Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Tuesday, January 22, 2019 which is National Polka Dot Day, Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day, Celebration of Life Day and Come In From the Cold Day.
This Day in History:
- On this day in 1998, in a Sacramento, California, courtroom, Theodore J. Kaczynski pleads guilty to all federal charges against him, acknowledging his responsibility for a 17-year campaign of package bombings attributed to the “Unabomber.”
- In Russia, the revolution of 1905 begins when czarist troops open fire on a peaceful group of workers marching to the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg to petition their grievances to Czar Nicholas II. Some 500 protestors were massacred on “Bloody Sunday,” setting off months of protest and disorder throughout Russia.
- Roe v. Wade was a landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a woman’s legal right to an abortion. The Court ruled, in a 7-2 decision, that a woman’s right to choose an abortion was protected by the privacy rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The legal precedent for the decision was rooted in the 1965 case of Griswold v. Connecticut, which established the right to privacy involving medical procedures.
- 1879: On this day, pursuing American soldiers badly beat Cheyenne Chief Dull Knife and his people as they make a desperate bid for freedom. In doing so, the soldiers effectively crushed the so-called Dull Knife Outbreak.
GOAT v. Goff. Congrats to New England and LA Rams as they advance to a Super Bowl that virtually 95 percent of the country has no interest in seeing.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
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WISH TV: Shutdown drives thousands in Coast Guard to apply for financial assistance
[Video at link.]
By: Tim McNicholas
Posted: Jan 21, 2019 07:20 PM EST
Updated: Jan 21, 2019 07:20 PM EST
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – The partial government shutdown is driving thousands of U.S. Coast Guard members to apply for financial assistance with the American Legion.
A team of American Legion staff members volunteered to work on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to sort through a record number of Temporary Financial Assistance applications, known in government-speak as TFAs.
"We get ‘thank yous’ every day," TFA Program Director Meagan Sweet said. They say "it helps put gas in the car, because they’re still having to go to work and their kids don’t have groceries right now. So, it helps them a lot."
Nearly 42,000 Coast Guard personnel missed a paycheck earlier this month, and, if the shutdown continues into February, it could happen again.
The American Legion’s TFA program runs on donations, and, for now, the Legion can only afford to pay the Coast Guard members who need it the most. They are focusing on helping the junior enlisted ranks with children at home.
Retired Coast Guard Vice Admiral Terry Cross said the typical Third Class Petty Officer earns a base pay of about $600 per week.
"When they miss a paycheck, it’s a big deal," Cross said. "If they miss two paychecks, it could be a disaster for a family in terms of rent payment, mortgage payments, just putting food on the table."
Cross is hoping Congress will pass House Resolution 367, which would pay the Coast Guard during the shutdown. It is the only armed forces branch not getting paid.
Sweet said, during the shutdown, the Legion has given out more than $700,000 in payments to Coast Guard members. A TFA applicant can receive up to $1,500.
Now, the TFA program is running low on funds. Donations can be made at legion.org/donate.
"We’ve been there. We had kids while we were in (the military). So, it’s vets giving back to vets," Sweet said. "It feels good but it is emotional. It’s overwhelming."
NBC News: Growing Movement Honors Homeless Veterans with Dignified Farewell
Video at Link
Military Times: Unclaimed veterans buried with dignity, thanks to strangers
By: Adrian Sainz, The Associated Press andKaren Pulfer Focht, The Associated Press 1 day ago
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — When the flags were removed from the caskets and folded with military precision, there were no family members there to receive them.
So, the banners were passed, hand-to-hand, through the crowd.
Some mourners wept as they clutched the flags briefly. Others kissed them. But the three veterans laid to rest on a rainy Memphis morning were strangers to most of those who gathered to honor their memory.
The service was part of a national effort by funeral homes, medical examiners, state and federal veterans’ affairs departments, and local veterans’ groups to pay final respects to members of the military whose bodies were not claimed by any relatives. Since 2000, Dignity Memorial and other funeral homes in more than 30 cities have organized about 3,000 funerals for soldiers, sailors and Marines who died alone, but still deserved a dignified funeral and burial, said Jeff Berry, Dignity’s general manager in Knoxville.
Soldiers Arnold M. Klechka, 71, and Wesley Russell, 76, and Marine Charles B. Fox, 60, were laid to rest in a service attended by about 700 people at West Tennessee Veterans Cemetery in Memphis on Thursday. There was a gun salute, and a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace.”
But none of them had family members present.
Amelia Callicott did show up. She wept during the service, thinking of her late father and husband, who both served in the military. Callicott said she learned about the service through friends and Facebook. She felt a duty to honor the men.
"It touched my heart when no one came to claim these gentlemen, these soldiers, because they fought for our freedom," said Callicott, 69. "Any serviceman, they’re just like family to me, and I just can’t see laying them to rest without going and seeing their final moments, to say goodbye."
Organizing the funerals, which are fairly commonplace in Tennessee, requires a lot of teamwork.
Berry said the process usually begins with county medical examiners or local coroners, who contact state or national veterans’ cemeteries with names of people whose bodies have gone unclaimed. They typically were either homeless or had no surviving relatives to claim them.
And some have had surviving family members who did not want to claim them.
The cemeteries determine whether the service members were honorably discharged. If they were, medical examiners or the cemeteries then contact Dignity, which is owned by Service Corporation International, or one of its partner funeral homes. A funeral director then sets up the memorial service, and the funeral home covers the cost, Berry said.
Cemetery directors can file claims with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for grave markers or placards for columbariums, according to the Tennessee Department of Veterans’ Services. The VA also gives money to individuals or entities that provide burials, caskets and transportation to cemeteries for unclaimed deceased vets.
Memorial services are publicized through news outlets, veterans’ groups like the American Legion, or social media. Honor Guard and other active military members attend, but it’s the strangers who come out of respect for the military and the dead who bring dignity to the occasion.
A service for unclaimed veterans is planned in the coming weeks at East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery in Knoxville, Berry said.
"Most of the time, it’s folks that had no knowledge of the person in life," Berry said. "One thing I’ve learned in working with the veterans is that they are a tight knit group. They really support each other. It’s like a band of brothers or sisters."
During the Memphis ceremony, funeral director Gary Taylor thanked those who showed up.
Then, he spoke directly to the caskets.
“Today, we salute you,” Taylor said. “Today we all claim you as our own.”
Military.com: VA Renews Opposition to Agent Orange Benefits for Blue Water Navy Vets
18 Jan 2019
Military.com | By Richard Sisk
The Department of Veterans Affairs shows no signs of backing off opposition to extending Agent Orange health care and benefits to "Blue Water Navy" Vietnam veterans, setting up another major battle this year with veterans groups and overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate.
The VA still lacks "sufficient evidence" to prove a presumptive link between service off the coast of Vietnam and the illnesses caused by the widespread use of the defoliant Agent Orange, Paul Lawrence, the VA’s under secretary and head of the Veterans Benefits Administration, said Thursday.
"In terms of presumptives, they come with a real requirement of sufficient evidence to indicate it’s warranted," he said in a panel discussion on a VA Town Hall webcast.
Veterans who served on the ground or on the inland waterways of Vietnam are now eligible for Agent Orange health care and benefits. But existing studies do not show definitive causation between the illnesses suffered by the estimated 90,000 Blue Water Navy veterans and the use of Agent Orange, Lawrence said.
"We understand the situation," he said. "We talked about having more studies in 2019 that would give us more insight into what the causation was and the definitive conclusions behind it."
He gave no indication of when the studies might be completed.
Blue Water veterans can file a claim, which will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, Lawrence said, but they "must be supported by science."
He took a similar position on claims by veterans that they suffered illnesses from the toxic fumes of the burn pits used in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying those claims also must be supported by scientific evidence.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal by veterans for damages against companies that managed the open-air burn pits.
Last August, Lawrence and VA Secretary Robert Wilkie stunned Congress by announcing their opposition to a bill extending Agent Orange benefits to Blue Water sailors that had overwhelming bipartisan support in the House and Senate.
The bill had passed 382-0 in the House and appeared headed to easy passage in the Senate with the support of Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
However, Lawrence, at a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, said, "It’s difficult to hear from veterans who are ill," but "there is no conclusive science" from a report by the Institute of Medicine to show a service connection.
Major veterans service organizations (VSOs) disputed Lawrence on the evidence, but the bill failed in December when Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming, citing the costs, blocked a Senate vote.
The Congressional Budget Office had estimated that about 90,000 sailors could be covered by the bill, which would likely cost about $1.1 billion over 10 years.
Last week, House Democrats reintroduced the "Blue Water Navy" bill, setting up another lengthy battle with the VA on extending Agent Orange benefits.
In a statement, Rep. Mark Takano, D-California, the new chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said, "We must get to work and finally secure the benefits our Blue Water Navy veterans earned over 40 years ago."
On Thursday, three VSOs — the Paralyzed Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans and the Veterans of Foreign Wars — said that passage of the Blue Water Navy bill would be at the top of their legislative agenda for 2019.
"One of our key legislative concerns is ensuring that veterans who were exposed to dangerous toxic chemicals and other environment hazards during their service receive full compensation and other earned benefits," DAV National Commander Dennis Nixon said in a statement.
Military.com: VA Official: No ‘Secret Plan’ to Privatize Health Care Under Mission Act
18 Jan 2019
Military.com | By Richard Sisk
The head of the Veterans Health Administration said Thursday that there is no "secret plan" to privatize Department of Veterans Affairs health care under the Mission Act, which expands community-care options and has repeatedly been championed by President Donald Trump.
"There is no such plan," said Dr. Richard Stone, executive in charge of the VHA and its system of more than 170 medical centers and 1,000 clinics nationwide.
Talk of privatization "creates fear and trepidation among our 341,000 brothers and sisters that call themselves employees of the VHA," he said. "Let me assure you that if you’re an employee of the VA, there’s no plan to privatize. Your job is safe; stay with us."
The question of privatization loomed over the Mission Act before and after it was passed last year with the intent of consolidating and streamlining the problem-plagued Choice program.
In signing the Mission Act into law last June, Trump said, "All during the campaign, I’d go out and say, ‘Why can’t they just go see a doctor instead of standing in line for weeks and weeks and weeks?’ Now they can go see a doctor. It’s going to be great."
Despite continuing problems with access, Stone, a former deputy surgeon general of the Army and recipient of the Combat Action Badge, said that veterans themselves have shown that they prefer the VA to private, or community care.
"We can offer access to health care at unprecedented rates" at the VHA, the nation’s largest health care system, he said.
In calendar year 2018, "we did more than 58 million appointments with veterans. That’s 3.7 million more than four years ago," Stone said. In addition, the VHA has cut wait times for urgent appointments from 19 days in 2014 to two days last year.
"And we continue to get better," he said.
Stone made the comments at one of the VA’s periodic webcast Town Halls on issues facing the department.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie opened the webcast, pointing to recent studies by the Partnership for Public Service and Dartmouth showing that the VA is "one of the best places to work" in government, and also stating that the VHA provides health care that is as good or better than the private sector.
Wilkie listed his priorities going forward as curbing veteran suicides, implementing the Mission Act, and putting in place new electronic health records to make VA and Defense Department systems interoperable.
He said the VA had recently awarded contracts that could be worth $55 billion through 2026 for implementing the Mission Act for VA Regions 1, 2 and 3, covering 36 states, plus Washington, D.C.; Puerto Rico; and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The contracts went to Optum Public Sector Solutions Inc., the government-services branch of Optum, the health services arm of UnitedHealth Group. Another regional contract is expected to be awarded in April and two more in December, Wilkie said.
Army Times: Army’s long-awaited Iraq war study finds Iran was the only winner in a conflict that holds many lessons for future wars
By: Todd South 3 days ago
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A two-volume Army study of the Iraq war is a deep examination of the mistakes and success of the war effort that also takes aim at critics who would slough off the conflict as they shift to near-peer threats.
The study, commissioned by former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno in 2013 and continued under current chief Gen. Mark Milley, was delayed for release since 2016, when it was completed. Some said it was due to concerns over airing “dirty laundry” about decisions made by some leaders during the conflict.
The 1,300-page, two volume history, complete with more than 1,000 declassified documents, spans the 2003 invasion through the U.S. withdrawal, the rise of ISIS, and the influence of Syria and Iran.
“At the time of this project’s completion in 2018, an emboldened and expansionist Iran appears to be the only victor,” authors wrote in the concluding chapter.
Col. Joe Rayburn and Col. Frank Sobchak, both retired, authored the study.
They note the damage to the political-military relationship that the war has caused, even to the American public.
“The Iraq War has the potential to be one of the most consequential conflicts in American history. It shattered a long-standing political tradition against preemptive wars,” authors wrote. “In the conflict’s immediate aftermath, the pendulum of American politics swung to the opposite pole with deep skepticism about foreign interventions.”
They also bluntly address naysayers who see the war as an aberration, and look only for the Army to move back to its traditional large-scale warfighting role, as a quick path to losing the hard-earned lessons of counterinsurgency warfare, portions of which will no doubt be part of future conflicts whether with terrorist groups or with nation state near-peers.
“The character of warfare is changing, but even if we face peer or near-peer competitors in future conflicts, they are likely to employ a blend of conventional and irregular warfare — what is often called ‘hybrid warfare’ or ‘operations in the gray zone,’ ” authors wrote.
