3 May, 2019 06:25

Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Friday, May 3, 2019, which is International Space Day, International Tuba Day, Paranormal Day, Public Radio Day, Wordsmith Day, and World Press Freedom Day.

This Weekend in American Legion History:

  • May 4, 1950: American Legion donations help launch the National Association for Mental Health.
  • May 4, 2011: The American Legion National Executive Committee passes a resolution to establish The American Legion Amateur Radio Club in support of the organization’s disaster-preparedness program, in association with the Department of Homeland Security. The ham radio club is authorized a budget of $1,000 to get started.
  • May 5, 2014: Following nationally publicized revelations that veterans died waiting for unscheduled appointments at the Phoenix VA Medical Center, American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger calls for the resignation of VA Secretary Gen. Eric Shinseki, Under Secretary for Health Care Robert Petzel and Under Secretary for Benefits Gen. Allison Hickey.
  • May 5, 2010: The American Legion National Executive Committee selects Shelby, N.C., to be the host city of The American Legion Baseball World Series at least through 2014, potentially becoming a permanent site for the tournament. More than 100 supporters of Shelby traveled to Indianapolis to make their case over Bartlesville, Okla., which was second in the bid to serve as home of the tournament. The water tower in the North Carolina town is soon repainted, “Shelby, Home of The American Legion Baseball World Series.” Keeter Stadium is redesigned, new lights are installed, and in 2012, The American Legion announces through a Fall NEC resolution that the Shelby contract would be extended through 2019.


*Includes quote from TAL.
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Connecting Vets: Women veterans don’t get equal treatment at the VA, so Congress is launching a task force
ABBIE BENNETT | MAY 02, 2019 – 9:50 AM
During Andrea Goldstein’s time as a Naval officer, she was frequently the only woman in the room "where life and death decisions were made."
But the teammates who were supposed to guard her life in turn "sexually harassed and belittled" her because of her gender.
Since leaving the military, she says it’s not gotten any better. Goldstein now faces barriers to care at the Department of Veterans Affairs because male veterans and VA healthcare workers "questioned my right to VA healthcare."
Now Goldstein will serve as the senior policy advisor for a new team in Congress, the Women Veterans Task Force, whose purpose it will be to knock down the obstacles to care and equality women veterans face.
The work of the task force will focus on culture, healthcare, economic opportunity and benefits access for women veterans, Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., chairwoman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee’s subpanel on health, said at a Thursday press conference.
Women veterans must be "visibly recognized for their service to the nation" and the VA must have an "essential cultural transformation … and foster an environment that is safe and respectful" especially after reports of "widespread sexual harassment of women veterans and employees at VA facilities," Brownley said.
The VA is the best-equipped place for women veterans to solve the complex issues they face, but "it can be the actual source of their trauma," she said.
VA spokeswoman Susan Carter said the VA is working to make women veterans feel more welcome.
"VA recognizes that all veterans should feel safe and at home in VA facilities, and that at times women veterans have experienced harassment by others," Carter said in a statement. "That’s why VA has launched a campaign of education, reporting and accountability to end harassment of veterans and to help staff and veterans intervene if harassment occurs."
The number of women receiving care from the VA has tripled since 2000, Carter said.
Carter said the VA has created posters, videos and training and rolled out the program at all facilities.
"We want veterans to be aware that VA is taking action so that all veterans can engage fully in their own health care," the statement read.
"Women often go from being the most visible service members on active duty … to some of the most invisible as veterans," said Mackenzie Wolf, a Marine Corps veteran and representative for The American Legion.
The task force will focus specifically on serving women veterans "and transforming existing systems with an eye on equity," she said, including transition assistance, poverty, homelessness, GI Bill access and use and more.
Women veterans are less likely to apply for veteran benefits and have higher denial rates than their male counterparts, Brownley said.
"We need to keep drilling down on why this happens and what needs to be done about it," she said.
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., said the task force is the first step in understanding and addressing the unique challenges of women veterans.
"We can begin to shed light on the issues the more than 2 million U.S. women veterans face and prepare the VA for the future," Takano said.
Ranking committee member Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., explained during his time in service he did not serve alongside women, but he knows many more women serve now and the VA must adapt to the changing demographics.
"The VA is not known for its speed of change," he said. "The VA has to change as the demographics of veterans change."
Brownley said the task force will aim to produce at least one larger, comprehensive bill to address inequities for women veterans and she expects it to be a bipartisan effort and make it to the president’s desk. The bill is planned to be named for Deborah Sampson, a hero of the American Revolution who disguised herself as a man to join the Patriot forces.
Brownley said the Department of Defense will be at the table for legislative discussions.
"It is abundantly clear it is the culture within the military that carries over to the culture in the VA," she said. "That needs to change. We’ve got to work hand in hand."
But all of the work will be focused on clearing the path for women veterans to access the VA care they’ve earned, she said.
"We see you, we thank you for your selfless service," Brownley said. "And we are dedicated to serving you in return."

