Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Friday, February 15, 2019, which is National Caregivers Day, Susan B. Anthony Day and Remember the Maine Day.
Today in History:
- 1493 – While on board the Niña, Christopher Columbus writes an open letter (widely distributed upon his return to Portugal) describing his discoveries and the unexpected items he came across in the New World.
- 1764 – The city of St. Louis is established in Spanish Louisiana(now in Missouri, USA).
- 1862 – American Civil War: The Confederates, commanded by Brig. Gen. John B. Floyd, attack General Ulysses S. Grant‘s forces, surrounding them at Fort Donelson, Tennessee; Lloyd surrenders the following day.
- 1898 – The battleship USS Maine explodes and sinks in Havanaharbor in Cuba, killing 274. This event leads the United States to declare war on Spain.
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Springfield Journal Review (IL)
American Legion pays tribute to Lincoln’s legacy
By Cassie Buchman, Staff Writer Posted Feb 12, 2019 at 2:36 PM Updated Feb 12, 2019 at 10:02 PM
Abraham Lincoln’s legacy should be remembered when thinking about challenges facing both the state and nation today, several speakers said Tuesday at the 85th annual American Legion Pilgrimage to Lincoln’s Tomb.
State and local officials, as well as representatives from Illinois’ American Legion and legions from other states, including Missouri, Wisconsin, Kansas and Iowa, placed wreaths of green leaves topped with a blue ribbon in front of Lincoln’s Tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery to commemorate the 16th president’s 210th birthday.
The American Legion is a wartime veterans service organization with about 2 million members.
Keynote speaker Brett Reistad of Virginia, national commander of the American Legion, said Lincoln overcame tremendous odds to become who historians believe is “America’s greatest president.”
“People often underestimated the country lawyer from Springfield, Illinois. They were wrong to do so,” he said. “People would be just as wrong to underestimate what America could accomplish today.”
As a retired law enforcement officer, Reistad is saddened by what he says are divisions regarding race relations in the country.
“I believe President Lincoln would be, too, but he recognized that many battles would be lost before victory would prevail,” he said.
“I believe the victory that most in the law enforcement and civil rights communities both seek today is a safe society where all people are treated equally, where police officers and civilians of every race treat each other with mutual respect,” Reistad continued. “When we look at what Lincoln faced, a long bloody war that took the lives of more than 600,000 Americans, a war that literally tore our country in half, a war that was at times nearly lost, we have to put our modern problems in perspective.”
Times have changed for the better since Lincoln was president, Reistad said.
At the start of Lincoln’s presidency, it was legal in half the country for members of one race to own members of another, Reistad said.
“Americans were divided as to whether the United States was a nation or merely a loose federation of independent states,” he said. “Upon his election, the United States was already on the verge of its bloodiest war, a tragedy that would come to a merciful end in the last days of Lincoln’s life. An important outcome, thanks in part to his unwavering leadership.”
In his speech at the Tomb, Gov. J.B. Pritzker noted that the state is facing “some real challenges right now.”
“We face a fiscal situation fed by years of mismanagement that will take years to overcome. Too many of our communities are being left behind,” he said. “Children in certain ZIP codes are shut out from certain opportunities before they even have the chance. You can work hard at two or even three jobs and struggle to put food on the table, let alone afford quality health care.”
The path forward to solve the challenges will be hard, Pritzker said.
Lincoln’s spirit, however, continues to run through the state, Pritzker said, and he hopes to use this legacy of compassion to lead.
“Lincoln chose to lead with empathy and intellect; he chose not to demonize but to place his hope in the ultimate good of the American people,” Pritzker said.
Other speakers included Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder; Debra Lewis, president of the American Legion Auxiliary, Department of Illinois; Michael Carder, commander of the American Legion, Department of Illinois; Springfield Republican state Reps. Mike Murphy and Tim Butler; and state Sen. Steve McClure, R-Springfield.
Contact Cassie Buchman: cjbuchman, twitter.com/cjbuchman.
VA to Roll Out New Claims Appeals Process Next Week
14 Feb 2019
Military.com | By Patricia Kime
In what Department of Veterans Affairs officials are calling the biggest change to its appeals process in decades, the department will launch a new system next week for veterans challenging their disability claims decisions.
The new process gives veterans three options for contesting their claims, with an eye toward drastically reducing the time it takes to receive a final decision.
At the height of the VA appeals backlog in 2013, some veterans had waited years for a decision and more than 610,000 claims sat unadjudicated. To tackle the backlog — defined as cases that weren’t decided within 125 days — the VA hired new employees, instituted mandatory overtime and introduced new processing systems.
Still, the problem persisted with an average wait time for a decision reaching up to three years and the number of backlogged appeals climbing to roughly 300,000 by 2017, when Congress passed the Appeals Modernization Act, or AMA.
Under the AMA, veterans will have three choices if they want to appeal the decision on their disability compensation or other VA claim.
