Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Thursday, November 8, 2018 which is National Harvey Wallbanger Day, National Dunce Day, Cook Something Bold Day and National Ample Time Day.
This Day in Legion History:
- Nov. 8, 1944: Germans seize, pillage and set ablaze the French town of St. Die-des-Vosges, where a delegation of 200 Legionnaires had unveiled a plaque in 1921 commemorating the place where the term “America” was first published on a map in 1507. A week after the German rampage six months before the end of World War II, American troops arrived to find the ruins, followed later by many of the women and children of the town who had been left homeless and were starving. Upon learning this, American Legion posts and units throughout the United States collect hundreds of packages of food, clothing and supplies and ship it urgently to the town.
- Nov. 8, 2002: The American Legion launches the “I Am Not a Number” campaign to collect testimonies from veterans waiting long periods of time for VA health-care appointments and benefits decisions. More than 5,000 personal testimonials pour into National Headquarters, and their accounts help launch the national System Worth Saving program.
This Day in History:
- 1965: For action this day in the Iron Triangle northwest of Saigon, Specialist Five Lawrence Joel, a medic with the 1st Battalion, 503rd Airborne Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade earns the Medal of Honor, becoming the first living African American since the Spanish-American War to receive the nation’s highest award for valor.
- On this day in 1775, General George Washington seeks to resolve several problems facing the army: how to encourage experienced troops to enlist, how to assemble a capable officer corps and how to overcome provincial differences and rivalries. Describing the problems, he wrote, “Connecticut wants no Massachusetts man in her corps. Massachusetts thinks there is no necessity for a Rhode Islander…”
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Defense News: Election to shake up House and Senate armed services committees
- Stripes: Democrats gain control of key House military, vet committees
- Military Times: The number of vets in Congress appears headed down again
- Military Times: DoD drops border deployment name, no longer calling it ‘Faithful Patriot’
- Stripes: Army veteran’s family agrees to $2.5 million in settlement with VA over wrongful death suit
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Defense News: Election to shake up House and Senate armed services committees
By: Joe Gould 16 hours ago
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WASHINGTON — Beyond GOP House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry handing the gavel to the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Smith, expect a major reshuffling in middle management on the panel and on its Senate counterpart.
Where Thornberry, R-Texas, has been a staunch advocate of defense spending increases, Smith has been a critic, particularly on nuclear weapons, who’s promised stricter oversight of overseas military operations. Tuesday’s Democratic victory in the House means leadership swaps will be happening in dozens of the chamber’s committees and subcommittees.
Within the HASC, chairmanships of the Tactical Air & Land and Readiness sub-panels are up for grabs. TAL’s ranking member, Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., is retiring, while Readiness ranking member Rep. Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, lost to a primary challenger.
It’s to be determined which Democrats will move up the ranks into those spots and who will take the spots those ascending lawmakers vacate, as panel leadership typically makes those announcements in December or in January, when the new Congress is seated.
Familiar leaders like TAL Chairman Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, are expected to become the sub-panel’s ranking members. Likewise Readiness chairman Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C.; Strategic Forces chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., and Seapower chairman Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va.
Who fills the shoes of Tsongas and Bordallo will be important for the portfolios they manage—but also as the Pentagon addresses a spate of aviation mishaps and pushes to fix aircraft mission-capable rates.
As roughly a dozen lawmakers from both parties who are departing the HASC, turnover on the committee will be amplified as members opt to leave for other committees, as is typical in a new Congress, and as the Democrats gain new seats on the panel.
Republicans will have to determine who will be their ranking member on the Military Personnel Subcommittee. Its chairman, Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman, lost in a district Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won in 2016.
On the Senate side, Democrats are expected to jockey for leadership positions with the departure of Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill and Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly, chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee.
As of Wednesday, it was unclear whether Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, the SASC’s No. 2 Democrat and chairman of its cyber subcommittee, will keep his seat. Some 30,000 votes appear to separate the three-term incumbent from his GOP opponent, Gov. Rick Scott—and Nelson has asked for a recount.
Stripes: Democrats gain control of key House military, vet committees
By CLAUDIA GRISALES AND NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES
Published: November 7, 2018
WASHINGTON – The fate of an ongoing military buildup, war oversight, veterans affairs and decisions on who can enlist in the service now rests with a split Congress following the results of Tuesday’s midterm elections.
By early Wednesday, Democrats won control of the House, shifting leadership of key committees that direct military and veteran issues. However, Republicans retained control of the Senate.
