Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Friday, October 5, 2018, which is Do Something Nice Day, Global James Bond Day, National Diversity Day, National Storytelling Day and World Teachers Day.
This Weekend in American Legion History:
- Oct. 6-9, 1930: In a written report to the 12th National Convention of The American Legion in Boston, newly appointed National Marksmanship Director Frank J. Schneller of Wisconsin says 188 American Legion rifle clubs have been organized and chartered, including 77 in 1930 alone, with programs in all but 17 departments.
- Oct. 7, 2009: The American Legion’s Burn Pit blog site receives an email from one survivor from a deadly Oct. 3 ambush at Combat Outpost Keating in Afghanistan’s remote Nuristan province. The soldier, Bravo Troop 361 Cavalry out of Fort Carson, Colo., reports that “most people back home don’t even know… no one gives a s#it” after he and 55 other survivors escaped with just their weapons and the clothes on their backs, having lost all of their personal belongings in the attack. Eight were killed. The Legion’s COP Keating Relief Fund raises more than $50,000 in less than a week, followed by $50,000 worth of laptop computers from Computer Science Corp., and $50,000 in gift cards and merchandise from Target Corp. The support items arrive in Afghanistan in time for Christmas.
Today in History:
- On this day in 1947, President Harry Truman (1884-1972) makes the first-ever televised presidential address from the White House, asking Americans to cut back on their use of grain in order to help starving Europeans.
- 1969: In an embarrassing breach of the United States’ air-defense capability, a Cuban defector enters U.S. air space undetected and lands his Soviet-made MiG-17 at Homestead Air Force Base, south of Miami, Florida. The presidential aircraft Air Force One was at the base at the time, waiting to return President Richard M. Nixon to Washington. The base was subsequently put on continuous alert, and it opened a new radar tracking facility to prevent the repetition of a similar incident in the future.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
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Stars and Stripes:Senator: VA missed deadline to inform vets with ‘bad paper’ about access to mental health care
By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES | Published: October 4, 2018
WASHINGTON – A senator who championed legislation earlier this year to increase access to mental and behavioral health care for veterans with other-than-honorable discharges is worried the word isn’t getting out to the thousands of veterans now eligible for care they were previously denied.
The Honor Our Commitment Act, approved as part of large appropriations bill in March, requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide veterans with mental health screenings and care, even if they received other-than-honorable discharges. Veterans who served in a combat zone or area of hostilities, worked as drone operators in combat zones or experienced sexual abuse or assault are eligible.
The law required the VA to inform eligible veterans of the change by Sept. 18 – 180 days after the bill passed. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who introduced the measure, said he’s unaware of any efforts the VA has made to spread the word.
In a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie on Tuesday, Murphy said he’s inquired with the VA multiple times about it and received no response.
“Our priority needs to be providing needed care to the veterans who have earned it, and I am gravely concerned that the department’s apparent failure to notify them in accordance with the law puts them at increased risk for mental and behavioral health problems,” Murphy wrote.
Some lawmakers and veterans advocates have long argued servicemembers with other-than-honorable discharges, known as bad paper, were in many cases unjustly released from the military because of mental health issues. Their discharge status prevents them from getting certain VA benefits.
Kristofer Goldsmith, who has an other-than-honorable discharge and advocates for others in the same situation, said in March that Murphy’s measure “marks a major shift towards justice for those veterans who have for so long been denied it.”
On Thursday, Goldsmith said it’s “extremely frustrating” the VA hasn’t reached veterans to let them know of the change.
“I’m glad the VA opened up services to veterans with other-than-honorable [discharges], but right now it seems like VA is doing it in name only,” he said.
Murphy’s Honor Our Commitment Act builds upon a program that former VA Secretary David Shulkin started in July 2017 allowing veterans with bad paper to receive emergency mental health services for up to 90 days. During the 90 days, the VA determines whether a veteran’s mental health condition is the result of their military service and decides if they’re eligible for continued VA care.
According to statistics the VA shared with lawmakers in June, only 115 veterans nationwide sought to use the program in its first year, though thousands are eligible. In 42 of those cases, the VA reviewed veterans’ military discharges and determined they were eligible for ongoing VA health care.
Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., mentioned the issue last week at a House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing on veteran suicide. He asked VA representatives how they’ve been informing veterans of the 90-day program. Keita Franklin, the national director of the VA suicide prevention office, said veterans with other-than-honorable discharges were “at the top of our minds” in her office.
“When this first got passed out, we made great strides to put the word out,” Franklin said. “We brought in all of the veterans service organizations and asked for help to reach out to their membership. We did all of this great work. Some time has gone by now… we need to refresh it.”
In his letter Tuesday, Murphy blamed the VA for not notifying veterans about the program, calling it a “critical failure.” He’s worried it’s happening again, with the Honor Our Commitment Act.
“The VA must not make the same mistake twice,” he wrote.
The VA did not respond to questions Thursday about their outreach efforts.
Military Times: Efforts to help homeless veterans showing progress, VA, HUD leaders say
By: Leo Shane III | 20 hours ago
WASHINGTON — After the first increase in annual homeless veterans estimates in seven years, the leaders of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development say they are confident in improvements made on the issue in recent months.
“Across the country in general, we’re getting a lot more proclamations about the end of homelessness, not just veterans homelessness but homelessness in general,” said HUD Secretary Ben Carson in an interview with Military Times on Wednesday.
“Then you have big urban centers like Los Angeles, Seattle and New York which can really skew the numbers. But we’ve seen progress there as well.”
Exactly how much progress won’t be known for a few more weeks, when federal officials release their annual point-in-time count statistics, the standard by which many advocates judge how effective their efforts to help destitute veterans have been.
This year’s data will be particularly significant because the 2017 release showed the first increase in the number of homeless veterans in seven years. The estimate of 40,000 veterans was up less than 2 percent from the previous year’s figures, but still represented a disappointing setback for groups who had seen historic progress in the recent past.
The 2018 homeless estimate (based largely on data collected in January and earlier) will also be the first to fully encompass the policies of President Donald Trump. Both Carson and VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said they are confident the administration is on the right track, refining existing assistance programs while expanding into even more community partnerships.
“We still have to get our arms around how to get as many people into the system as possible,” Wilkie said in the interview. “But there are certain states — Delaware, Connecticut — where the governors will tell you they no longer have a veterans homeless problem. So that is the good news."
On Wednesday, the two Cabinet officials toured the Washington, D.C., VA Community Resource and Referral Center, the type of facility both men say will be key in preventing homelessness and providing assistance to veterans taken off the streets.
The center — one of 31 spread across the nation — is not a shelter but does provide mental health, benefits and occupational assistance as well as showers and laundry services for veterans in the area.
The secretaries said partnerships between federal facilities like those centers and local charities create a network that can help veterans avoid living on the street.
“You can track a lot of these problems to a lack of mental health care,” Wilkie said. “That is where I want to make our resources more robust … For our particular population, because of the unique nature of their lives and service, it’s absolutely vital we improve that.
“We hear about telehealth, but I need people on the ground too. We have social workers here who have mental health training. We need more of that.”
The two departments on Wednesday announced the latest round of HUD-VA Supportive Housing grants to 212 public housing agencies, expected to help house more than 4,000 veterans over the coming year.
The program has been praised by both government officials and outside advocates as a critical tool in the effort to help those veterans by giving money directly to local charities. More than 93,000 vouchers have been awarded over the last decade, helping find permanent homes for 150,000 individuals.
The secretaries also announced a $7.4 million boost to the Veterans Housing Rehabilitation and Modification Pilot Program launched earlier this year, which assist disabled veterans who need to make modifications to stay in their homes, thereby preventing them from ending up without reliable housing.
Wilkie said boosting mental health and other support services will similarly stem problems before they arise. Carson said he is focused on finding ways to “incentivize (cities) to remove the barriers to building affordable housing,” and creating more options for low-income families.
“Providing housing alone doesn’t work,” he said. “Providing wrap-around services alone doesn’t work. But when you provide both, (veterans) stand a very good chance of achieving their goals.”
Washington Post: White House report points to severe shortcomings in U.S. military supply chain
By Aaron Gregg and Christian Davenport | October 4 at 9:54 PM
Uncertain budgets, a broken procurement system and an unfair trade environment have eroded the United States’ defense industrial base to levels at which national security could be at risk, a long-awaited White House report released Thursday concluded, bringing new urgency to problems that have worried acquisition experts for years.