Stars & Stripes: ‘We’re not aliens, we’re women:’ New task force to target gender inequality at the VA
By ROSE L. THAYER | STARS AND STRIPES | Published: May 2, 2019
Women seeking health care at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities often have longer wait times for appointments than men and one in four have reported being sexually harassed or had their military service questioned, House lawmakers and women veterans said Thursday.
“[Women] do not feel welcome or safe at VA facilities” and “were significantly more likely to report delaying or missing care,” said Army veteran Joy Ilem, national legislative director for Disabled American Veterans. “There is no bigger barrier to care than a culture that does not embrace women vets or at best makes them feel marginalized.”
To address the challenges facing women seeking VA health care services, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on Thursday launched a bipartisan women veterans task force with Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., as its chairwoman.
That announcement and news conference about the new task force was followed by a congressional hearing where Ilem spoke alongside four other women veterans and an official from the VA’s Women Health Services.
“Our mission to increase the visibility of the 2 million women veterans living in the United States and to promote inclusivity and equitable access to resources, benefits, and healthcare for women veterans,” Brownley said during the news conference on Capitol Hill to announce the task force.
The task force is the first organized effort dedicated to women veterans and the inequities that they endure, she said.
Culture, health care, economic opportunities and veteran access are the four main points of focus for the task force. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., plans to launch a similar initiative in the Senate, Brownley said.
The hearing of the health subcommittee of the House VA committee met following the announcement to hear women veterans testify about the barriers and challenges that they face when accessing the VA, primarily for health care.
Only about 22 percent of women veterans use the VA for their health care, making them about 7 percent of all veterans using the VA, retired Navy Capt. Lory Manning, director of government relations for Service Women’s Action Network, said citing a VA report.
When women do go to the VA, they are “irked” when asked for their husband’s Social Security number when checking in, and then annoyed again when denied a free cup of coffee, because it’s for the veterans. “These slights seem minor but they [build] over time leaving women veterans frustrated and disheartened,” Manning said. “The invisibility becomes more damaging when the gender-specific needs of women veterans are ignored, as happens for example when they are sometimes issued prosthetic devices designed for men. This should never happen.”
The damage becomes major when leadership makes tough decisions without understanding the need for women programs and choose to reallocate funding from programs for women because it “helps many while hurting only a few,” she said.
Manning, along with Lindsay Church, CEO of Minority Veterans of America, also said in opening statements that their organizations support changing the motto of the VA, because its exclusive language greets women as they enter facilities.
The agency’s official motto is a quote from President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address in 1865: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has said he opposes changing the motto, but women lawmakers have pledged to fight him on this front.
Lincoln’s words are a “physical representation of the invisibility” women experience,” Church said. “Changing the motto won’t by itself address the deep cultural divide, [but
it is] a step in the right direction.”
Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Fla., the subcommittee’s ranking member, suggested during the hearing that vouchers for community-based care could serve as a way to help women get better access to care.
Ilem said she worried this could create fragmented care for women that would result in gaps of understanding larger issues women veterans face.
“We need to make sure the providers women are going to that they are going to get quality care with expertise in the conditions and what exposures women have experienced and what conditions they are being treated for,” she said.
Ginger Miller, president and CEO of Women Veterans Interactive, an organization that advocates on behalf of women veterans, said she would support an initiative like this as a stopgap solution.
“The VA has been researching women veterans for years. We’re not aliens, we’re women. There are plenty of doctors out in the private sector that support and service women every day,” she said. “Why should I have to suffer and walk through the halls getting cat-called and all these different things while you figure it out?”
Patricia M. Hayes, chief consultant for Women’s Health Services with the Veterans Health Administration, explained what the VA is doing for women and their efforts to change the culture.
To address the harassment from male veterans, she said the VA launched an education program called End Harassment. It teaches men that what they might see as a compliment is harassment.
“This behavior disrupts care,” Hayes said. “It disrupts to whole system…I think that on the issue of culture change—we really can’t say enough about how that is a problem we are focused on. VA is not only stepping up, but we have to step up. We have to end the harassment.”
Brownley said she saw Thursday’s events as the beginning of the women veterans’ “Me Too” moment, referencing to the movement that grew from exposing gender discrimination in Hollywood.
“We need to make it into a movement,” she said.

