By MOAA Staff
Thousands of listeners have downloaded MOAA’s Never Stop Serving Podcast, which wrapped up its first 10-episode season at the end of 2021 and will be launching a new season next month. And while the series touched on a variety of topics under the direction of host Lt. Col. Olivia Nunn, USA (Ret), episodes that deal with critical MOAA advocacy issues are worth the spotlight during the show’s brief intermission.
You can get caught up on the three episodes highlighted below by visiting the links provided, but for a surefire way to catch everything covered by Nunn and her guests, visit MOAA.org/podcast today and follow the links to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite streaming service.
Arlington National Cemetery
Nunn covered proposed changes to Arlington National Cemetery eligibility rules with guest Lt. Col. Mark Belinsky, USA (Ret), MOAA’s director of Government Relations for currently serving and retired affairs. He outlined the genesis of the problem, and why new legislation is needed to prevent misguided and discriminatory new regulations from taking effect.
The problem began with the FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, which offered vague guidance to ensure the cemetery can continue to operate “well into the future.”
“That is pretty broad language, but it’s law, so that went to DoD and DoD handed that language down to the Army … and that went down to a planner,” Belinsky told Nunn. “The planners got together and they said, OK, ‘Well into the future,’ how are we going to define that? And at the time, Arlington National Cemetery was 150 years old, so they said, ‘OK, we’re going to say that means for 150 years.’”
That meant to deal with a “finite amount of space,” Belinsky said, “they kind of turned it into a math problem … ‘If I’m going to make this last for another 150 years, I need to reduce the eligibility here. And they drew the line, with the math, out to Silver Star [recipients] and above or Purple Heart. … That really is frustrating, because there’s a lot of valor involved for folks who are not in direct combat roles.”
The move also makes it more difficult for women who served before all roles were open to them to qualify for burial at Arlington. Listen below to learn more about MOAA’s efforts on this issue:
Military Pay and Benefits
Protecting pay and benefits for servicemembers past and present has long been a legislative priority for MOAA. In the podcast’s first episode, Col. Dan Merry, USAF (Ret), MOAA’s vice president of Government Relations, outlined to Nunn why MOAA remains focused on many aspects of pay and benefits, including the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).
“A career of service needs to be recognized as an important element of our all-volunteer force,” Merry said. “We are focused on making sure that our nation can keep an all-volunteer force – the right makeup, the right talents, and the right commitments – in order to meet the challenges on the horizon.”
While laws exist to provide for COLAs and pay raises, “Congress is busy to find where the money can come from” in austere fiscal environments. “They look at, ‘Wait a minute, do we really need to give them a raise this year? The retention’s pretty good, and the recruiting’s pretty good, why not just skip a pay raise and use that money for something else?’ We watch vigilantly those issues and any of those soundwaves about what they might want to do about either carve out COLA, reduce it, or eliminate it, or not pay a pay raise, or to put more of the costs of things like housing and health care on the backs of the servicemembers. We’re there to make sure it’s a level playing field, and that the laws that are there remain intact to support the pay and compensation.”
Learn more about the issue by listening here:
From open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan to the decades-long fight for Agent Orange benefits undergone by Vietnam veterans, the issue of toxic exposure spans generations, as does MOAA’s effort to ensure all members of the unformed services community sickened by these toxins receives the care and benefits they’ve earned.
While comprehensive legislation on this issue remains pending, Cory Titus, MOAA’s director of Government Relations for Veteran Benefits and Guard and Reserve Affairs, spoke with Nunn on MOAA’s work on Capitol Hill pushing to move the changes forward, recalling work on behalf of a previous generation.
“Right after we finished with the Blue Water Navy fight, that was a huge, tremendous legislative win. And I think MOAA and a lot of the [veterans service organizations] took a step back and said, ‘This isn’t sustainable. We can’t continue to do this. How do we fight this and fundamentally change the way we address these toxic exposures? And really, burn pits was the next big fight.
“We looked at those lessons from Vietnam and the Agent Orange era … we can’t go about this the same way. Too many folks are going to die. Too many servicemembers or veterans are going to not get the care and benefits they deserve until it’s far too late. And that was kind of the awakening moment for the whole community that fundamentally changed how to go about this.”
Learn more about the legislation under consideration by listening here: