Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Monday, February 11, 2019 which is Clean Out Your Computer Day, Oatmeal Monday, Grandmother Achievement Day and National Peppermint Patty Day.
This Day in Legion History:
- Feb. 11, 1935: Springfield, Ill., American Legion Post 32 leads what becomes a national tradition – the annual Pilgrimage to the Tomb of Abraham Lincoln on the anniversary of his birthday. Conceived to honor the 16th president of the United States and veterans of the Civil War still living in Springfield at the time, the pilgrimage invites The American Legion national commander, American Legion Auxiliary national president and Sons of The American Legion national commander from that point forward, on an annual basis.
This Day in History:
- Nelson Mandela, leader of the movement to end South African apartheid, is released from prison after 27 years on February 11, 1990. In 1944, Mandela, a lawyer, joined the African National Congress (ANC), the oldest black political organization in South Africa, where he became a leader of Johannesburg’s youth wing of the ANC. In 1952, he became deputy national president of the ANC, advocating nonviolent resistance to apartheid–South Africa’s institutionalized system of white supremacy and racial segregation. However, after the massacre of peaceful black demonstrators at Sharpeville in 1960, Nelson helped organize a paramilitary branch of the ANC to engage in guerrilla warfare against the white minority government.
- On February 11, 1945, a week of intensive bargaining by the leaders of the three major Allied powers ends in Yalta, a Soviet resort town on the Black Sea. It was the second conference of the “Big Three” Allied leaders–U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin–and the war had progressed mightily since their last meeting, which had taken place in Tehran in late 1943.
- On this day in 1778, some 300 people visit Voltaire following his return to Paris. Voltaire had been in exile for 28 years. Born Francois-Marie Arouet to middle-class parents in Paris in 1694, Voltaire began to study law as a young man but quit to become a playwright. He made a name for himself with classical tragedies and also wrote poetry. In 1717, he was arrested for his satirical poem La Henriade, which attacked politics and religion. Voltaire spent nearly a year in the Bastille as punishment.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Military Times: House panel opens investigation into Trump’s VA ‘shadow rulers’
- Military.com: Military Caregivers File Lawsuit, Saying VA Improperly Revoked Benefits
- AP: Trump’s Afghan envoy intensifies peace efforts with Taliban
- Military Times: Rep. Walter Jones, a military advocate who later opposed Iraq War, dies at age 76
- Navy Times: New legal bombshells explode on two Navy SEAL war crimes cases
- Air Force Times: The Air Force still has a serious maintainer staffing problem, GAO says — but no strategy to fix it
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Military Times: House panel opens investigation into Trump’s VA ‘shadow rulers’
By: Leo Shane III 2 days ago
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WASHINGTON — The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee is launching an investigation into whether President Donald Trump’s country club friends had undue influence over Veterans Affairs Department policies or violated any laws.
In a letter to VA officials Friday, committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., said the department needs to turn over dozens of documents by the end of the month to clarify the role of “these individuals who have not served in the U.S. military nor U.S. government, and are not accountable to veterans and the American people.”
The move comes amid increasing tension between the department and members of Congress, and just days after President Donald Trump chastised congressional Democrats in his State of the Union address over investigations.
“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,” he said. “It just doesn’t work that way.”
The men at the center of the new VA investigation — Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter, primary care specialist Dr. Bruce Moskowitz and attorney Marc Sherman — are members of Trump’s exclusive Mar-a-Lago club and have been dubbed the department’s “shadow rulers” because of their high-level conversations with VA employees over the past two years.
The full extent of that involvement is unclear. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in congressional testimony last fall that he had only cursory contact with the men and they have had no significant influence over department policy matters.
But a ProPublica investigation last summer revealed extensive communication between the men and VA officials in the past, including involvement in the adoption of a new 10-year, $16-billion electronic medical records overhaul and the firing of former VA Secretary David Shulkin last spring.
The committee has asked for all communications between the trio and VA employees, to include emails, texts and telephone records.
“Top department officials apparently treated these Mar-a-Lago members as having decision-making authority, and emails demonstrate these powerful men weighed in on candidates to lead the Veterans Health Administration and organized meetings and summits between VA and commercial entities,” Takano’s letter states.
In a statement, department spokesman Curt Cashour said that VA has already responded to multiple requests on the issue, and “since most of these communications occurred under previous VA leaders, we refer you to them for further comment.”
He also added that “although his predecessors may have done things differently, Sec. Wilkie has been clear about how he does business. No one from outside the administration dictates VA policies or decisions. That’s up to Sec. Wilkie and President Trump.”