Stars & Stripes: Sexual assaults on young servicewomen on the rise, DOD report finds
By CAITLIN M. KENNEY | STARS AND STRIPES | Published: May 2, 2019
WASHINGTON — Sexual assaults against female troops have increased by 44% since 2016, with the highest increase affecting junior enlisted servicemenbers, according to a Pentagon report released Thursday.
“The results of this report are not acceptable by any standard,” Elizabeth Van Winkle, the executive director of the Office of Force Resiliency at the Defense Department, told reporters Thursday at the Pentagon. “We will learn from what our women and men in uniform told us this year and adjust our strategies. I remain optimistic that we will course correct.”
The Defense Department’s 2018 report on sexual assault in the military included results from the 2018 Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Active-Duty Members, which found 20,500 servicemembers experienced sexual assault within the past year — an increase of 38% from 14,900 in fiscal year 2016 when the survey was last conducted.
The report found 6.2% of servicewomen experienced sexual assault in 2018, a 44% increase from the rate of 4.3% in fiscal year 2016.
The increase in sexual assault was mostly among women servicemembers between the ages of 17 to 24 and junior enlisted women, “who are already at the highest risk for sexual assault,” according to a Pentagon document highlighting the report’s findings.
“This increase is absolutely unacceptable,” said Rear Adm. Ann Burkhardt, the director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.
According to the Pentagon, the report found most of the perpetrators were in the junior enlisted ranks of E-3 to E-5 and they were often the same rank or just above that of the victim. The report also found that 24% of women and 6% of men experienced sexual harassment in fiscal year 2018, which was a significant increase from 2016, said Ashlea Klahr, director of health and resilience research of the Office of People Analytics at the Pentagon.
But one in three servicemembers reported their sexual assaults to a Defense Department authority, about the same as fiscal year 2016, according to the report.
The DOD received 6,053 reports of sexual assault by servicemembers for incidents that occurred during military service. The rate for women reporting decreased from 43% to 37% between fiscal years 2016 and 2018 and the rate for men reporting stayed the same for those years at 17%.
The report findings showed 62% of the “most serious sexual assault situations involved alcohol use by the victim or the alleged offender as reported by the victim.”
The Marines had the highest rate of sexual assault for women at 10.7%. Klahr said 39% of active-duty women servicemembers are younger than 25 years old, which is the most at-risk group for sexual assault. In the Marine Corps, it is 60%.
“So certainly age doesn’t account for all of it, but it is when we’re seeing the largest increases in our youngest folks and the proportion of women in the Marine Corps are primarily this young group, we believe that that explains at least part of why they might be seeing such a significant increase,” Klahr said.
The Marine Corps released a statement Thursday about the report’s findings that read: “Our Marines have a fundamental right to live and work in an environment free from sexual assault and harassment. The Marine Corps is committed to purging these criminal behaviors from our ranks, taking care of victims, and holding offenders accountable.”
Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan on Thursday responded to the report findings with the actions that the DOD will take to address the sexual assault in the military.
“To put it bluntly, we are not performing to the standards and expectations we have for ourselves or for each other,” he wrote in a memo. “This is unacceptable. We cannot shrink from facing the challenge head on. We must, and will, do better,” he wrote in the memo.
Shanahan’s reaction also follows a sexual assault and harassment report for the military service academies that came out earlier this year and the recently established Sexual Assault Accountability and Investigation Task Force that was put together in coordination with Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz. In March, McSally said during a hearing on sexual assault in the military that she was raped when she served as a pilot in the Air Force.
Shanahan wrote the first action by the Defense Department is to take steps to make sexual harassment a stand-alone military crime.
They are also going to launch a “Catch a Serial Offender Program” that will improve the identification of repeat offenders, the memo stated. It will launch in the summer, Burkhardt said, and it will “allow our servicemembers who choose to make a restricted report confidentially [and] identify information about the alleged incident to investigators.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., admonished Pentagon leadership Thursday for its failure to rein in the issue of sexual assault within its ranks, telling a top Army leader the problem was just as bad now as it was five years ago when she began advocating for reforms.
“It is unconscionable,” Gillibrand told Army Gen. James McConville, the service’s vice chief of staff, who was appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing to consider his nomination for chief of staff.
Gillibrand accused Pentagon leaders of playing lip service to the issue and not taking concrete actions to address the problems, which she said stem from command climates where senior officers have failed to take the issue seriously.
Gillibrand has long advocated for changing how the military handles sexual assault cases. She wants commanders removed from the process in favor of handing such cases to career prosecutors to decide whether they warrant further investigation or legal action. She said victims, who tend to be lower ranking than their assailants, have often told her that they did not report their attack because they did not have confidence higher-ups would support them.
“What angers me the most, general [is] for the last 25 years, every secretary of defense has told this body, told this public that they have zero tolerance for sexual assault,” said Gillibrand, who is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 2020. “I am tired of excuses. I am tired of statements from commanders stating zero tolerance. I am tired of the statement I get over and over from the chain of command – “We’ve got this, ma’am. We’ve got this.” You don’t have it. You are failing us.”
She asked McConville to treat the issue as if his own daughter – an active-duty Army captain assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division – had experienced a sexual assault.
“Yes, senator,” replied McConville, who was heaped with praise throughout the hearing and appeared poised to be confirmed.
Retired Air Force Col. Don Christensen, once the service’s top prosecutor who is now president of the Protect Our Defenders organization that works to end sexual violence in the military, echoed Gillibrand’s outrage over the report. He called for lawmakers to remove commanders from the decision making process on sexual assault cases.
“The numbers are shocking,” Christensen, who retired from the Air Force after 23 year in 2014, said in a statement. “It is time for Congress to stop giving the failing military leadership the benefit of doubt and pass real reform empowering military prosecutors. Enough is enough.”

Associated Press: Cost to rebuild Offutt after the flood now estimated at $420 million
By: The Associated Press | 14 hours ago
OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. — The Air Force is raising its cost estimate to $420 million to repair and rebuild at Nebraska’s Offutt Air Force Base following severe flooding that forced officials to scramble to save munitions and move aircraft to higher ground.
More than 130 structures were damaged by the Missouri River flooding at the base that houses the U.S. military’s Strategic Command. Roughly 60 of those structures were damaged beyond repair and will need to be demolished, said John Henderson, assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and energy.
“It wasn’t just the water, it was what was in the water,” Henderson told the Omaha World-Herald. The floodwaters ran as deep as 9 feet (2.7 meters) in some places and left behind a toxic sludge.
The latest estimate is $70 million more than the initial estimate issued last month as part of the Air Force’s $4.9 billion federal funding request for disaster relief. The call for emergency funding would also cover damage from Hurricane Michael nearly leveling Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida last fall.
Henderson said $300 million would be designated to design and build new structures at the Offutt Air Force Base, while $120 million will go toward cleanup and the repair of structures that can be saved.
Most of the new facilities will be built on higher ground, if possible, Henderson said.
The two levees protecting Offutt that were overwhelmed by floodwaters this spring are slated to be raised through a $30 million project by the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District.
Henderson said it’s important for the two-year project to move forward. Construction was expected to begin this spring, but it’s been pushed back because of flood damage to the levees.
John Winkler, the district’s general manager, said they’re working with the Army Corps of Engineers to assess the damage. Winkler said crews will need dry weather and lowered river water levels to get started.

