Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Friday, April 12, 2019, which is Day of Silence, Drop Everything and Read Day, International Day of Human Space Flight, and National Only Child Day.
Today in American Legion History:
- April 12, 1945: Harry S. Truman, a member of Tirey J. Ford American Legion Post 21 in Independence, Mo., becomes the first Legionnaire to serve as president of the United States. Vice president under Franklin D. Roosevelt, Truman steps in after Roosevelt’s death, during the final weeks and months of World War II, seeing it end in Europe on May 8, 1945, and in the Pacific Theater Aug. 14, 1945. Truman becomes the first – and so far, only – world leader to authorize the use of atomic weapons, ending the war in Japan. He later authorizes U.S. military forces to defend South Korea in what becomes the Korean War and during his presidency is credited with desegregating the U.S. military.
Today in History:
- 1861: The bloodiest four years in American history begin when Confederate shore batteries under General P.G.T. Beauregard open fire on Union-held Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston Bay. During the next 34 hours, 50 Confederate guns and mortars launched more than 4,000 rounds at the poorly supplied fort. On April 13, U.S. Major Robert Anderson surrendered the fort. Two days later, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for 75,000 volunteer soldiers to quell the Southern “insurrection.”
- 1945: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the longest serving president in American history, dies of a cerebral hemorrhage three months into his fourth term.
- On April 12, 1961, aboard the spacecraft Vostok 1, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin becomes the first human being to travel into space. During the flight, the 27-year-old test pilot and industrial technician also became the first man to orbit the planet, a feat accomplished by his space capsule in 89 minutes. Vostok 1 orbited Earth at a maximum altitude of 187 miles and was guided entirely by an automatic control system. The only statement attributed to Gagarin during his one hour and 48 minutes in space was, “Flight is proceeding normally; I am well.”
- 1981: The space shuttle Columbia is launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, becoming the first reusable manned spacecraft to travel into space. Piloted by astronauts Robert L. Crippen and John W. Young, the Columbia undertook a 54-hour space flight of 36 orbits before successfully touching down at California’s Edwards Air Force Base on April 14.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
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Military Times: Here are 12 big changes veterans caregivers will see in the next year
By: Leo Shane III | 21 hours ago
Tens of thousands of family caregivers across the country provide daily assistance to wounded veterans, but advocates say the federal government is just now on the verge of fully embracing their role in veterans’ medical care.
Late last month, Veterans Affairs officials agreed to a set of 12 recommendations offered by a special advisory group of veterans advocates and community activists, the culmination of 18 months of work by the panel.
Supporters say the ideas will help codify caregivers into the VA system: guaranteeing their inclusion in medical check-ups, creating new training and support services, expanding research into their challenges. The results, they hope, will not only improve VA offerings but also the civilian health care community nationwide.
VA officials said the changes will be put in place over the next year. Recently, Military Times sat down with Elizabeth Dole, chair of the commission (and herself a caregiver to former U.S. Senate majority leader Bob Dole, an injured World War II veteran), and Steve Schwab, CEO of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, to break what the new recommendations mean.
Note: A list of the full recommendations is available on the foundation’s web site.
Recommendation 1: VA should organize all relevant caregiver benefits in one location and add benefits to fill in any gaps in support.
Dole: “One of the main problems of caregivers has been trying to navigate through all of this. The VA is the largest integrated health care system in the world, but there are also so many other benefits spread throughout the government. So it just makes sense to provide better coordination, collaboration.”
“That’s one of the ideas where you think, ‘Why didn’t we have this 10 years ago?’”
Recommendation 2: Establish a centralized office to oversee programs affecting caregivers, families and survivors.
Dole: “We need to nail down the fact that these three populations are essential to VA carrying out their responsibilities. So they’ll be front and center — looking at budget requests, legislation, policy.”
Schwab: “VA staff who have been passionate about helping have been screaming for this, because right now there is no official screen for these populations.”
Recommendation 3: Identify and update models to address the needs of caregivers and families with outside groups.
Dole: “A lot of research gets left sitting on the shelf. This is designed to make sure it gets moved into action.”
Schwab: “There’s already a VA Center for Excellence on caregivers, so this will make sure that work is looked at and replicated.
Recommendation 4: Better collect and analyze data on caregivers and their families.
Dole: “Right now, all the data we have on caregivers is on the 38,000 people in the VA official caregiver program. But (in surveys of veterans), 2.5 million veterans said they need a caregiver. So there needs to be a massive collection of new data.”
