Opinion Articles

by Tom Jurkowsky, Author

Capital Gazette

August 1, 2021
Annapolis, MD

As hard as it may seem to believe, the world’s strongest and most well-equipped military does not take care of its people who serve it in uniform by ensuring they have food to put on their table.

Here’s the issue: For many junior enlisted personnel, especially those at the three or four lowest pay grades, their housing allowance (referred to as Basic Allowance for Housing or BAH) is considered income. By law, this allowance is supposed to cover 95 percent of housing costs including rent and utilities. The remaining five percent is, in theory, left to the military family to pick up.

Unfortunately, this 95/5 percent split is not what has happened. Blue Star Families, a military support group, conducted a survey and found that many military families are paying more than $200 per month out of pocket for their housing. That amount, coupled with a low base salary to begin with, leaves them very little to pay for essentials such as food.

One would think that this would qualify junior personnel to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Because their Basic Allowance for Housing, however, is considered income, they do not qualify for food stamps.

Washington Times

July 20, 2021
Washington, DC

However, a lesser-known category of injuries exists that Congress must acknowledge and address immediately. These injuries result from exposure to burn pits that existed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 20 years.

Burn pits are sites used to burn various materials ranging from garbage, human waste, chemicals, and paint to lubricants, plastics, ordnance, and medical waste—all often ignited by jet fuel. Burn pits were used because a more appropriate facility to dispose of these materials was simply not available.

Unfortunately, what has resulted from these burn pits has been referred to as the Agent Orange of our time in Southwest Asia. We are seeing a wave of rare cancers and other illnesses suffered by those who have served there and became exposed to the toxins from the burn pits. Some veterans, long after their service in uniform, have already died from these illnesses.

For example, an Army soldier deployed to Balad Air Base in Iraq died at 36 from pancreatic cancer. The average age of a pancreatic cancer diagnosis is 70.  According to the soldier’s spouse, the soldier kept a journal and wrote in detail about the burn pits that were more than ten acres in size and burned 100 to 200 tons of waste per day. The

Capital Gazette

May 15, 2021
Annapolis, MD

Sikorski, now a European Parliament member, told his hosts: “You had a heart attack. It’s a signal you need to change your lifestyle.” The “heart attack” he was referring to was the January assault on Capitol Hill.

Sikorski also said that people are now “less enamored” by democracy. Speaking about the United States and the European Union, he said, “We can only stand up to authoritarians around the world when our own house is more or less in order.”

I had heard about at the same time. Putting these items together, I felt Sikorski was correct—we clearly need a lifestyle change.

Capital Gazette

Apr 26, 2021

Annapolis, Maryland

Our nation’s security and prosperity depend on free and open international waters. In an $80 trillion global economy, 80 percent of trade by volume and 70 percent by value moves by sea. Additionally, 95 percent of international data moves along undersea cables.

American security rests upon our ability to control the seas and project power ashore — especially in the face of China’s and Russia’s growing military power.

The Hill

April 7, 2021

Washington, DC

In February, however, Sens. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) reintroduced legislation addressing the exposure-recognition barrier preventing many veterans from getting VA health care and benefits for illnesses and diseases related to exposure to burn pits. The legislation, S. 437, is called the Veterans Burn Pits Exposure Recognition Act. Similar legislation proposed in previous years has failed.

Capital Gazette

Feb 21, 2021

Annapolis, Maryland

For our country to move forward and progress, it’s critical that all four pillars of our democracy must function — executive, legislative, judiciary and news media. But the information media provides must be done objectively and fairly. In essence, the media serves as an intermediary between the government and the people. If presented properly, the information media provide can help determine which issues can be discussed.

Capital Gazette

Jan 24, 2021

Annapolis, Maryland

One way to accomplish that treatment has already been initiated by Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina. Scott did not join some of his fellow Republican senators in challenging Biden’s Electoral College win over Trump.  Instead, he chose to certify the result. Scott said there was no reason to think the presidential election result should have been thrown out.

Capital Gazette

Jan 10, 2021

Annapolis, Maryland

I will always remember the day I cried for our country — Wednesday, January 6, 2021. I will never forget the images of protesters, U.S. citizens, storming the Capitol building of our country.

I thought that way until a few days ago when Trump began encouraging protests during the congressional certification of Biden’s electoral college victory. “See you D.C. and be there and be wild,” he tweeted. 

Capital Gazette

June 22,  2021
Annapolis, MD

The violence in our nation is staggering and frightening. It seemingly has no end. Day after day, week after week, we hear news about another mass shooting or shocking homicide numbers in any one of our cities.

As a result, police departments are in a crisis mode. Morale is at rock bottom.

Defunding the police is not the answer to the violence we are seeing. Police reform is a better approach. A more rigid training period will help weed out the bad cops from the good cops. It will also better prepare them when they hit the streets.

Police reform may be an issue for the Congressional Problem Solvers Caucus to handle. The caucus is a bipartisan group in the House of Representatives with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans who seek to foster bipartisan cooperation on key policy issues. Congress certainly has enough issues on its plate, but our nation is in extremis with the violence we are experiencing. It must end. At this point, leadership at all levels appears nonexistent.

Capital Gazette

May 31, 2021
Annapolis, MD

Unfortunately, as each year passes we continue to reinforce all the things that Memorial Day isn’t. It’s a holiday observed on the last Monday in May to honor the men and women who died — who died — while serving in the U.S. military. Sadly, we have cheapened the meaning of this very special day by, among other ways, commercializing it.