Air Force Times: Tricare approved this disabled airman’s surgery, then stuck him with a $46K bill
By: Stephen Losey | 22 hours ago
First, Tricare approved the surgery that a retired and disabled Air Force master sergeant needed to correct a debilitating back disease and reimbursed his costs.
Then, the Defense Department’s health insurance program said they had made a mistake — and sent him a bill for nearly $46,000.
Retired Master Sgt. Robin Gift, 56, has now been fighting Tricare on this for roughly seven years, and he’s almost out of moves — and money. Tricare at one point agreed to cut the $45,956 debt in half, to $22,978, his attorney Stephen Jewell said — but he would have to declare the forgiven debt as income and pay taxes on it.
Gift now lives in Seminole, Florida, on his disability payments from his time in the Air Force, with a roommate to make ends meet. If Tricare forces him to repay this debt, Jewell said, it will make his already-dire financial situation even worse.
Defense Health Agency spokesman Kevin Dwyer said the agency could not comment specifically on Gift’s case.
“Tricare is committed to providing safe, quality, accessible and patient-centered care for those in our charge and their families,” Dwyer said in an email Tuesday. “Though we do not discuss specifics regarding any particular case, Tricare continually reviews claims to ensure they have been properly paid. Tricare works with patients to secure repayment.”
Gift medically retired in 2006, after serving more than 22 years in passenger service operations for aircraft — hauling cargo and baggage, as well as cooking and serving food and working as a flight attendant.
He pulled a back muscle during physical training one day, sought treatment, and in 2002 was diagnosed with a pre-degenerative disc disease in his back, Jewell said. In 2003, he was diagnosed with full-blown degenerative disc disease, and the military found he had become injured as a result of his job.
“It was kind of a wear-and-tear type of thing,” Jewell said of Gift’s injury. “He’s 100 percent disabled, he pretty much can’t work. He’s really in some rough shape.”
In 2009, he underwent a lumbar disc replacement surgery in Germany, the cost of which he paid up front. Tricare approved the surgery and in early 2010, reimbursed him for $45,956.
But by 2012, Tricare’s opinion had changed, according to a release from Jewell’s law firm, Tully Rinckey. Tricare told Gift that it had made a mistake; the procedure was not covered and he would have to repay the full amount.
Gift refused to pay, Jewell said, and asked them to reconsider. He had a letter from his doctor at the time of the surgery, which said that without the procedure, he might not have been able to walk within a year.
“When he started [fighting] this back in 2012, he thought cooler heads would prevail,” Jewell said.
Gift asked for help from his representatives, including Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida. Jewell said congressional assistance helped convince Tricare to offer some relief, such as by offering to cut his debt in half.
But Jewell said Gift doesn’t think he should have to pay, since Tricare agreed to cover the costs nearly a decade ago. What’s more, Jewell said, Tricare now officially covers the surgery Gift received, and has since at least 2017.
Gift is almost out of moves, Jewell said. He’s exhausted his appellant options and doesn’t have any more money to further pursue a lawsuit. He’s hoping someone in Congress steps in to relieve him of the financial burden. If he has to pay, Jewell said, “he does not know what will happen to him.”

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1 May, 2019 06:45

Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Wednesday, May 1, 2019, which is Frequent Flyer Day, Great American Grump Out, May Day, National Anxiety Disorders Screening Day, and Silver Star Day.

Today in American Legion History:

  • May 1, 1942: The American Legion National Executive Committee passes a resolution, as wartime demand soars, to expand local blood-donation efforts across the country. Thus is born the Legion’s Blood Donor Program, which continues today, rewarding American Legion departments, based in five different membership categories, that give the most blood on an annual basis. The American Legion ultimately becomes the No. 1 donor of blood to the Red Cross throughout the nation.
  • May 1, 1972: The American Legion launches an unprecedented national Halloween safety program and guide for parents.

Today in History:

  • On this day in 1931, President Herbert Hoover officially dedicates New York City’s Empire State Building, pressing a button from the White House that turns on the building’s lights. Hoover’s gesture, of course, was symbolic; while the president remained in Washington, D.C., someone else flicked the switches in New York.
  • 1898: At Manila Bay in the Philippines, the U.S. Asiatic Squadron destroys the Spanish Pacific fleet in the first battle of the Spanish-American War. Nearly 400 Spanish sailors were killed and 10 Spanish warships wrecked or captured at the cost of only six Americans wounded.
  • 1963: James Whittaker of Redmond, Washington, becomes the first American to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain in the world.


  • Stars & Stripes: mseaveywith “Remove” in the subject line. If you have received this from someone who forwarded it and would like to be added, email mseavey.

