Tag Archives: military

Lawyers preparing to defend, protect inauguration protesters in D.C.

The National Lawyers Guild is coordinating with the DC NLG Chapter in preparation for mass protests surrounding the 58th presidential inauguration.

Mass demonstrations are planned for Jan. 19-21 in the capital and across the country.

Large numbers of people are expected to converge in the nation’s capital to protest the swearing in of Donald Trump as the 45th U.S. president.

The inauguration is National Special Security Event. So the swearing in and other events will be accompanied by an intense degree of policing coordinated by over three dozen federal intelligence, law enforcement and military agencies, with security costs expected to exceed $100 million.

Such high levels of security and policing at previous national events have led to mass arrests, surveillance of protesters, unconstitutional restrictions of permits and free speech and intimidating shows of force by police, according to a statement from the guild.

“Tens of thousands of people are answering the call to resist the incoming administration at inaugural protests next weekend. As always, the NLG is mobilizing its dedicated team of radical lawyers, legal workers, and law students, to provide the critical legal support infrastructure needed for such large scale demonstrations,” said Maggie-Ellinger Locke, DC NLG Mass Defense Chair.

From the various actions on the day of the inauguration to the Women’s March on Washington planned for Jan. 21, the NLG is organizing a mass defense infrastructure of Legal Observers , jail support and lawyers.

Legal observers will monitor on-site at protests and document any arrests and potential abuses inflicted on demonstrators by law enforcement, according to the guild.

The jail support team will handle hotlines, track arrests and assist people as they are released.

Attorneys who can practice in D.C. will represent arrestees and do jail visits.

In preparation for the inauguration, DC NLG members have been holding trainings in the capital, as well as online trainings for those coming from other parts of the country.

The NLG also recently released an analysis of recent trends in protest policing, based on an updated version of the Field Force Operations training manual for crowd control produced by the Department for Homeland Security and FEMA’s Center for Domestic Preparedness.

Get involved

Lawyers, legal workers and law students interested in assisting with legal support can fill out this form to volunteer.


  • Website: dcnlg.wordpress.com
  • Legal Support Hotline:  202-670-6866
  • NLG Know Your Rights Booklets in English, Spanish, Arabic, Bengali and Urdu.

91-year-old gay veteran wins honorable discharge

A 91-year-old veteran who was dismissed from the U.S. Air Force as “undesirable” in 1948 because he is gay has had that discharge status changed to “honorable.”

The move by the Air Force comes in response to a lawsuit filed in November by H. Edward Spires of Norwalk, Connecticut, who served from 1946 to 1948 as a chaplain’s assistant, earning the rank of sergeant.

Spires was forced out of the military in 1948 after an investigation into his sexual orientation.

Spires’ attorneys said he was originally denied the discharge upgrade after the repeal of the don’t ask, don’t tell policy in 2010 because the Air Force said his records had likely been lost in a 1973 fire.

The Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records informed Spires on Friday that the honorable discharge had been approved by the Air Force Review Boards Agency.

Spires’ attorneys have said he is in poor health and would like a military funeral, which the upgrade makes possible.

“The idea that this man of faith who served dutifully as a chaplain’s assistant in the armed forces, who built a life and a career that has brought joy to those around him, would leave this earth considered undesirable in the eyes of his country, it’s unthinkable,” Spires’ husband, David Rosenberg, said during a briefing on the case at the Yale Law School in November.

Spires’ case also was championed by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who said Monday that the Air Force’s decision “corrects an incredible injustice.”

Also this month, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a public apology for the State Department’s institutional discrimination in the past against gay and lesbian diplomats.

In a statement, Kerry says discrimination suffered by gay State Department workers has gone on since the 1940s. He says denying some people jobs and forcing diplomats out of the foreign service was “wrong then” and “wrong today.”

Speaking on behalf of the department, Kerry apologized to all those who were discriminated against and said the department was committed to “diversity and inclusion for all our employees, including members of the LGBTI community.”



Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger: Military must pursue alternatives to burning munitions

With President Barack Obama’s signature on the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, a nationwide grassroots campaign to ensure the safe disposal of conventional munitions stockpile secured a key victory.

