14 February, 2019 07:16

Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Thursday, February 14, 2019, which is Valentine’s Day, International Book Giving Day, National Ferris Wheel Day, National Organ Donor Day, and Read to Your Child Day.

Today in History:

  • On February 14, 2018, an expelled student entered Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and opened fire, killing 17 people and wounding 17 others, in what became the deadliest shooting at a high school in United States history.
  • 1929: In Chicago, gunmen in the suspected employment of organized-crime boss Al Capone murder seven members of the George “Bugs” Moran North Siders gang in a garage on North Clark Street. The so-called St. Valentine’s Day Massacre stirred a media storm centered on Capone and his illegal Prohibition-era activities and motivated federal authorities to redouble their efforts to find evidence incriminating enough to take him off the streets.
  • Sir Alexander Fleming was a young bacteriologist when an accidental discovery led to one of the great developments of modern medicine on this day in 1929. Having left a plate of staphylococcus bacteria uncovered, Fleming noticed that a mold that had fallen on the culture had killed many of the bacteria. He identified the mold as penicillium notatum, similar to the kind found on bread. On February 14, 1929, Fleming introduced his mold by-product called penicillin to cure bacterial infections.


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    CNN: Coast Guard families were pushed to their breaking points in the shutdown. They don’t expect it to be the last
    Analysis by Brianna Keilar, CNN Anchor |Updated 3:07 PM ET, Wed February 13, 2019
    Washington (CNN) — "I have stood watch when the Coast Guard didn’t have the budget to buy toilet paper," Amanda Morales, a Coast Guard veteran, tells me. "We had to bring our own from home."
    Doing more with less is something Coasties, as they call themselves, simultaneously celebrate and bemoan.
    Their motto is "Semper Paratus," Latin for "Always Ready," though they joke that their motto is actually "Semper Gumby" — "Always Flexible."
    But when the longest government shutdown in history left the Coast Guard as the sole military branch without a paycheck last month, it pushed many families to their breaking points.
    Even as President Donald Trump considers signing a bipartisan border security proposal that would keep the Coast Guard running after Friday, the community fully expects they’ll be staring down another funding lapse in the future.
    After all, this latest shutdown drama was the fourth threat to the Coast Guard’s livelihood since the beginning of 2018.
    ‘The redheaded stepchild’
    "We are a branch of the military. You would be surprised how many people don’t know that," says Amanda Gibbs, whose husband has served for four years as an information technology specialist. The couple has five children.
    The Coast Guard evokes images of search and rescue operations, maybe during Hurricane Katrina, or guys jumping out of helicopters wearing snorkels and fins — and that’s accurate, but only part of the picture.
    The Coast Guard has a myriad of other roles: seizing drugs from smugglers, intercepting pirates, inspecting ships in ports, stopping illegal fishing in domestic and international waters and augmenting the US Navy during wartime, as well as all of the support staff it takes to pull off these wide ranging missions. And some of those rescue swimmers dangling from helicopters are now women.
    Guardsmen can be at sea, or "under way," for months at a time, often with very limited communication with their families. Many of the cutters in the fleet are old and have limited telephone capabilities.
    Coast Guardsmen (as they’re called whether they’re women or men) are deployed all over the world and have fought and died in every war since 1790, when Alexander Hamilton created this seafaring force.
    The work is risky and their families worry they might not come home.
    Stacey Benson has been a Coast Guard spouse for 13 years, since her husband left the Army. Her husband, a chief petty officer, is a maritime law enforcement officer stationed in Astoria, Oregon.
    "When he deploys, his main job is to board vessels. He’s looking for drugs. He’s the first person on the boat (most) of the time. People driving the vessels may have guns or knives," she says. "You don’t know if they’re going to come home."
    "When a tanker went down during a hurricane, my husband’s ship was right there. I was sick with worry because they went into danger themselves to try to save others," says Jessica Manfre, who lives in Cape May, New Jersey. Her husband is a senior chief petty officer and has been in the Coast Guard for 18 years.
    "There’s times I would pick him up from a long deployment and we’d be met with a Drug Enforcement Agency team at the pier, handcuffed drug dealers being escorted off as they caught them trying to bring in cocaine into our country."
    The Coast Guard community, like other branches, is incredibly proud of its service.
    "I’ve taken part in saving almost 1,500 lives," says Amanda Morales, who was first stationed on remote Kodiak Island in Alaska, serving as an operations specialist, answering distress calls from civilians on the water and monitoring rescue crews. "There aren’t that many jobs out there that can give you that job satisfaction."
    "They selflessly risk their lives to make sure others have a chance at survival," says Mary Nelson, a spouse living in Jacksonville, Florida. Her eldest son is also in the Coast Guard. "They ensure the safety of complete strangers on a daily basis. What wife or mother wouldn’t be proud knowing their husband or son is a true hero, day to day?"
    With only 42,000 active duty members, the Coast Guard is not even a fourth the size of the next smallest branch, the Marines.
    Their budget is miniscule compared to the Army or Navy. And because the Coast Guard performs some domestic law enforcement functions, including boarding vessels in the US to inspect for and seize illicit drugs, it is funded by the Department of Homeland Security. Funding for DHS has been hung up repeatedly in Congress.
    The Army, Navy and Marine Corps, housed under the Department of Defense, are guaranteed pay in the event of a government shutdown. The Coast Guard is not.
    "We don’t get the recognition I feel the service deserves," Morales says. "We joke that we are the redheaded stepchild."
    Shutdown pain
    "We lost so much sleep," Nelson says, anxiously eyeing the next potential lapse in funding this Friday. "We also own a home at our previous duty station and our tenants are active duty Coast Guard as well, so the panic of needing to cover two mortgages with zero paycheck coming in was very real for us."
    As members of the military, Coast Guardsmen are prohibited from wading into politics. Spouses, almost all women, have taken up the mantle of raising awareness about the financial strife caused by the shutdown.
    Though Morales left the Coast Guard, her husband is still on active duty and the couple has a 6-month-old daughter. She fires off stories of what families did to get by. She knows one career service member with a college education who took a second job delivering pizzas.
    Morale among service members, according to these spouses, plummeted as they worried about feeding their families — even as the Coast Guard, unpaid, broke ice to allow commerce on the Great Lakes, conducted rescues, seized millions of dollars in drugs, intercepted illegal migrants and responded to chemical spills.
    "If you can imagine, we have five children and my husband is our sole provider," says Gibbs, which is common in the Coast Guard as one parent shoulders responsibility for the children while the other is deployed or at sea. Coast Guard spouses, like those in other branches, often struggle to find gainful employment while moving every few years.
    "My husband felt like he wasn’t providing for us. His morale was rock bottom."
    Gibbs’ husband has only been in the Coast Guard for four years, joining relatively late at the age of 31. His monthly income is $2,000, she shares, noting that the pay scale for service members is public, and that it’s important Americans realize that some members of the armed forces are living below the poverty line.
    "They still had to risk their lives for the rest of the nation on a daily basis and not even know how they’d be putting food in the mouths of their own family at the end of that same day," said Mary Nelson.
    Stacey Benson organized a food bank in Astoria, serving, by her careful count, a total of 2,347 people in the two weekends it was open. That included furloughed federal workers as well as active duty and retired Coast Guard members.
    Jessica Manfre opened a food bank to serve local Coast Guard families in New Jersey, Delaware and the Philadelphia area.
    Amanda Morales crowdfunded $25,000 for the relief organization that serves the Coast Guard community.
    These were the moments that brought these families a much-needed morale boost even as they watched what was happening in Washington with a mix of bewilderment and desperation. And now they’re afraid they will be affected by another shutdown.
    "I want members in Washington to know that we are real people," says Gibbs. "That we have lives. That we don’t get paid hardly anything to do what we do and to take that away from us for their own agenda is devastating."
    Proposed changes
    On Wednesday, Coast Guard spouse Michael Little, is leading an effort to pressure Congress, visiting members’ offices to deliver packages of letters from every major military and veteran service organization.
    "I want to tell the government why we need to make sure the Coast Guard is paid in shutdowns going forward," Little says.
    His wife is an active-duty hospital corpsman and he is a Navy veteran, now running a consulting firm and a nonprofit called the Sea Service Family Foundation.
    Recently, a bill in the Senate and a bill in the House would have continued appropriations to the Coast Guard for pay and allowances for service members, civilian employees and contractors, retired pay, and the payment of a death gratuity, funeral travel and basic allowance for housing of members of the Coast Guard dying on active duty.
    In the House, the proposal hasn’t made it out of a Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee.
    In the Senate, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) blocked the bill, arguing it left federal workers out in the cold.
    "We could do a whole lot more good by funding and opening up the government for everyone," Schumer argued.