The report states that “all facets of the manufacturing and defense industrial base are currently under threat” and that there are entire “industries near domestic extinction,” forcing the Pentagon to look overseas for help. Top procurement officials said the findings underscored the need to think more critically about its supply chain and the U.S. military’s relationship with defense contractors.
“Without a robust, secure, and resilient industrial base, you cannot provide lethality for the warfighter,” said Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment. “Our industrial base is only as strong as our Department’s relationship with industry.”
President Trump is expected to unveil a public version of the report Friday afternoon and sign an executive order meant to address the problems it raises. In a Thursday evening phone call, Lord and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manufacturing Eric Chewning declined to provide an exact dollar figure for how much extra defense funding would be behind the effort, and shied away from directly answering questions about whether new subsidies for defense firms could be part of the solution.
But a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss how the White House would respond, described targeted cash infusions designed to shore up particular areas of weakness, including $70 million for a company that makes gun components and extra funding for Abrams tank parts.
The report drew attention to long-standing problems affecting the defense industrial base, with a focus on China. The report makes the case that America’s economic security and national security are inseparable, a line of thinking that the Trump administration has also used to justify erecting new trade barriers against Chinese steel and aluminum.
As the global economy has become more integrated across transnational borders, the vast supply chain serving the U.S. military has become dependent on low-cost foreign components — too dependent, Trump administration officials say. Things such as machine tools, infrared detectors and night-vision systems are largely provided by foreign suppliers, officials say, raising questions about whether the U.S. military would have access to them in a protracted war.
The report also alleges that years of decreased defense spending under the Obama administration — when “sequestration” spending caps limited defense spending after 2013 — have left “fragile” manufacturers with safety or cash-flow issues, hampering their ability to meet the military’s standards. A wave of consolidation during that period has meant there is often just a single supplier for some important parts, forcing the government to turn to a monopoly supplier.
The report also emphasized difficulties in attracting skilled laborers to work for the U.S. government, as skilled engineers, software developers and tradesmen are in short supply. While those shortages have also dogged much of the U.S. manufacturing base, they are particularly troublesome to military suppliers, who often have to wait a year or more for those professionals to receive security clearances allowing them to work on secret military programs.
The report identified close to 300 supply chain vulnerabilities in which particular components are produced by just one company, a “fragile” supplier, or a foreign supplier. It singled out obscure but important components such as submarine propeller shafts, gun barrels that go on combat vehicles, and ceramics that go in soldiers’ body armor as being potentially unable to meet the U.S. military’s needs in a protracted war.
The warning comes as the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy has, after years of fighting counterinsurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, placed an increasing importance on competing with Russia and China for global military dominance. For years, those potential adversaries have been working to chip away at the technological superiority that the United States has enjoyed since World War II. But now those countries “appear to be growing in strength and capability,” the report said, adding a sense of urgency to bolstering the Pentagon’s suppliers.
Wes Hallman, a vice president with the National Defense Industrial Association, called the report a “wake-up call,” admitting that the defense industrial base of today is “not what the arsenal of democracy was going into World War II.” Decades ago “it took you more than two hands to count the number of companies that could produce a fighter jet, and now we’re down to essentially two. That’s a big deal, and that’s just one sector.”
Some of the problems identified in the report — such as the Pentagon’s slow and bureaucratic procurement system — have been around for years. And others, such as the “decline of U.S. manufacturing base capabilities and capacity” concerned Pentagon leaders in the Obama administration, who attempted to push back against further consolidation in the industry.
The Pentagon has also sought to better harness innovation by broadening its reach to places like Silicon Valley and Boston, hoping to get companies that shied away from federal work to become defense contractors — an effort that has been met with mixed results.
The relationship between the Trump administration and the defense industrial base has largely been a positive one, despite early presidential tweets aimed at Boeing and Lockheed Martin that sent stock prices swooning industry-wide.
The Trump administration’s policies have generally led to increased profits for defense firms, who have benefited from increased defense spending as well as corporate tax cuts. But defense firms have occasionally griped about the Trump administration’s efforts to erect new trade barriers; when the administration moved last March to erect steep tariffs on steel and aluminum, Aerospace Industries Association president and chief executive Eric Fanning said such barriers would hurt defense firms by stirring retaliation against U.S. suppliers.