The amendment, written by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., will benefit hundreds of communities across the country where open air burning of hazardous waste is routinely conducted by the Departments of Defense and Energy, according to a news release.

“I have been working on cleaning up the Badger Army Ammunition Plant since I first entered Congress, so I was proud to fight for this reform to help other communities facing similar challenges,” Baldwin said, according to the release. “This provision will assist the military in using safer and more environmentally-friendly technologies to properly dispose of munitions to ensure that other sites are not contaminated the way that the Badger site was.”

“I was proud to support and help shepherd through the Senate, the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act which includes a provision important to Madison County and the Blue Grass Army Depot community allowing the Army to use cost-competitive technologies to safely and efficiently dispose of stockpiles of legacy conventional munitions,” added U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

The new act requires the Secretary of the Army to enter into an arrangement with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to conduct a study of the alternatives to the current practice of open burning the conventional munitions stockpile of the U.S. Department of Defense.

The Department of Defense manages conventional ammunition that includes items ranging from small arms cartridges to rockets, mortars, and artillery to tactical missiles.

As of February 2015, the stockpile of conventional ammunition awaiting demilitarization and disposal was approximately 529,373 tons.

By fiscal year 2020, the stockpile is expected to more than double, making the proper management and disposal of such large quantities of explosive materiel critical. 

“Open burning and detonation of munitions causes the uncontrolled dispersion of toxic heavy metals including chromium and lead, energetic compounds, perchlorate, nitrogen oxides and other munitions-related contaminants to the environment,” said Laura Olah, executive director of Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger in Wisconsin and an organizer with the Cease Fire Campaign – a national grassroots coalition of 60 environmental, labor, veterans and social justice organizations calling for safer alternatives. 

Sites like the Holston Army Ammunition Plant in Tennessee are currently permitted to open burn as much as 1,250,000 pounds net explosive waste per year — ignoring a 2012 Army Corps of Engineers study that concluded there are cutting-edge technologies that could be successfully deployed at Holston to replace open burning.

“There are over 100 hazardous chemicals released from open burning waste explosives and explosives-contaminated construction demolition debris that can be toxic and carcinogenic,” cautioned Connie & Mark Toohey with Volunteers for Environmental Health and Justice and residents living downwind of Holston. “Dioxins are highly toxic and cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system and can interfere with hormones.”

Also, for more than 60 years, the U. S. military used the offshore Island of Vieques, Puerto Rico for training exercises with live bombing, experimental use of conventional and non-conventional weapons, testing with napalm, agent orange, uranium and open burning and open detonation (OB/OD),” said Myrna Pagan with Vidas Viequenses Valen. “For over 10 years now there is a process of cleanup and restoration underway where OB/OD continues to contaminate this small island.”

“OB/OD is a dangerous, toxic and outdated method that feeds a health crisis of alarming rates of cancer and other catastrophic diseases,” Myrna added.  “Our little children, our teen agers have more than three times the probability of dying from cancer than their peers in the rest of Puerto Rico. We citizens depend on responsible action from the government to protect our rights to good health in a safe environment. We deserve the use of reliable, alternative, advanced technologies to repair this disaster.”

The National Academy of Sciences study is due to Congress in 18 months. 

Q&A: A look at the cancer some believe linked to Vietnam War

A rare bile duct cancer that may be linked to time served in the Vietnam War is quietly killing some former soldiers.

The disease can be caused by liver flukes, a parasite found in raw or undercooked fish that is common in parts of Asia.

Some veterans are fighting for the Department of Veterans Affairs to recognize their disease as service-related so they can receive benefits, but most claims are denied.



Liver flukes are parasites ingested in raw or undercooked freshwater fish. They are endemic in parts of Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, along with other areas, mainly in China and South Korea. Some 25 million people are infected with the worms. Liver flukes die when frozen, but they can survive fermentation or pickling. Visitors traveling in endemic areas can also be infected.