The first option is the "supplemental claim lane," in which they can introduce new evidence in their case and have a regional specialist review it and make a decision.
Or they can choose the "higher-level review lane," in which they request that their case be reviewed by a senior adjudicator rather than the regional office. This review will consist largely of looking for errors or mistakes made in interpreting VA policies or laws governing the claim. If a problem is found, the senior claims adjudicator can require that a correction be made.
And finally, they can appeal the decision to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals — basically the same as the current system, although there will be several paths to consider if they request a board review. These paths include:
- A direct review, in which they don’t submit any additional information and waive their right for a hearing;
- Submission of extra evidence without a hearing;
- Or a full hearing, in which they can submit more evidence and testify before a judge.
When veterans receive their initial claims decision, they also will get a letter explaining the reasoning for it, as well as the appeal options "in clear language," said Cheryl Mason, chairwoman of the VA’s Board of Veterans Appeals.
"What the AMA was built and designed to do was create a simplified process for veterans. … [Officials] realized that veterans were confused by the process; it was a complex system and it simply took too long," she said.
The new system will be used throughout the VA for any claim that requires a decision, according to Dave McLenachen, director of the Veterans Benefits Administration appeals management office.
This includes education and insurance decisions, vocational rehabilitation and caregiver benefits applications, he said.
VA leaders hope that the new system will reduce the time it takes for veterans to receive a decision on their appeal to 125 days.
Currently, the VA’s claims backlog is 265,000 cases, while an additional 136,000 cases are under review by the Veterans Board of Appeals, for a total of more than 400,000 cases. VA officials said Thursday that the goal is to clear the backlog by 2020.
A pilot version of the new system, called the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program, or RAMP, was introduced shortly after the AMA was signed. According to McLenachen, more than 70,000 veterans with 84,000 claims appealed through RAMP. The VA has adjudicated 70 percent of those appeals, awarding about $250 million in retroactive benefits, he added.
RAMP will stop accepting new appeals on Friday. Veterans whose claims were filed through RAMP will continue to be processed.
Veterans whose claims are currently in the system and who don’t apply for a decision through RAMP by Friday can opt into the new system if they receive a statement of case from the VA or supply supplemental evidence and receive a supplemental statement from the VA.
Legislators and veterans service organizations helped craft the new system and have largely been supportive of it, although some have voiced concerns over legacy claims and the information technology infrastructure needed to support the new program.
VA officials said they are ready, having hired 605 new employees to handle the appeals.
Mason called the new system a "veteran-friendly change."
"It gives veterans a choice and control over their process instead of getting stuck in the legacy system for three to seven years, on average," she said.
Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Thursday, February 14, 2019, which is Valentine’s Day, International Book Giving Day, National Ferris Wheel Day, National Organ Donor Day, and Read to Your Child Day.
Today in History:
- On February 14, 2018, an expelled student entered Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and opened fire, killing 17 people and wounding 17 others, in what became the deadliest shooting at a high school in United States history.
- 1929: In Chicago, gunmen in the suspected employment of organized-crime boss Al Capone murder seven members of the George “Bugs” Moran North Siders gang in a garage on North Clark Street. The so-called St. Valentine’s Day Massacre stirred a media storm centered on Capone and his illegal Prohibition-era activities and motivated federal authorities to redouble their efforts to find evidence incriminating enough to take him off the streets.
- Sir Alexander Fleming was a young bacteriologist when an accidental discovery led to one of the great developments of modern medicine on this day in 1929. Having left a plate of staphylococcus bacteria uncovered, Fleming noticed that a mold that had fallen on the culture had killed many of the bacteria. He identified the mold as penicillium notatum, similar to the kind found on bread. On February 14, 1929, Fleming introduced his mold by-product called penicillin to cure bacterial infections.
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CNN: Coast Guard families were pushed to their breaking points in the shutdown. They don’t expect it to be the last
Analysis by Brianna Keilar, CNN Anchor |Updated 3:07 PM ET, Wed February 13, 2019
Washington (CNN) — "I have stood watch when the Coast Guard didn’t have the budget to buy toilet paper," Amanda Morales, a Coast Guard veteran, tells me. "We had to bring our own from home."
Doing more with less is something Coasties, as they call themselves, simultaneously celebrate and bemoan.
Their motto is "Semper Paratus," Latin for "Always Ready," though they joke that their motto is actually "Semper Gumby" — "Always Flexible."
But when the longest government shutdown in history left the Coast Guard as the sole military branch without a paycheck last month, it pushed many families to their breaking points.
Even as President Donald Trump considers signing a bipartisan border security proposal that would keep the Coast Guard running after Friday, the community fully expects they’ll be staring down another funding lapse in the future.
After all, this latest shutdown drama was the fourth threat to the Coast Guard’s livelihood since the beginning of 2018.
‘The redheaded stepchild’
"We are a branch of the military. You would be surprised how many people don’t know that," says Amanda Gibbs, whose husband has served for four years as an information technology specialist. The couple has five children.