One supporter of the Democratic shift suggested lawmakers could finally install new levels of oversight on President Donald Trump’s growing list of demands for the military.
“You are going to see us put the reins on Donald Trump,” said Jon Soltz, chairman of progressive political organization VoteVets, which supported a slate of Democratic military veterans running for office. “You will see more priorities that Democrats will focus on,” such as addressing an end game to the overseas wars, revamping the president’s war powers, boosting oversight of operations in Yemen and elsewhere and protecting veterans better.
With hundreds of congressional seats contested in the midterm elections, Republican control of the House and Senate was in question. Polls suggested Democrats had a good chance at gaining control of the House, but less so in the Senate.
By Wednesday afternoon, The Associated Press said Democrats looked to control the House by 220 to 193 seats, with nearly two dozen races yet to be decided.
“From tonight’s results, it is clear that Americans are hungry for a change in leadership and a new tone in politics,” said Emily Cherniack, founder and executive director of bipartisan political group New Politics.
All 435 seats in the House and 35 of the Senate’s 100 seats were up for grabs. With Republicans under threat, both parties ramped up their campaign efforts.
Trump held 50 rallies for Republicans while former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden and entertainment mogul Oprah Winfrey made appearances for Democrats in hotly contested districts and voter turnout reached unprecedented levels in competitive races across the country.
In the heat of the struggle, some Democratic lawmakers laid out a strategy for military issues should they gain control.
Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the ranking Democrat for the House Armed Services Committee who won re-election Tuesday, is poised to take the helm of the committee. Smith had said ahead of Tuesday’s elections that defense spending, increased oversight and thwarting limits on who can serve in the military would be top priorities.
“I think the biggest difference will probably be more oversight,” Smith had said. “We’re not clear exactly where this administration is going with the military.”
Control shifts for key committees
With Democrats capturing control of the House, they take over leadership of the key House committees of Armed Services, Veterans Affairs and Appropriations. The Armed Services Committee helps shape policy and spending at the Pentagon, while the Veterans Affairs committee handles issues facing former servicemembers and the Appropriations Committee directs funding to the Pentagon.
Jeremy Teigen, a political science professor at Ramapo College of New Jersey, suggested lawmakers – even in a split Congress – will still draw more bipartisanship efforts, especially for veterans affairs.
“It’s important to remember that the while the people who tend to serve on the Veterans Affairs committees and those that become chairs tend to be military veterans. It’s not like the parties have very different views on veterans policies,” such as education and other veteran benefits, said Teigen, author of the book “Why Veterans Run: Military Service in American Presidential Elections, 1789-2016.” “This is one area of politics where the parties have very warm accord.”
However, while there might be more disagreements when it comes to the Armed Services committees in both chambers, there’s still a great deal of agreement, Teigen said.
“It will certainly be less bipartisan than the warm accord in the veterans affairs committees but nowhere near as contentious as you will find in other parts” of Capitol Hill, he said.
With Smith slated to be chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, he could be swapping spots with the current Republican chairman of the panel. Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, who was re-elected Tuesday, could move into a new role as the panel’s ranking Republican next year.
At least a dozen lawmakers are slated to leave their roles on the House Armed Services committee, including several retiring members and some who lost their bids for re-election such as Oklahoma Republican Rep. Steve Russell. But several key members of the House and Senate armed services panels won re-election, including Reps. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., and Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., and Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y
In the upper chamber, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., is expected to remain in his role as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Inhofe took the seat after the death of Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain in August.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said ahead of the elections that there would still be plenty of continuity on defense matters even if Democrats took control. Reed, who is in a current term that ends in 2020, pointed to support for the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, the legislation that dictates Pentagon policies and spending.
Instead, Reed said the biggest challenge would likely be the so-called sequestration – automatic, across-the-board budget cuts. Those spending restrictions would be triggered if Congress can’t reach a deal next year to lift them.
“The last year, the votes in both chambers were overwhelming bipartisan,” Reed had said. “So, I don’t think they shift dramatically because the same leadership that was behind the support of the issues – the NDAA – would be in the leadership in the House and the Senate next year.”
There’s also Democratic opposition to a Trump-driven plan to create a costly branch of the military called Space Force to address defense for space-based endeavors. The move would cost about $13 billion for 10 years, Reed said.
“Space Force, to me, would be not the most effective way to deal with these issues,” Reed said earlier this year. “Perhaps the model is not a Space Force, but something along the lines of Cyber Command, where you don’t have a special service, but what you have is a unified effort by all the services.”