    Stars & Stripes: Veteran suicide crisis draws attention from House lawmakers
    By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES | Published: April 29, 2019
    WASHINGTON — A veteran died by suicide outside the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Cleveland on Monday – hours before a House panel was slated to discuss several other veteran suicides that occurred on VA property this month.
    “Another one just today,” said Melissa Bryant, the policy officer with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “That’s our sense of urgency.”
    The veteran died at about 3 a.m. outside the emergency room at the Cleveland VA, said Bryant, who was briefed on the incident.
    At 5 p.m. on Capitol Hill, House Republicans and Democrats joined together to draw attention to what they described as a rising trend of suicides on VA campuses.
    The scheduled hearing and news conference were held in response to multiple instances of veterans dying by suicide in April — three suicides in five days. Two happened on VA campuses in Georgia and one inside the waiting room at a VA clinic in Austin, Texas.
    The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on Monday evening heard from officials at the National Institute of Health and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration about best practices for suicide prevention.
    Just before the committee hearing, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the House Republican conference chairwoman, joined about a dozen other lawmakers at a news conference where they promised bipartisan action on the issue.
    “The House will continue to come together, putting aside politics and partisanship to ensure both the VA and [Department of Defense] have the resources they need,” Pelosi said. “We will ask tough questions and ensure robust oversight of both agencies.”
    The leaders of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., and Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., vowed the House would quickly take up legislation. One of the bills being considered would require the VA to notify Congress of suicides at VA campuses and provide information about the veterans, including an explanation of their most recent encounters with VA employees.
    Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., introduced the legislation following the string of suicides on VA property. Rose argued it was a trend that needed to be tracked.
    “Having these key data points will help Congress fully understand the scope of this crisis,” he said. “We need to know this information so we can better serve our veterans in need.”
    Richard Stone, executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, said veteran suicides on VA property accounted for less than 1 percent of veteran suicides overall and some of them hadn’t sought VA care in years.
    “The fact that help was a few feet away is deeply troubling,” he said. “But yet, even if we fix that problem, 99.6 percent of veteran suicides are not occurring on our campuses. There are those who would like to indict the VA. I would caution you, this is not as easy as having just a few more policemen to go through parking lots. This is about a whole-of-society approach.”
    While Monday’s hearing was held in response to suicides on VA property, Takano said it was “harmful to veterans and overly simplistic to blame the VA for these tragedies.”
    The VA faced criticism in December, when the Government Accountability Office revealed the agency used less than 1 percent of its budget for suicide prevention outreach in fiscal year 2018. Of the $6.2 million obligated, the VA had spent only $57,000 by September, the last month of the fiscal year.
    President Donald Trump signed an executive order in March creating a Cabinet-level task force that he promised would “mobilize every level of American society” to address veteran suicide. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie was selected to lead the task force.

    Associated Press: House Democrats attempt to block border wall by using popular veterans bill
    By: Andrew Taylor, The Associated Press | 10 hours ago
    WASHINGTON — Democrats controlling the House are trying to use a popular veterans measure to block President Donald Trump from transferring $3.6 billion from military base construction to build his long-sought wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
    Tuesday’s move faces certain opposition from Trump and a potential veto threat. Lawmakers often try to use essential spending bills to reverse presidential moves, but they are often unsuccessful. Republicans tried in futility on numerous occasions to advance conservative policy “riders” on topics such as the Affordable Care Act, financial regulations and the environment.
    The $108 billion measure funding veterans benefits and improvements to military bases is perhaps the most popular funding bill to annually advance through Congress. Democrats unveiled the bill Tuesday and it is scheduled for a preliminary panel vote Wednesday.
    Trump in February roiled Capitol Hill by invoking emergency powers to transfer the money after being denied his full $5.7 billion wall request. He did so as Congress considered a catchall spending bill in the wake of a 35-day partial government shutdown.
    Earlier this month, House Democrats filed a lawsuit to block Trump from using a declaration of a national emergency along the southern border to funnel money to his border wall.
    The veterans and military construction bill is one of three funding measures unveiled this week as Democrats get the annual appropriations process under way. Also Tuesday, a panel with responsibility for labor, health care and education programs approved a $190 billion measure that’s a top priority for Democrats, who rewarded it with a 6%, $12 billion increase over current levels.
    That measure contains a provision to reverse a Trump administration move to block organizations that receive Title X family planning funding from counseling women on how to obtain an abortion. Republicans objected to the move as the panel approved the measure Tuesday, but they praised the measure for retaining other longstanding provisions backed by anti-abortion lawmakers and for increases in medical research.

