‘Veterans Coalition’ backs Bill Lee for governor

News release from Bill Lee campaign

FRANKLIN, Tenn. – Williamson County businessman and farmer Bill Lee announced the formation of the Veterans for Bill Lee Coalition. The group, consisting of Tennessee military veterans across every branch of service, will serve in an advisory role to Lee on state veterans and Tennessee Military Department issues.

“I’m honored and grateful to have the support and counsel of these great Tennessee leaders,” said Lee. “There is no group that we owe more to than our veterans, and I will make our state the number one state for veterans to live and work.”

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Remains of bomber crew member, shot down in WWII, returned to TN

News release from Department of Veterans Services

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Veterans Services Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder recognize the service and sacrifice of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant William Turner of Nashville, who was presumably killed on December 13, 1943 along with five other American crew members while serving in World War II.  Turner along with the rest of the “Hell’s Fury” crew were part of an armada of 219 B-26 aircrafts flying form Essex, England to Amsterdam, Holland for a bombing raid.   “Hell’s Fury” was struck by anti-aircraft artillery and crashed near Schiphol near Amsterdam.  The 20-year old aerial engineer was assigned to the 555th Bomb Squadron, 386th Bomb Group and was a crew member of “Hell’s Fury” B-26 bomber.  The crash was recorded by the military as Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) 1413.

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After disabled vet’s protest, Roe to look into modifying Veterans Administration pain management policy

A week after U.S. Rep. Phil Roe became the target of a disabled veteran’s public protest, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs has responded to a Johnson City Press request for his views on the subject in issue – the VA’s policy on pain management drugs. As committee chair, Roe says he will look into the need for revisions to the policy.

Robert Rose, who suffered severe spinal injuries while serving as a U.S. Marine, turned his wheelchair to face away from Roe as the congressman delivered a speech on his support for veterans July 3 at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Mountain Home. The newspaper reported at the time that Rose was “in visible pain” while showing “clear contempt” for Roe with the maneuver.

Rose said the VA’s “Opioid Safety Initiative,” implemented five years ago, has left him without the medication needed to combat chronic pain. On Monday, Roe sent the newspaper an email offering sympathy but declaring Rose’s criticism was unwarranted. Excerpt from today’s Press story:

“While I support the goals of this initiative and applaud the VA for taking steps to curb dependence on opioids, I also have been made aware of many concerns from veterans like Mr. Rose that necessary pain management may have been reduced or eliminated too quickly and will conduct oversight through my position as chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs as to whether the policy needs to be modified,” Roe wrote.

…The congressman complained in his email that he was not afforded the opportunity to respond to Rose’s criticisms. Roe was not available immediately following Rose’s comments to the Press, and the Press’ efforts to reach Roe and his staff on July 3 were unsuccessful.

The Press again contacted Roe’s office on Monday to request an interview. Lani Short, his press secretary, said the congressman would be unavailable because Roe’s schedule was “especially full.” Short said “everything he would say is found in the letter below,” referring to Roe’s email.

Memphis Veterans Affairs whistleblower fired day before signing of VA whistlebower protection law

Just a day before President Donald Trump signed into law protections for whistleblowers at Veterans Affairs facilities around the country, a whistleblower at the Memphis VA facility was handed a termination letter, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The June 22 letter says Sean Higgins had showed “disruptive behavior” and used profanity in the workplace. Higgins said the move is the product of retaliation from upper-level administrators whom he had accused of unethical behavior. He said he used profanity in a one-on-one meeting.

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Tribute paid to five servicemen who made ‘ultimate sacrifice’ in TN Memorial Day ceremony

News release from state Department of Veterans Affairs

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Tennessee Department of Veterans Services Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder and Tennessee Military Department Adjutant General, Major General Terry “Max” Haston paid tribute to five service members who gave the ultimate sacrifice during the state’s Memorial Day service today.

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TN soldier killed in helicopter crash

News release from Department of Veterans Affairs

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Veterans Services Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder recognize the service and sacrifice of Specialist Jeremy Tomlin of Chapel Hill, Tenn.  The Marshall County U.S. Army soldier was working as a crew chief and training in a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter when it crashed on Monday, April 17, 2017 in Leornardtown, Md.   Tomlin was pronounced dead at the scene and two other crew members were critically injured. Tomlin,22, was assigned to “C” Company, 12th Aviation Battalion out of Fort Belvoir, Va.

