Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Friday, September 21, 2018, which is National POW/MIA Recognition Day, World Alzheimer’s Day, International Day of Peace, National Farm Safety Day for Kids and World Gratitude Day.
Today and This Weekend in American Legion History:
- Sept. 21, 1937: The American Legion National Convention Parade in New York City draws national media coverage and lasts nearly 18 hours. More than 250,000 marchers and spectators line up for the event.
- Sept. 23, 1943: With more than 600 unpassed bills languishing in Congress that aim to address the needs of disabled World War II veterans coming home to a lack of support at a rate of about 75,000 per month, newly elected American Legion National Commander Warren Atherton of California makes the correction of this problem the organization’s No. 1 priority. The Legion soon determines that one omnibus bill is needed to tackle the various educational and economic needs of transitioning war veterans, disabled or not.
- Sept. 23-26, 1935: Delegates at The American Legion National Convention pass Resolution 205 opposing Nazism, communism and fascism, all of which are gaining steam in Europe, recruiting adherents in the United States and ultimately leading the world to war.
Today in History:
- On this day in 1780, during the American Revolution, American General Benedict Arnold meets with British Major John Andre to discuss handing over West Point to the British, in return for the promise of a large sum of money and a high position in the British army. The plot was foiled and Arnold, a former American hero, became synonymous with the word “traitor.”
- 1989: The Senate Armed Forces Committee unanimously confirms President George H. Bush’s nomination of Army General Colin Powell as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Powell was the first African American to achieve the United States’ highest military post.
- On this day in 1942, the U.S. B-29 Superfortress makes its debut flight in Seattle, Washington. It was the largest bomber used in the war by any nation.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Military Times: mseaveywith “Remove” in the subject line. If you have received this from someone who forwarded it and would like to be added, email mseavey.
Military Times:Trump IDs two soldiers recovered from North Korea
By: Tara Copp | 16 hours ago
President Donald Trump revealed the names of the first soldiers recovered in the 55 boxes of remains returned from North Korea this summer: Army Master Sgt. Charles H. McDaniel, 32, of Vernon, Indiana, and Army Pfc. William H. Jones, 19, of Nash County, North Carolina.
McDaniel’s family had previously received his dog tag, which was found in the boxes of remains. It was the only dog tag recovered in this set of boxes returned from North Korea.
Both soldiers died in the November 1950 Battle of Unsan, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency previously said. There are still 1,700 service members missing from that battle.
The remains were discovered in box 14 and box 16 of the 55 boxes and were some of the most complete of the 55 returned, with individual soldiers contained in each box, DPAA officials said.
Both sets of remains are in Hawaii, at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency’s lab. The families will now be able to request the remains, which will be wrapped in a green Army blanket that is secured with two pins, a tradition that dates back to World War I. They will then be transported to the family for burial.
The remains were returned to the U.S. as part of Trump’s Singapore summit agreement with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Associated Press: US: Possible October talks with North Korea on war remains
By: Robert Burns, The Associated Press | 11 hours ago
WASHINGTON — The U.S. hopes to begin face-to-face negotiations with North Korea next month on terms for resuming on-the-ground searches in North Korea for remains of American servicemen, a senior Pentagon official said Thursday.
Kelly McKeague, director of the Defense POW-MIA Accounting Agency, said the aim is to begin searches at former battlefields next spring if agreement can be reached on areas of current dispute such as the types and amounts of compensation to North Korea for its assistance.
Remains of two American servicemen killed during the Korean War and returned by North Korea two months ago were identified by President Donald Trump on Thursday, as Army Master Sgt. Charles H. McDaniel, 32, of Vernon, Indiana, and Army Pfc. William H. Jones, 19, of Nash County, North Carolina.
McDaniel’s name had already been made public last month because his military identification tag was among the 55 boxes of remains that North Korea turned over on July 27. The tag was turned over to his sons. These are the first two service members identified from those remains.
"These HEROES are home, they may Rest In Peace, and hopefully their families can have closure," Trump tweeted.
Also Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence spoke about the remains’ recovery during remarks to the Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation, but he did not reveal the names of the two who have been identified. He presented the foundation with an American flag that was among those draped over the 55 boxes from North Korea.
