12 March, 2019 05:32

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Tuesday, March 12, 2019 which is Girl Scout Day, National Baked Scallops Day, National Plant a Flower Day and World Day Against Cyber Censorship.
This Day in History:

  • On this day in 1933, eight days after his inauguration, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gives his first national radio address—or “fireside chat”—broadcast directly from the White House.
  • On March 12, 1930, Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi begins a defiant march to the sea in protest of the British monopoly on salt, his boldest act of civil disobedience yet against British rule in India.
  • 1947: In a dramatic speech to a joint session of Congress, President Harry S. Truman asks for U.S. assistance for Greece and Turkey to forestall communist domination of the two nations. Historians have often cited Truman’s address, which came to be known as the Truman Doctrine, as the official declaration of the Cold War.
  • On March 12, 1903, the New York Highlanders are given the go-ahead by team owners to join baseball’s American League. The Highlanders had recently moved from Baltimore, where they were called the Orioles and had a winning tradition dating back to the 1890s. Called the “Yankees” by fans, the team officially changed its name to the New York Yankees in 1913, and went on to become the most dominant franchise in American sports. [Editor’s Note: They remain a
    horrible band of reprobates and fans to this day.]

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

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Military Times: Trump wants a huge increase in VA spending, but some vet groups are still unhappy. Here’s why.
By: Leo Shane III   16 hours ago
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is proposing another big increase in Veterans Affairs spending for fiscal 2020 — but also reintroducing a controversial cost-savings measure that veterans groups have long opposed.
The increased VA spending — up to $216 billion, an increase of $19 billion or 9.5 percent from fiscal 2019 — comes as a host of non-defense programs face steep cuts in the budget proposal. The Departments of Transportation, Education, Energy and State all face double-digit funding cuts under the president’s plan, which is already facing fierce opposition from Democrats in Congress.
In a statement, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the increase in his department’s budget “supports the most significant transformation of VA since its inception, positioning the department as the premier provider for veterans’ services and benefits.” He also called it a continuation of the administration’s commitment to supporting veterans.
Under Trump and his predecessors, the department has seen steady budget increases since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The fiscal 2020 budget request is nearly double the total VA funding level from 10 years ago and more than four times the total in fiscal 2001, when the entire budget was about $45 billion.
But a 9.5 percent jump in total VA funding would be among the largest single-year increases over that span. The total includes about $123 billion in mandatory funding and $93 billion in discretionary programs.
Medical costs alone account for more than $80 billion of the discretionary money. Community care funding will increase by about $1 billion from fiscal 2019 levels, accounting for about 19 percent of the total VA medical budget.
That’s in line with the ratio of spending in recent years for appointments and care outside the VA system, but it is certain to undergo extra scrutiny as department leaders introduce new rules for community care eligibility in June.
The overhaul of private-sector medical appointment availability has been a centerpiece of Trump’s promised VA reforms but has also draw criticism as a privatization of VA responsibilities. Some veterans groups worry too much funding will be shifted to those programs and away from VA health care.
Another budget item certain to draw criticism is the reintroduction of plans to “round down” veterans’ annual cost-of-living increases to the nearest whole dollar. The move would cost an individual veteran no more than $12 annually, but it has been decried by veterans groups in the past as unfairly using their earned benefits to balance the budget.
White House officials have countered that rounding down annual benefit hikes was VA policy from the late 1990s until 2013. Returning to the move will save $36 million in fiscal 2020 alone, and more than $2 billion over the next 10 years.
Administration planners also want to place education benefit caps on flight training schools, a proposal that many veterans advocates have backed but has faced strong opposition from education lobbyists. That move would save about $30 million annually.
Under the president’s plan, VA would spent more than $1.6 billion in fiscal 2020 on improvements to electronic medical records, part of the department’s 10-year plan to bring those files in line with Defense Department health computer systems.
That’s up nearly 45 percent from spending totals this year and has raised concerns from some congressional Republicans in recent months.
While most VA accounts would see significant increases, medical research would be cut by about $17 million (2 percent), and construction accounts would be cut by more than $1.3 billion (45 percent). Both moves are likely to raise concerns about the administration’s long-term plans to maintain and advance department medical care.
About $9.4 billion would be spent on programs to prevent suicide among veterans (4.5 percent more than fiscal 2019) and about $1.8 on outreach to homeless veterans. The number of full-time VA employees would rise to nearly 394,000 individuals.
Per law, the budget request also includes advance appropriations for fiscal 2021, to ensure a government shutdown or other political stalemate won’t disrupt any needed medical or support programs. That funding will top $217 billion.
Lawmakers will spend the next several months debating both the details of the VA funding proposal and how it fits with Trump’s broader budget priorities. Congress must adopt a new federal budget by Sept. 30 or face another partial government shutdown.