Cholangiocarcinoma is a rare cancer that affects the bile duct. Liver flukes are a risk factor; others include hepatitis B and C, cirrhosis and bile duct stones. After the worms are ingested, they can live for more than 25 years in the bile duct, causing inflammation and scarring that can eventually lead to cancer. The disease is difficult to treat, with many victims dying within months of diagnosis. A patient typically does not experience any symptoms, such as jaundice, until the end stages.



Bile duct cancer is unusual because it can be prevented in some cases. Pills can wipe out liver flukes early on, but the medicine is not effective in later stages after the worms have died and scarring has occurred. Surgery is possible in some cases, but the survival rate is only about 30 percent for five years, said Dr. Gregory Gores, a gastroenterologist and executive dean of research at Mayo Clinic. Affected countries, such as Vietnam and Laos, have not conducted extensive research to determine the extent of the problem. The world’s highest rate of cholangiocarcinoma _ about 84 new cases per 100,000 people — is found in northeastern Thailand where many people eat a popular raw fish dish. In the U.S., cholangiocarcinoma is extremely rare, with around 1.7 in 100,000 people diagnosed each year.



Men who served in the Vietnam War and ate raw or poorly cooked fish, sometimes while on patrol in the jungle after their rations ran out, could have been infected by liver flukes. Left untreated, they can experience symptoms related to bile duct cancer decades later. Because the disease is so rare and awareness about liver flukes is poor in the U.S., many veterans may not be aware of the possible connection to their service time.



Each case is examined individually, and it’s up to veterans to prove to the Department of Veterans Affairs that their cancer is “as likely as not” related to their service time. The VA says fewer than 700 cholangiocarcinoma patients have passed through its medical system in the past 15 years. In part because they are unaware of the potential link to their war days, only 307 of the veterans submitted claims for benefits over that period. Even though the VA sometimes approves the link between wartime service and cholangiocarcinoma, the vast majority of claims — 3 out of 4 — are rejected, according to data obtained by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act.


Governments researched using fentanyl as chemical weapon

Before appearing in global narcotics supply chains , fentanyl and substances like it were viewed as potential chemical weapons. Scientists struggled to figure out how to package the chemicals so that they would incapacitate but not kill targets.

Some highlights of those efforts:


Research into fentanyl as an incapacitating agent began in the 1960s and, by the 1980s, scientists were testing primates with aerosolized carfentanil, according to Neil Davison, author of ““Non-Lethal’ Weapons.”

In 1997, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, working under a Department of Justice contract, reported on a novel system for delivering less-than-lethal doses of fentanyl. They designed and tested guns loaded with small felt pads soaked with a fentanyl-based solution. They also considered developing paintball-type projectiles.

In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency was worried enough about fentanyl and carfentanil being used by terrorists that it published instructions for taking samples of the substances, including from drinking water, following “homeland security events.”


A People’s Liberation Army soldier was photographed in 2011 holding a “narcosis” gun, designed to inject targets with a liquid incapacitating agent, according to Michael Crowley, a chemical weapons expert at the University of Bradford. Two state-backed companies that marketed the guns never specified which chemical agent would be used as ammunition, but Crowley said it “might very well be fentanyl or an analog of fentanyl.” One advertisement for the guns praised their “excellent silence” and “easy schlepping.”

Scientists from a People’s Liberation Army school called the Institute of Chemical Defense also have published research on fentanyls. “These compounds are of great importance to criminalistics and countering terrorism,” they said in a 2011 paper.


Russian special forces used carfentanil, along with the less potent remifentanil, to subdue Chechen separatists who took more than 800 people hostage in a Moscow theater in 2002, according to a paper by British government scientists who tested clothing and urine samples from three survivors. The tactic worked, but more than 120 hostages died from the effects of the chemicals. Others suffered lasting health effects. The British paper also cited a book written by a Russian general who directed a military chemical institute, which described fentanyls as delivering “a knock-out blow” to subjects within minutes.


Doctors pulled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal out of respiratory collapse with the opioid antidote naloxone after Mossad agents sprayed a substance believed to be a form of fentanyl in his ear in a botched 1997 assassination attempt. “Israeli officials have indicated that Mossad has used fentanyl in other operations, which they declined to describe, noting that it had a ‘100 percent success rate,”” according to a Jane’s Intelligence Review report from January 1998.