    Stars & Stripes: Lawmakers, advocates urge help for servicemembers sickened by burn pits
    By CLAUDIA GRISALES | STARS AND STRIPES | Published: April 30, 2019
    WASHINGTON – Lawmakers and military advocates on Tuesday urged new action to support servicemembers exposed to toxic burn pits that have been linked to a long list of serious illnesses.
    Today, a registry of servicemembers exposed to burn pits now totals 173,000.
    And there could be many thousands more, some experts and lawmakers contend.
    “We need to take care of our veterans, we need to provide the health care that they need and the benefits that they earned,” Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., told an audience gathered Tuesday on Capitol Hill for a briefing on the issue. “We need to act now.”
    Ruiz joined Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii and a panel of advocates and experts urging new actions on a package of legislative efforts regarding burn pits.
    Burn pits exposed deployed servicemembers to dangerous chemicals and fumes that have been linked to a series of deadly illnesses, experts have said.
    Hundreds of open pits have been used at U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan to burn trash, human waste, petroleum, rubber and other debris and released hazardous smoke into the air. Some troops exposed to smoke from burn pits have attributed medical conditions, such as respiratory issues and cancer, to the toxic fumes.
    But much work remains for government officials to make that connection, lawmakers and advocates said.
    “It doesn’t take a genius to understand there is an association between this toxic smoke and somebody’s ill health,” said Ruiz, an emergency room physician. “We ban the use of burn pits in the United States of America because it could cause health effects including cancer. Then why are we allowing American soldiers being exposed to burn pits in other counties when our government and our military are doing the burning?”
    In February, Castro conducted a series of town hall meetings in Texas to urge action on pending legislation in the lower chamber on burn pits. Castro said Tuesday that servicemembers were exposed for days, weeks and months to burn pits, which total more than 200 so far during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
    “We can’t afford to cast a blind eye to the level of exposure and the number of servicemen and women who were impacted,” he said.
    Castro has sponsored two bills to expand the tracking and evaluation of veterans and servicemembers who spent time living or working near burn pits while deployed overseas.
    The first, the Family Member Access to Burn Pits Registry Act of 2019, or H.R. 1001, would expand the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry to allow family members of veterans to register their loved ones who might be too sick to do so or have died.
    Created in 2014, the registry is managed by the Department of Veterans Affairs and is open to veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn, veterans who served in Djibouti, Africa on or after Sept. 11, 2001, Operations Desert Shield or Desert Storm veterans and others who served in the Southwest Asia theater of operations on or after Aug. 2, 1990.
    The second bill, the Burn Pits Veterans Revision Act of 2019, or H.R. 1005, would create a diagnostic code and evaluation criteria for obliterative bronchiolitis, a medical condition often linked to burn pits. The law would also create a disability rating for the illness.
    Udall said the VA contends it still needs additional documentation to link burn pit exposure to illnesses to approve service-connected disability benefits for servicemembers. That is a next big step that must be reached, he said.
    “We’ve made progress but our work is far from over. Our goal is to recognize burn pit exposure as a ‘presumptive service connection,’” Udall said. “We won’t rest until we get this done.”
    In February, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, also renewed calls for burn pits legislation and a congressional hearing to address the health concerns of servicemembers and veterans exposed to burn pits while deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq.
    The Burn Pit Accountability Act, S. 191, sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who is also a presidential candidate, was introduced Jan. 17 and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 31 senators including Brown.
    The legislation requires the Defense Department evaluate servicemembers for the toxic exposure during routine medical exams and directs more data collection.
    Brown, a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, has said Congress needs to hear directly from servicemembers and veterans who have suffered serious health problems related to the open-air burn pits used to dispose of toxic waste.
    Ruiz on Tuesday urged more impacted servicemembers to contact his office to share their stories.
    “We’re making real progress because you are making real noise,” he said. “All of you please tell us your stories. You are going to see us amplifying those here in Washington D.C. until we get this fixed.”

    Military Times: Fed up with mold, vermin and lead, House budget plan adds $140 million for military housing fixes
    By: Leo Shane III | 13 hours ago
    House Democrats want to add $140 million to the president’s military construction budget for next year to help improve the quality of family housing across the force.
    On Tuesday, lawmakers from the House Appropriations Committee offered their first draft of the fiscal 2020 military construction spending bill, which includes an increase of almost 2 percent above last year’s enacted levels.
    The majority of that boost will address issues “such as mold, vermin and lead in military family housing.” The topic has been a major focus of both chambers in recent months, since news reports emerged about serious problems at privatized military housing across the country.
    Military officials have promised sweeping reforms to address the problem in months to come, but have also struggled with how to bring housing standards up without rewarding negligent contractors.
    But Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and chair of appropriations committee’s construction panel, said lawmakers need to act now with the budget boost to ensure a high quality of life for those troops and families by addressing “shoddy housing conditions.”
    Whether House Republicans or Senate lawmakers will go along with the extra money is unclear. The House panel is scheduled to mark up the budget draft on Wednesday.
    Even if the plan clears the House in the next few weeks (leaders have said they hope to move quickly on the issue), the appropriations bill likely has a long path ahead to becoming law.
    President Donald Trump has asked for a $750 billion budget with extra funding for his controversial southern border wall project. Many Republicans on Capitol Hill have voiced support for the plan, but Democrats have vowed to oppose it, and control the majority in the House.
    Meanwhile, military leaders in recent weeks have circulated new surveys to troops and their families about current housing conditions, in an effort to better oversee private contractors tasked with upkeep of those properties.
    About 2 million individuals are currently housed through the military’s privatized housing program.