Takano poised to lead VA committee
With control of the House switching to Democrats, Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., is looking to become the next chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Takano won re-election Tuesday against his Republican challenger, Aja Smith.
Takano has already laid out his priorities for the committee if he were to take over as chairman. They include stopping the deportation of veterans and establishing more effective citizenship procedures for immigrant servicemembers. He wants to fill the tens of thousands of vacancies across the Department of Veterans Affairs and stop for-profit colleges from targeting and cheating veterans.
For the past two years, with a Congress and White House led by Republicans, the House and Senate veterans affairs committees have pushed through major bipartisan reforms, from expanding veterans’ education benefits to overhauling the VA’s private-sector health care programs and giving VA leaders more authority to fire their employees.
With the chambers now split, they’re likely to experience gridlock.
In a speech to the American Legion in August, Takano vowed to work with Republicans and VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. However, one of his top priorities – veteran deportation and citizenship for immigrant servicemembers – is a topic that Republicans in Congress have been unwilling to address.
Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., the chairman of the House Committee of Veterans’ Affairs, will keep his seat after defeating his Democratic challenger by a wide margin. Nine other Republicans on the committee won Tuesday. One Republican member – Rep. Bruce Poliquin – remained in a tight race early Wednesday morning against his opponent, Iraq War veteran Jared Golden.
One longtime congressman, Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., lost to first-time political candidate and Iraq War veteran Jason Crow. Coffman, who was seeking a sixth term in the House, is a member of the House Armed Services and VA committees.
Three Democrats on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs didn’t seek re-election. Rep. Tim Walz won the Minnesota gubernatorial race Tuesday, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, also a member of the Armed Services Committee, lost his race to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Elizabeth Esty is leaving Congress following a harassment scandal including her chief of staff. All other Democrats on the committee will keep their seats.
Jon Tester, a senator since 2007, appeared to win a tight race Wednesday against Republican Matt Rosendale in a hard-fought race in Montana. An upset would leave a hole on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, on which Tester serves as the ranking Democrat. Working with Republicans and Democrats the past two years, Tester was a top decision-maker on veterans issues and helped shepherd several major, bipartisan VA reforms through Congress.
The Montana race was one of the most closely watched in this election, with Trump traveling to the state four times since July. He repeatedly went after Tester – at rallies and via Twitter – for his role in toppling Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson’s nomination to be secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Trump accused Tester of leading a “Democrat mob” to “destroy” Jackson. However, Trump acknowledged during one rally in October that Jackson may not have been qualified for the job.
Tester fought Trump’s attacks, arguing he fulfilled his constitutional responsibility to vet the nominee. Tester voted to confirm Trump’s second nominee, Robert Wilkie.
On Wednesday, Trump congratulated Tester during a raucous press conference.
New Congress, new challenges
Lawmakers will need to address spending caps slated to return for the 2020 fiscal year under the Budget Control Act, or BCA, which could cut the budget to $576 billion.
That would be a dramatic slash from an initial Pentagon budget that said spending would need to be $733 billion in the new fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, 2019.
Democrats could thwart Trump-led plans for a spending spree for “low-yield” nukes, the creation of a new, the Space Force effort, boost oversight in military operations domestic and abroad, and push for legislation revamping the president’s war powers.
Smith said Democrats also will be keen to address new Trump limits on who is eligible to serve in the military. Smith suggested discrimination has been driving efforts to block certain recruits to serve, including immigrants and transgender individuals.
Democrats can make “sure we don’t allow bigotry to get in the way of people serving the country,” Smith said.
Military Times: The number of vets in Congress appears headed down again
By: Leo Shane III 22 hours ago
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WASHINGTON — After Tuesday’s midterm contests, the number of female veterans and younger veterans in Congress are rising but the overall number of veterans in Congress remains on a steady decline.
In a contentious election which saw Democrats take over the House and Republicans add to their majority in the Senate, 77 veterans won elections across the country. Combined with 15 incumbent veterans in the Senate who did not face election, that guarantees at least 92 veterans will be part of the 116th session of Congress in January.
As of Wednesday morning, 10 races involving veteran candidates were still undecided. If all of those veterans were to win — an unlikely scenario, given the unofficial results at press time — that would still only match the 102 veterans who were in office at the start of the 115th session.
Still, Veterans Campaign Executive Director Seth Lynn said he sees plenty of positives in Tuesday’s midterm results for veteran candidates.