Wisconsin veterans denounce Trump’s attacks on Gold Star family

With the Trump campaign preparing for a visit to Green Bay on Friday, Wisconsin veterans are denouncing Donald Trump’s attacks on the parents of an Army Capt. killed in Iraq.

Trump is running 9-10 points behind Hillary Clinton in a CNN poll conducted after the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. And also conducted after the GOP presidential candidate widely criticized the parents of a fallen U.S. soldier, Capt. Humayun Khan.

Khan was killed by a car bomb in Iraq in 2004. His parents, Ghazala Khan and Khizr Kahn, were at the podium at the DNC.

Khizr Kahn addressed the delegates and a TV audience, with his wife at his side.

He criticized Trump for proposing a ban on Muslims entering the United States and said that the billionaire candidate has “sacrificed nothing” for his country.

Trump questioned why Ghazala Khan did not address the convention, suggesting that she was forbidden because of her religion.

In the back and forth that followed, Ghazala Khan wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post, saying, “Here is my answer to Donald Trump: Because without saying a thing, all the world, all America, felt my pain. I am a Gold Star mother. Whoever saw me felt me in their heart.”

She also wrote, “Walking onto the convention stage, with a huge picture of my son behind me, I could hardly control myself. What mother could? Donald Trump has children whom he loves. Does he really need to wonder why I did not speak?”

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin issued a statement on the issue that did not name Trump but still criticized the candidate.

Ryan said: “America’s greatness is built on the principles of liberty and preserved by the men and women who wear the uniform to defend it. As I have said on numerous occasions, a religious test for entering our country is not reflective of these fundamental values. I reject it. Many Muslim Americans have served valiantly in our military and made the ultimate sacrifice. Captain Khan was one such brave example. His sacrifice — and that of Khizr and Ghazala Khan — should always be honored. Period.”

The controversy continued into this week, as Trump campaigned in Virginia and prepared to travel to Wisconsin.

Randy Bryce, army veteran and chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s Veterans Caucus, released this statement on Aug. 2: “The disrespect and contempt Donald Trump has shown for our brave men and women serving in uniform disqualifies him from ever being our commander-in-chief. Trump has gone out of his way time and again to insult Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Muslim-American parents of Army Capt. Humayan Khan, who made the ultimate sacrifice defending his troops in Iraq.

“The audacity Donald Trump has to slander Gold Star parents who lost their son defending this country is unconscionable and he has no idea what real sacrifice is. When Donald Trump insults one of us, he insults all of us. We need a president who respects and understands the sacrifice our soldiers make everyday. Donald Trump has shown time and again he does not have the temperament or judgement to be President of the United States.”

Former U.S. Navy Capt. Mary Kolar of Madison said, “Instead of showing respect to a Gold Star family brave enough to share the story of their son’s sacrifice, Donald Trump demonized them. He made it clear he finds patriotism and Islam incompatible, even though soldiers like Captain Humayun Khan prove his bigotry wrong every day on the battlefield. Our country’s diversity is our strength and what makes our military the envy of the world – we should honor each and every man and woman who makes the courageous pledge to defend it.”

“This divisive, dangerous rhetoric from Donald Trump proves exactly why he is unfit to commander-in-chief,” added former U.S. Army Corporal Jerry LaPoint of La Crosse. “As a veteran, I know our soldiers give themselves selflessly in service to our country — they deserve a president who will give them and their families the respect of honoring that service before making decisions to deploy them in our nation’s defense. This is no way to honor a Gold Star family who has made the ultimate sacrifice.”

“Donald Trump clearly does not understand all that our service members give when they join the military,” said former Navy Petty Officer Leon Burzynski of Pewaukee. “Instead, he thinks his failed business dealings are a sacrifice comparable to that of a fallen soldier and the grief of a Gold Star family. This is despicable and we cannot allow someone this out of touch with the values that define America and its military to become our next commander-in-chief.”

