American Legion Daily News Clips 3/27/18

From: Seavey, Mark C. [mailto:mseavey@legion.org]
Subject: American Legion Daily News Clips 3/27/18

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Tuesday, March 27, 2018 which is National Spanish Paella Day, Quirky Country Music Song Titles Day, World Theatre Day and National Joe Day.

This Day in History:

· Future President Thomas Jefferson is elected to the second Continental Congress on this day in 1775. Jefferson, a Virginia delegate, quickly established himself in the Continental Congress with the publication of his paper entitled A Summary View of the Rights of British America. Throughout the next year, Jefferson published several more papers, most notably Drafts and Notes on the Virginia Constitution.

· On this day in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln meets with Union generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman at City Point, Virginia, to plot the last stages of the Civil War.

· The University of Oregon defeats The Ohio State University 46–33 on this day in 1939 to win the first-ever NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The Final Four, as the tournament became known, has grown exponentially in size and popularity since 1939. By 2005, college basketball had become the most popular sporting event among gamblers, after the Super Bowl. The majority of that betting takes place at tournament time, when Las Vegas, the internet and office pools around the country see action from sports enthusiasts and once-a-year gamblers alike.

· On this day in 1945, in a last-ditch effort to deploy their remaining V-2 missiles against the Allies, the Germans launch their long-range rockets from their only remaining launch site, in the Netherlands. Almost 200 civilians in England and Belgium were added to the V-2 casualty toll.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

· AP: White House: No change ‘at this time’ to Shulkin’s VA job

· Adel News: American Legion National Commander discusses “Family First” in Van Meter

· NYT: Afghanistan War Veteran’s Deportation Is a ‘Shocking Betrayal,’ Senator Says

· WaPo: ‘Suspicious packages’ received at military installations in Washington area

· VOA: Islamic State Regrouping in Iraqi, Kurdish Disputed Territories

· Washington Examiner: White House: Trump ‘prepared to potentially withdraw’ from Iran deal

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AP: White House: No change ‘at this time’ to Shulkin’s VA job

By: Hope Yen, The Associated Press   17 hours ago

WASHINGTON — With his job status in danger, embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin sought to lower his public profile Monday as a White House spokesman insisted that President Donald Trump still had confidence in his leadership “at this point in time.”

Shulkin, the lone Obama administration official in Trump’s Cabinet, abruptly backed out of a media availability Monday morning that had been scheduled at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Elsmere, Delaware, as part of an annual Veterans Summit hosted by Democratic Sen. Tom Carper. Shulkin told organizers he needed to “get back on the road to Washington.”

“Secretary Shulkin’s singular focus is on finding the best ways to provide care and benefits to our country’s heroes,” said Shulkin’s strategic adviser, Ashleigh Barry, in response to questions about his public plans in the coming days.

Three administration officials told The Associated Press that Trump is planning to oust Shulkin within the next week or two amid an extraordinary rebellion at the agency and damaging government investigations into his alleged spending abuses. The three officials demanded anonymity to discuss a sensitive personnel matter.

Early Monday, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley sought to dismiss reports of Shulkin’s imminent dismissal as head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the government’s second largest department with 370,000 employees. He told Fox News Channel, “we hear these types of rumors every day.”

“At this point in time, though he does have confidence in Dr. Shulkin,” Gidley said. “But as you know, the president wants to put the right people in the right place at the right time and that could change.”

Asked repeatedly Monday about Shulkin’s status, White House spokesman Raj Shah told reporters there were “no personnel announcements to make at this time.” Addressing Trump’s relationship with Shulkin, Shah said: “I haven’t asked the president about it today so I don’t want to comment on it too specifically.”

Shulkin’s fate has remained in doubt following a blistering report by VA’s internal watchdog in February that found he had improperly accepted Wimbledon tennis tickets and his staff had doctored emails to justify his wife traveling to Europe with him at taxpayer expense. Earlier this month, two people familiar with the White House discussions told the AP that Trump increasingly viewed Shulkin as a distraction as the White House floated the names of possible candidates to replace him, including conservative “Fox & Friends” contributor Pete Hegseth.

A separate VA watchdog investigation, due out in the coming weeks, is also looking into a complaint that Shulkin asked his security detail to accompany him to a Home Depot store and cart furniture items, according to two people familiar with the allegation who requested anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

Last week, as replacement rumors swirled around him, Shulkin did not appear at a major veterans’ event Friday held at the White House to preview a film. Shulkin typically is a regular presence at veterans’ events in Washington, raising some questions among the more than 100 veterans in attendance on Friday about his job status.