Military.com: VA Budget Poised to Grow for 3rd Straight Year
11 Mar 2019
Military.com | By Patricia Kime
The White House’s proposed fiscal 2020 budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs would increase funding for the third straight year — $220 billion in total spending to support consolidation of the VA’s private health programs, modernize its technology infrastructure and expand the national cemetery system. It’s an increase of nearly 11 percent from last year’s $198.6 billion total VA budget proposal.
The VA’s proposed $97 billion discretionary budget would be $8 billion more than President Donald Trump sought in the fiscal 2019 budget. According to the White House, the increases would largely go toward implementing key legislative initiatives, including the VA Mission Act — the law that supports consolidating the department’s private medical care programs — and expansion of a VA program that provides compensation and health care to the caregivers of injured veterans.
The proposed budget would provide $8.9 billion to implement the VA Mission Act and $1.6 billion for modernizing the VA’s medical records system, with a goal of deploying a new electronic health system compatible with the Defense Department’s system at three initial sites, with more to follow.
The budget also would support expansion of the VA’s caregiver program to include those who care for veterans injured on duty before Sept. 11, 2001. And it would fund the technology infrastructure needed to implement the program, although the initial budget releases did not state the amount of funding allocated to expand the caregiver program.
The budget also would fund a new program to allow most veterans enrolled in VA health care up to two urgent care visits per year without a co-payment.
Other programs within VA that would see increases under the president’s budget include women’s health ($547 million for gender-specific health care); funding for a new hospital in Louisville, Kentucky ($410 million), and improvements to the VA medical center in Manhattan, New York ($150 million).
The budget includes a 4.2 percent increase to the VA’s National Cemetery Administration to support opening five new cemeteries across the country and sustain 144 current cemeteries and sites. The funding also would help support the transfer of 11 cemeteries from the Department of the Army to the VA.
Those cemeteries include active and former posts at Fort Devens, Massachusetts; Fort McClellan Post Cemetery and Prisoner of War Cemeteries, Alabama; Benicia Post Cemetery, California; Fort Sheridan Cemetery, Illinois; Fort Missoula Cemetery, Montana; Fort Stevens Cemetery, Oregon; Fort Douglas Cemetery, Utah; and Fort Lawton, Fort Worden and Vancouver Cemeteries, Washington.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the budget request will "ensure that the nation’s veterans receive high-quality health care and timely access to benefits and services."
"This is a significant increase in VA funding and demonstrates the administration’s commitment to supporting our veterans," he said.
According to the administration, the budget also focuses on customer service and transparency. It proposes spending $8.1 million to improve customer service, $22 million to support the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, a 25 percent increase from the previous year, and an increase in the Office of Inspector General’s budget of nearly 8 percent to $207 million, to "strengthen accountability, promote transparency and reduce waste, fraud and abuse."
The budget also includes $123.2 billion for mandatory funding, an increase of $12.3 billion, or 11 percent, to fund required budget items such as compensation and pensions, housing, insurance and other benefits.
This story will be updated.