    Military Times: New measure would allow troops to sue for military malpractice mistakes
    By: Leo Shane III | 14 hours ago
    After hearing tearful testimony from the victims of military medical negligence, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers announced new legislation to do away with the legal rules protecting the Defense Department from medical malpractice lawsuits.
    “When doctors fail to perform or woefully misread tests, when nurses botch routine procedures, when clinicians ignore and disregard pain, service members deserve their day in court,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and the chairwoman of the House Armed Services Committee’s personnel panel.
    “We’re not talking about special treatment. We’re talking about giving service members the same rights as their spouses, federal workers, and even prisoners. When compensation schemes are insufficient, service members should have their claims heard in the justice system.”
    The new legislation — named for Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal, a Green Beret fighting stage four lung cancer because of Army doctors errors — would allow malpractice lawsuits against the military by creating an exemption to the Feres Doctrine, a 69-year-old legal precedent barring that legal action.
    Critics have called the original decision flawed and unfair to military families, but Defense Department officials have said undoing the precedent would upset the current military compensation and benefits system.
    “A combat injury or death would appear to be valued lower than an injury or death where a tort claim would be allowed,” said Jessica Maxwell, a department spokeswoman. “Such an inequity toward members injured or killed in military operations could not be sustained.”
    But lawmakers behind the new legislation said the current system is also unfair, and revictimizes families.
    Stayskal was among the witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing and said Army doctors missed cancerous tumors on multiple occasions while they still could have been treated. He argued not being able to sue the department takes away impetus for them to take corrective action and “barred any chance for (my family) to become whole.”
    Rebecca Lipe, a former Air Force judge advocate who served in Iraq, told lawmakers her internal injuries from ill-fitting body armor during her six-month overseas tour were ignored for months by military physicians. Instead, they accused her of having an affair and contracting a sexually transmitted disease.
    She said if she could file suit against the military for those mistakes, the action could potentially force changes in the medical review process, or in gender-specific body armor, or in other military failures.
    Instead, she said, “I’ve completely lost faith in the Defense Department to take care of me.”
    Speier’s bill would not cover any cases related to combat operations, and would only apply to mistakes that occur at major military hospitals and clinics. Medical treatments on ships or battalion aid stations would be excluded.
    Plaintiffs bringing lawsuits could not receive compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees would be capped under existing federal laws.
    Several Republicans on the armed services panel raised concerns that the topic belongs to the chamber’s judiciary committee, but voiced general support for a review of the Feres Doctrine.
    Three Republicans have already signed on to the legislation, and Speier said she expects more in coming days.
    Past efforts to amend the legal precedent have run into opposition because of the potential costs facing the military. The new bill would only cover cases filed after implementation and those currently pending, limiting the potential legal exposure for the department. Costs of the plan were not released.
    Speier called it a change to properly compensate families and force military leaders to better address medical shortfalls.
    “Allowing service members to sue the Department of Defense for medical malpractice will help root out this rot,” she said. “There are few incentives better than the threat of legal action to push an organization to change its behavior. This would lead to better quality care for our service members and higher levels of readiness.”
    Meanwhile, Stayskal’s attorneys on Tuesday filed a new lawsuit against the Defense Department seeking compensation for the mistakes in his case. Their hope is that Speier’s legislation will move ahead in time for the case to be considered by the courts, and not simply rejected under the Feres Doctrine.

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30 April, 2019 07:08

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Tuesday, April 30, 2019 which is Adopt a Shelter Pet day, Day of the Child and Bugs Bunny day.

This Day in History:


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WDEF (CBS)-TV (Ga.) (for video: )
Dorothy Sherman

DALTON, Ga. (WDEF) – American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad made a stop at Post 112 in Dalton on Monday.
The veterans organization is celebrating 100 years.
– Advertisement –
“It’s important for me to have a well rounded understanding of what this organization contributes to the communities, and I see a lot of that here,” Reistad said.
While this is a time of celebration for the American Legion, many veterans are dealing with serious issues.
On Monday, members of Congress held hearings on preventing veteran suicides.
“America is facing a national public health crisis. That’s the somber reality. Every day, 20 veterans, service members, reservists, and members of the National Guard die by suicide,” House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman, U.S. Rep. Mark Takano, (D) California said.
Just this month multiple veterans died by suicide at VA facilities, two in Georgia.
“We’re dealing with a bureaucracy and it’s not that easy to make changes in a bureaucracy. So it takes the community working with the veterans organizations, working with the Veterans Administration to ensure that all of the pieces of the puzzle are in place and I think that the VA understands its obligation to have something in place when a veteran gets to that point where they walk in the emergency room and say I need to talk to somebody, that they’re not sat down in a room full of people and feel as if they’re being dismissed in a time of crisis in their life,” Reistad said.
“I’m at loss for words because I can’t imagine what kind of feeling that has, they just lost all hope,” Post 112 Commander Lee Oliver said.
Oliver said that every other Wednesday they have a PTSD clinic for veterans to come and talk to a licensed psychiatrist.
“If they had that opportunity more, that would help a lot, to be able to talk to someone that can relate to what they’re talking about,” Oliver said.
Oliver said the clinic is open to any veteran.
For more information contact Post 112, 706-226-5120.
Military Times
VA privatization latest battleground for congressional rising stars
By:Leo Shane III   April 19
A pair of prominent freshman lawmakers offered sharply different views about the future of the Department of Veterans Affairs health care this week, bringing the ongoing debate over fears of department privatization to the next generation of elected leaders.
The duo — Democratic New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Republican Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw — have both built national followings since their elections last fall, and recently have sparred directly over social media concerning rhetoric surrounding Muslims and the Sept. 11 attacks.
But this week marked each legislator’s first focused entry into VA policy discussions, and their comments suggested both will make those issues a key focus in months to come — with very different positions on the issue.
In her home district on Wednesday, Ocasio-Cortez took part in a rally organized by National Nurses United and other advocates who warned that current administration plans are taking the department on a path towards privatization by dramatically expanding community care eligibility for veterans.
“They’re trying to ‘fix’ the VA for pharmaceutical companies, they’re trying to ‘fix’ VA for insurance corporations, and ultimately they’re trying to ‘fix’ the VA for a for-profit health care industry that does not put people or veterans first,” she told an applauding crowd advocates who have lobbied against the changes for months.
“We have a responsibility to protect (VA). Because if there is any community that deserves Cadillac, first-class health care in the United States of America, it is our military servicemembers and veterans.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

If Congress wants to #ProtectTheVA, we shouldn’t starve it + then sell it off for parts, forcing vets into for-profit emergency rooms + to providers who aren’t used to working w/their unique medical needs.