Joe Chenelly, national executive director of AMVETS, said he worries that a lack of clarity from the White House on Shulkin’s future was hurting veterans’ care. Several major veterans’ organizations were largely standing behind Shulkin as the best guardian of VA amid a planned overhaul of the Veterans Choice program, a Trump campaign priority aimed at expanding private care outside the VA system.

“Saying there are no changes ‘at this point’ each time does not provide the stabilizing moment the Trump administration needs to keep its veterans issues agenda strong,” Chenelly said.

The White House has been actively vetting roughly half a dozen candidates who could replace Shulkin amid his ongoing ethics troubles, according to one person familiar with the White House discussions.

The potential replacements include Hegseth, a former military officer and former CEO of the conservative Concerned Veterans for America; former Rep. Jeff Miller, who had been chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee; retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg; Michael Kussman, a former VA undersecretary of health; Toby Cosgrove, a former president and CEO of the Cleveland Clinic; and Leo Mackay Jr., a former VA deputy secretary who is now senior vice president at Lockheed Martin Corp.

In the event of Shulkin’s departure, deputy VA secretary Tom Bowman would serve as acting head of the VA until a nominee is confirmed by the Senate. Bowman has also come under criticism at the White House for being too moderate to push Trump’s agenda of fixing veterans’ care.

The department provides medical care and other benefits to 9 million military veterans in more than 1,700 health facilities around the U.S.

Adel News: American Legion National Commander discusses “Family First” in Van Meter

By Clint Cole – Editor

Posted Mar 26, 2018 at 9:41 AMUpdated Mar 26, 2018 at 10:29 AM

With a special guest on the way, the American Legion decided it was time to throw together a fish and shrimp fry at the Veterans Reception Center in Van Meter on Saturday, March 24. The special guest was American Legion National Commander, Denise Rohan, who is the first ever female National Commander.

Each year, the National Commander visits all 50 states as well as several foreign countries to meet with Legionnaires and Veterans. Her stop in Van Meter was a part of her trip to Iowa, which also included stops in Durant, Dyersville and Elkader, which is where she grew up.

“My favorite part is I get to visit with Legionnaires, find out what’s on their mind, thank them for the work that they’re doing across the country, because it’s amazing stuff,” Rohan said.

She has also gotten to meet with the director of the Veterans Affairs Hospital and some of the adjutant generals, to find out what their concerns are for lobbying purposes.

“So we listen to them and we take in information from all over the United States and go back to our legislators and say ‘hey, these are some of the concerns that are going on,’” Rohan added.

About an hour into the event, Rohan stepped up to the podium and gave a speech surrounding her theme of “Family First.”

During her speech, she raved about the Veterans Reception Center.

“The fact that you give families a place to come and be together after being up at the cemetery, it’s an amazing gift that you give to this community, the veterans and the families of those veterans,” Rohan said. “So I thank you for building this fantastic building and giving the community of the whole… State of Iowa… that ability to come here and get that relief and that family feeling that they get.”

One of the things Rohan said that one part of the American Legion’s job is to take care of the families of Veterans and American Servicemen and Women when they are overseas.

“When we go to a deployment ceremony and we say ‘what can we do to make sure you have one less worry on the battlefield, our heroes’ answer is always the same,” Rohan began. “They tell us ‘please, take care of our family first.’ They’re not worried about the trials and tribulations they’re going to face over there. They’re concerned about their families here at home.”

NYT: Afghanistan War Veteran’s Deportation Is a ‘Shocking Betrayal,’ Senator Says

By CHRISTINE HAUSERMARCH 26, 2018

A United States Army veteran who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan was deported to Mexico after his application for citizenship was denied because of a felony drug conviction, his lawyer and immigration officials said.

Miguel Perez-Montes, 39, was flown on Friday from Gary, Ind., to Brownsville, Tex., where he was escorted across the border to Mexico, Nicole Alberico, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Mr. Perez-Montes, who came to the United States legally when he was 8 years old, was convicted in 2010 for delivering cocaine to an undercover officer, a felony drug charge, and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was placed into removal proceedings in 2012, while behind bars in Illinois, and had been in ICE custody since Sept. 23, 2016, Ms. Alberico said.

Mr. Perez-Montes’s case rose to prominence after Senator Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois and an Iraq war veteran, appealed to the Department of Homeland Security on Friday to stay his deportation and review his case.