In reaction to Tuesday’s report, major defense industry associations said they welcomed its conclusions even as it called out their industry’s shortcomings. The three major trade associations representing the defense industry — the National Defense Industrial Association, the Professional Services Council and the Aerospace Industries Association — had all been consulted as part of the report, officials said.
NDIA president and chief executive Hawk Carlisle, a retired four-star Air Force general, called the report a “sobering” look at the health of the U.S. defense industrial base.
“Reliance on single producers within the supply chain, dependence on unstable or unfriendly foreign suppliers for critical components, and misplaced presumption of continued preeminence of American military superiority are examples of findings that should be immediately addressed,” Carlisle said. “Compounding these risks, the report highlights a drain on talent that now flows toward Silicon Valley start-ups instead of defense-focused industries.”
Aerospace Industries Association’s Fanning praised the Trump administration’s approach of lumping in elements of economic security and national security.
“Guaranteeing the health of the American manufacturing and defense industrial base is a critical national security and economic priority as the United States combats today’s threats and those we’ll face tomorrow,” Fanning said.
NPR: Women Veterans Show Off Fighter Jets In Campaign Ads, But Also Their Minivans
October 4, 2018 5:00 AM ET | DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN
Democrat Amy McGrath is running heavily on her military record in Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District. In her announcement video, she tells the story of how, as a girl, she was told that women couldn’t fly in combat — and how that fired her up to eventually do just that.
That military service really fires up some voters, like Navy veteran Gregory Tucker, who was at a recent rally in Richmond, Ky., to see her.
"Any person that went through the academy, the training, or you know, served in the military, are a good person," he said.
McGrath, who is trying to unseat GOP Rep. Andy Barr, is one of 12 women veterans who have secured nominations for the U.S. House, with still more in the Senate. Right now, there are only four women veterans in Congress.
McGrath’s military background helps her appeal to veteran voters like Tucker. And it could help women veterans appeal to the broader electorate, who tend to see women as less capable than men on national security and defense issues.
But while service often carries an implicit message of steely toughness to voters, some women veterans are swinging in the other direction to pitch themselves to voters this year.
In one of her ads, McGrath loads her kids into the car to take them to the doctor. In an ad from Texas Democratic House candidate M.J. Hegar, she talks about coming back from her helicopter being shot down, while carrying a toddler. A large tattoo, which covers shrapnel scars, peeks out from her shirtsleeve.
In listing off her accomplishments — serving in the Navy, getting through submerge and escape drills, working as a federal prosecutor — she also includes motherhood (as her kids hop out of the family car in front of her).
"Instead of trying to fit into an outdated template of what a candidate looks like, this year, women are really running unapologetically as themselves," said Amanda Hunter at the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, noting a shift in strategy for women candidates. "So, really using their entire life experience and that includes motherhood [and] time served in combat."
Running as tough mothers
It’s a potentially risky strategy, as voters sometimes penalize candidates who are mothers, wondering if those candidates can hold office while taking care of young children. But for her part, McGrath saw it as a smart choice to bring her own motherhood into her campaign.
"Look, there might not be a whole lot of people that really can relate to being a fighter pilot. Let’s just be honest," she said. "But there’s a ton of people that can relate to being a mom, because I am doing it right along with them."
Frances Click attended that rally in Kentucky, and she said that’s how she feels.
"Having veterans in my family, I know the stress and the pressures that is," she said. "But her being a mother and juggling everything is more important to me, because she understands what it’s like to have to be pulled in every direction. Because she’s a mother."
McGrath may have her share of committed supporters, but this remains a tough race. It’s rated a toss-up, and it’s also a district that voted for Trump by 15 points. For his part, incumbent Republican Andy Barr is pushing back by talking about his support of veterans.
"Our record of advocacy for veterans is not something that’s new to us," he told NPR. "That’s why the veterans of the 6th District by [a] vast majority will support me and will re-elect me over a veteran opponent, because they know that my opponent doesn’t share their values."
More than military motherhood
It’s not just about Democrats, nor is it just that women veterans are trying to show a softer side.
