10 June, 2019 07:21

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Monday, June 10, 2019 which is National Iced Tea Day, Mom’s Equal Pay Day, National Herb and Spice Day, and National Black Cow Day.
This Weekend in Legion History:

  • June 9-10, 1944: The American Legion works feverishly to find U.S. Rep. John Gibson, who is at home in Georgia while the fate of the GI Bill is hung up in a House-Senate conference committee in Washington, deadlocked 3-3. If the tie cannot be broken, the legislation will die in committee. The Legion gets through to an operator in Atlanta who calls Gibson’s home every five minutes until he answers at 11 p.m. The Legion, assisted by military and police escorts, take Gibson on 90-mile high-speed trip through a rainstorm to the Jacksonville, Fla., airport where he is flown to Washington, arriving shortly after 6 a.m. He casts the vote to send the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 to the president’s desk and promises to make public those who vote against it, along with their reasons.
  • June 9, 1921: Highly decorated World War I Army Col. Frederic W. Galbraith of Ohio is killed in an automobile accident in Indianapolis while serving as second national commander of The American Legion. A revered leader in the fight for veterans benefits and care, his death makes national news, and thousands attend his funeral in Cincinnati, where a memorial now stands in his honor.

This Day in History:

  • On this day in 1752, Benjamin Franklin flies a kite during a thunderstorm and collects ambient electrical charge in a Leyden jar, enabling him to demonstrate the connection between lightning and electricity. Franklin became interested in electricity in the mid-1740s, a time when much was still unknown on the topic, and spent almost a decade conducting electrical experiments. He coined a number of terms used today, including battery, conductor and electrician. He also invented the lightning rod, used to protect buildings and ships.
  • 1692: In Salem Village in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Bridget Bishop, the first colonist to be tried in the Salem witch trials, is hanged after being found guilty of the practice of witchcraft.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

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Federal Times: VA and union contract fight escalates to nationwide rallies
By: Jessie Bur   2 days ago
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Negotiations for a newly proposed contract between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the American Federation of Government Employees reached a head June 5, as members of the union took to town halls, rallies and meetings with legislators to protest what they call a “plot” to strip workers of their rights.
The VA proposed a new contract May 2 that would cut official time use by 99 percent while removing 42 articles from the previous agreement that concern employee training, workplace health and safety, and protection from whistleblower retaliation, according to the union.
Negotiations over that contract began May 27.
“This latest Trump administration plot not only strips VA workers — about one-third of whom are veterans themselves — of their rights; it also threatens quality care for veterans and paves the way for a scheme to outsource veterans’ health care that no one wants,” said Alma Lee, president of AFGE’s National Veterans Council, in a news release.
“This administration’s proposal sets up VA employees to fail and will likely lead to worse care for our veterans.”
The June 5 “VA Day of Action,” included 60 locations across the country under the rallying cry of “Dignity. Fairness. Respect.”
The contract disagreements between the VA and its union are just a part of longstanding tensions between the Trump administration and unions, which were exacerbated when President Donald Trump signed three executive orders that targeted federal unions and employee management policies.
Significant sections of those orders were overturned by a district court judge in August 2018, and the case is currently awaiting an appeals court decision.
“This is not the Trump administration’s first attempt to gut workers’ rights for President Trump’s own political gain. Many of the VA’s proposals are lookalike anti-labor policies President Trump tried and failed to implement governmentwide last year,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. in a news release.
“We will do everything in our power to make sure that the Trump administration does not dismantle health care for our nation’s veterans. Our veterans can’t and won’t be political footballs.”

Military.com: ICE Is Deporting Veterans Without Checking Their Service Status, Watchdog Says

9 Jun 2019
Military.com | By Richard Sisk
The Government Accountability Office has a recommendation for Immigration and Customs Enforcement: Check to see whether the people it picks up are military veterans before kicking them out of the country.
"We recommended that ICE collect and maintain data on veterans" in accordance with long-established rules at the agency to avoid deporting individuals who may be eligible to stay, the 40-page GAO report states.
From 2013 to 2018, ICE failed to follow its own policies requiring agents to consider a veteran’s military record before beginning the process of removal from the country, according to the report. Time in service, awards and deployments are all among factors that are supposed to be weighed when making a deportment decision.
The policies also call for deportation cases that might involve veterans to be referred to higher headquarters for a decision. Those policies also were not followed, the report states.
Officials at the Department of Homeland Security, the parent agency of ICE, said they didn’t consider the veteran and non-veteran status in removal proceedings and were unaware of policies to the contrary.
"Through its policies, ICE has established that these noncitizen veterans warrant special consideration in the event that they become subject to immigration enforcement and removal from the United States," GAO officials wrote. "However, because ICE did not consistently adhere to these policies, some veterans who were removed may not have received the level of review and approval that ICE has determined is appropriate for cases involving veterans."
In addition, ICE "does not know exactly how many veterans have been placed in removal proceedings or removed," the report states.
In a letter Thursday to Acting ICE Director Mark Morgan, California Democrats Mark Takano, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and Rep. Juan Vargas said the nation "cannot allow non-citizen veterans to fall through the cracks of our broken immigration system."
"Deporting veterans represents a failure by our government that could have been prevented if ICE officials had been adhering to agency policies," the lawmakers’ letter states. "This level of carelessness and disregard for official procedures is negligent and unacceptable."
In response to the report, the Department of Homeland Security agreed with the GAO’s findings and concurred with recommendations to "develop a policy or revise its current policies to identify and document veterans, and to collect and maintain complete data on veterans" who are either in removal proceedings or who have already been removed.
Military Times: Groups join forces to fight military toxic exposure
By:Leo Shane III 2 days ago
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More than a dozen veterans advocacy groups will join forces to track and highlight toxic exposure illnesses among former military members in an attempt to push for quicker action on what they see as a looming health crisis.
The Toxic Exposures in the American Military coalition, announced this week, will coordinate efforts from groups like Wounded Warrior Project, Vietnam Veterans of America, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Veteran Warriors Inc., and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.
The focus will be on issues related to exposures in the recent wars, although the groups have also advocated on illnesses related to chemical poisoning in the ranks from earlier periods.
“We must do more to address the illnesses we are seeing in America’s service members and veterans as a result of toxic exposures,” said WWP CEO Mike Linnington said in a statement. “We must honor the service and sacrifice of our nation’s warriors by working with Congress to provide the necessary care and resources to help those suffering.”
The move comes the same week Department of Justice officials announced they will not appeal a federal court ruling which awarded presumptive disability benefit status to about 90,000 “blue water” Vietnam veterans who served in ships at sea during the war there.
The case, which has drug through the courts for years, was seen as a preview by many in the veterans community of the coming fight over benefits for veterans who developed health problems after serving near burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The “blue water” veterans claims were denied by Veterans Affairs officials for years because of a lack of clear scientific evidence showing their exposure to cancer-causing defoliants used in Vietnam.
Similarly, illnesses connected to burn pits in the recent wars have proven difficult to conclusively link to a single source, because of the variety in the size of the fires and items burned in the waste pits.
More than 165,000 veterans are enrolled in the VA’s Burn Pit Registry, which tracks exposure and illnesses related to the waste fires. But advocates say they believe the number of individuals who suffered health effects from the toxic smoke is many times that number.
House lawmakers are considering several measures to address the issue, including a provision sponsored by presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii (herself an Iraq War veteran), in this year’s defense authorization bill requiring all burn pits exposure to be recorded in service members’ medical records.
But the new group’s effort will go beyond burn pits to include monitoring and highlighting adverse health effects from things like exposure to depleted uranium in ammunition and water contamination on military bases.
The issue of cancer-causing polyfluoroalkyl substances (known as PFAS) from military firefighting foam has drawn the attention of Congress in recent months, after the Defense Department last year identified at least 126 military installations where it had found higher-than-recommended levels in local groundwater.
Connected to the new coalition, Wounded Warrior Project is entering the second year of a partnership with TAPS, the American Legion, VVA and Burn Pits 360 to track toxic exposure illnesses among veterans and military families. That work, totaling more than $620,000 so far, will help inform the priorities of the new coalition, and give additional evidence of the potential health problems.
The group is expected to meet regularly in coming months to coordinate positions on pending legislation and discuss other ways to highlight their findings.

Navy Times: Navy judge won’t dismiss SEAL war crimes case but sanctions prosecutors
By:Carl Prine 2 days ago
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Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher is still going to trial on war crimes charges in 10 days but the judge overseeing his court-martial smacked the dwindling prosecution team with hefty sanctions after ruling they and federal agents violated his constitutional rights.
In 21-page decision handed down Friday evening in San Diego, Navy Capt. Aaron Rugh found that a military prosecutor and senior Naval Criminal Investigative Service officials concocted a surveillance operation on defense attorneys, their experts and Navy Times designed to transmit HTML GET data to a law enforcement system for analysis.
Rugh determined that scrutinizing the raw data, using only open source methods without a warrant or court order, “may have been able to reveal patterns in defense behavior resembling attorney work product" in a case where Gallagher, 40, has been charged with murdering a wounded Islamic State fighter and shooting at civilians in Iraq in 2017.
Gallagher, 40, has insisted he’s innocent and was framed by four disgruntled junior SEALs.
Even before he issued his ruling, Rugh has watched the three-man prosecution team crack apart. On Monday, the judge booted lead prosecutor Cmdr. Christopher Czaplak off the case for his alleged role in the surveillance operation with NCIS.
He was replaced by Cmdr. Jeffrey Pietrzyk.
The Marine Corps already had withdrawn Capt. Conor McMahon, leaving only Lt. Brian John from the original team that had toiled for eight months to put Gallagher behind bars for the rest of his life.
Although Czaplak and the NCIS officials appeared to halt their surveillance within three days because their plot was discovered, their operation violated Gallagher’s Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and that “constituted a violation of a legal standard," Rugh found.
As Gallagher’s legal team became mired in litigation over the surveillance operation, they also lost vital time needed to prepare for trial, sparked “short-term concerns regarding conflicts of interest between his counsel and the accused” and temporarily robbed the SEAL of one attorney he chose because he had to leave to pursue another case," Rugh determined.
“These delays are wholly attributable to the government’s action,” the judge wrote.
Most damning, the NCIS HTML GET “intrusion created a crisis in the public’s perception of the fairness of the accused’s court-martial" and reeked of apparent Unlawful Command Influence, or “UCI.”
Dubbed the “mortal enemy of military justice” by higher courts, UCI occurs when superiors utter words or take actions that wrongfully influence the outcome of court-martial cases, jeopardize the appeals process or undermine the public’s confidence in the armed forces by appearing to tip the scales of justice.
Rugh determined "that the NCIS intrusion placed an intolerable strain on the public’s perception of the military justice system because ‘an objective, disinterested observer, fully informed of all of the facts and circumstances, would harbor a significant doubt about the fairness of the proceeding.’”
Although Gallagher’s attorneys had asked Rugh to dismiss the case, the judge balked, saying that military appellate courts had ruled that every effort should be made to salvage it.
Rugh said that he’d already acted three times to punish the prosecution — by removing Gallagher from pretrial restraint; disqualifying Czaplak as prosecutor; and delaying the trial to June 17 to give the defense more time to prepare for it.
But Rugh added two more remedies. He granted the defense team two additional peremptory challenges, for a total of three, to potentially sweeten the jury pool for Gallagher.
He also barred anyone from sentencing Gallagher to life without the eligibility for parole, if convicted.
The court-martial’s convening authority, Navy Region Southwest, accepted Rugh’s ruling.
“The Navy remains committed to an impartial military justice system that provides due process and fundamental fairness. Chief Petty Officer Gallagher is presumed to be innocent, and the Navy will safeguard his right to a fair trial," said command spokesman Brian O’Rourke in a prepared statement emailed to Navy Times.
Gallagher’s civilian attorney praised Rugh’s remedies, too.
“The peremptory challenges are huge,” said Timothy Parlatore, although he added that he already likes the panel of officers and senior enlisted leaders he’s been presented.
Composed mostly of Marines with Combat Action Ribbons, it includes three SEALs and a handful of senior and master chiefs.
"Judge Rugh found significant constitutional violations by NCIS and Cmdr. Czaplak, but moving forward everyone must realize that NCIS supervisors did these illegal acts.
"I believe that we will win this case and our focus remains on this trial, but the government case has been falling apart for a long time and now it’s time to go in and pick the jury. And then we’ll let these lying witnesses take the stand and subject themselves to cross-examination.
“Their false stories will be tested in ways that NCIS and the prosecution refused to do and I expect, in the end, Chief Gallagher will be found not guilty.”
NCIS did not return messages seeking comment.

ReBoot Camp: This DoD program gives transitioning service members 24/7 access to mental health help
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By:Maureen Elias, Vietnam Veterans of America 2 days ago
Editor’s note: The following commentary was contributed by Maureen Elias, Assistant Director of Vietnam Veterans of America’s Veterans Health Council. The content may be edited for clarity, style and length.
I was lost. My transition out of the military was sudden and unexpected. I’d planned on making the U.S. Army my career, but then I was injured. This abrupt end to all things familiar — the military life I had come to know, its culture, the camaraderie — left me hollowed out; it was as if my sense of purpose and identity had been carved from my heart. I returned home, broken, in pain and feeling socially isolated. Pretty soon I was in a deep, dark place.
Today, I know I am not alone in my struggle to transition out of the military. In fact, veterans who are three to 12 months from separating had almost triple the suicide rate of active duty service members, a 2014 study found. That study by the Institute of Medicine confirmed what we know to be true: Service members are encountering difficulties as they transition between the complex DoD healthcare system and the equally complex VA healthcare system, and many are skeptical about the value of treatment.

To help ease the transition from military to civilian life, the Defense Health Agency’s Psychological Health Center of Excellence (PHCoE) has developed an innovative program, inTransition, that addresses the barriers to care that transitioning service members and their families routinely face.
Service members who have received mental health care within a year prior to separation are automatically enrolled in inTransition. Also eligible for the program by self-referral are active-duty, reservist, and recently separated service members, who can use the program any time they need to locate a new mental-health provider.
The inTransition program is confidential and voluntary, and it includes free, 24/7 coaching for the transitioning service member. Support is provided via telephone by licensed, behavioral health staff with advanced degrees who are also trained in military culture.
Service members enrolled in the program receive help navigating the VA mental-health services system and receive encouragement for their progress, helping to alleviate stress. The coaches use clinical coaching, motivational interviewing, and SMART goal behavioral techniques to support the service member while they transition to a new mental health provider
Once referred to the inTransition program, service members are contacted by a coach to confirm their willingness to participate in the program. The same coach is assigned to the service member for the duration of time it takes for them to begin services with a new mental health provider.
In the first session, the coach assesses the service member’s immediate needs and answers his/her questions. Together, they establish an action plan, develop adaptive strategies and explore healthy choices. During the coaching process, the coach can assist the service member in reaching out and scheduling an appointment with their gaining provider. The coach will follow up with the gaining provider and the transitioning service member to ensure that current services are successfully transitioned to the service member’s new location and appointments are not falling through the cracks. Should the service member discontinue coaching while transitioning, the original referring provider is notified.
The program has a high success rate. In the words of one service member, “If it were not for my in-tran coach, I would have been out on the streets. The help I received was beyond what I expected.” With the inTransition program available to support a service member’s adjustment from active-duty service to veteran status, we hope to reduce their stress and improve the quality of their lives during this difficult time, with the goal of more veterans adjusting successfully in their civilian lives.
Other transition resources by DoD include the Transition Assistance Program (TAP), which assists service members with the necessary skills to transition back into the community; the Polytrauma System of Care, which offers care for service members who have sustained multiple physical and cognitive injuries; and the PHCoE’s Resource Center, available 24/7 to military veterans and their families. Unlike the inTransition program, those who call the Resource Center are not assigned to a specific coach; rather they are assigned to the first available coach.
How can service members help? If you think this program is one you might benefit from, please self-refer via the website. Encourage others you feel are candidates for the inTransition program to self-refer. And help spread the word to other service members, veterans, and their families.
Are you a healthcare provider? As a provider, you retain primary responsibility for your patient’s care until care their care has been completely transferred. You can help by referring eligible patients to inTransition; by spreading the word about the program with other providers; by following up with inTransition coaches; and by sharing your experiences with the inTransition program staff.

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