Schwab: “There is no systematic collection of data now. So groups like ours who are trying to serve this population don’t have a lot to go on.”
Recommendation 5: Better collect and analyze data on the children of caregivers and their families.
Dole: “There’s not one piece of evidence-based data out there now about the impact of this caregiving on military children. And yet you know these children are impacted in many ways, seeing these injuries. Many are caregivers themselves. So it’s a new area that we need to pursue.”
Recommendation 6: Conduct a thorough analysis of the need for respite care resources and their availability.
Dole: “This is a number one issue with caregivers, an opportunity to break away for a bit. The veteran directed Home and Community-Based Care is terrific … but it needs to be expanded.”
Schwab: “Right now, the utilization rate is abysmally low, even though it’s one of caregivers’ top requests. That means we’re not being efficient.”
Recommendation 7: Develop plans to improve VA communication with caregivers and their families.
Dole: “There’s going to be about 150,000 caregivers receiving stipends once the program is fully expanded (in coming years). We need to come up with training opportunities too, to improve the caregivers’ experience with VA professionals. They need to feel like someone is listening to them.”
Recommendation 8: Improve training for caregivers, and Include them in veterans’ medical planning from day one.
Schwab: “This was the reason we started this push, because we saw a huge gap in the beginning of the journey. Doctors, nurses were not integrating caregivers into the medical team.”
Dole: “They weren’t even listening to them in many cases. Caregivers weren’t permitted in the treatment room. It’s crucial that they be in there.”
Recommendation 9: Include an official designation for caregivers in veterans’ health records.
Dole: “There is so much frustration here. Is the record up to date? When the veteran goes outside, do the veterans’ files follow? So this requires that the caregiver be included in relevant discussions of health record modernization, and then at the day of intake have their name recorded in the official records. That’s a game changer.”
Recommendation 10: Standardize the veterans clinical appeals process and better integrate caregiver and family input.
Dole: “Right now that work is all localized. Can you believe that? How can anyone plan when we see a wide difference from medical center to medical center?”
“We hear from caregivers saying, ‘You had things happen that way? It was completely different for me!’ We can’t have that.”
Recommendation 11: Ensure caregivers have a 90-day bridge period before any changes are made in support stipends.
Dole: “The idea of a grace period has already been accepted in principle. It’s already 90 days when someone is dropped off the program.”
Schwab: “Stability is so important to these families. So we’re really keen on making sure that everyone is ready when there is a change.”
Recommendation 12: Reduce medical evaluations for the most catastrophically wounded and injured veterans.
Schwab: “For folks with wounds that will never change, this will lessen the burden on them.”
Dole: “In some cases, why are we asking, ‘Do you still need a caregiver?’ … When you look at all of the things these families need to navigate, these kind of changes make sense.”
Stars & Stripes: Defense Department looking at options to house up to 5,000 migrants
By ROSE L. THAYER | STARS AND STRIPES | Published: April 11, 2019
AUSTIN, Texas — The Defense Department is once again reviewing military bases to determine which ones are capable of housing migrant children. Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan on Tuesday approved a request from the Department of Health and Human Services to look for housing options for up to 5,000 migrant children, said Army Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.
Shanahan’s approval simply begins a process to “identify facilities or land through fiscal year 2019,” if requested, Davis said. A second request from HHS asking to house the children would be required before the Pentagon would take any further action.
“DoD is working with the military services to identify potentially suitable locations for such support to HHS,” Davis said.
About 12,500 unaccompanied minors are in federal custody, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is part of HHS. That’s 1,000 more than when HHS made the request one month ago.
There isn’t a specific trigger that would lead HHS to house children at military facilities, said Evelyn Stauffer, spokeswoman for the Administration of Children and Families, the office within HHS that manages the refugee resettlement program.
“This is a situational decision based on need for temporary shelter and appropriate, available facilities,” she said.
Apprehensions at the U.S. border with Mexico have increased each month of 2019. In March, 92,607 people were apprehended at the border, according to Customs and Border Protection statistics. Of those, 8,975 were unaccompanied minors — up from February’s numbers by more than 2,000 children.
Once children are referred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement from the Department of Homeland Security, the office is responsible for their care until they are released to a suitable sponsor, most likely a parent or close relative, while they await immigration proceedings.
Last month’s request for housing stems from a continuing increase in border crossings. For that reason, HHS is “preparing for the need for high-bed capacity to continue” and “is once again requesting the assistance of the Department of Defense to help respond to the migration influx of unaccompanied alien children along our southern border,” Stauffer said.
