bipartisan group of 31 senators has introduced legislation that would block the privatization of commissaries at five installations until a study has been completed that would assess the impact, according to Military Times.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., vice chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, introduced the amendment, which is co-sponsored by another 29 senators.

They’re trying to stop a provision in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the fiscal 2017 defense authorization bill which would require DoD to begin turning over operation of commissaries to private companies.

The committee’s privatization provision was similar to one that was introduced last year to conduct the tests.

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The U.S. Air Force is running out of fighter jets. Even as its squadrons dwindle, the flying branch remains committed to exclusively buying overly-complex, enormously expensive F-35 stealth fighters that it simply cannot afford in the quantities it needs in order to maintain its numerical strength, according to the Daily Beast.

That’s because the Air Force wants all of its fighters to be radar-evading stealth fighters, regardless of the cost or impact of this goal on the service’s ability to do its job defending America’s interests in the sky.

The Air Force is, in that sense, a victim of its own technological ambition. And the self-inflicted warplane-shortage couldn’t come at a worse time. While the American air arm slowly withers away, the air forces of China and Russia only grow stronger, according to the article.

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Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is championing legislation to take the handling of sexual assault cases out of the hands of the military, after reading an inspector general’s report that an Army general retaliated against a National Guard officer for reporting her rape by a more senior officer.

“This is a perfect example of why it needs to come out of the chain of command and set up a separate prosecution unit for these rapists,” the Iowa Republican told reporters.

The Department of Defense inspector general office’s finding is unprecedented, Grassley said, because it’s the first time it has substantiated whistleblower reprisal for reporting a sexual assault.

The inspector general found that after a lieutenant colonel commanding a military police battalion reported being raped by a more senior officer, Brigadier General Charles Viet issued her an unfavorable and career-damaging officer evaluation, according to the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

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ABC News is reporting that a Florida congressman says the Veterans Administration cut off the benefits of more 4,200 people nationwide after they were wrongly declared dead.

Rep. David Jolly says these people were “very much alive” and their benefits were resumed after the VA looked into their cases, which happened between 2011 and 2015.

The Florida Republican raised the issue with the VA in November on behalf of a group of veterans in the Tampa Bay area. He told The Associated Press early Wednesday that agency has since acknowledged mistakes in 4,200 cases in the previous five years, and that it has changed its protocols for confirming deaths.

“We simply cannot have men and women who have sacrificed for this country see their rightful benefits wrongfully terminated because the VA mistakenly declares them dead,” Jolly wrote in a statement.

Danny Pummill, the acting undersecretary for benefits at the VA, acknowledged mistakenly declaring the 4,200 veterans dead in a May 6 letter to Jolly. The agency's computer systems don't track the causes of each error, but Pummill wrote that they could have resulted from incorrect data provided by another agency, human error or computer issues.

Mike Fitzgerald: 618-239-2533, @MikeFitz3000

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