    Military Times: Black mold, rodents, lead paint in privatized housing: No rent until it’s fixed, military spouses say
    By: Karen Jowers | 6 hours ago
    Military spouses suggested to lawmakers one immediate way, for starters, to fix problems like mold, lead paint, termites, mice and other issues in privatized military housing: allow families to withhold rent payments until the issues are resolved.
    Spouses testified before senators Wednesday, then watched as senators grilled company officials, and DoD and service officials, about the problems. All the officials admitted there have been breakdowns in the system, and assured senators they are making a commitment to address the systemic problems.
    Robert McMahon, assistant secretary of defense for sustainment, told the senators that what he heard from the spouses “reinforced what we already know, that we collectively have to do significantly better."
    McMahon said that working with DoD attorneys to look at possibly withholding rent payments to the companies “would be prudent, to ensure [privatization] partners respond rapidly.” The privatized housing rent payments are generally the service member’s Basic Allowance for Housing, paid by allotment.
    John Henderson, a retired colonel who is assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and energy, said he agreed that residents should have the ability to choose whether or not to pay their rent if they feel the landlord isn’t giving them a safe place to live.
    “That makes the landlord responsive financially to the resident,” he said. “I think there should be rebates for untimely repairs, for power outages” and other issues, he said, adding that some privatized companies already do that.
    Wednesday’s hearing is the beginning of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s efforts to address the problems.
    “Our service members and their families deserve high-quality, affordable housing. One mistake is too many,” said committee chair Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma. He noted that the privatization initiative started in the 1990s as an effort to address housing managed by the government that was in disrepair.
    “We need necessary reforms to ensure accountability and excellence in privatized housing,” Inhofe said.
    The spouses testified about their difficulties in getting the companies to take their complaints seriously — even as black mold was growing out of walls, floors and ceilings, and entire families were getting sick. There was also difficulty determining who, if anyone, in the military establishment was holding the companies accountable. The families are left with no recourse.
    “I first became aware of the crisis-level military housing issues at Keesler Air Force Base where termites fell out of light fixtures into our beds,” said Marine wife Crystal Cornwall. She said the housing office at Keesler in Mississippi told her that termites in her home are to be expected because of the region.
    “At Camp Pendleton, we lived with pervasive mold issues and unjustifiable move-out charges,” she said, and were charged $700 for carpet replacement.
    “The housing representative used a black light and moisture stick to find stains unseen by the naked eye. When I disputed the validity of these charges, I found no path to resolution with the housing company, Camp Pendleton, or with my husband’s former command.”
    Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., said she was “infuriated” by what the spouses described.
    "This is disgusting,” said the retired Air Force colonel. "Instead of being partners with our troops to make sure our way of life is kept safe and free, they left you hanging. They put you in harm’s way. This is so wrong.”
    She said the chain of command needs to be involved, be responsible “and has to be able to poke fingers in the chests of these companies and say, ‘Fix it now, or you’re done.’”
    Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., questioned the companies, and DoD and service officials about the contracts and incentives, and how the military makes sure the companies are meeting their obligations. It’s primarily through the surveys, although the Army and Air Force have initiated investigations into some aspects of the housing issues.
    “Those surveys did not alert you to the mice, the mold, the lead poisoning,” she said.
    “These contracts are bad enough as they are, virtually guaranteed profit, in return for which they’re supposed to provide decent housing. The one tool you’ve got is to say there’s got to be some performance evaluation. To give away 95 percent of the performance based money at the same time that we’re hearing from the people who live in this housing, that it’s rat infested, it’s dirty, that things leak… it’s just not right not using the tools Congress gave to you on behalf of our service members.”
    Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., told the company officials that the testimony suggested the system is broken, and that it is evident to the families, but not to the companies.
    For their part, the companies said they are working on various initiatives such as setting up people and mechanisms to better interact with residents. For example, Balfour Beatty Communities has created new resident engagement specialist positions, to make sure residents’ concerns are being heard, said Christopher Williams, the company’s president. Recently they hired a nationally known environmental firm to review their mold and moisture inspection policies, and are taking steps to implement those recommendations.
    “Military families understand that quality housing does not mean entitlement to elegant mansions,” said Marine wife Crystal Cornwall. “We simply ask for homes free of mold, pests, lead, and other hazards. …. As parents, we want safe places for our children to sleep at night.”