The Coast Guard evokes images of search and rescue operations, maybe during Hurricane Katrina, or guys jumping out of helicopters wearing snorkels and fins — and that’s accurate, but only part of the picture.
The Coast Guard has a myriad of other roles: seizing drugs from smugglers, intercepting pirates, inspecting ships in ports, stopping illegal fishing in domestic and international waters and augmenting the US Navy during wartime, as well as all of the support staff it takes to pull off these wide ranging missions. And some of those rescue swimmers dangling from helicopters are now women.
Guardsmen can be at sea, or "under way," for months at a time, often with very limited communication with their families. Many of the cutters in the fleet are old and have limited telephone capabilities.
Coast Guardsmen (as they’re called whether they’re women or men) are deployed all over the world and have fought and died in every war since 1790, when Alexander Hamilton created this seafaring force.
The work is risky and their families worry they might not come home.
Stacey Benson has been a Coast Guard spouse for 13 years, since her husband left the Army. Her husband, a chief petty officer, is a maritime law enforcement officer stationed in Astoria, Oregon.
"When he deploys, his main job is to board vessels. He’s looking for drugs. He’s the first person on the boat (most) of the time. People driving the vessels may have guns or knives," she says. "You don’t know if they’re going to come home."
"When a tanker went down during a hurricane, my husband’s ship was right there. I was sick with worry because they went into danger themselves to try to save others," says Jessica Manfre, who lives in Cape May, New Jersey. Her husband is a senior chief petty officer and has been in the Coast Guard for 18 years.
"There’s times I would pick him up from a long deployment and we’d be met with a Drug Enforcement Agency team at the pier, handcuffed drug dealers being escorted off as they caught them trying to bring in cocaine into our country."
The Coast Guard community, like other branches, is incredibly proud of its service.
"I’ve taken part in saving almost 1,500 lives," says Amanda Morales, who was first stationed on remote Kodiak Island in Alaska, serving as an operations specialist, answering distress calls from civilians on the water and monitoring rescue crews. "There aren’t that many jobs out there that can give you that job satisfaction."
"They selflessly risk their lives to make sure others have a chance at survival," says Mary Nelson, a spouse living in Jacksonville, Florida. Her eldest son is also in the Coast Guard. "They ensure the safety of complete strangers on a daily basis. What wife or mother wouldn’t be proud knowing their husband or son is a true hero, day to day?"
With only 42,000 active duty members, the Coast Guard is not even a fourth the size of the next smallest branch, the Marines.
Their budget is miniscule compared to the Army or Navy. And because the Coast Guard performs some domestic law enforcement functions, including boarding vessels in the US to inspect for and seize illicit drugs, it is funded by the Department of Homeland Security. Funding for DHS has been hung up repeatedly in Congress.
The Army, Navy and Marine Corps, housed under the Department of Defense, are guaranteed pay in the event of a government shutdown. The Coast Guard is not.
"We don’t get the recognition I feel the service deserves," Morales says. "We joke that we are the redheaded stepchild."
"We lost so much sleep," Nelson says, anxiously eyeing the next potential lapse in funding this Friday. "We also own a home at our previous duty station and our tenants are active duty Coast Guard as well, so the panic of needing to cover two mortgages with zero paycheck coming in was very real for us."
As members of the military, Coast Guardsmen are prohibited from wading into politics. Spouses, almost all women, have taken up the mantle of raising awareness about the financial strife caused by the shutdown.
Though Morales left the Coast Guard, her husband is still on active duty and the couple has a 6-month-old daughter. She fires off stories of what families did to get by. She knows one career service member with a college education who took a second job delivering pizzas.
Morale among service members, according to these spouses, plummeted as they worried about feeding their families — even as the Coast Guard, unpaid, broke ice to allow commerce on the Great Lakes, conducted rescues, seized millions of dollars in drugs, intercepted illegal migrants and responded to chemical spills.
"If you can imagine, we have five children and my husband is our sole provider," says Gibbs, which is common in the Coast Guard as one parent shoulders responsibility for the children while the other is deployed or at sea. Coast Guard spouses, like those in other branches, often struggle to find gainful employment while moving every few years.
"My husband felt like he wasn’t providing for us. His morale was rock bottom."
Gibbs’ husband has only been in the Coast Guard for four years, joining relatively late at the age of 31. His monthly income is $2,000, she shares, noting that the pay scale for service members is public, and that it’s important Americans realize that some members of the armed forces are living below the poverty line.
"They still had to risk their lives for the rest of the nation on a daily basis and not even know how they’d be putting food in the mouths of their own family at the end of that same day," said Mary Nelson.
Stacey Benson organized a food bank in Astoria, serving, by her careful count, a total of 2,347 people in the two weekends it was open. That included furloughed federal workers as well as active duty and retired Coast Guard members.