“This is a deplorable way to treat a veteran who risked his life in combat for our nation,” she wrote in a letter to the secretary of homeland security, Kirstjen Nielsen.

Mr. Perez-Montes enlisted in the Army in 2001, before the Sept. 11 terror attacks. As a paratrooper and private first class in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003, he began suffering from “severe” symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, Senator Duckworth said. He was discharged in 2004.

Seven years later, in 2011, the Department of Veterans Affairs diagnosed him with PTSD related to his service, the senator said. “Without proper V.A. care, he self-medicated with drugs and alcohol to cope with his PTSD, which eventually resulted in his drug conviction,” she added, calling his deportation a “shocking betrayal.”

Asked about Senator Duckworth’s letter, the Department of Homeland Security said Monday that its Citizenship and Immigration Services division had denied Mr. Perez-Montes’s request for naturalization on March 15 because of the felony conviction.

“After his two tours of duty with the special forces, he came back a broken man due to the horrors he witnessed in Afghanistan and the physical brain injury he suffered while there,” said Christopher Bergin, Mr. Perez-Montes’s lawyer.

He said Mr. Perez-Montes’s role was to repair vehicles in Kandahar, and that his brain injury occurred after a grenade went off near his vehicle.

Mr. Perez-Montes’s family was not alerted before he was deported, Mr. Bergin said.

“His family was never able to hand him some money and some clothes before they deported him in his prison clothes,” Mr. Bergin said. “He had nothing else.”

Mr. Perez-Montes lived in Mexico until he was 8, when he came to the United States on a petition through a family member. He was raised in Chicago and has been a permanent legal resident since age 11, according to a statement on Senator Duckworth’s website. He was never in the country illegally, Mr. Bergin said.

Mr. Bergin said that Mr. Perez-Montes, who has two children who are citizens, was afraid that if he returned to Mexico he would become a target of cartels that would try to recruit him because of his military experience, or kill him if he refused. Mr. Bergin said last week that he planned to appeal the denial of citizenship “as far up the court ladder as we must climb.”

WaPo: ‘Suspicious packages’ received at military installations in Washington area

This story has been updated.

The Defense Department said Monday evening that suspicious packages had been received at military installations in the Washington region, and were being investigated.

In a statement, the department said “we are tracking the delivery of suspicious packages to multiple military installations in the National Capital Region.”

In the statement, Army Lt. Col. Michelle L. Baldanza said “this incident is currently under investigation.”

She said the Pentagon was referring all queries to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In a statement, the FBI’s Washington field office said the bureau responded to multiple government facilities Monday “for the reports of suspicious packages.” The bureau said each package was collected for further analysis. The precise number of packages involved could not be learned. According to media accounts, the packages may have been received at as many as six sites.

The sites included Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in the District and at Fort Belvoir, in Virginia, according to the accounts.

In addition, an NBC news report indicated that “similar” packages were located at mail processing facilities for both the CIA and the White House.

No injuries were reported, and information about the contents of the packages was not immediately available.

It was not clear what led authorities to deem the packages suspicious. Most or all of the installations involved have means to detect possibly hazardous materials within packages.

According to authorities, at least one of the packages did contain black powder. Black powder is an ingredient of some explosive devices.

In a statement, a military spokesman said a suspicious package was received at the National Defense University at 8:30 a.m. Monday on the grounds of Fort McNair.

Mike Howard, a spokesman for Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall said the building was evacuated immediately and the area was cordoned off.

Fort McNair is in Southwest Washington, west of Nationals Park.

Shortly after noon, according to Howard, an Army explosive ordnance disposal unit from Fort Belvoir “confirmed the package tested positive for black powder and residue.

He said an x-ray indicated the presence of what was suspected to be a GPS device and a fuse.

Howard said the package was “rendered safe,” and no injuries were reported.

He said the premises were later cleared for reentry.

VOA: Islamic State Regrouping in Iraqi, Kurdish Disputed Territories

March 26, 2018 8:40 PM

· Rikar Hussein

WASHINGTON —

Taking advantage of the rivalry between the central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government, Islamic State is regrouping and increasing deadly attacks in disputed territories across northern Iraq, Kurdish and Iraqi officials warned.

The Iraqi government declared a final victory over IS last December after Iraqi forces drove its last remnants from the country.

IS militants have since reverted to guerrilla warfare tactics, particularly in Kirkuk, northern Saladin and eastern Diyala, where both the Iraqi central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government claim control.

