Quality-of-life issues top American Legion chief’s Asia tour
TORII STATION, Okinawa — The new national commander of the American Legion said Monday he is satisfied with the outlook of the military’s pending realignment of U.S. troops in Japan, and that efforts to improve life on Okinawa for military families are on track.
Commander David Rehbein is visiting Okinawa this week as part of a tour around Asia. He arrived after a stop in Seoul.
Rehbein was briefed Monday by military officials here on plans to relocate 8,000 Marines and their families to Guam by 2014 and the move of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Camp Schwab.
"I wanted to come here and ask if the move is happening and it looks like it is," Rehbein said.
Rehbein said he was concerned the Marines could receive an "unfriendly reception" from Guam residents, after hearing reports that some locals are not keen on their arrival.
Several news outlets have reported opposition to the move by locals who fear additional troops will increase crime and traffic, and further strain the island’s existing infrastructure. He said he hopes to better assess the situation during his visit to Guam next week.
The U.S. relocation plan grew from long-running complaints in Okinawa about noise and crime.
"We don’t want to trade one problem spot for another," Rehbein said. "[The troops] deserve better than that."
Rehbein and Desiree Stoy, national president for the American Legion Auxiliary, will also visit Taiwan, the Philippines and Hawaii.
Rehbein, an Army veteran from Iowa, took reign of the country’s largest veterans organization in August. The nonprofit lobbying organization boasts 2.6 million members.
Rehbein said he was glad to see that base housing for servicemembers and families on Okinawa is sufficient, which was a concern for the legion.
"The impression I picked up since arriving here is that it’s much better than it was 10 years ago," Rehbein said.
He was speaking with members at the American Legion Post 28 dinner Tuesday.
Care for wounded warriors and adequate funding for the nation’s Veterans Affairs hospitals continue to remain top agenda items for the upcoming year and new administration, he said.
Local posts need to ensure that wounded veterans are able to access health care agencies, particularly those who live far from such services, Rehbein said.
Rehbein said the legion will continue to press for appropriate funding for the Veterans Administration. VA funding has increased and improved over the last several years, he said.
More than $36 billion was given for VA medical care last fiscal year. The legion is urging Congress to approve $42.8 billion for medical care for fiscal year 2010.
Receiving funding in a timely manner is also a priority, Rehbein said, adding that funding is not always available at the start of the fiscal year.
"I’ve been using three words to spread this message: predictability, sufficiency and timeliness," Rehbein said. "We want the money to come on time so the VA can spend it right."