Jessica Manfre opened a food bank to serve local Coast Guard families in New Jersey, Delaware and the Philadelphia area.
Amanda Morales crowdfunded $25,000 for the relief organization that serves the Coast Guard community.
These were the moments that brought these families a much-needed morale boost even as they watched what was happening in Washington with a mix of bewilderment and desperation. And now they’re afraid they will be affected by another shutdown.
"I want members in Washington to know that we are real people," says Gibbs. "That we have lives. That we don’t get paid hardly anything to do what we do and to take that away from us for their own agenda is devastating."
On Wednesday, Coast Guard spouse Michael Little, is leading an effort to pressure Congress, visiting members’ offices to deliver packages of letters from every major military and veteran service organization.
"I want to tell the government why we need to make sure the Coast Guard is paid in shutdowns going forward," Little says.
His wife is an active-duty hospital corpsman and he is a Navy veteran, now running a consulting firm and a nonprofit called the Sea Service Family Foundation.
Recently, a bill in the Senate and a bill in the House would have continued appropriations to the Coast Guard for pay and allowances for service members, civilian employees and contractors, retired pay, and the payment of a death gratuity, funeral travel and basic allowance for housing of members of the Coast Guard dying on active duty.
In the House, the proposal hasn’t made it out of a Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee.
In the Senate, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) blocked the bill, arguing it left federal workers out in the cold.
"We could do a whole lot more good by funding and opening up the government for everyone," Schumer argued.
Military Times: Black mold, rodents, lead paint in privatized housing: No rent until it’s fixed, military spouses say
By: Karen Jowers | 6 hours ago
Military spouses suggested to lawmakers one immediate way, for starters, to fix problems like mold, lead paint, termites, mice and other issues in privatized military housing: allow families to withhold rent payments until the issues are resolved.
Spouses testified before senators Wednesday, then watched as senators grilled company officials, and DoD and service officials, about the problems. All the officials admitted there have been breakdowns in the system, and assured senators they are making a commitment to address the systemic problems.
Robert McMahon, assistant secretary of defense for sustainment, told the senators that what he heard from the spouses “reinforced what we already know, that we collectively have to do significantly better."
McMahon said that working with DoD attorneys to look at possibly withholding rent payments to the companies “would be prudent, to ensure [privatization] partners respond rapidly.” The privatized housing rent payments are generally the service member’s Basic Allowance for Housing, paid by allotment.
John Henderson, a retired colonel who is assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and energy, said he agreed that residents should have the ability to choose whether or not to pay their rent if they feel the landlord isn’t giving them a safe place to live.
“That makes the landlord responsive financially to the resident,” he said. “I think there should be rebates for untimely repairs, for power outages” and other issues, he said, adding that some privatized companies already do that.
Wednesday’s hearing is the beginning of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s efforts to address the problems.
“Our service members and their families deserve high-quality, affordable housing. One mistake is too many,” said committee chair Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma. He noted that the privatization initiative started in the 1990s as an effort to address housing managed by the government that was in disrepair.
“We need necessary reforms to ensure accountability and excellence in privatized housing,” Inhofe said.
The spouses testified about their difficulties in getting the companies to take their complaints seriously — even as black mold was growing out of walls, floors and ceilings, and entire families were getting sick. There was also difficulty determining who, if anyone, in the military establishment was holding the companies accountable. The families are left with no recourse.
“I first became aware of the crisis-level military housing issues at Keesler Air Force Base where termites fell out of light fixtures into our beds,” said Marine wife Crystal Cornwall. She said the housing office at Keesler in Mississippi told her that termites in her home are to be expected because of the region.
“At Camp Pendleton, we lived with pervasive mold issues and unjustifiable move-out charges,” she said, and were charged $700 for carpet replacement.
“The housing representative used a black light and moisture stick to find stains unseen by the naked eye. When I disputed the validity of these charges, I found no path to resolution with the housing company, Camp Pendleton, or with my husband’s former command.”
Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., said she was “infuriated” by what the spouses described.
"This is disgusting,” said the retired Air Force colonel. "Instead of being partners with our troops to make sure our way of life is kept safe and free, they left you hanging. They put you in harm’s way. This is so wrong.”
She said the chain of command needs to be involved, be responsible “and has to be able to poke fingers in the chests of these companies and say, ‘Fix it now, or you’re done.’”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., questioned the companies, and DoD and service officials about the contracts and incentives, and how the military makes sure the companies are meeting their obligations. It’s primarily through the surveys, although the Army and Air Force have initiated investigations into some aspects of the housing issues.
“Those surveys did not alert you to the mice, the mold, the lead poisoning,” she said.
“These contracts are bad enough as they are, virtually guaranteed profit, in return for which they’re supposed to provide decent housing. The one tool you’ve got is to say there’s got to be some performance evaluation. To give away 95 percent of the performance based money at the same time that we’re hearing from the people who live in this housing, that it’s rat infested, it’s dirty, that things leak… it’s just not right not using the tools Congress gave to you on behalf of our service members.”
