- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I understand that the Pentagon has decided to issue a new Distinguished Warfare Medal which will outrank the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Is this true?

Alexandria, Va.

Dear J.C.:

It is true, and the Sarge joins the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) in their opposition to this decision.

“It is very important to properly recognize all who faithfully serve and excel, but this new medal — no matter how well intended — could quickly deteriorate into a morale issue,” said John E. Hamilton, national commander of the 2 million-member Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. and its Auxiliaries.

In announcing the medal, the Pentagon recently said that modern technology enables service members with special training and capabilities to more directly and precisely impact military operations at times far from the battlefield. The Distinguished Warfare Medal was created to recognize such extraordinary achievement, regardless of the distance from the battlefield.

“The VFW fully concurs that those far from the fight are having an immediate impact on the battlefield in real-time,” said Mr. Hamilton, a combat-wounded Marine Corps rifleman in Vietnam, “but medals that can only be earned in direct combat must mean more than medals awarded in the rear. The VFW urges the Department of Defense to reconsider the new medal’s placement in the military order of precedence.”

Shaft notes

• The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued final regulations pertaining to a special hiring authority for the appointment of persons with certain disabilities. The final rule for “Excepted Service — Appointment of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities, Severe Physical Disabilities and Psychiatric Disabilities,” also known as “Schedule A Hiring Authority,”simplifies the hiring process for job applicants with disabilities who have work, educational, or other relevant experience, by relieving them of the burden of procuring “certificates of readiness” as a condition of appointment.

The new regulations are consistent with the president’s policy of removing barriers and encouraging the employment of individuals with disabilities in the federal workforce, as expressed in Executive Order 13548, (Increasing Federal Employment of Individuals With Disabilities).

“We deliver the best results to the American people when we include all parts of our society in our workforce, and take full advantage of their skills and perspectives,” OPM Director John Berry said. “It’s important to recruit, hire, develop and retain a competitive and diverse workforce, so that we tap the potential of all groups — including Americans with disabilities.”

Previously, an individual with a disability who wished to be appointed under the Schedule A authority was required not only to establish that he or she had a qualifying disability but also to submit a “certification of job readiness,” essentially a formal written assessment, by a medical professional, vocational rehabilitation specialist or disability benefit agency, that the applicant could reasonably be expected to perform in a particular work environment.

This final rule removes the requirement for a certification of job readiness. Now an applicant will only need to establish that he or she has a qualifying disability.

Schedule A Hiring Authority for persons with disabilities is one of the tools the federal government uses to accomplish the goals of Executive Order 13548. In FY 2011, people with disabilities represented 7.96 percent of all new hires. When veterans who are 30 percent or more disabled are included, people with disabilities represent 14.7 percent of all new hires or 18,738 people.

To view the final regulations on the Federal Register, click here.

For more information on disability hiring, click here.

• Rep. John R. Carter, Texas Republican, is re-introducing two bills, one that would help the families of the victims of the Fort Hood shooting receive benefits they deserve and another bill would protect soldiers and defense employees from retaliation for reporting radical Islamic threats.

Major Nidal Hasan is awaiting trial for the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting deaths of 14 people, including 12 service members, one civilian employee and an unborn child. Thirty-two people were injured in that attack.

The Fort Hood Families Benefits Protection Act, HR 625, would award the military and civilian casualties of the 2009 Fort Hood attack the same status that was awarded to the casualties of the Pentagon attack on Sept. 11, 2001. All of the casualties would be eligible for the Purple Heart Award or the Department of Defense civilian award equivalent.

The Military Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, HR 4267, would prevent service members and civilian defense employees, who alert the Department of Defense investigation or law enforcement of radical Islamic and other ideological terror threats, from being persecuted for political correctness.

“The men and women serving our country, whether in uniform or civilian clothes, should not have to face disciplinary retaliation and action for reporting what they see as security threats,” Mr. Carter said. “Failure to report such suspicions could be devastating to this nation. We cannot let another shooting, like the one that happened on Fort Hood, happen again.”

Both bills were introduced last session but did not make it through the approval process. Mr. Carter says the Secretary of Defense has the authority to grant casualty status and since Secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta refused, hopes this is a question asked of their replacement in the upcoming confirmation hearings for the next Secretary of Defense.

• The Armed Services YMCA has been awarded a $200,000 grant from Newman’s Own Foundation, the independent foundation created by the late actor and philanthropist, Paul Newman. The award to Armed Services YMCA reflects the ongoing commitment of Newman’s Own Foundation to organizations serving military service personnel, veterans and their families.

Mike Landers, president and CEO, said: “The impact this funding will have on our military families and their children is immeasurable. These funds will provide hundreds of military children with learning and bonding opportunities, coping mechanisms to help them deal with the challenges of military life, as well as memories that will last a lifetime.”

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or email [email protected].

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