”Jeremy was a son, brother and husband who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country,” Haslam said.  “We pause to remember this young Tennessee soldier killed in the line of duty and as a state we offer our thoughts and prayers to his loved ones.”

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House OKs Senate amendments, sends gas tax bill to governor

The House went along Monday night with Senate amendments to Gov. Bill Haslam’s tax package, including increases in the state levies on gasoline and diesel fuel, giving the measure final approval and sending it to the governor for his signature.

The vote was 67-21. The House had approved the overall bill last earlier on a 60-37 vote.

The key amendment added by the Senate Thursday was to increase state-funded property tax relief for disabled veterans to cover the first $175,000 value of their home. Currently, only the first $100,000 is covered.

The House – especially those who had opposed the overall Haslam bill, known as the IMPROVE Act — had pushed to have the veterans tax relief included in a separate bill. But even some who voted against the overall bill went along with the amendments, even though protesting the procedure.

Rep. Barry Doss, R-Leoma, acting as sponsor of Haslam’s bill, said separate legislation dealing with only the veterans bill is dead in the Senate, though it has passed the House. And he said the Senate version of veterans tax relief bill raised the home value to just $135,000, not the $175,000 that is in the Senate amendment to the IMPROVE Act.

Further, from the Times-Free Press:

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Soccer, veterans, taxes get tangled in House GOP floor fights

Legislation dealing with a proposed soccer stadium in Nashville and a property tax break for disabled veterans got tangled up with Gov. Bill Haslam’s fuel tax package in contentious quarreling among  House Republicans Thursday.

The results were inconclusive: The soccer bill passed, as expected, and House Majority Leader Glen Casada gave up on his veterans tax maneuver, which began with him declaring:

“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for the House to lead.”

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Veterans Caucus opposes tying tax break to gas tax

News release from Rep. Micah Van Huss

(NASHVILLE) — Representative Micah Van Huss (R – Gray) brought a statement before the Legislative Veterans Caucus on Wednesday.  The statement condemns the actions that amended the Governor’s Gas Tax bill (The IMPROVE Act) to include property tax relief for Veterans.

The statement, which passed the bi-partisan caucus unanimously, calls upon the Legislature to remove the amendment from the IMPROVE Act.  It also requests that 3 bills providing specifically for veterans property tax relief be given a fair vote.

“I am honored to lead this bi-partisan effort to ensure that our Veterans are not used as political pawns,” Van Huss said.

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Veterans renew lobbying to restore cuts in state tax relief program

A bill has already been filed for the 2017 legislative session that would restore a cut in the state-funded subsidy of local property taxes paid by military veterans and The Tennessean has a report on veterans who will be lobbying for passage of the measure in a year with huge budget surpluses.

The bill (HB5) by Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, himself a veteran, declares that veterans can get property tax relief on the first $175,000 in value of their homes. After the cut – pushed by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration and the state comptroller’s office because of rapid growth in the cost of the program – the subsidy applies to only the first $100,000 in value.

It’s been a hotly-debated topic for three years. Legislators last year added close to $1 million in funding for the overall program beyond what was allocated in Haslam’s budget (low income elderly and disabled persons are also eligible for a state subsidy), but didn’t change the value cap for veterans.

As many as 16,700 disabled veterans and their surviving spouses received $12.1 million in benefits via the tax relief program during the 2015-16 tax year, which is the most recent data available. The year before, about 15,900 disabled veterans and their surviving spouses received $8.5 million in benefits.

By comparison, 133,400 low-income elderly and disabled residents received about $20 million in benefits in the 2015-16 tax year.

… The effort to undo the changes to the tax relief program is the No. 1 priority, says Barry Rice, president of the Tennessee State Council of the Vietnam Veterans of America.

“On a scale of one to 10, it’s about an 11 or 12,” he said.

Despite lawmakers’ promises of additional change to the program, Land remains skeptical.

Land says the state’s public officials are playing political football with the men and women who have risked their lives by serving their country. He points to the amount of federal money that the state’s veterans bring to Tennessee to underline the sheer economic value they bring to the state.

Land also said he finds it disheartening to see veterans’ property tax relief being scrutinized when the state has a surplus and teachers and public employees have been receiving raises.

“Give me a break,” he says. “This is just shoving stuff down our throats.”