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., told the company officials that the testimony suggested the system is broken, and that it is evident to the families, but not to the companies.
For their part, the companies said they are working on various initiatives such as setting up people and mechanisms to better interact with residents. For example, Balfour Beatty Communities has created new resident engagement specialist positions, to make sure residents’ concerns are being heard, said Christopher Williams, the company’s president. Recently they hired a nationally known environmental firm to review their mold and moisture inspection policies, and are taking steps to implement those recommendations.
“Military families understand that quality housing does not mean entitlement to elegant mansions,” said Marine wife Crystal Cornwall. “We simply ask for homes free of mold, pests, lead, and other hazards. …. As parents, we want safe places for our children to sleep at night.”
Military Times: Disabled vets scammed in $2 million bribery scheme
By: Joshua Axelrod | 14 hours ago
A Veterans Affairs Department official steered disabled veterans to questionable schools in exchange for bribes from school officials, according to the Justice Department.
James King, the VA official in question, on Tuesday pleaded guilty to accepting about $160,000 in bribes. In return, law enforcement officials say, he directed participants in VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program to Atius Technology Institute and Eelon Training Academy, generating more than $2 million in VA revenue for the schools.
Both schools were the subject of repeated complaints from veterans, who said they provided a poor-quality education, and both misled the VA about their costs and program details.
Yet King pushed disabled vets in the program to attend the schools, despite these red flags and regardless of the vets’ individual interests or educational needs.
VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program provides education and career help to disabled veterans, including counselors to advise them and help paying for the education and training they need to land a good job in their chosen field.
King’s co-conspirators in the bribery ring were Albert Poawui, Atius’ owner; Sombo Kanneh, one of Poawui’s employees at Atius; and Michelle Stevens, who owned Eelon. Atius claimed to specialize in information-technology courses, while Eelon claimed to provide digital-media training.
Poawui and Kanneh admitted in their pleas that they had struck a deal with King in which Poawui would give King 7 percent of all payments from the VA to Atius. King continued to help place veterans in Atius programs despite “repeated complaints about the poor quality of education” there, according to the DoJ news release.
As part of this arrangement, Poawui and Stevens made numerous false claims to the VA about what was really going on at Atius and Eelon.
Powaui lied to the VA about the number of hours per week veterans were able to attend Atius classes, saying they were enrolled in up to 32 hours a week of class time, even though Atius only offered a maximum of six weekly class hours.
Stevens made a fake attendance sheet for eight students showing they were in Eelon classes that they did not attend on specific days, even including dates on which no classes were held.
The VA was clearly suspicious of both schools, as it audited Atius and had “an ongoing investigation into Eelon following complaints by students about the poor quality of education,” according to the DoJ release.
The VA’s Office of the Inspector General partnered with the FBI’s Washington Field Office for the investigation.
The four participants in this scheme cost the VA $2,217,259.44 between August 2015 and December 2017, the DoJ reported. Poawui paid King more than $155,000 in that time period, with Stevens chipping in another $3,000.
King pleaded guilty to charges of bribery, wire fraud and falsification of documents. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Friday, Feb. 15.
Poawui was sentenced to 70 months in prison with three years of supervised release and was also ordered to pay the VA back $1.5 million. Kanneh was sentenced to 20 months in prison with three years of supervised release and was ordered to forfeit the $1.5 million she helped embezzle, plus an extra $113,227.30 in restitution.
Stevens was sentenced to 30 months in prison with three years of supervised release and ordered to forfeit $83,000 and pay the VA $83,000.
Nicole Navas, a DoJ spokeswoman, said her department does “not have any additional statements beyond our pleadings and previous press announcements on this case.”
Air Force Times: Former Air Force tech sergeant who defected to Iran charged with spying
By: Kent Miller | 17 hours ago
A former Air Force counterintelligence specialist, a technical sergeant, who defected to Iran about five years after leaving the Air Force, has been charged with revealing classified information as well as research about her former colleagues to representatives of the Tehran government, prosecutors said Wednesday.
A Justice Department indictment charges former Air Force Tech. Sgt. Monica Elfriede Witt, who defected in 2013 and is currently at-large, along with four Iranian hackers who, prosecutors say, used the information she provided to target former colleagues in the U.S. intelligence community.
The indictment says the four Iranians were acting on behalf of the government-linked Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. All four remain at large.
Witt, who was born in El Paso, Texas, joined the Air Force on Dec, 17, 1997, and served as an airborne crypto linguist, according to information provided by the Air Force. She later changed jobs and became a special agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Her last assignment before separating as an E-6 on June 12, 2008, was with the 2nd Field Investigations Squadron, Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, the Air Force said.
Her awards and decorations include the Air Medal, three Air Force Commendation medals and three Aerial Achievement medals, according to the Air Force.