Ali al-Husaini, the spokesman of the Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in northern Iraq, accused IS of attempting to turn the territories into a hotbed by fueling tensions between Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen.

Rich with abundant natural resources, the disputed territories have been the core of decades-long conflict between the Iraqi government and the Kurds.

Displacing Kurds

The Kurds say the former Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein changed the demographics of the area by displacing Kurds and Assyrians and settling Arab tribes. Article 140 of the current Iraqi constitution requires that measures have to be taken to reverse the changes before people of the areas hold a referendum to decide their fate.

The referendum was supposed to take place on November 2007 but has been repeatedly delayed, and the area remains contested.

“IS terrorists want to create chaos by resorting to attacks in the form of gang militancy,” al-Husaini told VOA. “They want to create divisions among the components of this area and prove they still have power in Iraq.”

He said IS fighters have increased their hit-and-run attacks in towns and villages to obstruct the upcoming Iraqi parliamentary elections scheduled for May.

In recent weeks, Iraqi security forces have blamed suspected IS insurgents for several deadly attacks carried out in the disputed areas.

Last week, IS propaganda Amaq News Agency said its militants in Kirkuk have killed and injured 103 Iraqi forces and destroyed several armored vehicles since Feb. 19.

On Saturday, the Iraqi federal police announced eight of its members were killed after being abducted on the Kirkuk road to Baghdad. IS social media accounts shared photos of what they claimed to be federal police personnel lined up before being shot by masked militants.

That attack follows another deadly assault last month when IS militants killed 27 members on the Popular Mobilization Forces during an ambush in Hawija, south of Kirkuk.

Isolated cells

Azad Hamid Shafi, head of the Mandali town council in eastern Diyala province, told VOA that most IS attacks are conducted by isolated cells who disguise themselves in Iraqi army uniforms and set up fake checkpoints.

Shafi said IS also uses those checkpoints to make money by kidnapping people and asking for large sums of ransom.

“Those fighters have created terror among people and limited movement in isolated towns and villages, especially at night,” he said.

He added that IS fighters earlier this month killed five Iraqi troops and took all their belongings after ambushing them in a bogus checkpoint south of Mandali.

In a separate incident, a spokesman of Khurmatu municipality in Saladin province, Muhammad Fayaq, told VOA that IS last week killed 21 members of two families, including their children, after stopping them at a fake checkpoint on Daquq-Tuz Khurmatu Road.

Kurdish officials said the recent increase of IS activity in the disputed territories is due to the security gap created by the withdrawal in October of 2017 of Kurdish fighters, known as Peshmerga forces.

“Kurdistan’s Peshmerga was spread out across 30 kilometers of Kirkuk-Baghdad Road. This road now remains mostly unprotected, because Iraqi government forces only have a few checkpoints on the main highway,” Edris Adil, head of the Kurdish Patriotic Union Party in Daquq, told VOA.

“IS fighters are freely moving across villages and plains,” he said.

The Peshmerga took control of most of these territories in June 2014, when the Iraqi forces left their bases following a large-scale push by the IS.

The Kurdish leaders said they were not willing to withdraw after the IS defeat because “Article 140 has been implemented.”

Iraqi government forces and allied PMF regained control in mid-October 2017, following the Kurdish Regional Government’s controversial independence referendum and the inclusion of those territories in the vote.

Washington Examiner: White House: Trump ‘prepared to potentially withdraw’ from Iran deal

by Melissa Quinn

| March 26, 2018 02:55 PM

President Trump is “prepared to potentially withdraw” from the Iran nuclear deal if changes to the agreement aren’t made, White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah said Monday.

“[Trump] thinks it’s one of the worst agreements the United States has ever made internationally. He is insistent on changes both at the congressional level working with Congress and also with our European partners,” Shah told reporters during the White House press briefing. “If changes aren’t made, the president is prepared to potentially withdraw from the agreement.”

The president has promised to leave the Iran deal, negotiated by then-President Barack Obama’s administration in 2015, by mid-May. The U.S. is now working with Britain, France, and Germany to address Trump’s issues with the accord.

Trump’s desires to leave the nuclear deal will likely be bolstered by his incoming national security adviser, John Bolton, who will replace outgoing national security adviser H.R. McMaster in April.

McMaster and outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were proponents of remaining in the deal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the foreign ministers of France and Germany he predicts “with high probability” Trump will pull out of the Iran nuclear deal in May, according to Israel’s Channel 10 News.

Shah, however, would not confirm whether Trump will kill the deal.

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