HHS made a similar request in the summer as President Donald Trump’s administration faced scrutiny for separating parents from their children as they crossed the border. HHS, as well as the Department of Homeland Security, were seeking space to house adults and minors. Neither agency acted on those requests.
However, the Pentagon identified three potential installations in western Texas — Fort Bliss in El Paso, Dyess Air Force Base near Abilene and Goodfellow Air Force Base near San Angelo. Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas also was considered.
Last year’s review of military bases capable of housing children included potential impact studies with some of the results being made public. At Goodfellow, a study released July 6 showed that making room for 15,000 adults and children migrants would have no impact to operations. To do so, the study outlined a plan to build temporary structures on the base.
The studies conducted based on the 2018 request will be part of the new review process, Davis said.
The military has housed unaccompanied migrant minors in the past. In 2014, HHS used space at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas to house thousands of unaccompanied children.
Navy Times: In the aftermath of the Fitzgerald collision, months of legal fury end in a whimper
By: Geoff Ziezulewicz | 13 hours ago
Nearly two years after the guided-missile destroyer Fitzgerald’s fatal collision with a merchant vessel, the Navy’s journey to justice fizzled out late Wednesday with an unsigned Navy press release announcing charges were being dropped.
For months, the Washington Navy Yard had been preparing for a courtroom showdown between military prosecutors and attorneys defending the Fitz’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, and one of his junior subordinates, Lt. Natalie Combs
But a Navy overseen by outgoing Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson had telegraphed its legal surrender with a series of messages sent in his name to the families of the seven American sailors drowned in the June 17, 2017 disaster.
They began telling Navy Times that the admiral’s note indicated the sea service would swap criminal charges for administrative punishment, issuing letters of censure to Benson and Combs for their alleged contributions to the calamity.
The messages indicated “the cases are being dismissed for legal reasons that impede the continued prosecution of either officer" but the Navy remains “committed to keeping faith with you through transparency and open communication.”
“Your loved ones did not die in vain; their legacy lives on in the form of a stronger and more capable Navy,” the messages read.
Both cases had been plagued by a series of military missteps by Richardson, his top aide and nominated replacement Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran, as well as other senior leaders that damaged the cases against the two defendants and ultimately made trying them in a Navy courtroom a challenge.
Judges, defense lawyers and outside legal experts dissecting the public utterances of Richardson and fellow senior leaders for months have raised concerns that unlawful command influence, or UCI, tainted the cases against Benson and Combs and made it impossible for them to get a fair trial.
Dubbed the “mortal enemy of military justice,” UCI occurs when superiors utter words or take actions that coerce the outcome of courts-martial, jeopardize the appellate process or undermine public confidence in the armed forces by appearing to tip the scales of justice.
The military judge in Benson’s trial ruled in December that statements by Richardson and Moran constituted apparent UCI.
Combs’ attorneys eagerly awaited a similar finding in the junior officer’s trial.
A Navy official said Thursday night that the UCI motions in the cases did not affect leadership’s decision to dismiss the charges.
Earlier this year, Adm. Frank Caldwell — Richardson’s four-star staffer tasked with meting out justice in the Fitzgerald case — was disqualified as the convening authority in Benson’s prosecution because the judge ruled he failed to remain impartial.
The Navy’s chief information officer, Capt. Greg Hicks, also ordered an opinion piece regarding blame for the Fitz collision to be shared on the Navy’s social media accounts in February, and it later emerged that the same broadside by a retired officer was distributed in CNO Richardson’s online newsletter.
Page after page of public statements made by senior Navy leaders filled motions to dismiss both cases, according to reams of filings provided to Navy Times.
“It’s just really troubling,” said Lawrence Brennan, a retired Navy captain, military attorney and law school instructor. “Somebody needed to go in and give the lecture to the CNO and the Vice Chief to say, ‘Thou shalt not open your mouth about this case.’”
On Thursday, Benson’s attorney, Lt. Cmdr. Justin Henderson, fired a broadside directly at the brass.
“Despite a relentless messaging campaign insisting ships’ commanding officers are strictly liable for all operational risks, the Navy never tested that concept in court. For good reason: it’s untenable, legally and factually," Henderson said in a statement emailed to Navy Times.
To David Sheldon, Combs’ civilian attorney, the Navy was attempting to criminalize systemic problems in the Japan-based 7th Fleet by targeting members of the Fitzgerald crew.
