Bill-burning, backstabbing, and backroom deals: Inside the American Legion in its 100th year

"We used to be a leader," a current Legion staffer said. "Now we ride coattails."

Photo Illustration by Paul Szoldra/Task & Purpose

In late 2017, John McCain and Jerry Moran, two senior Republican senators on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, penned the first draft of what would become the VA Mission Act, a transformational law that paved new pathways to private sector healthcare for veterans.

The Mission Act essentially made permanent the VA Choice Act, a controversial 2014 law passed in the wake of a wait-time scandal at a Phoenix veterans' hospital. The Choice Act became unpopular among veterans' advocates for a variety of reasons, including that it represented a major step towards the privatization of VA services.

Among the harshest critics of Choice was the American Legion, the oldest and, arguably, most influential veterans' organization in America.

In 2017 congressional testimony, Legion legislative staffer Jeff Steele tore into the law's many problems, declaring veterans "have not found [Choice] to be a solution."

"Instead," Steele said, "they have found it to create as many problems as it solves."

Perhaps hoping to stem any criticism, McCain and Moran sought feedback on their legislation from the Legion before making it public. After the organization's then-legislative director, Lou Celli, read a draft bill at home over one weekend, he felt it went against the best interests of veterans, and would further crack open the door to privatization. A major complaint of Celli's was that the bill completely stripped the agency of the right to coordinate care for veterans based on medical need.

Rather than communicate those concerns productively, Celli, in an apparent act of anger, took the bill out into his backyard, and lit it on fire. The legislation's ashy remains were then photographed, and eventually circulated around Capitol Hill.

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The Senate Armed Services Committee hears from military leaders. (Adrian Cadiz/U.S. Air Force.

Several senators have signed onto new legislation which would give the Defense Department more responsibility and oversight of privatized housing companies, as well as more rights regarding clean and safe housing environment for tenants.

The Military Housing Oversight and Service Member Protection Act, embedded below, was proposed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Deb Haaland (D-Hawaii), both on the Senate and House Armed Services Committees. Other co-sponsors include SASC members Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

"Our service members make sacrifices to protect our country, and they and their families deserve safe, affordable housing that isn't falling apart around them," Warren said. "This bill will eliminate the kind of corner-cutting and neglect the Defense Department should never have let these private housing providers get away with in the first place."

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FILE PHOTO: U.S. Army Capt. (Dr.) Gregory Giles, ophthalmology resident, preps a patient for cataract surgery at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, Jan. 29, 2019. Cataracts, which cause clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye, are the leading cause of treatable blindness. (U.S. Army photo by Jason W. Edwards)

Lawmakers introduced legislation on Tuesday that would allow service members and their families to sue the government, in certain cases, when a member of the military is a victim of military medical malpractice. The bill was introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) the chairwoman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, and includes co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle.

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Task & Purpose photo illustration by Aaron Provost/Wikimedia Commons/Richard Stayskal

Army Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal felt like he was falling apart.

A physically fit Green Beret, Stayskal first noticed something wrong with his body in March 2017 while training at the Army's Special Forces Dive School in Key West, Florida. Unable to keep up with his elite training — a red flag for the athletic 37-year-old combat veteran — he was sent home to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

By April, Stayskal began to wheeze and had difficulty breathing when lying on his back; other times, his body would go numb, and his vision blurry. In May, he visited the emergency room twice, once on base at Womack Army Medical Center and a week later out in town. Then, in early June, he began coughing up blood — a teaspoon at first, but it was more by the day.

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Photo via WIkimedia

At the beginning of July, Republicans lawmakers introduced the cleverly acronymed Silencers Help Us Save Hearing (SHUSH) Act to both the House and Senate. Backed by Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Mike Crapo of Idaho and Congressman Steve King from Iowa, the legislation has a simple objective: to ensure that suppressors are "treated the same as firearms accessories.”

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Photo via GMT400 use Lester622

For legal gun owners who happen to cross state lines with their firearms, or for those just looking to go elsewhere for a day of shooting, a newly proposed bill might make it less of a hassle.

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