Begich Defends ATG Retirement Benefits on Senate Floor
Calls on Defense Dept. to re-examine opposition
U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, on Oct. 1, called on the Obama Administration to re-examine its objection to counting service in the Alaska Territorial Guard (ATG) as active duty service. In a speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Begich said the administration's Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) should not impact the legislation moving through Congress that would restore retirement benefits for the ATG members, after the benefits were stopped earlier this year.
"They served the U.S. in a time of war by defending an American territory from the enemy. They engaged in combat. And they did this because they felt the same sense of patriotism during World War II that their active duty brethren did," Begich said in his speech.
The Statement of Administration Policy released last week was in reaction to language successfully inserted into the Fiscal year 2010 Senate Defense Appropriations bill by Sen. Begich and Sen. Lisa Murkowski that would reinstate retirement benefits to the 26 ATG members whose benefits were abruptly halted in January when the DOD determined the law passed in 2000 allowing the benefits was misinterpreted.
The administration's objection states that allowing the payments would establish a precedent of treating service performed by a State employee as active duty for purposes of the computation of retired pay.
"I remind my colleagues that the Alaska Territorial Guard members were not state employees, they were patriotic Alaska Natives answering their call to duty," Begich said. "Allowing their service in the Alaska Territorial Guard to count as federal service cannot set a precedence because there is no other group like them."
After the war, the ATG received no recognition for their service, and it wasn't until 2000 that Congress passed a law issuing discharge certificates to those who served in the ATG and counted their service toward retirement credit. Twenty-six former members of the ATG finally began receiving the well-earned pension from the government. Those payments stopped in January of this year with the new DOD ruling, and Sens. Begich and Murkowski went to work on legislation to fix it.
During World War II, when the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands and landed troops on Kiska and Attu Islands, a group of Alaska Native men voluntarily formed the Alaska Territorial Guard. They shot down Japanese air balloons, conducted scouting patrols, carried out rescue missions of downed airmen, and built military airstrips and rescue shelters.
"They played a key role in logistics support for the U.S. military stationed in Alaska by delivering food, ammunition and other equipment to the forces," Begich said. "Their actions were vital to successful U.S. military efforts, preventing our enemies from securing a strategic location during the war."
Surrounded by photographs of several ATG members, Begich said time is running short to correct the injustice and restore the modest retirement payments they had been receiving. Begich said one ATG member, Nicholai E. Nicholai of Kwethluk, passed away just three days ago before he could see the situation resolved.
"The federal government turned its back on these men at the end of the war. I hope the Congress and my colleagues in the Senate won't let that happen again."Begich said. "I ask my colleagues for their continued support to ensure that these 25 Alaska Natives who defended this nation receive their earned pension by supporting the provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act and Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2010."
In addition to the amendment language inserted into the Defense Authorization Act, Sens. Begich and Murkowski have a stand-alone piece of legislation, S.342, which provides for the pensions to be restored to the ATG members.
A video link to the speech will be available soon on www.begich.senate.gov.
Posted: October 1, 2009
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