Defense News: Here’s Trump’s FY20 budget. It’s about to get shredded.
By: Joe Gould   19 hours ago
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WASHINGTON — While President Donald Trump’s new budget Monday reflects White House funding priorities, it has little if any chance of becoming law, as Democrats who control the House strongly disagree with what they consider the bookkeeping gimmickry accompanying it.
The White House officially released the broad details of its fiscal 2020 budget on March 11. It requests $750 billion for national defense, or $34 billion above the funds enacted for FY19, while it cuts the nondefense side to $563 billion, a 9 percent drop from FY19. For the Defense Department alone, there’s $718 billion, up $33 billion.
“In order to preserve peace through strength, the Budget provides for increased end strength, bolsters our global force posture, and invests in the capabilities and domains critical to future conflicts, like space, artificial intelligence, and hypersonics,” Russ Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, said in a statement Sunday night.
To stay within the statutory budget caps, the budget funds national defense at the cap level, $576 billion, and shifts $164 billion of the defense spending to an overseas contingency operations, or OCO, fund, which some fiscal hawks will view as an accounting stunt.
It’s already a focal point for disagreement. Vought has said it was part of plan to increase defense spending and cut the nondefense side of the budget. But House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., and House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., have called it “a giant OCO gimmick to prop up defense spending.”
Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee and a key voice for increased defense spending on Capitol Hill, acknowledged the White House path here is a dead end.
“I think the idea of having this massive OCO is not one that pretty much anyone takes seriously,” he told reporters last week. “The real negotiations will have to happen on Capitol Hill.”
Congressional Democrats and Republicans “are highly motivated” to reach another two-year budget deal and “the chances are good there will be another negotiated budget outcome,” said Thornberry of Texas. (Absent a budget agreement, the statutory budget caps would mean a $71 billion cut for defense spending and $55 billion from nondefense programs.
Appropriators reached a deal last year whereby they paired a Pentagon spending bill with its counterpart for labor, health and human services, education, and related agencies — a possible way forward now, Thornberry said.
Asked if the large OCO request would poison those talks, Thornberry advised that lawmakers not "handwring over the massive OCO,” but focus on shoring up military readiness and countering Russia and China.
The White House plans to rely on this strategy next year, too, to get around budget caps. Long-range plans for OCO show it as $156 billion in FY21, and then — after caps expire — $20 billion for the next two years, before it drops to $10 billion in 2024.
Also controversial is it would use Pentagon funding for a border wall. Defense officials have promised lawmakers they will seek to backfill those funds, and there is a $9.2 billion “emergency requirements” line item “to address border security and hurricane recovery,” the budget says.
The budget contains $8.6 billion for more than 300 miles of new border wall. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., signaled Sunday that this is a fight for them.
“President Trump hurt millions of Americans and caused widespread chaos when he recklessly shut down the government to try to get his expensive and ineffective wall, which he promised would be paid for by Mexico,” they said in a joint statement. “Congress refused to fund his wall and he was forced to admit defeat and reopen the government. The same thing will repeat itself if he tries this again. We hope he learned his lesson.”
In seeking the wall funding, Trump would more than double the $8.1 billion now potentially available to the president for the wall after he declared a national emergency at the border last month in order to circumvent Congress — although there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to use that money if he faces a legal challenge, as is expected. The standoff over the wall led to a 35-day partial government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history.
The budget arrived as the Senate readies to vote this week to terminate Trump’s national emergency declaration. The Democratic-led House already did so, and a handful of Republican senators, uneasy over what they see as an overreach of executive power, are expected to join Senate Democrats in following suit. Congress appears to have enough votes to reject Trump’s declaration, but not enough to overturn a veto.
Trump invoked the emergency declaration after Congress approved nearly $1.4 billion for border barriers, less than the $5.7 billion he wanted. By doing that, he can potentially tap an additional $3.6 billion from military accounts and shift it to building the wall. That’s causing discomfort on Capitol Hill, where even the president’s Republican allies are protective of their power to decide how to allocate federal dollars. Lawmakers are trying to guard money that’s already been approved for military projects in their states, for base housing or other improvements.
Military Times: White House proposes 3.1% pay raise for military
By: Leo Shane III and Tara Copp
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WASHINGTON — Service members would see a 3.1 percent pay raise next January and the military would add about 30,000 more active-duty and reserve troops under President Donald Trump’s fiscal2020 budget proposal released on Monday.
For junior enlisted troops, a 3.1 percent pay hike would to about $815 more a year in pay. For senior enlisted and junior officers, the hike equals about $1,500 more. For an O-4 with 12 years service, it’s more than $2,800 extra next year.
In his budget announcement, Trump said the 3.1 percent increase was “the largest increase in a decade." According to the Pentagon’s records, service members received a 3.9 percent pay increase in 2009 and a 3.4 percent increase in 2010. The size of each year’s raise is linked to private sector wages, as measured by the Employment Cost Index.
The proposed $750 billion defense budget is dependent upon Congress supporting an additional $164 billion in overseas contingency operations spending, or OCO. It would be the largest OCO amount requested since the Obama administration requested $167 billion at the height of the surge in Afghanistan, and $194 billion in 2008 at the height of the Iraq surge. That request, however, is likely to be challenged by House Democrats who object to increased military funding while domestic programs face sharp cuts.
The document highlights a host of administration priorities for the Defense Department, including personnel policies. In the budget, officials said their plan “builds on steady gains that have restored military readiness, enhanced lethality, and increased force size” in recent years. The plus-up of personnel would increase military end strength to 2,140,300 active and reserve military personnel, according to the budget documents.
White House officials said extra troops are needed “to achieve the objectives in the National Defense Strategy.” Details on which services will gain forces are expected in the coming days.

