20 September, 2018 08:57

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Thursday, September 20, 2018 which is National Fried Rice Day, National Peperoni Pizza Day, National Punch Day and National String Cheese Day. It’s also National Gibberish Day for those not inclined to culinary holidays.

This Day/Weekend in Legion History:

· Sept. 20, 1944: The 26th American Legion National Convention passes Resolution 138, primarily as a plan to educate and enthuse World War II veterans about the organization they are rapidly joining. Summarized as “at least two weeks” of an “intensive course of study for selected World War I and World War II Legionnaires,” the first actual American Legion College, with a class of 63, would not begin until 1946 at the national headquarters in Indianapolis. By 1954, American Legion departments are conducting their own Legion Colleges, which become the preferred method of leadership training, and the national program is suspended. Forty-five years later, national American Legion College is resurrected and continues today.

This Day in History:

· 1519: Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan sets sail from Spain in an effort to find a western sea route to the rich Spice Islands of Indonesia. In command of five ships and 270 men, Magellan sailed to West Africa and then to Brazil, where he searched the South American coast for a strait that would take him to the Pacific. He searched the Río de la Plata, a large estuary south of Brazil, for a way through; failing, he continued south along the coast of Patagonia. At the end of March 1520, the expedition set up winter quarters at Port St. Julian. On Easter day at midnight, the Spanish captains mutinied against their Portuguese captain, but Magellan crushed the revolt, executing one of the captains and leaving another ashore when his ship left St. Julian in August.

· 1565: Spanish forces under Pedro Menéndez de Avilés capture the French Huguenot settlement of Fort Caroline, near present-day Jacksonville, Florida. The French, commanded by Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere, lost 135 men in the first instance of colonial warfare between European powers in America. Most of those killed were massacred on the order of Aviles, who allegedly had the slain hanged on trees beside the inscription “Not as Frenchmen, but as heretics.” Laudonniere and some 40 other Huguenots escaped.

· 1963: An optimistic and upbeat President John F. Kennedy suggests that the Soviet Union and the United States cooperate on a mission to mount an expedition to the moon. The proposal caught both the Soviets and many Americans off guard.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

· Video: TAL Americanism Director Jill Druskis on The Weather Channel

· Military.com: VA Cites Improvements at Five Hospitals Removed from ‘High-Risk’ List

· Business Insider: 43 years after the Vietnam war, many Navy veterans are still battling for benefits for potential Agent Orange exposure

· Stripes: Students using GI Bill receive incorrect housing payments due to VA technical errors

· Army Times: A new push to recruit and retain the best candidates for the infantry

· Navy Times: Navy SEAL in brig while agents probe killing in Iraq

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Video: TAL Americanism Director Jill Druskis on The Weather Channel

Military.com: VA Cites Improvements at Five Hospitals Removed from ‘High-Risk’ List

Stars and Stripes 19 Sep 2018 By Nikki Wentling

WASHINGTON — Five low-performing Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals have improved enough in the past six months to no longer qualify as high risk, the VA announced Tuesday.

The VA hospitals in Dublin, Ga.; Harlingen, Texas; Roseburg, Ore., Nashville and Denver were removed from high-risk status based on new performance statistics released Tuesday.

The statistics, called the Strategic Analytics for Improvement and Learning, or SAIL, score hospitals based on 25 categories, including patient satisfaction, overall efficiency and death rates. The scorecards are used to rank hospitals using a star system — one star being the worst and five the best.

Last year, 15 hospitals, including the facilities in Dublin, Harlingen, Nashville, Roseburg and Denver, received one-star ratings. The VA in February announced an "aggressive new approach" to improving those hospitals, which included more direct oversight from VA headquarters.

At the 15 hospitals, 26 managers and senior leaders were removed — a result of "close scrutiny of performance trends," said VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour.

The five hospitals removed from the high-risk list are on track to rise to two stars when the new star ratings are released, Cashour said. The new star ratings are expected to be made public before Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

Nine other VA hospitals are still designated as high risk. Those facilities are located in Hampton, Va.; Big Spring and El Paso, Texas; Jackson, Miss.; Loma Linda, Calif.; Memphis and Mufreesboro, Tenn.; Walla Walla, Wash., and Phoenix.