    Military Times: Disabled vets scammed in $2 million bribery scheme
    By: Joshua Axelrod | 14 hours ago
    A Veterans Affairs Department official steered disabled veterans to questionable schools in exchange for bribes from school officials, according to the Justice Department.
    James King, the VA official in question, on Tuesday pleaded guilty to accepting about $160,000 in bribes. In return, law enforcement officials say, he directed participants in VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program to Atius Technology Institute and Eelon Training Academy, generating more than $2 million in VA revenue for the schools.
    Both schools were the subject of repeated complaints from veterans, who said they provided a poor-quality education, and both misled the VA about their costs and program details.
    Yet King pushed disabled vets in the program to attend the schools, despite these red flags and regardless of the vets’ individual interests or educational needs.
    VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program provides education and career help to disabled veterans, including counselors to advise them and help paying for the education and training they need to land a good job in their chosen field.
    King’s co-conspirators in the bribery ring were Albert Poawui, Atius’ owner; Sombo Kanneh, one of Poawui’s employees at Atius; and Michelle Stevens, who owned Eelon. Atius claimed to specialize in information-technology courses, while Eelon claimed to provide digital-media training.
    Poawui and Kanneh admitted in their pleas that they had struck a deal with King in which Poawui would give King 7 percent of all payments from the VA to Atius. King continued to help place veterans in Atius programs despite “repeated complaints about the poor quality of education” there, according to the DoJ news release.
    As part of this arrangement, Poawui and Stevens made numerous false claims to the VA about what was really going on at Atius and Eelon.
    Powaui lied to the VA about the number of hours per week veterans were able to attend Atius classes, saying they were enrolled in up to 32 hours a week of class time, even though Atius only offered a maximum of six weekly class hours.
    Stevens made a fake attendance sheet for eight students showing they were in Eelon classes that they did not attend on specific days, even including dates on which no classes were held.
    The VA was clearly suspicious of both schools, as it audited Atius and had “an ongoing investigation into Eelon following complaints by students about the poor quality of education,” according to the DoJ release.
    The VA’s Office of the Inspector General partnered with the FBI’s Washington Field Office for the investigation.
    The four participants in this scheme cost the VA $2,217,259.44 between August 2015 and December 2017, the DoJ reported. Poawui paid King more than $155,000 in that time period, with Stevens chipping in another $3,000.
    King pleaded guilty to charges of bribery, wire fraud and falsification of documents. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Friday, Feb. 15.
    Poawui was sentenced to 70 months in prison with three years of supervised release and was also ordered to pay the VA back $1.5 million. Kanneh was sentenced to 20 months in prison with three years of supervised release and was ordered to forfeit the $1.5 million she helped embezzle, plus an extra $113,227.30 in restitution.
    Stevens was sentenced to 30 months in prison with three years of supervised release and ordered to forfeit $83,000 and pay the VA $83,000.
    Nicole Navas, a DoJ spokeswoman, said her department does “not have any additional statements beyond our pleadings and previous press announcements on this case.”

    Air Force Times: Former Air Force tech sergeant who defected to Iran charged with spying
    By: Kent Miller | 17 hours ago
    A former Air Force counterintelligence specialist, a technical sergeant, who defected to Iran about five years after leaving the Air Force, has been charged with revealing classified information as well as research about her former colleagues to representatives of the Tehran government, prosecutors said Wednesday.
    A Justice Department indictment charges former Air Force Tech. Sgt. Monica Elfriede Witt, who defected in 2013 and is currently at-large, along with four Iranian hackers who, prosecutors say, used the information she provided to target former colleagues in the U.S. intelligence community.
    The indictment says the four Iranians were acting on behalf of the government-linked Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. All four remain at large.
    Witt, who was born in El Paso, Texas, joined the Air Force on Dec, 17, 1997, and served as an airborne crypto linguist, according to information provided by the Air Force. She later changed jobs and became a special agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Her last assignment before separating as an E-6 on June 12, 2008, was with the 2nd Field Investigations Squadron, Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, the Air Force said.
    Her awards and decorations include the Air Medal, three Air Force Commendation medals and three Aerial Achievement medals, according to the Air Force.
    "It is a sad day for America when one of its citizens betrays our country," said Assistant Attorney General John Demers, the head of the Justice Department’s national security division.
    Jay Tabb, the FBI’s top national security official, said the FBI had warned Witt before her defection that she was a vulnerable target for recruitment by Iranian intelligence but that Witt had ignored those warnings.

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Consolidated Post Reports 2019

Post and District Adjutants,

Attached is the fillable version of the Consolidated Post Report (CPR) which is also available for download at https://www.legion.org/publications/161252/consolidated-post-report.

Please let me know if you have any questions. Some Posts have new Adjutants who may need a hand.

Remember! Our Four Pillars, everything we do must be some aspect of our support of Veterans, National Defense, Americanism or Children and Youth.



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13 February, 2019 09:24

Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Wednesday, February 13, 2019, which is Kiss Day, Employee Legal Awareness Day, Get a Different Name Day and National Cheddar Day.

Today in History:

· 1861: The earliest military action to be revered with a Medal of Honor award is performed by Colonel Bernard J.D. Irwin, an assistant army surgeon serving in the first major U.S.-Apache conflict. Near Apache Pass, in southeastern Arizona, Irwin, an Irish-born doctor, volunteered to go to the rescue of Second Lieutenant George N. Bascom, who was trapped with 60 men of the U.S. Seventh Infantry by the Chiricahua Apaches. Irwin and 14 men, initially without horses, began the 100-mile trek to Bascom’s forces riding on mules. After fighting and capturing Apaches along the way and recovering stolen horses and cattle, they reached Bascom’s forces on February 14 and proved instrumental in breaking the siege. Although Irwin’s bravery in this conflict was the earliest Medal of Honor action, the award itself was not created until 1862, and it was not until January 21, 1894, that Irwin received the nation’s highest military honor.

· On the evening of February 13, 1945, the most controversial episode in the Allied air war against Germany begins as hundreds of British bombers loaded with incendiaries and high-explosive bombs descend on Dresden, a historic city located in eastern Germany. Dresden was neither a war production city nor a major industrial center, and before the massive air raid of February 1945 it had not suffered a major Allied attack. By February 15, the city was a smoldering ruin and an unknown number of civilians–somewhere between 35,000 and 135,000–were dead.

· 1965: President Lyndon B. Johnson decides to undertake the sustained bombing of North Vietnam that he and his advisers have been contemplating for a year. Called Operation Rolling Thunder, the bombing campaign was designed to interdict North Vietnamese transportation routes in the southern part of North Vietnam and slow infiltration of personnel and supplies into South Vietnam. The first Rolling Thunder mission took place on March 2, 1965, when 100 U.S. Air Force and Republic of Vietnam Air Force (VNAF) planes struck the Xom Bang ammunition dump 100 miles southeast of Hanoi.

· On this day in 1633, Italian philosopher, astronomer and mathematician Galileo Galilei arrives in Rome to face charges of heresy for advocating Copernican theory, which holds that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Galileo officially faced the Roman Inquisition in April of that same year and agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence. Put under house arrest indefinitely by Pope Urban VIII, Galileo spent the rest of his days at his villa in Arcetri, near Florence, before dying on January 8, 1642.


· Military Times: Should deported veterans be allowed to come back to America?

· Stars & Stripes: Inhofe: Troops won’t leave Syria, Afghanistan soon; Shanahan not permanent SecDef

· Military Times: Shanahan arrives in Baghdad amid fallout over Trump’s Iran comments

· Stars & Stripes: Gen. Abrams: North Korea has not changed its military posture as Trump-Kim meeting nears

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Military Times: Should deported veterans be allowed to come back to America?