Instead of indicting the policies and maintenance woes that set the ship’s tactical action officer up to fail, Sheldon believes the Navy’s leaders made Combs a scapegoat to be prosecuted, with the CNO leading a parade of admirals who used their words like a cudgel against officers of far more junior rank.
Sheldon singled out the CNO’s stream of public comments as an “affront to the military justice system.”
“Lt. Combs was not responsible for setting an operational tempo that undercut staffing and training, that allowed for the ship to move with ‘degraded’ radar and that put sailors at extreme risk,” he said in a statement emailed to Navy Times.
“No, that responsibility lies not with this junior officer, but on Navy leadership at the highest levels. That same leadership, by commenting publicly and repeatedly, undercut Lt. Combs’ absolute right to a fair trial. The exercise of unlawful command influence is, sadly, not unusual when it comes to Navy leadership.”
Sheldon called on Congress to exercise its oversight authority “because, clearly, the Navy does not get it.”
“It has failed to come to grips with the reality of an operational tempo that is compromising mission readiness,” he said. “Instead, it seeks to blame — in the most underhanded way — a junior officer whose only crime was to follow her orders and serve in an environment that was fundamentally compromised.”
Released Thursday, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer’s letter to Benson alleges that his “ineffective leadership and poor judgement” helped to cause his warship to collide with the Philippine-flagged container vessel MV ACX Crystal off the coast of Japan.
SECNAV notes that Benson retired to his cabin before the disaster, leaving “an inexperienced watch team, lacking in confidence, and technical competence,” to transit high-traffic waters at night.
“Your lack of presence on the bridge in a challenging operating environment, combined with the inexperience, incompetency and lack of cohesion on your watch team — a watch team you approved — failed to meet your obligations as Commanding Officer,” the letter states.
“You further aggravated your poor decisions by failing to implement any mitigation measures, such as ordering the Executive Officer or Navigator to supervise the team on the bridge in your absence.”
Spencer’s letter also faults Benson for failing to properly manage the crew’s fatigue or revise standing orders and procedures “to account for the operational circumstances and degraded equipment” on the Fitzgerald.
“As the Commanding Officer, you were singularly responsible for assessing and balancing risk,” the reprimand states.
Combs’ censure letter faults her for “ineffective communication and failure to make recommendations to the bridge watch team” as “significant contributing factors” in the collision.
“Simply stated, you and your team failed to maintain a complete and accurate tactical picture, failed to identify and track several ships with increasingly close range and proximity, and failed to communicate in any effective manner with the bridge watch team,” the letter states.
Spencer also wrote that Combs contributed to “a culture of complacency” aboard the ship, as well as “a dangerous level of informality,” among other shortcomings.
The “lax culture” that she “helped propagate contributed to the collision and the deaths” of the seven sailors, according to the reprimand.
A scathing internal Navy report completed shortly after the Fitzgerald disaster painted a much larger and more complicated picture of the doomed destroyer and its leadership team on the eve of the collision.
Provided to Navy Times after senior leaders attempted to keep the report secret for more than a year, it found that the Fitzgerald was underway almost constantly in early 2017, shortly after the warship left a maintenance session in Japan — a finding echoed by months of sworn testimony by past and present crew members in the cases.
That punishing optempo helped to prevent a green crew from developing the cohesion and training necessary to succeed and contributed to maintenance woes on critical components necessary to navigating bustling seaways at night.
The probe revealed Fitz’s watchstanders on the night of the collision were exhausted after a day of complex training and other crew members relied on equipment in various stages of decrepitude.
Investigators found broken radar buttons covered with masking tape and navigation consoles on the bridge in disrepair.
Distrust had grown between the bridge watchstanders and Combs’ team in the Combat Information Center, the Fitz’s electronic nerve center in the bowels of the destroyer, the report revealed.
It was so severe that Lt. j.g. Sarah Coppock, the lead officer on the bridge, never communicated with the CIC throughout the shift, something investigators found unfathomable.
The letters of censure issued to Benson and Combs likely will end their Navy careers, Brennan said.
“It should be career terminating,” he said. “It would be difficult to expect anybody to get promoted with those (in their records).”
Other officers charged in the Fitzgerald disaster and a similar collision involving the sister destroyer John S. McCain and the Liberian-flagged container ship Alnic MC on Aug. 21, 2017, near Singapore, accepted plea deals.
But Benson waived a preliminary Article 32 hearing and took his case straight to court-martial proceedings.