One hospital that made the high-risk list has gotten worse. The Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center was elevated to "critical" in July after a quarterly review found conditions had deteriorated.

The D.C. hospital has been under scrutiny since last year, when the VA inspector general warned of widespread failures that put veterans at risk. The warning prompted former VA Secretary David Shulkin to fire the hospital director. Since then, a series of temporary directors have led the facility.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said Aug. 7 that he would soon announce a new, permanent leader for the hospital. As of Tuesday, he had yet to name a replacement.

Business Insider: 43 years after the Vietnam war, many Navy veterans are still battling for benefits for potential Agent Orange exposure

Veterans groups are pushing a bill making its way through Congress that would extend VA benefits to tens of thousands US Navy veterans who were potentially exposed to Agent Orange while serving off the coast of Vietnam. The bill is the latest glimmer of hope for veterans who have fought for decades to receive the benefit, and would finally recognize their exposure to the toxic herbicide but come at an estimated cost of $5.5 billion to US taxpayers.

The VA is attempting to delay this provision, saying that this vast increase in health care costs should only come after more study, which is likely to publish next year.

"Science does not support the presumption that blue water Navy veterans were exposed to Agent Orange," said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in a letter to the Senate.

The letter is yet another roadblock facing Vietnam veterans who claim their health has suffered due to exposure.

Operation Ranch Hand

Agent Orange was one of several chemical herbicides used during the Vietnam War to destroy enemy cover and food crops. Although primarily delivered via aircraft, the defoliant was also carried on vehicles, back-mounted equipment, and sprayed from ships.

Operation Ranch Hand lasted about a decade before a scientific study reported that one of the chemicals caused birth defects in lab animals. The military stopped its use of herbicides in 1971; throughout the next decade veterans began reporting instances of cancer and birth defects in their children.

The legitimacy of their claims would be argued for the next 20 years, until the Agent Orange Act of 1991 directed the VA to conduct research into the chemical’s potential side effects. In the decades since, Vietnam veterans have slowly started to gain recognition of their Agent Orange exposure and its sometimes life-threatening consequences.

As recently as 2010, the VA extended the list of diseases it would recognize as being linked to the herbicide. Just three years ago, the agency started accepting claims for veterans who served in Agent Orange-contaminated aircraft in the post-Vietnam era.

But since 2002, the VA took what advocates and veterans say was a step backwards by invalidating claims presented by blue-water veterans, saying there was no conclusive scientific evidence that the vets, who served in warships off the coast, were ever exposed to Agent Orange.

VA: Too much money, not enough science

The question is whether the veterans were exposed to the herbicide through chemical runoff that made its way into the South China Sea and was then converted into drinking water through the ships’ distillation plants.

Where the ships were located makes all the difference.

The VA discredits arguments that US ships made water close enough to land to have used contaminated water. According to the Institute of Medicine, which is now known as the National Academy of Medicine, any chemical runoff would likely have been diluted by coastal waters before reaching the ships’ intakes. But, as reported in extensive coverage by ProPublica, veterans have said ships often distilled water well within that range.

Surprisingly, both sides of the ordeal — the VA, which claims blue water veterans were not exposed and veterans advocacy groups that say they were — use the same IOM study to argue their side.

That’s because the IOM merely states it is "possible" the Navy vets were exposed.

The VA now says that’s exactly why they should wait before extending benefits to blue-water veterans.

In a Senate hearing on August 1, Dr. Paul Lawrence, the VA under secretary for benefits, noted this as just one of three reasons the VA opposes the bill.

One of the provisions would increase the fee charged to borrowers under the VA’s home loan program. Lawrence said the VA is opposed to "increasing the costs that some veterans must pay to access their benefits."

He also maintained that the increased loan fees could not offset the costs associated with an extension of Agent Orange-related benefits. Secretary Wilkie’s letter reinforced this idea, stating that Congress had underestimated the health care costs by a whopping $5.4 billion. He also argued that the addition of tens of thousands of eligible veterans would only exacerbate an already extensive backlog of Agent Orange-related claims.