Hillary Clinton’s campaign, in a news release, said, “Trump’s comments on the Khan family are the latest in a series of his disrespectful rhetoric and record aimed at American veterans and military families such as lying about donations to veterans’ charities, firing employees because of their military service and verbally attacking prisoners of war.”

PETA: Air Force Academy program is cruel to rabbits

An animal rights group launched protests of the Air Force Academy’s killing of rabbits as part of a survival training program for cadets.

Since the 1960s, cadets have been trained how to live in the wilderness and evade enemy forces. It stems from an Air Force Survival, Escape, Resistance and Evasion program that has been used to train flight crews since World War II.

As part of the program, cadets are trained to kill and cook their own food under primitive conditions. Live rabbits are killed and eaten, prompting the protest from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Cadets are run through a 10-day program that includes training on how the Air Force rescues flight crews and combat skills. According to Air Force documents obtained by PETA under the Freedom of Information Act, the program also focuses on killing and preparing game. The manual says students as a group join in the training, learning how to skin, butcher and cook the animals. The training takes place during the summer, when cadets are out of class.

PETA says it asked the academy to stop the practice in May but hasn’t received an answer. Animal rights groups maintain that other methods, including web-based training, eliminate the military’s need to train with live animals.

“In the 21st century, preparing cadets to survive in wilderness situations does not necessitate killing animals in training drills,” the organization wrote in a letter to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James.

In the letter, the organization cited a Pentagon policy restricting the use of animals in training. That policy, though, exempts “livestock or poultry used or intended for use as food.” PETA says because the animals are used in training, the exemption doesn’t apply.

The academy referred all questions about the program to the Pentagon, which said in a brief statement it is “reviewing the issues raised in PETA’s letter.”

“The Air Force values the humane treatment of animals consistent with current Department of Defense guidance and policy,” said Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Brooke Brzozowske.

The animal rights group obtained other documents on how much the academy spends on rabbits used in the training, with receipts for more than $6,000 spent on the animals used to train cadets. Since 2004, PETA and other animal welfare groups have protested a periodic Special Forces medic training program at Fort Carson that uses wounded goats to simulate human patients.

DOD removes barriers to transgender troops serving openly

The Defense Department on June 30 announced an end to the ban on transgender people serving openly in the Armed Forces.

“Today, our nation has taken another important step forward by ensuring that qualified, transgender Americans can openly serve the country they love,” said U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. “Breaking down this barrier is a historic action for transgender service members, who will no longer be forced to serve in silence. I applaud Secretary Ash Carter for his leadership in taking this step to make our Armed Forces stronger and staying true to our American values of fairness and equality for all.”

Defense Secretary Ash Carter made the announcement on the last day of LGBT Pride month. He set forth a yearlong process for implementing the DOD’s plan and said “Americans who want to serve and can meet our standards should be afforded the opportunity to compete to do so.”

At a news conference, the secretary said, “Our mission is to defend this country and we don’t want barriers unrelated to a person’s qualification to serve preventing us from recruiting or retaining the soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine who can best accomplish the mission.”

By Oct. 1, transgender troops serving in the military will have access to full medical care, including surgery, and begin formally changing their gender identifications in the Pentagon personnel system.

In a year, Carter said the services would be prepared for transgender individuals to enlist.

The AP reported that people with gender dysphoria, a history of medical treatments associated with gender transition and those who have had reconstruction surgery, may be disqualified as military recruits unless a medical provider certifies they have been clinically stable in their gender for 18 months and are free of significant impairment. Also, transgender troops receiving hormone therapy must have been stable on their medications for 18 months.

The policy provides broad guidelines for transgender service members in active duty. They will be able to use the bathrooms, housing, uniforms and fitness standards that correspondence with their gender identity only after they have made a legal transition.

Eighteen other nations, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Israel, allow transgender people to serve openly in their militaries.

“Today, we join in celebration with the thousands of brave transgender patriots who will now be able to serve our nation openly and with the deep respect they deserve,” said HRC president Chad Griffin. “Ending this discriminatory policy not only brings long-overdue recognition to transgender service members, it also strengthens our military and our nation. Our military will now be able to recruit the very best candidates, and retain highly-trained, talented transgender service members once facing discharge for no other reason than who they are. History will remember Secretary of Defense Ash Carter for his leadership in taking this historic and necessary step forward.”