In the announcement ad for her Senate campaign, Arizona GOP Rep. Martha McSally used her military background as a way of casting herself as anti-establishment.
"I’m a fighter pilot, and I talk like one," she says. "That’s why I told Washington Republicans to grow a pair of ovaries and get the job done."
This portrayal of unvarnished honesty coming from female veterans may be part of a larger trend.
"I argue that candidates overall — not necessarily a gender thing — are being more real," said Missy Shorey, executive director of Maggie’s List, which promotes conservative women. "And I would argue that that’s something based on social media. You know, the more authentic you are on social media, the more followers you have."
To her, the connection is simple; when a candidate is real — woman or man — it just endears them to more voters.
"If you are just a canned candidate, where’s the personality? Where’s the belief? Where’s the passion? Why do you care? How can you relate to people?" she said. "Showing your tattoos? I don’t know. Have you been to a water park? Everybody’s got one."
Other benefits to being a vet
Democratic women veterans in particular may find it easy to connect with voters this year, said Jeremy Teigen, professor of political science at Ramapo University.
"I believe Democrats may be seeing female veterans as a perfect antidote to Trump and Trumpism," he said. Aside from sending the patriotic cue of military service, they are women candidates in a year when Democratic voters are particularly fired up for women candidates.
"These are women who volunteered for combat duty as opposed to using medical exemptions to avoid conscription in the 1960s as President Trump did," he added, referring to one of Trump’s five Vietnam War-era deferments.
At the Democrats’ rally in Kentucky, Navy veteran Gregory Warner said that deferment was a factor in his vote — a stance he was proudly wearing on his t-shirt.
"My shirt says, ‘All gave some. Some gave all. One had bone spurs. Veterans against Trump,’" he said.
Like so many other House races this year, this one isn’t just about the candidates who are in it.
Air Force Times: Report: Trump may fire Air Force Secretary Wilson over Space Force
By: Stephen Losey | 13 hours ago
President Trump is considering firing U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson after the midterm elections due to her perceived slow-rolling of his order to create a separate Space Force, according to a report from Foreign Policy.
In an article posted online Thursday afternoon, Foreign Policy reported that Trump and Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan are “angered … with what is seen as a campaign to undermine the Space Force effort” by Wilson. Citing three unnamed sources, Foreign Policy reported that Trump has not made a final decision on firing Wilson, but that potential replacements, including Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., are being considered.
When asked to comment by Air Force Times, the service referred any questions to the White House.
In a statement, Shanahan said he “greatly appreciate[s] Secretary Wilson’s leadership, commitment, and vision.”
“We are partnered on implementing the National Defense Strategy and winning,” Shanahan said. “We’re focused on the future of the department. There is no groupthink in the Pentagon as we deal with complex real-world decisions as making large scale institutional change is difficult and demanding.”
Wilson was previously a critic of proposals to create a sixth separate branch of the military to handle space operations, and told Congress that taking space operations out of the Air Force would jeopardize its efforts to integrate space with other war-fighting operations.
But at the Defense News Conference last month, Wilson said she was in “complete alignment” with Trump’s order to create a Space Force.
“If we’re going to do this, let’s propose to do it right,” Wilson said. “Let’s have this debate, support the president’s proposal and put it forward — and make sure that we don’t do this with half measures.”
Foreign Policy reported that Trump became angry at Wilson this summer, when the White House deemed the Air Force’s first draft of a plan to stand up a Space Force inadequate and rejected it.
In a Sept. 14 memo signed by Wilson, the Air Force estimated that creating a Space Force would cost $13 billion over five years. Some experts, such as Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that estimate was grossly inflated. Harrison suggested the Air Force’s estimate may be an effort to “sabotage the idea by making it seem much broader and more expensive than it really would be.”
But skeptical lawmakers, including such Republicans as Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado, felt the projected price tag reinforced their concern that creating a new Space Force would be an expensive, unnecessary boondoggle.
Foreign Policy reported that Wilson and Shanahan have frequently butted heads, and quoted a source as saying he “hates her guts.”
But she is well-known to have a strong relationship with Vice President Mike Pence, who made a surprise appearance with her last month at the Air Force Association’s Air Space Cyber conference in National Harbor, Maryland.