He said he hoped the remains from the 55 boxes are “a vanguard of what’s to come” from future recoveries of war dead in North Korea. The U.S. conducted excavations in North Korea from 1996 to 2005 but suspended them amid rising political and military tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
McKeague said it was unclear how many individuals are contained in the 55 boxes, but he said it could be dozens more than 55. He described the bones as a “mish-mash” that will require DNA analysis and other extensive study. The first two identifications came relatively quickly, he said, because the remains included partial skulls with teeth that could be matched to dental records, as well as clavicles matched to military X-ray records.
The remains contained in the 55 boxes had been stored by the North Korean army, probably for decades. Thousands of additional remains are believed to lie on North Korean battlefields and at former POW camps. McKeague said the Pentagon would like to send search and excavation teams into the country as early as next spring if acceptable arrangements can be negotiated in advance.
North Korea recently submitted proposed terms for follow-on search operations, but McKeague said the offer was rejected. He described the offer as "out of sorts," which he said meant that some elements were unreasonable. He cited as an example a demand that the U.S. provide eight ambulances in addition to other vehicles, fuel, food and other items.
The U.S. is preparing a counterproposal, McKeague said, and has offered to meet with a North Korean negotiating team in a third country in late October.
Military Times: Former VA secretaries spar over ‘blue water’ Navy benefits
By: Leo Shane III | 17 hours ago
WASHINGTON — The fight over extending benefits to “blue water” veterans who served on ships off the coast of Vietnam is now pitting former Veterans Affairs secretaries against each other, adding to the confusion over Congress’ next steps.
Last week, four former VA secretaries — Anthony Principi, Jim Nicholson, James Peake and Bob McDonald — wrote to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee urging lawmakers not to grant presumptive illness status to roughly 90,000 blue water veterans who claim exposure to the chemical defoliant Agent Orange, saying there is insufficient proof for their cases.
“(This legislation) is based on what we believe to be inconclusive evidence to verify that these crews experience exposure to Agent Orange while their vessels were underway,” the group wrote. “We urge the committee to defer action … until such a study is completed and scientific evidence is established to expand presumptions to those at sea.”
The recommendation is in line with arguments laid out by current VA Secretary Robert Wilkie earlier this month. Department officials have argued that granting the presumptive status to veterans could upend the system by establishing new, non-scientific criteria for awarding benefits.
But advocates for the Vietnam veterans have argued that scientific proof of exposure is impossible given that proper sampling was not done decades ago, as the ships patrolled the waters around the South China Sea.
They say rare cancers and other unusual illnesses clustering among the blue water veterans should be enough to spur action from Congress.
Earlier this year, members of the House agreed. They overwhelmingly passed legislation that would require VA officials to automatically assume those veterans were exposed to Agent Orange for benefits purposes, the same status granted to troops who served on the ground in Vietnam or on ships traveling upon inland rivers.
Under current department rules, the blue water veterans can receive medical care for their illnesses through VA but must prove toxic exposure while on duty to receive compensation for the ailments. Advocates have argued that VA officials are systematically denying those claims.
In letters to Wilkie and the committee this week, John Wells — counsel to the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association — blasted the department’s stance as unfair and inhumane.
“Whether (the opposition) is due to bureaucratic intransigence or incompetence I do not know,” he wrote. “The bottom line, however, is that they have misrepresented and ‘cherry picked’ evidence to support their flawed position. That is a stain on the national honor.”
Wells and other advocates have an ally in at least one former VA leader. David Shulkin, who was fired by Trump earlier this year, petitioned the Senate committee this week to move ahead on the issue, calling it a matter of honoring the veterans’ sacrifice.
“As Secretary, I was faced with the dilemma of what to do when there was insufficient evidence to make a reasonable conclusion,” he wrote. “I stated then — and continue to believe — that in the absence of reliable data to guide a decision, the answer must not be to simply deny benefits.
“When there is a deadlock, my personal belief is that the tie should be broken in favor of the brave men and women that put their lives on the line for all of us.”
Moving ahead with the legislation could prove expensive for the department. House officials estimated the cost of extending benefits to be about $1.1 billion over 10 years, but current VA officials have insisted the total is closer to $5.5 billion.
For now, the legislation remains stalled in the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., has said the issue is among his top priorities but has also voiced concerns about whether the House measure as written covers the cost and scope of the problem.
Wilkie is scheduled to appear before the committee on Sept. 26 to discuss a host of reform efforts at the department since he took over the top leadership post on July 30.
Military.com: DoD Needs to Better Monitor Tricare Care Providers: Report
Military.com | 20 Sep 2018 | By Amy Bushatz
Pentagon officials need to do more to make sure civilian health care providers are giving military families good care, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The report, released Sept. 17, found that while military health care officials have created a way to monitor whether families and troops are getting quality care from military treatment facilities, those same benchmarks aren’t applied to community-based providers.