"It is a sad day for America when one of its citizens betrays our country," said Assistant Attorney General John Demers, the head of the Justice Department’s national security division.
Jay Tabb, the FBI’s top national security official, said the FBI had warned Witt before her defection that she was a vulnerable target for recruitment by Iranian intelligence but that Witt had ignored those warnings.
Post and District Adjutants,
Attached is the fillable version of the Consolidated Post Report (CPR) which is also available for download at https://www.legion.org/publications/161252/consolidated-post-report.
Please let me know if you have any questions. Some Posts have new Adjutants who may need a hand.
Remember! Our Four Pillars, everything we do must be some aspect of our support of Veterans, National Defense, Americanism or Children and Youth.
Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Wednesday, February 13, 2019, which is Kiss Day, Employee Legal Awareness Day, Get a Different Name Day and National Cheddar Day.
Today in History:
· 1861: The earliest military action to be revered with a Medal of Honor award is performed by Colonel Bernard J.D. Irwin, an assistant army surgeon serving in the first major U.S.-Apache conflict. Near Apache Pass, in southeastern Arizona, Irwin, an Irish-born doctor, volunteered to go to the rescue of Second Lieutenant George N. Bascom, who was trapped with 60 men of the U.S. Seventh Infantry by the Chiricahua Apaches. Irwin and 14 men, initially without horses, began the 100-mile trek to Bascom’s forces riding on mules. After fighting and capturing Apaches along the way and recovering stolen horses and cattle, they reached Bascom’s forces on February 14 and proved instrumental in breaking the siege. Although Irwin’s bravery in this conflict was the earliest Medal of Honor action, the award itself was not created until 1862, and it was not until January 21, 1894, that Irwin received the nation’s highest military honor.
· On the evening of February 13, 1945, the most controversial episode in the Allied air war against Germany begins as hundreds of British bombers loaded with incendiaries and high-explosive bombs descend on Dresden, a historic city located in eastern Germany. Dresden was neither a war production city nor a major industrial center, and before the massive air raid of February 1945 it had not suffered a major Allied attack. By February 15, the city was a smoldering ruin and an unknown number of civilians–somewhere between 35,000 and 135,000–were dead.
· 1965: President Lyndon B. Johnson decides to undertake the sustained bombing of North Vietnam that he and his advisers have been contemplating for a year. Called Operation Rolling Thunder, the bombing campaign was designed to interdict North Vietnamese transportation routes in the southern part of North Vietnam and slow infiltration of personnel and supplies into South Vietnam. The first Rolling Thunder mission took place on March 2, 1965, when 100 U.S. Air Force and Republic of Vietnam Air Force (VNAF) planes struck the Xom Bang ammunition dump 100 miles southeast of Hanoi.
· On this day in 1633, Italian philosopher, astronomer and mathematician Galileo Galilei arrives in Rome to face charges of heresy for advocating Copernican theory, which holds that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Galileo officially faced the Roman Inquisition in April of that same year and agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence. Put under house arrest indefinitely by Pope Urban VIII, Galileo spent the rest of his days at his villa in Arcetri, near Florence, before dying on January 8, 1642.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
· Military Times: Should deported veterans be allowed to come back to America?
· Military Times: Shanahan arrives in Baghdad amid fallout over Trump’s Iran comments
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Military Times: Should deported veterans be allowed to come back to America?
By: Leo Shane III | 16 hours ago
WASHINGTON — A pair of House lawmakers has reintroduced legislation that would ease the path to citizenship for immigrants who served in the Armed Forces but were later deported because of criminal activity.
The “Repatriate Our Patriots Act” would also block federal officials from forcing those veteran immigrants out of the country, ensuring that they receive legal permanent residency after serving their criminal sentences.
“If you are willing to put your life on the line to defend this great nation and its values, you should be able to become a U.S. citizen,” said Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, one of the bill’s sponsors. “It is inexcusable that service members who risked it all to protect us would be put through the deportation process.”
Young and Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, introduced the measure last session, but it made little progress toward passage. With Democrats now in control of the House, they’re more hopeful about possibility of momentum in that chamber, but the measure still faces long odds in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The move comes amid a polarizing national debate over immigration that has already prompted a month-long partial government shutdown and accusations from the White House that critics are endangering national security by not doing enough to limit migrants from entering the United States.
But the two lawmakers behind the bill argue that immigrants who served honorably in the military — but committed crimes after leaving the ranks — deserve a chance to stay in this country after serving their time in prison.
They note that combat injuries like post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury can lead to substance abuse, and even minor drug offenses can result in deportation for an immigrant going through the naturalization process.
The proposal would exclude veterans convicted of violent crimes such as murder, rape, child abuse and terrorism. And it would not apply to immigrants who face serious legal trouble while still serving in the military.
For veteran immigrants still going through the process of becoming American citizens, the legislation would require the Attorney General to recognize them as legal permanent residents and block any potential deportation order.