The move comes a day after Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., set a letter directly to the three men out of frustration over months of unanswered questions from VA officials over their roles.
"Although you reportedly had access to and influence over key agency decisions and decision-makers, you were reportedly not subject to any of the conflicts-of-interest and other ethics rules that apply to government employees," she wrote. "As a result, I am concerned that you may have had the opportunity to profit from your arrangement, including possibly by engaging in trades or other actions to enrich yourselves.”
Takano’s counterpart in the upper chamber, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said on Thursday that he has no plans to investigate the three businessmen for now. Whether House Republicans will support the Democratic majority’s information requests remains to be seen.
In October, VA officials refused to produce the documents, citing “ongoing litigation alleging violations of the Federal Advisory Committee Act” making them “not appropriate for release at this time.” That was due to an ongoing lawsuit filed by the left-leaning advocacy group VoteVets seeking to block the men from contact with VA leadership on official matters.
Now, House Democrats hold subpoena powers for the records. The committee has used that authority several times in recent years, although with near unanimous bipartisan support each time.
Military.com: Military Caregivers File Lawsuit, Saying VA Improperly Revoked Benefits
8 Feb 2019
Military.com | By Patricia Kime
Four spouses and two fiancées of veterans eligible for the Department of Veterans Affairs‘ family caregiver program have filed a lawsuit against the VA for denying or improperly revoking their benefits.
In a suit filed Jan. 22 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, the plaintiffs, led by Florida resident Zamantha Tapia, fiancée of Army veteran Cesar Silva, allege that the VA did not follow the laws and regulations governing the department’s Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program, which provides compensation and health benefits to those who provide care for seriously injured post-9/11 veterans.
According to the suit, Silva and Tapia’s application was denied, and the benefits of the other plaintiffs were inappropriately downgraded or terminated without proper investigation or determination.
In 2017, veterans and their caregivers enrolled in the program began seeing their benefits curtailed or terminated — often with no reason given, other than that their VA providers determined they no longer needed help with their daily activities.
In August 2018, the VA Office of Inspector General found that across the VA, facilities didn’t adequately manage the program, failing to provide consistent access to it, improperly accepting ineligible veterans and declining to monitor the health statuses of nearly half the veterans it discharged from the program.
The IG also learned that the department paid out $4.8 million to caregivers of veterans who weren’t eligible for the program, and the VA "failed to manage the program effectively because it did not establish governance that promoted accountability for program management," staff members wrote in the report.
Related: VA Suspends all Discharges from Caregiver Program
In 2015, plaintiff Jennifer Wilmot and her husband George Wilmot, an Army National Guard veteran who served from October 2007 to May 2013, were booted from the program.
Wilmot had been injured during a 2009 deploymentto Mosul, Iraq, when the Humvee he was riding in came under small-arms fire and crashed. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, fractured portions of his back and pelvis and nearly lost his left arm. He also has post-traumatic stress disorder and memory loss.
The Wilmots were accepted into the caregiver program in 2013 but should have received the highest level of compensation rather than the level they were awarded, according to attorneys Jason Perry and Luke Miller.
Then came the dismissal.
"After completing a comprehensive review of your medical records, it appears that you have met the intention of the program and your participation will be discontinued," VA officials wrote to the Wilmots.
The lawsuit calls the termination "arbitrary and capricious."
Silva was deployed to Iraq from November 2003 to August 2004, sustaining shrapnel injuries in an attack. According to the lawsuit, he received a VA disability rating of 70 percent in 2009 for rotator cuff strain and impingement and suffers from chronic headaches, degenerative joint disease, back pain and neuropathy. He also has PTSD, TBI, memory loss, depression and irritable bowel syndrome.
Tapia and Silva applied for the family caregiver program in 2014 but were denied. According to the suit, the VA found that Silva did not need assistance for physical injuries and said his mental health conditions were not service-connected. They reapplied in 2017, but following a phone assessment, VA officials said that Silva was not "receiving medical treatment" — an error, the lawsuit alleges — and that Tapia was "an enabler."
According to Perry, an attorney in Wellington, Florida, and Miller, of Military Disability Lawyer LLC in Salem, Oregon, the plaintiffs have asked the court to certify the suit as a class action, meaning that other affected caregivers could sign on if it is approved.
They estimate that the VA received more than 100,000 applications for the family caregiver program between May 2011 and September 2018 and, therefore, thousands may be able to sign on to the possible class action.
The plaintiffs also are requesting that the VA stop what they perceive as arbitrary dismissals from the program and are seeking monetary compensation in an amount "to be determined at trial," according to the suit.
The federal government has until March 25 to file a response in the case, and a status conference is scheduled for March 29, according to court documents.