Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Defender of Your Tax Dollars

Trillions in new budget deficits; social security on the verge of insolvency, and reckless spending as far as the eye can see.

But don't let anyone say the Obama Administration isn't a careful steward of your tax dollars.

Consider, for example, the military spending bill that's now working its way through Congress. In a carefully worded statement released late last week, the White House voiced its displeasure over one of the bill's amendments, which funds pensions for 26 elderly members of the Alaska Territorial Guard.

The move came as Senators consider a bill that allows former members to count their guard service as part of their active duty military service, and reinstates larger pension payments. The Army decided earlier this year that it would no longer count service in the Territorial Guard for pension purposes, while including it in calculations for other military benefits.

Each of the individuals affected by the decision have enough military time to qualify for a pension, but the decision reduced the amount of their monthly payments by as much as $300. That may not sound like much, but many of the retirees live on fixed incomes, in remote villages where gas sells for $10 a gallon. For those veterans, losing $300 a month is a significant financial blow.

But apparently, the Obama Administration doesn't care. According to McClatchy, the White House said it was "not appropriate to establish a precedent of treating service performed by a state employee as active duty for purposes of the computation of retired pay."

Talk about hair-splitting. One reason Territorial Guard members weren't considered federal employees is because they weren't part of the Alaska National Guard, which was federalized several months before Pearl Harbor. Deciding that the territory was of little strategic value, virtually the entire Alaska guard was shipped to Washington State in August 1941, leaving the region largely defenseless.

Views on protecting Alaska changed in 1942, after the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor, conducted reconnaissance operations along the vast coastline and the seizure of Attu and Kiska, in the Aleutians chain. Roughly 6,600 men (and women) were recruited for the initial cadre and as many as 20,000 served in the Territorial Guard before it was disbanded in 1947.

During World War II, guard members provided security for several strategic facilities, including the only platinum mine in the Western Hemisphere. They also guarded the route for Lead-Lease Aid provided to the Soviet Union. The guard was also one of the first racially-integrated units in the U.S. military. More than five years before Harry Truman ended segregation in the armed forces, the territorial guard had Alaskans of all ethnic backgrounds serving side-by-side.

Of the guard's earliest recruits, only about 300 are still living. Remarkably, most members of the guard served without pay and did not receive veteran status from the U.S. government until 2000.

Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski described the White House decision as "deeply disturbing, bordering on the insensitive." Her Democratic colleague, Mark Begich, was equally frustrated:

"We are talking about 26 brave, elderly Alaska Natives who served honorably for this country during World War II," Begich said in a statement. "I, frankly, find it puzzling how the administration could object to giving these men the recognition they deserve. The federal government deserted these men at the end of the war, and I hope the Congress and my colleagues in the Senate won't let that happen again."

This matter should be a no-brainer. The total cost of funding the pensions is less than $1 million a year, a tiny fraction of the money wasted in this year's stimulus bill. But the White House is siding with the Army's bean-counters, denying a few dollars to men who served their country faithfully and honorably. Someone ought to ask the Aleut, Inupiaq, Tlingit and Yupik veterans of the territorial guard how "hope and change" is working for them.


Brian said...

"Trillions in new budget deficits; social security on the verge of insolvency, and reckless spending as far as the eye can see."

I'm pretty sure that could refer to any US Administration from the last 10 years...

Anonymous said...

You'd think that the mental midgets in the Obama administration would check a few basic facts first. Their stated basis for refusing this claim is that the Guardsmen were State employees and that they did not want to set a precedent.

Alaska wasn't a state until 3 January 1959. As a Territory, ultimate oversight of Territorial government rested with the US Congress. If that's not Federal employment, I don't know what is.