According to the Williams Institute, there are approximately 15,500 actively serving transgender members of the U.S. military, making the Department of Defense the largest employer of transgender people in America.

Unlike the statutory ban that interfered with lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members from serving — known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — the ban on transgender military service was a policy and required only action by the DOD to update.

“Today’s victory is a tremendous one for a nation that once denied women, African-Americans, and gay and lesbian individuals the opportunity to serve,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “An integrated military, now inclusive of all LGBT service members, is not only a sound military approach but a moral imperative for our nation. This was true in 1948, when this country first allowed women and African-Americans to serve in the military; in 2011, when the ban was lifted on gay and lesbian service members; and remains true today.”

Military might: After ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ reform is still needed

Do ask.

Do tell.

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan wants ex-service members to tell about the harm caused by discharges under the now defunct ban against gays in the military.

And the Wisconsin Democrat wants Congress to ask about the harm caused by the ban years after the its repeal.

Pocan and U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., want the House Committee on Armed Services to examine the challenges faced by gays and lesbians discharged from the military.

Recently, however, the committee refused to hold a hearing on the bill.

A year ago this summer, the congressmen introduced the Restore Honor to Service Members Act, which would help former service members discharged solely due to their sexual orientation correct their military records to reflect their honorable service and to restore benefits they earned.

The bill, according to Pocan’s office, has 113 co-sponsors in the House, including four Republicans. A companion measure in the Senate has 38 co-sponsors.

In a letter this spring to Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, who is the chair of the Armed Services Committee, Pocan and Rangel wrote, “Since World War II, more than 100,000 individuals are estimated to have been discharged from the military due to their sexual orientation. Today, thousands of gay, lesbian and bisexual veterans are tarnished with discharge statuses other than honorable. This status affects both their access to benefits they have earned from their service and their opportunities in civilian life, potentially hindering employment opportunities and the right to vote.”

Pocan’s office said even gay service members who received honorable discharges may face discrimination because the “Narrative Reason” for their discharge may refer to “homosexual conduct,” “homosexual act” or “homosexual marriage.”

In the 1992 race for president, Bill Clinton campaigned on a platform that included a vow to lift a ban against gays in the military — a prohibition applied in various ways over the years. But Clinton faced stiff opposition in Congress and eventually offered a compromise — “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The policy allowed for gay people to serve if they didn’t tell, and military leaders were prohibited from asking about sexual orientation.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” was not administered as Clinton proposed, and investigations about sexual orientation continued, with service members still losing careers and benefits as had happened for decades before.

The ban was repealed in 2011, allowing gays, lesbians and bisexuals to serve openly in the Armed Forces.

A year after the repeal, a study from the Palm Center, an independent research institute in San Francisco, found:

• Only two service members, both chaplains, were identified as having left the military as a result of the repeal.

• The Pentagon reported not a single episode of violence associated with the repeal.

• Pentagon data show recruitment and retention remained robust after the repeal.

• Survey data revealed that service-wide, troops reported the same level of morale and readiness after the repeal as they did before.

• Data also showed trust among troops improved following the repeal.

The transgender front

Still, nearly five years later, the struggle for full equality in the military continues with the campaign to remove barriers to transgender people serving openly.

Last summer, this effort was boosted by a vote of the American Medical Association, which adopted a resolution finding “there is no medically valid reason to exclude transgender individuals” from U.S. military service and urged that transgender service members be provided with necessary medical care “according to the same medical standards that apply to non-transgender personnel.”

The AMA also said the anti-transgender policy is out of date.

Four U.S. Surgeons General — Drs. Joycelyn Elders, David Satcher, Regina Benjamin and Kenneth Moritsugu — reached the same conclusion.

This spring, a Rand Corp. study commissioned by the Pentagon and first reported on by The New York Times found that repealing the ban on transgender service would not negatively impact the Armed Forces and would lead to no more than 129 of the military’s million-plus troops seeking transition-related care each year.

Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, said the Rand report confirmed his institute’s research on the issue. “Inclusive policy will not compromise readiness, will not be costly and will not be difficult to formulate or implement,” he said.

There have been hints the Defense Department, which created a working group to examine the issue, could announce its plan for allowing open transgender service this spring.

Congress likely would play a role in any reforms, and the House Committee on Armed Services would get an early review.

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state is the ranking Democratic member on that committee. He’s a supporter of lifting the ban on transgender service, as well as an advocate of equal and fair treatment of gay service members and those discharged because of their orientation.

Racine nonprofit builds tiny houses for local veterans

To those unfamiliar with the “tiny house” movement, the small structure being constructed in a barn in rural Racine County might look more like a kid’s clubhouse than an actual home in the making.

Take a look at the building through the eyes of Jeff Gustin, however, and it’s easy to see the 128-square-foot house as the perfect solution to eliminating veteran homelessness in Racine.

A demonstration model, the home is being built by volunteers of Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin, The Journal Times reported.

Once completed it will be used to help the nonprofit raise enough funds to create a total of 15 tiny houses — homes that will soon become a part of a “veterans village” for unhoused vets in the city of Racine.

Giving a quick tour of the unfinished model last week, Gustin, the executive director of Veterans Outreach, explained what each home will feature.

“Up here you will have a lofted bed, and beneath it a couch. There will be a desk here in the corner with an outlet. You can put a microwave here and little refrigerator, and over there would be the composting toilet,” he explained.

The tiny houses will not have running water, but a community building in the center of the village would have bathrooms with shower facilities and flush toilets. The center also is where homeless vets could go for free meals, camaraderie, drug and alcohol addiction counseling and veterans’ services.

The nonprofit has yet to officially secure a site for the village, but it is looking at a property near Uptown.


Curbing homelessness

Dedicated to curbing veteran homelessness, Veterans Outreach was founded in December 2013. Today, it runs a food pantry that serves 30 to 40 veterans a week. And in 2015, the furniture warehouse it maintains helped furnish the homes of 225 veterans.

Gustin said he other members of the nonprofit started thinking about creating a village of tiny houses for homeless vets last year, after hearing about similar developments for the homeless in cities such as Madison and Seattle.

“For some people, it’s hard to envision living in a space this small. They might wonder how they could fit all their clothes inside. These are people recovering from homelessness. They are going to be coming in here with a duffel bag,” said Gustin, whose son is a combat veteran.

In order to live in the village, a veteran could not have a dishonorable discharge, nor any sex-crime convictions on his or her record. They also cannot be homeless because they choose to be homeless, Gustin said.

The veterans would enroll in a two-year program, after which they would secure their own permanent housing.

“We want to ensure they have broken the cycle,” Gustin said. “The goal is to get them stabilized.”


A village for vets

To make the village a reality, Gustin estimates Veterans Outreach will need to raise about $125,000. That money would include the cost to construct all 15 houses, as well as money needed for the community building and site acquisition.

The plan would be to build the homes in three phases, with five homes being built during each phase. The hope would be that much of the labor and materials would be donated. The nonprofit has already received donations from Van’s Electric and Bliffert Lumber, and Gustin recently learned that Racine Habitat for Humanity might be constructing one of the houses this May.

Gustin said his hope to have at least the first phase completed before the snow flies this fall.

“I don’t want to find out in November that there is a veteran sleeping on the streets and it’s below freezing,” he said.


City hall help

Mayor John Dickert, who has been helping the nonprofit with its efforts, said he sees the project as being something that could help the city reach its goal of having zero homeless veterans.

“We are very, very close (to reaching that goal). The problem is we are finding we have a lot of transitional veterans and they are not being assessed because they are moving around,” Dickert said.

By providing transitional housing to the homeless veterans that end up in Racine, Veterans Outreach can help those veterans get the assessments they need, he said.

“The credit goes to these guys who are working this project,” Dickert said. “Three years ago, President Barack Obama asked us to end homelessness among veterans, and they have been working non-stop to do that.”


An AP member exchange feature.