By: Leo Shane III | 16 hours ago

WASHINGTON — A pair of House lawmakers has reintroduced legislation that would ease the path to citizenship for immigrants who served in the Armed Forces but were later deported because of criminal activity.

The “Repatriate Our Patriots Act” would also block federal officials from forcing those veteran immigrants out of the country, ensuring that they receive legal permanent residency after serving their criminal sentences.

“If you are willing to put your life on the line to defend this great nation and its values, you should be able to become a U.S. citizen,” said Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, one of the bill’s sponsors. “It is inexcusable that service members who risked it all to protect us would be put through the deportation process.”

Young and Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, introduced the measure last session, but it made little progress toward passage. With Democrats now in control of the House, they’re more hopeful about possibility of momentum in that chamber, but the measure still faces long odds in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The move comes amid a polarizing national debate over immigration that has already prompted a month-long partial government shutdown and accusations from the White House that critics are endangering national security by not doing enough to limit migrants from entering the United States.

But the two lawmakers behind the bill argue that immigrants who served honorably in the military — but committed crimes after leaving the ranks — deserve a chance to stay in this country after serving their time in prison.

They note that combat injuries like post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury can lead to substance abuse, and even minor drug offenses can result in deportation for an immigrant going through the naturalization process.

The proposal would exclude veterans convicted of violent crimes such as murder, rape, child abuse and terrorism. And it would not apply to immigrants who face serious legal trouble while still serving in the military.

For veteran immigrants still going through the process of becoming American citizens, the legislation would require the Attorney General to recognize them as legal permanent residents and block any potential deportation order.

For veterans already deported, it would require the Department of Homeland Security to create a new program allowing them to return to the United States as lawfully admitted permanent residents, with a chance at full citizenship.

In the last 18 years, U.S. immigration services have helped nearly 130,000 immigrants who joined the military gain American citizenship, thanks to expedited rules adopted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

But veterans who served before that time or who failed to complete paperwork while in the military don’t enjoy the same legal protections as them. The American Civil Liberties Union estimates more than 200 U.S. military veterans have been deported in recent years, with the number steadily increasing amid the current administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration.

The legislation would require the Department of Homeland Security to keep comprehensive records of veterans who are deported. It also guarantees veterans the military and veterans benefits for which they are eligible. Currently, those payouts and health care coverage are stopped when a veteran is deported.

Stars & Stripes: Inhofe: Troops won’t leave Syria, Afghanistan soon; Shanahan not permanent SecDef

By CLAUDIA GRISALES | STARS AND STRIPES | Published: February 12, 2019

WASHINGTON — Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday that he doesn’t foresee troops leaving Syria or Afghanistan until conditions on the ground are right.

Inhofe also said he’s talked with President Donald Trump on his objections on any time-based withdrawals and anyone who claims to have a date of withdrawal doesn’t know what they are talking about.

“It should have been conditions on the ground from the beginning for any place where we have troops,” Inhofe said during a wide-ranging discussion with reporters on Capitol Hill.

Inhofe also told reporters that acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan won’t get the post permanently, he’s fighting the use of military construction funds for the U.S.-Mexico border wall and continues to push for a $750 billion defense budget in the next fiscal year.

On Syria, the senator said, “I think what is going to happen is that we’ll leave ample troops in there.”

But Inhofe later told reporters that it’s possible troops could be withdrawn in the coming year.

The comments add to the back-and-forth saga of when troops might leave Syria and Afghanistan after Trump raised the specter of quick troop withdrawals in both countries in recent months.

On Dec. 19, Trump stunned Capitol Hill and the Pentagon with a decision to withdraw the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops fighting the Islamic State in Syria within 30 days. The next day, reports suggested Trump was also planning to drawdown 7,000 troops in Afghanistan.

Since that time, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned and was replaced by Shanahan, his then-deputy. The Trump administration have also backed off plans for immediate troop withdrawals or drawdowns in either country.

Last week, the Senate defied Trump’s plan to withdraw troops in Syria and Afghanistan, voting 70 to 26 to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the countries through an amendment from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attached to a larger legislative package.

Inhofe said Tuesday that when he wants to get Trump’s attention on what he thinks is a wrong move, the senator will signal that it is something former President Barack Obama would have done.

“I’m a fan of the president’s… but I’ve debated this with him before … before we had that (vote), I was saying everything has got to be [based on] conditions on the ground,” he said. “I just don’t think anyone is going to be able to say today how many troops will be coming out or when they are going to be coming out.”

Inhofe also said he doesn’t foresee Shanahan getting nominated permanently to the post or reaching a confirmation hearing but he also doesn’t want to set a deadline for selecting a new defense secretary. One issue, Inhofe said, is Shanahan’s strong ties to Boeing, where he worked for 30 years.

“Every time someone has any kind of background whether it’s Boeing or regardless of what company it is … there’s going to be kind of a built-in suspicion and I would say this will become very partisan,” he said.

The senator also said Shanahan isn’t as humble as his predecessor. And while Inhofe wouldn’t divulge potential defense secretary candidates, he did say he hopes the next Pentagon leader has some of the traits of Mattis.

“[Mattis] had a very rare talent and it’s called humility, and I’d like that to have that rub off on somebody else,” said Inhofe, who described Mattis as a close friend.

Inhofe said he talked with Trump about the next defense secretary as the president was returning from his first trip to Iraq.

Inhofe also expressed objections to Trump declaring a national emergency to pull funds from military construction, though the senator was more open to the idea of pulling money from the Army Corps of Engineers.

“If it becomes necessary, I think that he might do the emergency,” Inhofe said. “What I have voiced is if it has to be that way, leave (military construction funds) alone.”

Since December, Trump has threatened a national emergency to use the military’s available construction funds and personnel to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Inhofe also said he continues to push for a $750 billion defense budget. That figure has become a moving target since Trump suggested cuts last year. But since that time, White House officials have signaled they are open to increasing the budget.

Inhofe said he supports that base budget and a larger overseas contingency operations fund.

“In my opinion, you need to be at 750,” Inhofe said of the overall Pentagon budget.

Military Times: Shanahan arrives in Baghdad amid fallout over Trump’s Iran comments

By: Tara Copp | 1 day ago

BAGHDAD — Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan arrived in Baghdad Tuesday with questions lingering as to whether President Donald Trump’s comments on using Iraq as a staging area to monitor Iran had hampered potential plans to relocate U.S. forces from Syria there.

It was Shanahan’s first trip to Iraq, and took place just prior to key defense meetings with NATO and then in Munich, where he will meet with allied contributors in the fight against the Islamic State.

While on the ground, Shanahan met with senior U.S. military commanders, including Operation Inherent Resolve commander Lt. Gen. Paul LaCamera and, importantly, new Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi.

Abdul-Mahdi’s connections to forces who previously fought against U.S. troops during Operation Iraqi Freedom and his government’s current ties to Iran have highlighted the sensitivities of a permanent U.S. presence in Iraq.