In his foreword to the work, Odierno wrote that “those who rejected the idea that there is an operational level of war in counterinsurgency were wrong.”
He notes that following the war, the United States has entered “another historical cycle” like wars past, where civilian and military leaders debate the utility of land power. And he points directly to an overtaxed Army at even higher troop levels than they are now.
One issue raised repeatedly in the study is the lack of troops — within the deployed brigade combat teams, available for other operations such as the war in Afghanistan, and lack of an operational reserve in theater for responses to major events.
However, the study doesn’t just focus on the military’s failures in seeing the changing nature of the war.
Odierno calls the work an “astonishing story of an Army that reached within itself to learn and adapt in the midst of a war the United States was well on its way to losing.”
Milley’s foreward calls the study a “waypoint” on the Army’s “quest to comprehend the OIF experience.”
He sees the analysis as a start of what will be a lengthy analysis of the conflict.
“OIF is а sober reminder that technological advantages and standoff weapons alone cannot render a decision; that the promise of short wars is often elusive; that the ends, ways, and means must be in balance; that our Army must understand the type of war we are engaged with in order to adapt as necessary; that decisions in war occur on the ground, in the mud and dirt; and that timeless factors such as human agency, chance and an enemy’s conviction, all shape а war’s outcome,” he wrote.
Highlights of the study include validations of criticisms made at the time the war was being fought, and others that were not foreseen and only understood in the years that followed.
Study authors note that technology could not always make up for manpower shortages, that coalition warfare was “largely unsuccessful” for several reasons, that failing to account for a lack of understanding of the inner workings of Iraqi politics and group struggles meant some military unit actions did exacerbate problems.
And those battlefield commanders who did find innovative solutions to ground-level problems were not only often not commended or heeded in their innovations, they were often penalized for their work that inverted policy to adapt to real time needs of the battlefield.
The “short war assumption” and overly optimistic thinking drew out problems by pushing funding and manning to future projects because victory was always 18 months away.
The transformation of the Army to create more BCTs resulted in fewer units available for deployment, stretching the active units thin and requiring National Guard units to deploy in a large-scale conflict for the first time since the Korean War.
Half of all brigades in Iraq at the time of the 2005 election were Guard units. While the authors commended the Guard units for their service, they noted that, at the time, they were less experienced soldiers thrust into a critical time of the war without proper resourcing.
And how leaders assessed their own performance during the war suffered from a lack of clear understanding of what mattered.
They leaned too much on “inputs” rather than “outputs,” for example, money spent, Iraqis trained or insurgents killed or captured — rather than whether there was more cooperation with locals or reduced attacks.
“Army leaders have become too enamored with the ‘fetishization’ of statistics and metrics, when they only provide a snapshot in time of a portion of the situation,” authors wrote.
Additional highlights include the following, as highlighted in previous reporting:
- The need for more troops: At no point during the Iraq war did commanders have enough troops to simultaneously defeat the Sunni insurgency and Iranian-backed Shiite militias.
- The failure to deter Iran and Syria: Iran and Syria gave sanctuary and support to Shiite and Sunni militants, respectively, and the U.S. never developed an effective strategy to stop this.
- Coalition warfare wasn’t successful: The deployment of allied troops had political value but was “largely unsuccessful” because the allies didn’t send enough troops and limited the scope of their operations.
- The National Guard needs more training: While many National Guard units performed well, some brigades had so much difficulty dealing with insurgents that U.S. commanders stopped assigning them their own battlespace to control. The study found that Guard units need more funding and training.
- The failure to develop self-reliant Iraqi forces: The U.S.-led effort to train and equip Iraqi forces was under-resourced for most of the war. A premature decision to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqis made it harder to blunt political pressure by Iraqi officials on Iraqi commanders.
- An ineffective detainee policy: The U.S. decided at the outset not to treat captured insurgents or militia fighters as prisoners of war and then never developed an effective way to handle detainees. Many Sunni insurgents were returned to the battlefield.
- Democracy doesn’t necessarily bring stability: U.S. commanders believed the 2005 Iraqi elections would have a “calming effect,” but those elections instead exacerbated ethnic and sectarian tensions.
The report praises the 2007 surge and other COIN efforts, many of which have been attributed to leaders such as Odierno, retired Gen. David Petraeus and retired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who most recently served as President Trump’s national security adviser.
At the same time, some of its critiques can be levied at specific decisions of past Army leaders, including former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker’s decision to move ahead with the BCT restructuring as part of the Army transformation. Also, the consolidation of U.S. forces on large bases, leading to a security vacuum around Baghdad, can be attributed to then-Gen. George Casey.