“We saw an uptick in the number of non-incumbent veterans who got major party nominations this cycle,” he said. “We had an uptick in the number of women veterans. And we have a huge cohort of incoming veterans now.
“We’re seeing more of the younger veterans taking their place in Congress.”
Of the 77 election-night winners, 17 of them are new candidates. Lynn said that’s the biggest class of freshman veteran lawmakers since 2010.
Almost half of the veterans in Congress in January will be individuals who served after Sept. 11, 2001. Of the 92, 25 are Democrats and 67 are Republicans.
Tuesday’s class of new veterans includes three Democratic female veterans. Mikie Sherrill, who won a New Jersey congressional seat, is a former Navy helicopter pilot.
Chrissy Houlahan, who won in Pennsylvania, is an Air Force vet whose family boasts multiple military members. New Virginia Rep. Elaine Luria narrowly defeated fellow Navy veteran Rep. Scott Taylor in a key swing race for her party.
They’ll join three incumbent female veterans — Democratic Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Democratic Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, and Republican Sen. Joni Ernst — and possibly one other incumbent. Arizona Republican Rep. Martha McSally’s race for her state’s Senate seat remains too close to declare a victor.
The new class of veterans includes several names who have already drawn national attention.
Texas Republican Dan Crenshaw, who lost an eye while serving in Afghanistan, was lampooned last weekend on “Saturday Night Live” for his injury, prompting an outpouring of conservative anger against the comedy show. He had been leading in the polls prior to the controversy, but now enjoys even larger name recognition as he heads to Congress.
New Florida Republican Rep. Michael Waltz is a green beret and commentator for Fox News. Colorado Democratic Rep. Jason Crow, a prominent speaker at the party’s 2012 national convention, upset fellow Army veteran Mike Coffman, an incumbent representative.
The total number of veterans in Congress has been on a steady decline since the 1970s, when nearly three-fourths of lawmakers had served in the military.
Lynn said he is optimistic that Tuesday’s results show that decline isn’t guaranteed to persist, even if the number did not increase this cycle. But he also said a return to the previous highs of past decades is unlikely, given the much smaller percentage of veterans in America since the start of the all-volunteer Army.
Military Times: DoD drops border deployment name, no longer calling it ‘Faithful Patriot’
By:Kyle Rempfer 17 hours ago
The Pentagon is no longer using its name for the U.S. military mission on the southern border, military officials said Wednesday.
“Operation Faithful Patriot” was the name for the deployment of at least 5,000 active-duty troops at ports of entry along three border states.
A Pentagon spokesman told Military Times that there will be “no official name change,” but department officials “are not calling it ‘Operation Faithful Patriot’ ” anymore.
“We are merely referring to it as border support,” the spokesman said.
The change was decided by Defense Secretary James Mattis’ office and was issued on Election Day, military officials told the Wall Street Journal.
Mattis and other Defense Department leaders have consistently pushed back against allegations that the deployment of active-duty troops is politically motivated, or that it is related to the 2018 midterm elections.
“We don’t do stunts,” Mattis said last week.
Officials told the Wall Street Journal that a possible reason for the name change is to more accurately reflect the mission to support another government agency, rather than conduct an operation under combat.
The U.S. troops deployed to the border are working in Texas, Arizona and California in anticipation of caravans of migrants and would-be asylum seekers, most of whom are from Central America, journeying through Mexico to the U.S.
Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, the head of U.S. Northern Command, is commanding the military operation.
“We’ve seen clearly an organization at a higher level than we’ve seen before,” O’Shaughnessy said of the migrant caravan. “We’ve seen violence coming out of the caravan and we’ve seen as they’ve passed other international borders, we’ve seen them behave in a nature that has not been what we’ve seen in the past.”
In Mexico, members of the caravans of migrants are weighing whether to stay in Mexico or complete the trek to the U.S. border, the Associated Press reported Wednesday. Many are pausing in Mexico City for a rest as they decide what to do.
Mexico has offered refuge, asylum or work visas to the migrants and the government said 2,697 temporary visas had been issued to individuals and families to cover them while they wait for the 45-day application process for a more permanent status, AP reported.
Beyond Sen. Jon Kyl — who is expected to fill the late John McCain’s U.S. Senate seat only until January — there may be other arrivals and departures with the routine reshuffling between committees that’s typical in a new Congress.
Stripes: Army veteran’s family agrees to $2.5 million in settlement with VA over wrongful death suit
By WILL MORRIS | STARS AND STRIPESPublished: November 7, 2018
Carol Merritt felt both intense pride and worry during the eight years of her son’s military service.