In a briefing with reporters after his visit, Shanahan said he focused on Iraq’s sovereignty, and on what the U.S. can contribute to continue to strengthen its military capabilities. In a nod to the political sensitivities of relocating U.S. forces from Syria into Iraq, Shanahan said the relocation issue was not brought up. He did not, however, rule out Iraq as an option as the U.S. looks to reposition those 2,000 forces from Syria.

Earlier this month, President Trump suggested that al-Asad Air Base — a sprawling complex U.S. forces used to help rebuild Iraq’s military and as a staging base to help Iraq retake territory claimed by the Islamic State — could be used to house the 2,000 forces he announced would be pulled from Syria.

Those relocated troops would be in addition to the 5,200 forces currently deployed to train Iraqi forces and to ensure ISIS does not make a comeback.

While the U.S. presence in Iraq to assist in operations against ISIS has Iraqi government support, Trump suggested that a key advantage of pulling the Syria-based U.S. troops into Iraq could be to monitor Iran, which generated immediate blowback.

Abbas Kadhim, director of the Iraqi Initiative at the Atlantic Council, said the 2005 Iraqi constitution that the U.S. helped craft actually forbids Iraq from supporting any activity that could be seen as belligerent by its neighbors, to include hosting foreign forces to counter Iran.

"That was not helpful to make a statement like that,” Kadhim said. “The presence of U.S. forces is not unanimously accepted.”

Those additional 2,000 forces could potentially be accepted if it is understood they are only there to counter ISIS in Syria, he said.

Stars & Stripes: Gen. Abrams: North Korea has not changed its military posture as Trump-Kim meeting nears

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES | Published: February 12, 2019

WASHINGTON – The top U.S. military commander in South Korea said Tuesday that North Korea has made few, if any, changes to its military posture and has provided no evidence it intends to end its nuclear program since agreeing to do so in the summer.

Tensions have eased along the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea since the summit in June between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, Army Gen. Robert Abrams, the chief of U.S. Forces Korea, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. But Kim’s regime has declined to provide proof that they had taken any irreversible steps toward denuclearization and his forces have continued to conduct “full spectrum” training exercises.

“I remain clear-eyed about the fact that despite the reduction in tensions along the [demilitarized zone] … we have observed no significant changes to size, scope, or the timing of their ongoing exercises compared to the same time period over the last four years,” said Abrams, who took command in South Korea about three months ago. “Further, North Korea’s conventional and asymmetric military capabilities along with their continued development of advanced conventional systems remain unchecked. These capabilities continue to hold the United States, [South Korea] and our regional allies at risk.”

North Korea remains the No. 1 immediate threat to American forces in the Indo-Pacific Command area of operations, said Adm. Philip Davidson, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command chief who testified alongside Abrams on Tuesday.

The observations come just weeks before Trump and Kim are set to meet face-to-face again. That summit is scheduled for Feb. 27 and 28 in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Trump has touted an optimistic view of North Korea – once proclaiming it was no longer a threat – since his first meeting with Kim. He tweeted this week that he looked “forward to seeing Chairman Kim & advancing the cause of peace!”

Abrams, Davidson and several Republican Armed Services Committee members endorsed the president’s second summit, saying they hoped to see the North Koreans commit to dismantling their nuclear programs transparently.

Several Democrat members did not express such optimism. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said the first meeting led to “a stark and stunning lack of any action [or] progress.”

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., raised concerns that Trump could make a bad trade in the talks, such as removing American troops from South Korea.

“That action would significantly undermine regional security and our ability to fulfill our treaty obligations to South Korea,” said Reed, the top Democrat on the committee.

Following his first meeting with Kim, Trump abruptly announced he would cancel large-scale military training exercises in South Korea. North Korea agreed to return to the United States some 50 boxes of remains believed to contain the bodies of missing American servicemembers from the Korean War.

Abrams downplayed the impact of curbing those high-level exercises on U.S. and South Korean troops’ combat readiness, saying servicemembers have continued to conduct training exercises together on smaller scales. They remain prepared and capable of defending South Korean territory against an invasion from the North, he said.

Abrams also said the last time that North Korea launched a ballistic missile or conducted a nuclear weapons test was before the first Trump-Kim summit.

“Today is day 440 since the last strategic provocation of the [North Koreans] … either a missile flight test or nuclear weapons test,” he said. “The reduction in tensions on the peninsula is palpable. Along the DMZ, there has been significant reduction that has enable nation-confidence building measures … decreased the chance of mistakes, miscalculation, and continue to preserve space for the main [diplomatic] effort.”

The upcoming second summit, he said, was a “positive sign of continued dialogue.”

“It certainly beats the alternative of what we were living with in 2017,” Abrams said.


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12 February, 2019 06:31

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Tuesday, February 12, 2019 which is International Darwin Day, Lincoln’s Birthday, National Lost Penny Day and Extraterrestrial Culture Day.

This Day in History:

  • On February 12, 1912, Hsian-T’ung, the last emperor of China, is forced to abdicate following Sun Yat-sen’s republican revolution. A provisional government was established in his place, ending 267 years of Manchu rule in China and 2,000 years of imperial rule. The former emperor, only six years old, was allowed to keep up his residence in Beijing’s Forbidden City, and he took the name of Henry Pu Yi.
  • On this day, German General Erwin Rommel arrives in Tripoli, Libya, with the newly formed Afrika Korps, to reinforce the beleaguered Italians’ position. In January 1941, Adolf Hitler established the Afrika Korps for the explicit purpose of helping his Italian Axis partner maintain territorial gains in North Africa. “[F]or strategic, political, and psychological reasons, Germany must assist Italy in Africa,” the Fuhrer declared. The British had been delivering devastating blows to the Italians; in three months they pushed the Italians out of Egypt while wounding or killing 20,000 Italian soldiers and taking another 130,000 prisoner.
  • On this day in 1809, Abraham Lincoln is born in Hodgenville, Kentucky. Lincoln, one of America’s most admired presidents, grew up a member of a poor family in Kentucky and Indiana. He attended school for only one year, but thereafter read on his own in a continual effort to improve his mind. As an adult, he lived in Illinois and performed a variety of jobs including stints as a postmaster, surveyor and shopkeeper, before entering politics. He served in the Illinois legislature from 1834 to 1836, and then became an attorney. In 1842, Lincoln married Mary Todd; together, the pair raised four sons.