For veterans already deported, it would require the Department of Homeland Security to create a new program allowing them to return to the United States as lawfully admitted permanent residents, with a chance at full citizenship.
In the last 18 years, U.S. immigration services have helped nearly 130,000 immigrants who joined the military gain American citizenship, thanks to expedited rules adopted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
But veterans who served before that time or who failed to complete paperwork while in the military don’t enjoy the same legal protections as them. The American Civil Liberties Union estimates more than 200 U.S. military veterans have been deported in recent years, with the number steadily increasing amid the current administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration.
The legislation would require the Department of Homeland Security to keep comprehensive records of veterans who are deported. It also guarantees veterans the military and veterans benefits for which they are eligible. Currently, those payouts and health care coverage are stopped when a veteran is deported.
By CLAUDIA GRISALES | STARS AND STRIPES | Published: February 12, 2019
WASHINGTON — Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday that he doesn’t foresee troops leaving Syria or Afghanistan until conditions on the ground are right.
Inhofe also said he’s talked with President Donald Trump on his objections on any time-based withdrawals and anyone who claims to have a date of withdrawal doesn’t know what they are talking about.
“It should have been conditions on the ground from the beginning for any place where we have troops,” Inhofe said during a wide-ranging discussion with reporters on Capitol Hill.
Inhofe also told reporters that acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan won’t get the post permanently, he’s fighting the use of military construction funds for the U.S.-Mexico border wall and continues to push for a $750 billion defense budget in the next fiscal year.
On Syria, the senator said, “I think what is going to happen is that we’ll leave ample troops in there.”
But Inhofe later told reporters that it’s possible troops could be withdrawn in the coming year.
The comments add to the back-and-forth saga of when troops might leave Syria and Afghanistan after Trump raised the specter of quick troop withdrawals in both countries in recent months.
On Dec. 19, Trump stunned Capitol Hill and the Pentagon with a decision to withdraw the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops fighting the Islamic State in Syria within 30 days. The next day, reports suggested Trump was also planning to drawdown 7,000 troops in Afghanistan.
Since that time, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned and was replaced by Shanahan, his then-deputy. The Trump administration have also backed off plans for immediate troop withdrawals or drawdowns in either country.
Last week, the Senate defied Trump’s plan to withdraw troops in Syria and Afghanistan, voting 70 to 26 to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the countries through an amendment from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attached to a larger legislative package.
Inhofe said Tuesday that when he wants to get Trump’s attention on what he thinks is a wrong move, the senator will signal that it is something former President Barack Obama would have done.
“I’m a fan of the president’s… but I’ve debated this with him before … before we had that (vote), I was saying everything has got to be [based on] conditions on the ground,” he said. “I just don’t think anyone is going to be able to say today how many troops will be coming out or when they are going to be coming out.”
Inhofe also said he doesn’t foresee Shanahan getting nominated permanently to the post or reaching a confirmation hearing but he also doesn’t want to set a deadline for selecting a new defense secretary. One issue, Inhofe said, is Shanahan’s strong ties to Boeing, where he worked for 30 years.
“Every time someone has any kind of background whether it’s Boeing or regardless of what company it is … there’s going to be kind of a built-in suspicion and I would say this will become very partisan,” he said.
The senator also said Shanahan isn’t as humble as his predecessor. And while Inhofe wouldn’t divulge potential defense secretary candidates, he did say he hopes the next Pentagon leader has some of the traits of Mattis.
“[Mattis] had a very rare talent and it’s called humility, and I’d like that to have that rub off on somebody else,” said Inhofe, who described Mattis as a close friend.
Inhofe said he talked with Trump about the next defense secretary as the president was returning from his first trip to Iraq.
Inhofe also expressed objections to Trump declaring a national emergency to pull funds from military construction, though the senator was more open to the idea of pulling money from the Army Corps of Engineers.
“If it becomes necessary, I think that he might do the emergency,” Inhofe said. “What I have voiced is if it has to be that way, leave (military construction funds) alone.”
Since December, Trump has threatened a national emergency to use the military’s available construction funds and personnel to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Inhofe also said he continues to push for a $750 billion defense budget. That figure has become a moving target since Trump suggested cuts last year. But since that time, White House officials have signaled they are open to increasing the budget.
Inhofe said he supports that base budget and a larger overseas contingency operations fund.
“In my opinion, you need to be at 750,” Inhofe said of the overall Pentagon budget.
By: Tara Copp | 1 day ago
BAGHDAD — Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan arrived in Baghdad Tuesday with questions lingering as to whether President Donald Trump’s comments on using Iraq as a staging area to monitor Iran had hampered potential plans to relocate U.S. forces from Syria there.
It was Shanahan’s first trip to Iraq, and took place just prior to key defense meetings with NATO and then in Munich, where he will meet with allied contributors in the fight against the Islamic State.