Attorney Henderson told Navy Times they wanted the facts to be made public.
The Article 32 hearing officer for Combs’ case recommended that criminal charges not be filed against her, but Caldwell overrode his findings, according to her attorney Sheldon.
Like Benson, she didn’t buckle to the brass. She hired an attorney and vowed to fight.
“To be clear, Lt. Combs was fully prepared to defend and defeat the charges brought against her,” Sheldon told Navy Times.
Stars & Stripes: Space Force faces Senate panel’s skepticism, concerns
By CLAUDIA GRISALES | STARS AND STRIPES | Published: April 11, 2019
WASHINGTON — A Senate panel on Thursday raised a long list of reservations to a Trump administration plan to create Space Force as a new military branch that could require $500 million in annual funding.
In their first hearing on the proposal, the Senate Armed Services Committee met top Pentagon officials with skepticism and concerns that a Space Force will result in a new, costly layer of military bureaucracy.
Some Senate committee members suggested a unified command rather than a separate military branch could be a better way to improve national space security.
“I don’t understand how putting a new box in an organizational chart is going to help us to respond to the new challenge that we face,” Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, told top military officials. “I think Space Command makes sense… but to create a new bureaucracy that is going to cost us half-a-billion dollars a year, I’ve got to be convinced that there’s going to be some incremental value there.”
However, acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan, outgoing Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told committee members that the new service was the best approach to U.S. security in space.
“We are all open minded on the plan, but are wrestling with different aspects of it,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee. “This is one of those rare times where we are having a hearing where people haven’t made up their minds.”
Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said Congress hasn’t created a new military branch in 70 years and it’s a decision that should not be taken lightly.
Among Reed’s concerns, Space Force would see the military’s highest ratio of headquarters personnel to its overall servicemember population. For example, the Air Force has an estimated 320,000 airmen to its 2,300 headquarters personnel, while the Space Force ratio would be 16,500 to 1,000, he said.
“How do we avoid that and why didn’t we think harder about coming with a leaner structure?” Reed asked.
Committee members also expressed concerns that a Space Force will drain the Air Force and its culture is too similar. They also shared reservations about a four-star general overseeing the new service and competing with the needs of the Air Force.
“I am airman at heart, when I bleed, I bleed blue. I love my Air Force and I love the history of the Air Force and space,” Hyten told the Senate committee. “But every physical domain we have, when it becomes contested, we create a military service to deal with that. So, we’re going to have a Space Force one day. I think what the committee has to decide is when that is going to happen.”
In 2017, a House proposal to create a “Space Corps” as a sub-unified command was met with fervent opposition from the Pentagon’s then-leadership and their Senate colleagues. However, President Donald Trump then upped the proposal last March, suggesting the military should create a new branch instead called Space Force as a result, giving the move new momentum.
“I appreciate the president putting this idea forward. You can tell that we’re all wrestling with it, we’re struggling with it,” Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, told the military officials. “It’s pretty clear that watching some of your evolutions, that you’ve struggled with it as well.”
For example, Wilson, who leaves her Air Force job next month to become the next president of the University of Texas at El Paso, was vocal about her opposition before reversing her stance last year.
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., quoted Wilson saying in 2017 after a Senate hearing that the Pentagon was already complicated enough without a space command, it would just add a new organizational box and new funds should be spent on lethality, not bureaucracy. Peters said money can’t continue to be thrown away on such military initiatives, and he’d rather see Pentagon officials offer plans to spend more efficiently.
“I don’t think there’s any disagreement from folks on this committee that space is something that we need to focus a great deal on, that it is now a contested domain …and we need to do a better job of coordinating and integrating space into our overall defense strategy,” Peters said. “But I think our question is that this approach… is just going just add a whole lot more cost at a time when the Department of Defense needs to be a whole lot more nimble, has to be a whole lot more innovative and has to be able to do more with less.”
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., also expressed confusion over the move even after previous conversations with Shanahan on the reasoning for a Space Force.
“I’m having a real hard time understanding why we need this other agency,” Manchin said. “You’ve got everything at your disposal right now …this doesn’t make any sense to me at all.”
However, Wilson, Shanahan, Dunford and Hyten remained steadfast in their support of the president’s plan for a new service.
“The amount of change that is taking place in this environment, we’re not prepared to address… the way we are set up now,” Shanahan told Manchin. “This is a fundamental shift to how we treat space as a domain, so the culture has changed because the mission has changed, the leadership will change, the prioritization of the resources will change and then our approach to developing capability will change.”