During Aaron Merritt’s three combat deployments, two as an explosive ordnance disposal technician, she’d sometimes glance at her home phone wondering when it would ring with dreadful news.
That call didn’t come and she felt she could finally breathe a sigh of relief when he was released from active duty in January 2014. But nine months later, on the afternoon of Oct. 28, 2014, her husband visited her at work and with a broken voice told her that their son had died.
Aaron Merritt had gone to the emergency room of the Nashville Veterans Affairs Hospital seriously ill and was dead less than 24 hours later. He was 26.
Last month, the VA agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the Lake Havasu City, Ariz., couple. The award is not an admission of fault.
Aaron Merritt was the victim of a lack of communication between doctors and a failure to adhere to basic medical procedures, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in 2016.
“He did three tours, one in Iraq and two in Afghanistan, and made it home but he died instead under the care of the VA. It’s unimaginable,” Carol Merritt said last week. “He protected all these people. Who protected Aaron?”
The immediate cause of death was the acid content of his blood, septic shock, and low levels of red and white blood cells and platelets, according to the death certificate. But his family says the death was the culmination of a string of medical mishaps that could have easily been prevented, said Frank B. Thacher, the family’s lawyer.
“Aaron slipped through the cracks in something that was very simple as giving a blood test,” Thacher said. Our hope is the suit does affect some change in the VA. There’s no amount of money that can compensate Aaron for what he had to endure during the last moments of his life or what his parents lost.”
The VA did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Stars and Stripes.
Service and mistreatment
Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, a World War II veteran, Aaron Merritt enlisted in the Army after high school. He volunteered to become an EOD technician after his Iraq tour and then deployed twice to Afghanistan.
“He was just really a great kid,” his mother said. “In Afghanistan he was always getting everyone to laugh and tried to keep everyone happy while he was there. He told me joking that he ‘was having a blast.’”
He was twice awarded the Army Commendation Medal with Valor, including once for saving the life of an Afghan soldier, and he planned to use his military bomb detection knowledge in the civilian world working for the Transportation Security Administration. He was in the process of applying when he died, his parents said.
Military doctors had diagnosed him with ulcerative colitis, a bowel disease that causes inflammation and sores in the digestive tract and had put him on the drug mesalamine in early 2014, just before he left the Army. That May, VA doctors in Nashville treated him for the first time and added a prescription for azathioprine, an anti-inflammatory drug with side effects that suppress the immune system.
For months, however, VA doctors largely ignored the drug manufacturer’s recommendation of regular blood work, according to court documents, until the vital blood components needed to fight infection were so low, his blood had been poisoned.
Before being admitted to the ER on Oct. 27, 2014, Aaron Merritt sent an email to his doctor at the VA describing his symptoms, including flare-ups of the ulcerative colitis, high temperatures, and ulcers in his mouth that were making it painful to eat and drink.
“I’m also finding it difficult to keep food and water down,” he wrote. “I was wondering if this was something I should be seen for or if I could get new medications to treat this or improve my quality of life.”
He came to the ER with sepsis, a life-threatening complication of infection that doctors treating him at the time said “was likely due to bone marrow suppression caused by azathioprine.” He was sent to the intensive care unit.
By early morning the next day, he was critically ill and his red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets were all being destroyed by blood poisoning that was nearly impossible to treat because of his compromised immune system.
“Aaron coded four times,” court records state, referring to the number of times his heart or breathing stopped that morning. “During the fourth code, his body could no longer fight the overwhelming infection.”
Going to court
The family took up the fight for more information after his death, but the hospital administration would not release anything meaningful about his case, Thacher said. It was only after the late Arizona Sen. John McCain opened an investigation that the family was able to view the medical records.
Carol Merritt then spent nights and weekends going through his records for weeks, underlining doctor’s entries and making notes in the margins. To her, the evidence that her son hadn’t been treated properly was overwhelming.
“I could just see they didn’t have any blood work,” she said.
The couple sued for $6.1 million with the hope of learning more about how their son had died, to seek justice for his death and to raise awareness on how veterans are treated in the VA hospital system.
“There just needs to be changes at the VA, the way vets receive medical treatment,” Steve Merritt said.
The couple hopes that their efforts will help prompt change.
“How do you get justice for your son dying?” Carol Merritt said. “I guess we want to know when the VA will start being held accountable for the care and treatment of our veterans.”