While on the ground, Shanahan met with senior U.S. military commanders, including Operation Inherent Resolve commander Lt. Gen. Paul LaCamera and, importantly, new Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi.
Abdul-Mahdi’s connections to forces who previously fought against U.S. troops during Operation Iraqi Freedom and his government’s current ties to Iran have highlighted the sensitivities of a permanent U.S. presence in Iraq.
In a briefing with reporters after his visit, Shanahan said he focused on Iraq’s sovereignty, and on what the U.S. can contribute to continue to strengthen its military capabilities. In a nod to the political sensitivities of relocating U.S. forces from Syria into Iraq, Shanahan said the relocation issue was not brought up. He did not, however, rule out Iraq as an option as the U.S. looks to reposition those 2,000 forces from Syria.
Earlier this month, President Trump suggested that al-Asad Air Base — a sprawling complex U.S. forces used to help rebuild Iraq’s military and as a staging base to help Iraq retake territory claimed by the Islamic State — could be used to house the 2,000 forces he announced would be pulled from Syria.
Those relocated troops would be in addition to the 5,200 forces currently deployed to train Iraqi forces and to ensure ISIS does not make a comeback.
While the U.S. presence in Iraq to assist in operations against ISIS has Iraqi government support, Trump suggested that a key advantage of pulling the Syria-based U.S. troops into Iraq could be to monitor Iran, which generated immediate blowback.
Abbas Kadhim, director of the Iraqi Initiative at the Atlantic Council, said the 2005 Iraqi constitution that the U.S. helped craft actually forbids Iraq from supporting any activity that could be seen as belligerent by its neighbors, to include hosting foreign forces to counter Iran.
"That was not helpful to make a statement like that,” Kadhim said. “The presence of U.S. forces is not unanimously accepted.”
Those additional 2,000 forces could potentially be accepted if it is understood they are only there to counter ISIS in Syria, he said.
By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES | Published: February 12, 2019
WASHINGTON – The top U.S. military commander in South Korea said Tuesday that North Korea has made few, if any, changes to its military posture and has provided no evidence it intends to end its nuclear program since agreeing to do so in the summer.
Tensions have eased along the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea since the summit in June between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, Army Gen. Robert Abrams, the chief of U.S. Forces Korea, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. But Kim’s regime has declined to provide proof that they had taken any irreversible steps toward denuclearization and his forces have continued to conduct “full spectrum” training exercises.
“I remain clear-eyed about the fact that despite the reduction in tensions along the [demilitarized zone] … we have observed no significant changes to size, scope, or the timing of their ongoing exercises compared to the same time period over the last four years,” said Abrams, who took command in South Korea about three months ago. “Further, North Korea’s conventional and asymmetric military capabilities along with their continued development of advanced conventional systems remain unchecked. These capabilities continue to hold the United States, [South Korea] and our regional allies at risk.”
North Korea remains the No. 1 immediate threat to American forces in the Indo-Pacific Command area of operations, said Adm. Philip Davidson, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command chief who testified alongside Abrams on Tuesday.
The observations come just weeks before Trump and Kim are set to meet face-to-face again. That summit is scheduled for Feb. 27 and 28 in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Trump has touted an optimistic view of North Korea – once proclaiming it was no longer a threat – since his first meeting with Kim. He tweeted this week that he looked “forward to seeing Chairman Kim & advancing the cause of peace!”
Abrams, Davidson and several Republican Armed Services Committee members endorsed the president’s second summit, saying they hoped to see the North Koreans commit to dismantling their nuclear programs transparently.
Several Democrat members did not express such optimism. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said the first meeting led to “a stark and stunning lack of any action [or] progress.”
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., raised concerns that Trump could make a bad trade in the talks, such as removing American troops from South Korea.
“That action would significantly undermine regional security and our ability to fulfill our treaty obligations to South Korea,” said Reed, the top Democrat on the committee.
Following his first meeting with Kim, Trump abruptly announced he would cancel large-scale military training exercises in South Korea. North Korea agreed to return to the United States some 50 boxes of remains believed to contain the bodies of missing American servicemembers from the Korean War.
Abrams downplayed the impact of curbing those high-level exercises on U.S. and South Korean troops’ combat readiness, saying servicemembers have continued to conduct training exercises together on smaller scales. They remain prepared and capable of defending South Korean territory against an invasion from the North, he said.
Abrams also said the last time that North Korea launched a ballistic missile or conducted a nuclear weapons test was before the first Trump-Kim summit.
“Today is day 440 since the last strategic provocation of the [North Koreans] … either a missile flight test or nuclear weapons test,” he said. “The reduction in tensions on the peninsula is palpable. Along the DMZ, there has been significant reduction that has enable nation-confidence building measures … decreased the chance of mistakes, miscalculation, and continue to preserve space for the main [diplomatic] effort.”
The upcoming second summit, he said, was a “positive sign of continued dialogue.”
“It certainly beats the alternative of what we were living with in 2017,” Abrams said.