"As a result, DoD’s senior leadership has limited information on the extent to which Military Health System (MHS) beneficiaries receive consistently high-quality care across the MHS," the report states.
To keep track of health care performance, the Defense Department has two sets of measurements — one for military treatment facilities and one for civilian care.
But for community-based care, rather than the providers and hospitals themselves, the Pentagon instead reviews the performance of Tricare’s two civilian health care contractors, Health Net and Humana, using what’s known as the Purchased Care Dashboard. The Pentagon expects those contractors, in turn, to monitor individual doctors and hospitals.
But the providers’ performance isn’t based off the metrics created by the Pentagon, and details on whether the contracted doctors are providing good care aren’t shared with military officials, the report found.
"According to MHS officials, the MHS does not require the contractors to ensure that each individual hospital, physician or other provider in these networks meets the performance standards related to the Purchased Care Dashboard measures," the report states.
And while the contractors are expected to make sure military families are receiving quality care, they aren’t required to push out providers who don’t perform, it adds.
"In practice, however, MHS officials said, and documents we reviewed show, that providers are rarely removed from the network," the report says. "For example, MHS officials reported that one contractor estimated that one provider was removed from its network over quality issues every one to two years."
Pentagon officials told GAO investigators that they don’t require performance reports from individual doctors because they don’t want to increase provider workloads. Instead, they said they are creating a series of "value-based" pilot programs that give extra incentives and rewards to providers who have good outcomes.
The GAO found fault with that plan, however, because even when completely in place in 2020, those incentive programs would affect only about 25 percent of care. That means the bulk of patient experiences would be left without DoD oversight.
"Without consistent performance standards and corrective action requirements, DoD is limited in its ability to address variation in the quality of care delivered and help ensure that its beneficiaries receive consistent high-quality care across the MHS," the report states.
Instead, the auditors recommend that the Pentagon fix the Tricare East and West contracts to require action against providers who don’t meet the standards.
Defense officials countered that when it comes to the contracts, their hands are tied — at least for now.
"The Defense Health Agency will hold the contractor to the contractual performance standards, but currently cannot take action against individual providers based solely on performance," Pentagon officials said in a response included with the report.
Military Times: Trump tweets throw new doubts into defense appropriations deal
By: Leo Shane III | 21 hours ago
WASHINGTON — Just as the Pentagon’s budget for next year appeared settled, a series of early morning tweets from President Donald Trump raised the possibility of problems with the congressional appropriations process in days to come.
Trump, who has repeatedly complained that Democrats are undermining national security by blocking funding to construct a wall along the southern U.S. border, took to the social media platform Thursday morning to blast “this ridiculous Spending Bill” for sidestepping the issue.
“I want to know, where is the money for Border Security and the WALL in this ridiculous Spending Bill, and where will it come from after the Midterms?” the president wrote. “Dems are obstructing Law Enforcement and Border Security. REPUBLICANS MUST FINALLY GET TOUGH!”
Trump also quoted Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., who earlier in the week blasted Democrats for “obstruction” for their opposition to the wall issue and to finalizing a host of White House nominations.
The comments came just two days after senators overwhelmingly passed a “minibus” appropriations measure that would provide about $674 billion for the Department of Defense in fiscal 2019, along with full-year funding for the departments of Health and Human Services, Education and Labor.
If House members agree to the deal next week — and leaders from both parties have already signaled they will support it — the plan will mark the first time in 10 years that the defense budget has been finalized before the new fiscal year, which starts on Oct. 1.
If Trump’s comments scuttle those House plans, or if Trump decides to veto the measure, it would trigger a partial government shutdown at the end of the month instead of the legislative victory lap that lawmakers had been anticipating.
Pentagon officials in recent years have lamented the use of temporary budget extensions to avoid federal funding halts and operations shutdowns, saying they inhibit their ability to start new programs and keep equipment purchases on schedule.
Trump did not specifically advocate for stopping the defense minibus deal, or say he would veto the measure.
Along with the four agency full-year budgets, the legislation also includes an extension of the current spending levels for a host of other departments until Dec. 7. Congress is expected to deal with final funding for those programs — and possibly the border wall issue — after the November mid-term elections.
Last week, lawmakers finalized a similar appropriations package for the Department of Veterans Affairs and military construction funding. Trump is expected to sign that bill into law in the next few days.