January 26, 2016

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt Shaft
Have you heard anything about new members being appointed to the VA Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans?

Jenifer R
Via the internet

Dear Jenifer
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has announced the appointment of four new members to the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans. The committee was chartered on November 2, 1994, and advises the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on the needs of the nation’s 4.7 million minority Veterans on compensation, health care, rehabilitation, outreach and other benefits and programs administered by the VA.   The committee assesses the needs of Veterans who are minority group members and recommends program improvements designed to meet their needs. The committee members are appointed to two or three-year terms. Minority Veterans comprise nearly 21 percent of the total Veteran population in the United States and its territories.

The new committee members are:

Melissa Castillo: Navy Veteran of San Antonio, Texas. Served as the Assistant Regional Director for San Antonio Region, Veterans County Service Officer Association of Texas; Assistant Women Veterans Coordinator; Advisor to the US Army Survivor Outreach Services Program; and Advisor to the Alamo Community College District Veterans Affairs Committee.  Currently serves as the Assistant Veterans Service Officer at the Bexar County Veterans Service Office in San Antonio, Texas, and is an accredited Veterans Service Officer.

Benno Cleveland: Army Veteran of Fairbanks, Alaska. Served two tours in Dong Tam, Vietnam where he earned a Purple Heart.  He also served as Senior Vice Commander and Department Commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.  In recognition of his distinguished military service, the Alaska Federation of Natives bestowed him with their “Veteran of the Year” honors in 2014 at their Annual Convention in Anchorage. Mr. Cleveland also founded the Alaska Native Veterans Association and is currently serving as President.

Ginger Miller: Navy Veteran of Accokeek, Maryland, and former homeless disabled Veteran. Ms. Miller became Founder and CEO of two nonprofit organizations that serve Veterans and their families: John 14:2, Inc. and Women Veterans Interactive.  She served as Chairwoman of the Prince George’s County Veterans Commission; Commissioner, Maryland Commission for Women; member of the Maryland Veterans Resilience Advisory Council; and a member of the Maryland Caregivers Support Coordinating Council.  She is currently a member of Disabled American Veterans.

Xiomara Sosa:  Army Veteran of Summerville, South Carolina. Ms. Sosa is the Founder and Principal of XAS Consulting, LLC, an integrative mental healthcare and holistic wellness consulting firm. She served on the Women Veteran Social Justice board of directors; Military Partners and Families Veteran Initiative; the Semper Fidelis Health and Wellness Advisory Board; and a current member of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation, Inc.

The new members join current members:

Marvin Trujillo, Jr., Committee Chairman, Marine Corps Veteran

Many-Bears Grinder, Col. (USA-Ret)

Patricia Jackson-Kelley, Lt. Col. (USA-Ret)

Librado Rivas, Command Sgt. Maj. (USA-Ret)

Teresita Smith, Sgt. First Class (USA-Ret)

Rebecca Stone, Staff Sgt. (USA-Ret)

Cornell Wilson, Jr., Maj. Gen. (USMC-Ret)

Anthony Woods, Army Veteran


Shaft Notes
Brooke Goldberg, Deputy Director for MOAA’s Government Relations Department,  testified on behalf of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA)  and The Military Coalition before the House Armed Services military personnel subcommittee today on the military commissary program and maintaining the value of this important benefit for the entire uniformed services community.

Goldberg thanked the committee for their continued support of the “landmark benefit” that remains protected due to their efforts.

She went on to explain how military families are doing a lot more with a lot less citing smaller pay raises and decreased housing allowances. She said families rely on the consistent products, savings and sense of community provided by the commissary.

The FY2016 Defense Authorization Act specified that any changes to the commissary system must ensure the same levels of product quality, patron savings, and patron satisfaction or maintained.

Goldberg said those standards are exactly the ones that should be used in assessing any proposed changes.  In the process, she said, it will be important to guard against any redefinition of what the “patron benefit” actually is.

She described how the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) currently compares thousands of items in its market basket study, weighted by sales volume, against private grocers and calculates an average savings level of 30 percent. When Boston Consulting Group measured just 50 items in their market basket, it found a much lower savings level.

“We believe that changing the market basket could result in a reduced benefit by excluding comparison of items commonly purchased by patrons in calculating the savings measured,” Goldberg said. “Therefore, maintaining consistency with previous calculations is imperative to continuing the benefit that patrons know and rely on.”

“The commissary is more than just a grocery store; it is a benefit that supplements income for the currently serving, wounded warriors, widows and military retirees, at a price that would be far more costly to DoD if paid in monetary compensation,” said Goldberg.  She explained that while the commissary costs taxpayers the equivalent of a 2 percent pay raise for the entire military, the monetary value of grocery savings it delivers for an E-5 family of four with eight years of service equates to a 9 percent pay raise. That amount is higher for more junior families.

“In times of austerity, we should not be doing anything to cut a benefit that the currently serving, wounded, widows and retirees so greatly rely upon and earned access to, when we cannot afford to replace it with something equally good or better,” she stated.

Representative Joe Heck, subcommittee chairman, expressed his appreciation for the views of the witnesses, asserting the subcommittee’s intent is to preserve the benefit first while exploring options that might generate savings while still meeting that prerequisite.

“The goal is to continue to sustain a commissary benefit that is substantial and valued,” he concluded.

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