These arguments echo one made in July, just days before the Senate hearing, by former VA Secretary and Vietnam Navy veteran Anthony Principi. In an op-ed published in USA Today, Principi argued that Congress should stand on the side of science and pass "sensible laws that maintain the integrity of our legislative process."

The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act soared through the House of Representatives with a vote of 382-0. When — or even if — it will become law rests in the hands of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs which, since receiving Wilkie’s letter, has yet to decide.

Stripes: Students using GI Bill receive incorrect housing payments due to VA technical errors

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 19, 2018

WASHINGTON — About 340,000 students attending school using the GI Bill received slightly smaller housing payments in August than they’re eligible for under federal law, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Monthly housing allowances help student veterans pay for their housing costs, utilities and food. Veterans who started the 2018-2019 school year last month received incorrect payments caused by delays at the VA Office of Information and Technology with complying to new rules on how stipends are calculated.

The VA is still working to fix the problem, and officials have not said whether this month’s payments will be corrected.

In a letter this week to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, 15 veterans groups described it as “an organizational and customer service failure at the highest level.”

“These incorrect payments are asking veterans, their families, and schools to bear the burden of VA’s problems,” the groups wrote. “They have left students and schools confused, with improper payments, and absent a clearly articulated timeline for when these issues will be fixed.”

Last year, Congress approved the Forever GI Bill, which included numerous changes to veterans’ education benefits. One change calls for calculating veterans’ housing allowances based on the ZIP code of the campus where they attend classes, rather than defaulting to the main campus.

Because of technology problems, the VA failed to meet an Aug. 1 deadline to implement the change. VA officials told lawmakers that it would be done by mid-August, but that deadline came and went, too, without a fix.

When the fall semester started, the VA sent student veterans their housing allowances based on 2017 rates. For about 340,000 students, that means they received payments that didn’t account for cost-of-living increases in 2018. According to the VA, the incorrect housing stipends were an average of 1 percent less than they should have been.

In Fort Collins, Colo., the difference between the amount veterans received and the amount they are entitled to receive was $138 per student.

Marc Barker, director of adult learner and veterans services at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, said student veterans are flooding his office with questions about the incorrect payments.

About 1,400 students at Colorado State are veterans who use VA education benefits. They’re adult students, and in some cases have mortgages and children, Barker said.

“Many of them have outside responsibilities, and they’ve made the transition back to higher education in good faith that their benefits will be delivered to them on time and accurately,” he said. “They’re counting on that. When that’s not happening, it becomes a barrier to their success in the classroom. They’re focused and worried about these things they shouldn’t have to be concerned about.”

The VA isn’t communicating with affected students, Barker said, and Colorado State hasn’t been able to receive concrete answers from the agency to share with students. If veterans at Colorado State receive incorrect payments again when housing allowances are dispersed at the end of September, the school is prepared to pay the difference to each affected student in October, he said.

“They’re kicking the can down the road,” Barker said. “What we’re losing site of is the impact on the students.”

The 15 veterans groups who wrote to Wilkie also charged the VA with not being upfront about the problems.

“It took several weeks into the current semester before any communication was sent to students, and schools have received little information beyond, ‘wait and see,’” their letter reads.

“Transparency on what to expect and when to expect it, from all levels of leadership at VA, is critical to helping students and schools make informed decisions.”

On Wednesday, VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour said the VA is continuing to run tests on the new IT program that will be used to calculate housing stipends and will begin using it “as soon as possible.” Students who are underpaid will get that money back once the fixes are made, he said.

Elsewhere, some veterans are receiving payments that are too much because of changes in cost-of-living from 2017. Cashour said the VA would not require students to pay back the excess amounts.

The 15 groups that wrote to Wilkie want reassurance.

“VA should strongly stress to students and schools that they will not bear any undue financial burden for [the VA Information Technology]’s delays,” they wrote.

Army Times: A new push to recruit and retain the best candidates for the infantry

By: Todd South14 hours ago

Members of a task force focused on grunts and special operations troops are finding ways to make infantry a top choice and not a last resort for entry-level recruits.