President Teddy Roosevelt captured the true meaning of Memorial Day in a speech he gave at Arlington Cemetery in 1902. Remember that many of those he was addressing had fought in the Civil War.

“Among the holidays which commemorate the turning points in American history, Thanksgiving has a significance peculiarly its own. On July 4 we celebrate the birth of the nation; on this day (Memorial Day), we call to mind the deaths of those who died that the nation might live, who wagered all that life holds dear for the great prize of death in battle, who poured out their blood like water in order that the mighty national structure ... the great leaders of the Revolution, great framers of the Constitution, should not crumble into meaningless ruins,” Roosevelt said.

The Hill

May 23, 2021
Washington, DC

For many junior enlisted personnel, especially those at the three or four lowest enlisted pay grades, their housing allowance — Basic Allowance for Housing, or BAH — is considered income. By law, this allowance is supposed to cover, on average, 95 percent of housing costs including rent and utilities. The remaining 5 percent is theoretically left to the military family to pick up.     

The Armed Services YMCA, one of the top food pantry providers at military installations, reports a 400 percent increase in demand for assistance. The pandemic clearly has played a role in this increase because many military spouses have lost their civilian jobs.

“I’m doing all I can and serving my country, and I have to worry about how I’m going to buy food?” said one service member.    

“We thought being in the military might be a way out of living paycheck to paycheck. … I’m shocked that so many military families are standing in line at the food pantry because they really need help,” said another. 

 

Capital Gazette

Dec 5, 2020

Annapolis, Maryland

Where was the U.S. at the negotiations? We were not there but look who was — many of our democratic allies such as Japan, Australia, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines and New Zealand. RCEP is a slap in the face to the U.S. But how can you blame our allies for doing what they did when we are no longer perceived as being a reliable partner?

Capital Gazette

Nov 22, 2020

Annapolis, Maryland

Rare earth minerals are a set of 17 metallic elements and are an essential part of many high-tech devices. The U.S. Geological Survey says they are the necessary components of more than 200 products across a wide range of applications, especially high-tech consumer products, such as cell phones, computer hard drives, electric and hybrid vehicles and flat-screen monitors. {In addition to U.S. defense related uses.}

Capital Gazette

Oct 4, 2020

Annapolis, Maryland

Additionally, several major Wall Street banks — Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley — are among underwriters selling bonds worth several billion dollars to help state-owned Chinese companies. Many of these companies support the Chinese military. In essence, U.S. investors are unknowingly investing in China’s military growth when these bonds are purchased through index and pension funds and other vehicles.

The Hill

If allowed to proceed, DOD’s plan to reduce or eliminate funding for the school and many of its programs will seriously jeopardize the ability of the military health system to fulfill its mission. Congress must step in and put the brakes on this plan.

Fayetteville Observer

SEP 3, 2020

Fayetteville, North Carolina

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began its global scourge, nearly 4,400 military medical personnel have surged to augment courageous civilian medical personnel at U.S. medical facilities. 

Capital Gazette

AUG 22, 2020

Annapolis, Maryland

DoD’s attempt to affect these cuts is not well thought out. Unlike its colleagues on the House committee, the Senate Armed Services Committee has not included any provisions in its version of the NDAA to halt the cuts.

SEP 4, 2020

Washington, DC

The Washington Times

Procuring medications from strategic adversaries invites peril. This problem must be urgently addressed because it threatens the health of our citizens and represents a threat to our national security.

Capital Gazette

JUL 26, 2020

Annapolis, Maryland

The intensity of the rhetoric we are seeing from the administration is at a level we haven't seen since the days of Mao Zedong's horrific rule.

Capital Gazette

JUL 11, 2020

Annapolis, Maryland

A recent series of national polls provide some extremely discouraging results regarding the direction of our country. 

AUG 16, 2020

Washington, DC

The Virginian-Pilot

JUN 20, 2020

Hampton Roads, Virginia

This concept is ill-conceived and poorly thought out. Congress clearly needs to step in prevent this from happening.

Capital Gazette

JUN 20, 2020

Annapolis, Maryland

The national conversation we need to have goes beyond standardizing police polices and procedures, with the conversation focused on white and black people understanding each other.

Capital Gazette

MAY 31, 2020

Annapolis, Maryland

The coronavirus has shown the world what China really is--a duplicitous, ruthless, dictatorial regime that thrives on disinformation and lies. Unfortunately, we have become wedded to China.

The Hill

MAY 4, 2020

Washington, DC

Any cuts to military medicine also will have a dramatic impact on the medical care we promise to our military personnel, their families and retirees.

AIR University

APR 27, 2020

Maxwell AFB, Alabama

Perhaps more important than (Thomas) Modly's conduct, however, is this being a further example of a dangerous politicization of our military.

The Hill

APR 5, 2020

Washington, DC

Until now, perhaps, we have taken public health for granted, paying attention only when a new disease breaks out. We owe our high standard of public health to the Surgeon General and the dedicated professionals of the USPHS.

Capital Gazette

MAR 22, 2020

Washington, DC

If China announces that its drugs are for domestic use and bans exports, the United States will fall into the hell of a new coronavirus pandemic.

Capital Gazette

FEB 23, 2020

Annapolis, Maryland

The situation in Baltimore is so grim that Gov. Larry Hogan used his state of the state speech to address the unrelenting violence in the city and implored the state's political leadership to find ways to reduce it.

Capital Gazette

JAN 18, 2020

Annapolis, Maryland

The bottom line is that immediate tax relief for military retirees in Maryland is a fiscally sound and viable option to attract and retain good neighbors who pax their bills, volunteer in the community and have an appreciable amount of discretionary income.