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CNN: A close call makes clear that ISIS won’t give up its last stronghold easily

By Ben Wedeman, CNN Senior International Correspondent
Updated 6:22 AM ET, Tue February 12, 2019
Eastern Syria (CNN)The unmistakable sound of automatic machine gunfire pierced the early morning, sometime before 7 am. While it was not unusual to wake up to the cacophony of war — be it coalition bombing from airstrikes or gunfire — this was different.
For days, I’d been traveling with fighters from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who launched a last offensive to oust ISIS from its only remaining enclave in Syria over the weekend.
Since sundown on Saturday, coalition airstrikes had been pounding the last remnants of the jihadi group’s so-called "caliphate." Now we were holed up in a war-torn building just a kilometer from the town SDF fighters were working to liberate: Baghouz Al-Fawqani.
We scrambled to the rooftop for a better vantage point. There was little to see, save for explosions in the distance which appeared to be a combination of airstrikes and shelling from the US, British and French positions toward the town. As we watched, we heard rounds coming in our direction. Zing came one, then another, then another.
On this cold winter morning, ISIS were taking advantage of the mist at daybreak to launch a counterattack. We ducked behind a wall as bullets continued to fly over our heads. The morning before, coalition airstrikes had suppressed any possible assaults. But now, the gunfire appeared to be intensifying.
The soldiers around us became agitated by the onslaught. One of them got on a walkie-talkie for more information about the assault. Then a huge blast rocked somewhere nearby and gray smoke started billowing from the side of our building.
Retreating to the building’s stairwell, it occurred to us that we might be in danger of being overrun by ISIS — one of their tactics is to encircle during an attack rather than come from the front.
We weighed our options and decided it was time to move back. We pulled back about five kilometers to another house in a safer area to reassess, eat breakfast and drink tea. As we shared a meal with the soldiers, it was clear that their earlier confidence of a quick and easy battle was shaken.
Until Monday morning, the operation had seemed to be working on schedule. The battle’s first 24 hours saw little resistance from ISIS and buoyed the confidence of the SDF fighters we traveled with. Commanders had told us over tea that they might take the town by Monday or Tuesday.
But the morning’s events had brought a harsh truth home: ISIS was not going to give up easily, and its fighters certainly weren’t going to be defeated quickly.
Later in the day, we came across an assembly point where people fleeing the town are checked, given medical assistance and food and water. It’s here that men are separated from women and questioned to identify any potential ISIS members or sympathizers.
Most remarkable was the sheer number of residents escaping Baghouz Al-Fawqani. I counted 21 trucks loaded with people destined for refugee camps. A local official managing the convoy estimated that about 700 people were leaving.
SDF officials had been telling us for days that the total number of people in Baghouz Al-Fawqani was only about 1,500 residents, with 500 ISIS fighters — but clearly that number is much bigger. SDF spokesman Mustrafa Belli later told me that they had underestimated the number of civilians and that they likely numbered the thousands.
One of the fleeing civilians, an older woman, told me that the town’s residents were being used as human shields. A man who had fled told me the entire town had been shelled and little shelter remained. Another said those that remained were resorting to eating the grain for their livestock.
When I asked about ISIS, one resident described fighters from all over the globe — some appeared to be European while others looked to be Russian and Chechen, as well as others from Central Asia, he said.
As I spoke with these exhausted and disoriented townspeople, I thought back to US President Trump’s remark that he hoped to announce a victory against ISIS in Syria, in the coming days.
His statement may have galvanized SDF commanders as their last offensive began. But the reality is that this is not an operation that works on a timetable. It will take as long as necessary — maybe even weeks.
And as fighting intensifies and soldiers push forward, nobody on the ground is making predictions anymore.