Stripes: Taliban leader spent last days just miles from US base, report says

By J.P. LAWRENCE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 11, 2019

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban have confirmed that their shadowy founder died just a few miles from an American base in Afghanistan — and not in Pakistan, as generally believed — even as the Kabul government rejected the claim, which is at the center of a new report from a New York-based research center.

Experts and intelligence analysts have long believed Mullah Mohammad Omar fled to Pakistan after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001. From there, according to the consensus view, he at some level directed Taliban operations until his death in 2013.

But the Taliban’s one-eyed leader actually might have remained in Afghanistan and relinquished direct command of the group, according to the report.

The report’s author, long-time Afghanistan researcher Bette Dam, relied on interviews with Mullah Omar’s bodyguard as well as members of the Taliban and Afghan security agencies, she wrote. The report was published during the weekend by the Zomia Center, a research group affiliated with New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington.

Omar gave up control of the Taliban within days of their defeat and went into hermitic isolation in rural Zabul, an insurgent-friendly province on Afghanistan’s southern border with Pakistan. At various points, he lived in houses just miles away from forward operating bases Lagman and Wolverine, said the report, titled “The Secret Life of Mullah Omar.”

Omar did not trust Pakistan, and would not go there even for medical help, it said.
Dam’s book about her own efforts to track down Mullah Omar, “Searching for an Enemy,” was published in Dutch in February.

In the Zomia Center report, she disputes the U.S. narrative that Mullah Omar actively commanded Taliban forces while cooperating with al-Qaida militants in Pakistan. The mullah had almost no interaction with other people until his death, except for a few scares in which American troops failed to find his hidden room, the report said.

It noted that the New York Times and Politico had also reported on speculations that Mullah Omar had died in Afghanistan.

The report has received mixed reactions in Kabul, where officials have long blamed Islamabad for insecurity in the region.

A former high-ranking member of the Taliban said he has not read the report, but its findings fit what he has heard.

“Mullah Omar did not die in Pakistan,” said Hakim Mujahid, a member of High Peace Council of Afghanistan and former Taliban representative to the United Nations during their regime. “He suffered somehow but he didn’t go anywhere out of the country and died there.”

The Taliban founder didn’t go to any other country “for a single day,” the Taliban said in a statement Monday.

Members of the government in Kabul, meanwhile, have rejected the report’s claims.

“We strongly reject this delusional claim & we see it as an effort to create & build an identify for the Taliban and their foreign backers. We have sufficient evidence which shows he (Mullah Omar) lived & died in #Pakistan,” presidential spokesman Haroon Chakhansuri said on Twitter.
The idea that Mullah Omar would stay in a country swarming with more than 140,000 U.S. and NATO troops seems unlikely, David Petraeus, a former CIA director and a onetime U.S. military commander in Afghanistan and Iraq, told the Wall Street Journal.

For its part, the U.S. has long accused Pakistan of harboring the Taliban, including its deadly Haqqani network, and has made foreign aid to the country contingent on a crackdown. Mullah Omar’s successor was killed on the Pakistan side of the border in a 2016 drone strike, and last year, Washington cancelled about $300 million in aid after President Donald Trump criticized Islamabad for its counterterrorism record.

The Taliban founder’s hidden life in Afghanistan, however, suggests a staggering U.S. intelligence failure regarding the group with whom it is now negotiating an end to the war, now in its 18th year, the report’s author said.

“Remarkably little is known about the men on whom the U.S. is pinning its hopes for peace,” Dam wrote, referring to ongoing talks between U.S. and Taliban representatives, including Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in Doha, Qatar.