To that end, they have visited the Israeli Defense Force, the 75th Ranger Regiment, the Army’s major combat training centers, the Army’s Infantry School and the Marine Corps’ combined arms training center to find the best practices for finding, recruiting, retaining and training a transformed light infantry.

Army Sgt. Maj. Jason Wilson, the senior enlisted adviser to the Close Combat Lethality Task Force, briefed media at the Pentagon this week on some of the early initiatives of the task force since it was formed in March.

Wilson, a career infantryman, broke down how the task force is bringing ideas, equipment and analysis to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, the task force’s creator, to make the infantry more lethal and able to “overmatch” any “pacing threats” it might soon face.

While details were scant in the briefing, Wilson did highlight the evaluations the team has done as a first step toward presenting some of the first major changes to how the Army, Marine Corps and Special Operations Command build the fighting force that does close-in killing and disproportionately suffers the greatest losses in combat.

“We want to get away from our close combat forces being the place where soldiers that don’t meet the requisite criteria to be an intel analyst or whatever, get sent to,” Wilson said.

To that aim, they want to identify troops early in their military careers to see if they have the potential to be in the infantry.

And it goes beyond ASVAB and physical fitness scores.

“Do they have the resilience and mental capacity to handle some of the things they may see in the infantry, be able to overcome that adversity and bounce back?” he said.

And once they’ve got the best candidates, they must train them realistically and keep them in the close combat ranks.

On that front, the task force is looking to advanced gaming technologies and combined areas of live, virtual and constructed and synthetic capabilities.

The goal is for soldiers, Marines and special operators to first be able to run through combat scenarios in virtual environments from anywhere, whether at home station, aboard ship or in other training areas.

That will expand to include the ability to combine synthetic environments with real-world training. And this effort goes beyond training for a handful of soldiers — the goal is to have an entire brigade combat team linked in the virtual world to conduct a training exercise, Wilson said.

Navy Times: Navy SEAL in brig while agents probe killing in Iraq

By: Carl Prine11 hours ago

A SEAL assigned to Naval Special Warfare in California is in the brig pending an ongoing investigation into allegations that he was tied to the 2017 execution of a detainee in Iraq with a blade.

The chief special warfare operator has not been charged with a crime, but Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents continue to probe the claims, SEAL officials told Navy Times.

“A service member currently assigned to a Naval Special Warfare unit is under investigation by NCIS for professional misconduct while deployed to Iraq in 2017. We take all allegations of misconduct seriously and will cooperate fully with investigative authorities,” said Naval Special Warfare spokeswoman Cmdr. Tamara Lawrence in a written statement emailed to Navy Times.

"All members of Naval Special Warfare are required to comply with the Law of Armed Conflict and U.S. law and regulations in the conduct of military operations.

"Naval Special Warfare strives to maintain the highest level of readiness, effectiveness, discipline, efficiency, integrity, and public confidence. All suspected violations for which there is credible information are thoroughly investigated. "

To preserve the integrity of the NCIS investigation, she declined to provide other information.

Graphic details of the prisoner of war’s alleged execution were repeated to Navy Times by seven officials at five flag commands, including the Pentagon.

Because he has not been formally charged with a crime, however, Navy Times is withholding his name.

Typically, an Article 32 hearing to sift through the evidence against the SEAL would be held in San Diego under the authority of Navy Region Southwest. A hearing officer would be instructed to recommend whether criminal charges should be filed and a general court-martial convened by an admiral.

Navy Region Southwest officials told Navy Times that an Article 32 hearing has not been scheduled yet.

The SEAL is incarcerated at the Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar. He’s being held under Rules for Court-Martial 305, which gives commissioned officers the authority to physically confine enlisted service members when a reasonable amount of probable cause exists to try someone under military law.

Four SEALs are undergoing court-martial now in San Diego for war crimes they allegedly committed at Village Stability Platform Kalach in the Chora District of Afghanistan’s Uruzgan Province on May 31, 2012.

But attorneys representing Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Daniel V. Dambrosio Jr. and two special operator chief petty officers — Xavier Silva and David N. Swarts — and their former commanding officer, Lt. Jason L. Webb, have contended that the SEALs are innocent in the alleged detainee abuse.

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