Military Times: Pentagon weighs troop cuts as Shanahan makes surprise visit to Afghanistan
By:Tara Copp1 day ago
KABUL, Afghanistan — The U.S. is considering what cuts to U.S. force levels could support peace negotiations in Afghanistan while balancing risk there, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Sunday.
Shanahan made the surprise visit, his first since becoming acting defense secretary, to meet with U.S. and Afghan leaders to discuss the nascent peace talks and assess the risks tied to a potential drawdown. Shanahan was named acting secretary in December by President Donald Trump to replace former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who resigned.
Shanahan’s visit comes days after the top U.S. negotiator for peace talks with the Taliban, Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, announced that the two parties have agreed in principle to framework where the Taliban would agree to prevent any terror groups from operating under their control, and the U.S. would begin a draw down of forces.
"It always gets back to assurances," Shanahan said. "There’s risk-taking but there have to be assurances. and putting in place the mechanisms to get people the confidence to take the risk," Shanahan said.
However, the Taliban have not agreed to meet with the Afghan government, which is a necessary component of a final peace deal.
Shanahan said he would take information gathered during his time in Kabul to NATO, where he is expected at a defense ministerial later this week, and back to the White House. Trump has previously pressed for a withdrawal of forces, who have been fighting in Afghanistan since 2001.
“I think the U.S. military has strong security interests in the region. It’s presence will evolve out of those discussions,” Shanahan said. “We are going to leave it to the teams to start to look at what mix, combination makes the most sense.”
In December, multiple news outlets reported that the White House was considering withdrawing as many as 7,000 of the 14,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan; and last week the Taliban said that as part of the negotiations with Khalilzad those forces would be withdrawn by May.
Shanahan said that’s not the case.
“I have not been directed to step down our forces in Afghanistan,” Shanahan said.
Defense News: Another government shutdown looms. But why is the fully funded Pentagon concerned?
By:Joe Gould andAaron Mehta18 hours ago
WASHINGTON — With the possibility of another government shutdown coming Friday, the Pentagon is bracing for a potential delay to its planned fiscal 2020 rollout and the associated long-term fallout.
Compared to the government agencies that may once again go dark, the impact on the Department of Defense, which is fully funded thanks to a previous budget agreement, seem small. But any delay in rolling out the FY20 budget increases the chances of negotiations blowing past the end of the fiscal year and creating a situation where the DoD must operate under a continuing resolution.
Asked if he was concerned another shutdown could delay the budget, Army Secretary Mark Esper acknowledged that could be an issue.
“I think everybody who has been around Capitol Hill and Congress for a long time, as I’ve been, realizes there is a timing to this that is built into the system, if you will," Esper told reporters Feb. 8. "So you have to, of course, be a little bit concerned as things get dragged on, what that means for the next year, the fiscal year, passing it on time.”
During an earlier appearance alongside the secretaries of the Air Force and Navy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Esper and his colleagues identified timely and stable budgets as the most important thing the Congress can provide to help the military, a theme to which he returned when talking to the press.
“I can’t foot stomp that enough about how important it was to have a timely budget. We really thank Congress not just for the funding we got last year but for the timeliness,” he said. “Look, I talk to members from both sides of the Hill and both parties, and they all understand it and they share their view. They want to help as well, make sure we have a timely budget that’s sufficient.”
However, Esper insisted that any delay will not impact his service’s budget layout, saying: “The Army’s priorities are the Army’s priorities. So that won’t change that.”
Hi comments come as budget negotiations over President Donald Trump’s demand for a border wall appear to have stalled, raising the likelihood of a government shutdown at the end of the week.
Two sticking points have emerged: Democratic negotiators are reportedly saying they will not agree to more than $2 billion for border barriers — less than half the $5.7 billion Trump is seeking — and they want to cap the number of beds at immigration centers in a bid to force the Trump administration to prioritize the detention of violent criminals.
“I think the talks are stalled right now. I’m hoping we can get off the dime later today or in the morning because time is ticking away,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, a key Republican negotiator, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Of the Friday deadline, Shelby said, “I’m not confident were going to get there. I’m hoping we will get there,” warning, “We’ve got to start movement.”
Is it a done deal? No, it isn’t, and we could end up in a train wreck.
Appearing beside Shelby, a key Democratic negotiator, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said he is uncertain there will be a deal, but insisted lawmakers on his side were deal-makers and not “bomb throwers."
“Is it a done deal? No, it isn’t, and we could end up in a train wreck,” Tester said. “It’s happened before. But I don’t think anybody has an appetite for government shutdown, and I think everybody wants to make sure borders are secured.”
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaneytold Fox that Trump may take what Democrats offer and supplement it by reprogramming other funds and potentially declaring a national emergency to access still other funds.
“He would prefer legislation because it’s the right way to go and is the proper way to spend money in this country,” Mulvaney said. “But if that doesn’t happen, the president proceeds. His No. 1 priority is national security. He will then look at the National Emergencies Act as a way to do his job.”
Trump, who has largely stayed out of the latest talks, added pressure Sunday with a tweet questioning whether Democrats are negotiating in good faith.
“I don’t think the Dems on the Border Committee are being allowed by their leaders to make a deal,” the tweet reads. “They are offering very little money for the desperately needed Border Wall & now, out of the blue, want a cap on convicted violent felons to be held in detention!”
Military.com: Military Mulls Medical Personnel Cuts Even as Suicide Rates Rise
11 Feb 2019
Military.com | By Gina Harkins
The Defense Department is weighing the option of cutting thousands of uniformed medical personnel, including psychologists and other mental-health professionals, even as military leaders grapple with rising suicide rates among troops.
With the National Defense Strategy pushing for a more lethal force, Pentagon leaders areconsidering slashing as many as 17,000 uniformed medical corpsbillets across all the services.
The move, which could go into effect in October 2020, would open more slots for troops in combat-arms specialties or other warfighting jobs.
Thousands of those uniformed personnel serve as psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists, counselors and nurses. And, as the number of active-duty troops taking their own livesreaches a six-year high, military advocates say now is not the time to consider cuts to those fields.
"Suicide and mental health are our top priority at [Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America] because of the serious impact these issues are having on our community," said Jeremy Butler, the new chief executive officer for the organization, which represents and advocates for post-9/11 vets. "I am concerned about any cut in resources signaling that DoD is not making these matters as high a priority as we do."
Military officials stress that there is no immediate plan to cut those billets, though the review to trim the size of the overall medical corps is ongoing.
"Any reforms that do result will be driven by the Department’s efforts to ensure our medical personnel benefits that service members, retirees and their families deserve," said Angel Lopez, a spokeswoman for the Air Force surgeon general.
Ed Gulick, a spokesman for Navy Medicine, said about a quarter of the Navy Department’s 1,600 mental-health personnel are embedded with the Navyand Marine Corps fleets, and they hope to expand the program.
"Navy Medicine has found that embedding mental health providers directly into Navy and Marine Corps operational units has had a powerful effect on decreasing stigma and making care more accessible to our service members," he said.
Just waiting for sailors to get help at a hospital or clinic is a barrier to care, said Capt. Tara Smith, with the Navy’s Suicide Prevention Branch. Embedding providers at the unit level moves the care closer to the troops in need, she added.
Still, suicide remains a serious problem across the active-duty force. Last year, 321 active-duty troops committed suicide, marking a six-year high. Fifty-seven Marines, 68 sailors, 58 airmen and 138 soldiers took their own lives.
Despite efforts by military leaders to end the stigma that seeking help with mental-health problems will derail your career, problems still exist, said one wounded combat veteran. Since he currently works for a veterans service organization, he spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to appear to be advocating for changes to the medical corps.
While there are benefits to talking about military-related stressors with someone else in uniform, he said there’s still the fear that it will later be used against you, which leaves some seeking help outside the military.
"That perception that it’s going to affect your career is still real," he said. "And to be frank, I don’t think the services know how the hell to fix the issue as it relates to mental health and suicide."
Service leaders say they remain committed to ending that fear. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told reporters last week that leaders will continue to try "every trick in the book to try and get this under control."
"It’s such a difficult problem," he said. "… The [programs] that show the most hope are those where we really get down to small-unit cohesion so that our sailors all feel like, no matter what the situation they may be confronting — a professional challenge, a personal challenge, whatever, that they are part of some kind of a team."
The Air Force, which Lopez said currently has about 1,600 uniformed mental-health professionals, is working toward an end goal of never losing another airman to suicide. Its suicide-prevention program is designed not only to provide maximum support to airmen and their families, but to commanders leading their troops as well, said Brig. Gen. Michael Martin, director of Air Force Integrated Resilience.
"It is about a culture of care and respect established by commanders and senior enlisted leaders that arms airmen at all levels with the training and tools for the decisive edge when their wingmen are in crisis," he said.
As the 2020 budget-planning process, which will decide the outcome for the number of billets the uniformed medical corps will see in the year ahead gets under way, Gulick said the goal is to balance support for the National Defense Strategy while also being responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars.
"Our priority remains to ensure our medical personnel are trained, equipped and ready to support the operational forces, while delivering outstanding care to our beneficiaries as we maximize our military and private-sector care network to provide timely access to great care," he said.

11 February, 2019 06:36

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Monday, February 11, 2019 which is Clean Out Your Computer Day, Oatmeal Monday, Grandmother Achievement Day and National Peppermint Patty Day.
This Day in Legion History:

  • Feb. 11, 1935: Springfield, Ill., American Legion Post 32 leads what becomes a national tradition – the annual Pilgrimage to the Tomb of Abraham Lincoln on the anniversary of his birthday. Conceived to honor the 16th president of the United States and veterans of the Civil War still living in Springfield at the time, the pilgrimage invites The American Legion national commander, American Legion Auxiliary national president and Sons of The American Legion national commander from that point forward, on an annual basis.

This Day in History:

  • Nelson Mandela, leader of the movement to end South African apartheid, is released from prison after 27 years on February 11, 1990. In 1944, Mandela, a lawyer, joined the African National Congress (ANC), the oldest black political organization in South Africa, where he became a leader of Johannesburg’s youth wing of the ANC. In 1952, he became deputy national president of the ANC, advocating nonviolent resistance to apartheid–South Africa’s institutionalized system of white supremacy and racial segregation. However, after the massacre of peaceful black demonstrators at Sharpeville in 1960, Nelson helped organize a paramilitary branch of the ANC to engage in guerrilla warfare against the white minority government.
  • On February 11, 1945, a week of intensive bargaining by the leaders of the three major Allied powers ends in Yalta, a Soviet resort town on the Black Sea. It was the second conference of the “Big Three” Allied leaders–U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin–and the war had progressed mightily since their last meeting, which had taken place in Tehran in late 1943.
  • On this day in 1778, some 300 people visit Voltaire following his return to Paris. Voltaire had been in exile for 28 years. Born Francois-Marie Arouet to middle-class parents in Paris in 1694, Voltaire began to study law as a young man but quit to become a playwright. He made a name for himself with classical tragedies and also wrote poetry. In 1717, he was arrested for his satirical poem La Henriade, which attacked politics and religion. Voltaire spent nearly a year in the Bastille as punishment.


