Air National Guard plan questioned by base-closing panel
By Associated Press
Published August 12, 2005
WASHINGTON - A skeptical base-closing commission questioned whether the Defense Department's plan to reorganize the Air National Guard would mean new risks for homeland security Thursday as the Pentagon and state officials squared off over the proposal.
The proposed shakeup of dozens of Air Guard units has emerged as the most contentious part of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's proposal to close, shrink or expand hundreds of military bases and other installations nationwide.
As a result, the nine-member commission reviewing the proposal gave the Pentagon and states one last chance to argue their cases about the Air Guard before sending a final report - with changes if necessary - to President Bush next month.
Defense officials tried to reassure the commission.
"Our responsibilities to support the Department of Homeland Security in their homeland security mission are not impacted adversely by this beyond a level of acceptable risk," Peter Verga, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, told commissioners.
Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of the U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said: "It poses no unacceptable risk."
Commissioners appeared unconvinced.
"That's not exactly a wholehearted endorsement, to me anyway," said Harold Gehman, a retired Navy admiral.
"It's not just perception. I think it's actual fact that our national defense is being hampered, will be impaired by the proposals of the Department of Air Force," said James Bilbray, a former Nevada congressman.
For their part, state adjutants general, who oversee the Air Guard in the states, argued that the plan would prevent units from fulfilling their homeland security missions, including protecting the skies and supporting governors during statewide emergencies.
Maj. Gen. Roger Lempke, president of the Adjutants General Association of the United States, said the proposal would take the Air National Guard down an uncertain path.
He urged the commission to review an alternate proposal the organization offered.
Rumsfeld's Air Guard plan calls for shifting people, equipment and aircraft among at least 54 sites where units now are stationed. Roughly two dozen sites would expand, with about 30 set for closure or downsizing.
Veterans' post-traumatic stress claims revisited
WASHINGTON - The government is going to take a new look at the claims of about a third of the military veterans who now get disability payments for post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Veterans Affairs Department will begin a yearlong review next month of 72,000 cases after an internal study found inconsistencies in the way the claims were decided, including many cases approved though they lacked medical evidence.
Millions of dollars a year could be involved.
Post-traumatic stress disorder, a mental illness characterized by symptoms like flashbacks and nightmares, can be difficult to diagnose.
The review will cover veterans whose claims were approved from 1999 to 2004 and who receive full disability benefits - $2,299 a month - for PTSD alone or in combination with other conditions, said VA spokesman Phil Budahn.