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Military Times: House panel opens investigation into Trump’s VA ‘shadow rulers’
By: Leo Shane III   2 days ago
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WASHINGTON — The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee is launching an investigation into whether President Donald Trump’s country club friends had undue influence over Veterans Affairs Department policies or violated any laws.
In a letter to VA officials Friday, committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., said the department needs to turn over dozens of documents by the end of the month to clarify the role of “these individuals who have not served in the U.S. military nor U.S. government, and are not accountable to veterans and the American people.”
The move comes amid increasing tension between the department and members of Congress, and just days after President Donald Trump chastised congressional Democrats in his State of the Union address over investigations.
“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,” he said. “It just doesn’t work that way.”
The men at the center of the new VA investigation — Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter, primary care specialist Dr. Bruce Moskowitz and attorney Marc Sherman — are members of Trump’s exclusive Mar-a-Lago club and have been dubbed the department’s “shadow rulers” because of their high-level conversations with VA employees over the past two years.
The full extent of that involvement is unclear. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in congressional testimony last fall that he had only cursory contact with the men and they have had no significant influence over department policy matters.
But a ProPublica investigation last summer revealed extensive communication between the men and VA officials in the past, including involvement in the adoption of a new 10-year, $16-billion electronic medical records overhaul and the firing of former VA Secretary David Shulkin last spring.
The committee has asked for all communications between the trio and VA employees, to include emails, texts and telephone records.
“Top department officials apparently treated these Mar-a-Lago members as having decision-making authority, and emails demonstrate these powerful men weighed in on candidates to lead the Veterans Health Administration and organized meetings and summits between VA and commercial entities,” Takano’s letter states.
In a statement, department spokesman Curt Cashour said that VA has already responded to multiple requests on the issue, and “since most of these communications occurred under previous VA leaders, we refer you to them for further comment.”
He also added that “although his predecessors may have done things differently, Sec. Wilkie has been clear about how he does business. No one from outside the administration dictates VA policies or decisions. That’s up to Sec. Wilkie and President Trump.”
The move comes a day after Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., set a letter directly to the three men out of frustration over months of unanswered questions from VA officials over their roles.
"Although you reportedly had access to and influence over key agency decisions and decision-makers, you were reportedly not subject to any of the conflicts-of-interest and other ethics rules that apply to government employees," she wrote. "As a result, I am concerned that you may have had the opportunity to profit from your arrangement, including possibly by engaging in trades or other actions to enrich yourselves.”
Takano’s counterpart in the upper chamber, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said on Thursday that he has no plans to investigate the three businessmen for now. Whether House Republicans will support the Democratic majority’s information requests remains to be seen.
In October, VA officials refused to produce the documents, citing “ongoing litigation alleging violations of the Federal Advisory Committee Act” making them “not appropriate for release at this time.” That was due to an ongoing lawsuit filed by the left-leaning advocacy group VoteVets seeking to block the men from contact with VA leadership on official matters.
Now, House Democrats hold subpoena powers for the records. The committee has used that authority several times in recent years, although with near unanimous bipartisan support each time.

Military.com: Military Caregivers File Lawsuit, Saying VA Improperly Revoked Benefits
8 Feb 2019
Military.com | By Patricia Kime
Four spouses and two fiancées of veterans eligible for the Department of Veterans Affairs‘ family caregiver program have filed a lawsuit against the VA for denying or improperly revoking their benefits.
In a suit filed Jan. 22 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, the plaintiffs, led by Florida resident Zamantha Tapia, fiancée of Army veteran Cesar Silva, allege that the VA did not follow the laws and regulations governing the department’s Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program, which provides compensation and health benefits to those who provide care for seriously injured post-9/11 veterans.
According to the suit, Silva and Tapia’s application was denied, and the benefits of the other plaintiffs were inappropriately downgraded or terminated without proper investigation or determination.
In 2017, veterans and their caregivers enrolled in the program began seeing their benefits curtailed or terminated — often with no reason given, other than that their VA providers determined they no longer needed help with their daily activities.
In August 2018, the VA Office of Inspector General found that across the VA, facilities didn’t adequately manage the program, failing to provide consistent access to it, improperly accepting ineligible veterans and declining to monitor the health statuses of nearly half the veterans it discharged from the program.
The IG also learned that the department paid out $4.8 million to caregivers of veterans who weren’t eligible for the program, and the VA "failed to manage the program effectively because it did not establish governance that promoted accountability for program management," staff members wrote in the report.
Related: VA Suspends all Discharges from Caregiver Program
In 2015, plaintiff Jennifer Wilmot and her husband George Wilmot, an Army National Guard veteran who served from October 2007 to May 2013, were booted from the program.
Wilmot had been injured during a 2009 deploymentto Mosul, Iraq, when the Humvee he was riding in came under small-arms fire and crashed. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, fractured portions of his back and pelvis and nearly lost his left arm. He also has post-traumatic stress disorder and memory loss.
The Wilmots were accepted into the caregiver program in 2013 but should have received the highest level of compensation rather than the level they were awarded, according to attorneys Jason Perry and Luke Miller.
Then came the dismissal.
"After completing a comprehensive review of your medical records, it appears that you have met the intention of the program and your participation will be discontinued," VA officials wrote to the Wilmots.
The lawsuit calls the termination "arbitrary and capricious."
Silva was deployed to Iraq from November 2003 to August 2004, sustaining shrapnel injuries in an attack. According to the lawsuit, he received a VA disability rating of 70 percent in 2009 for rotator cuff strain and impingement and suffers from chronic headaches, degenerative joint disease, back pain and neuropathy. He also has PTSD, TBI, memory loss, depression and irritable bowel syndrome.
Tapia and Silva applied for the family caregiver program in 2014 but were denied. According to the suit, the VA found that Silva did not need assistance for physical injuries and said his mental health conditions were not service-connected. They reapplied in 2017, but following a phone assessment, VA officials said that Silva was not "receiving medical treatment" — an error, the lawsuit alleges — and that Tapia was "an enabler."
According to Perry, an attorney in Wellington, Florida, and Miller, of Military Disability Lawyer LLC in Salem, Oregon, the plaintiffs have asked the court to certify the suit as a class action, meaning that other affected caregivers could sign on if it is approved.
They estimate that the VA received more than 100,000 applications for the family caregiver program between May 2011 and September 2018 and, therefore, thousands may be able to sign on to the possible class action.
The plaintiffs also are requesting that the VA stop what they perceive as arbitrary dismissals from the program and are seeking monetary compensation in an amount "to be determined at trial," according to the suit.
The federal government has until March 25 to file a response in the case, and a status conference is scheduled for March 29, according to court documents.