We should fight to fully fund the VA + hire to fill its 49,000 vacancies.

Christopher Shay
Last night, @AOC broke with most of the Democratic Party and offered a fierce defense of the VA, which is being chipped away by privatization: https://www.thenation.com/article/ocasio-cortez-va-health-care-privatization/

A day later, in his home district, Crenshaw offered the opposite view during discussion held by Concerned Veterans for America. He insisted the health care moves “are in no way trying to give away VA responsibilities” but instead are helping the department evolve into a modern, more effective health care system for veterans.
“There’s a knee jerk reaction in Washington when something isn’t perfect to just add more money, add more personnel, it’ll all be OK,” he said. “That’s not true, especially with complex issues like veterans health care.”
At issue are looming changes to eligibility rules for veterans seeking medical care from private-sector doctors at taxpayer expense. Under the VA Mission Act passed last summer, new standards will be put in place this June that could nearly quadruple the number of veterans who could go outside the federal system for that care. About 600,000 veterans enrolled in VA health care are eligible for the existing community care programs. The proposed expanded standards will raise that number to between 1.5 million and 2.1 million patients, according to the department.
Supporters of the change — including CVA — have argued it amounts to providing more choices and more convenient, timely care for veterans. Opponents — including NNU — have called it a way to siphon off VA dollars to private companies, and eventually privatize the government’s responsibility to care for veterans.
Neither Crenshaw, who lost an eye while serving as a Navy SEAL in Afghanistan, nor Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive leader who has already made health care reforms a key point of her congressional focus, sit on the chamber’s veterans policy committee. Neither was in Congress last year when the Mission Act passed.

But both are poised to be key voices as the June deadline approaches, and as Democrats try to decide whether they should halt or stall the changes amid lingering concerns from their supporters.
Ocasio-Cortez argued that VA care has been unfairly maligned in recent years, a point that the nurses group and union leaders have emphasized for months. Recent studies have shown that VA wait times are lower than private-sector options and care quality generally exceeds that of outside clinics.
“The entire opening and approach that we have seen when it comes to privatization is the idea that this thing that isn’t broken, this thing that provides some of the highest quality care to our veterans, somehow needs to be fixed, optimized, tinkered with until we don’t even recognize it anymore,” she said.
“We believe some things should not be for sale in this country. Caring for our veterans should not be for sale in this country.”
Crenshaw said he has received care at four different VA facilities since his return from the war, but that too often care is inconsistent from location to location. Expanding options for veterans who face longer waits or insufficient expertise is not only a sensible step ahead, he argued, but a duty for the country.
“I need the VA to be flexible enough to send me outside for care,” he said. “This is a step in the right direction.”
The debate over the Mission Act changes will return to Capitol Hill later this month, when Crenshaw, Ocasio-Cortez and the rest of the House returns from its April legislative break.
Leaders from the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee have already demanded more information from VA on the financial impact of the changes and unfilled health care vacancies within the Veterans Health System.
That debate is also likely to shift from the committee’s hearing room to the House floor as the deadline approaches, giving Ocasio-Cortez and Crenshaw another chance to square off on VA issues.
The Washington Times
Pentagon approves 320 troops for illegal immigrant babysitting duties

By Stephen Dinan – The Washington Times – Monday, April 29, 2019
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has approved a Homeland Security request to assign 320 “personnel” to babysit illegal immigrants, driving them, feeding them and checking on their welfare, the Pentagon announced Monday.
The goal is to free up Border Patrol agents currently assigned to those duties so they can get back to patrolling the front lines.
The troops Mr. Shanahan has assigned the new duties will not be engaged in actual law enforcement and there will be Homeland Security officers present to handle actual custody of illegal immigrants, and to provide protection to the troops themselves, said Lt. Col. Jamie Davis.
He said the deployment has been approved through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, at a cost of $7.4 million.
“DoD personnel will assist in driving high-capacity CBP vehicles to transport migrants; providing administrative support, including providing heating, meal distribution and monitoring the welfare of individuals in CBP custody; and attorney support to ICE,” he said in a statement.
The Border Patrol has been overwhelmed by the surge of illegal immigrants from Central America. More than 50,000 families were caught jumping the border in March alone, shattering previous records and swamping local communities where the migrants are being released.
Agents in some hard-hit areas are spending as much as 40 percent of their time engaged in welfare checks, transporting migrants for processing, or taking them to clinics or hospitals for medical checkups.
Customs and Border Protection, which oversees border operations, has already reassigned hundreds of officers from the ports of entry to assist with those babysitting duties, forcing closure of some lanes of traffic at ports of entry where the officers were taken from.
The Defense Department personnel will provide still more manpower for the support duties.
“DoD personnel will not perform any law enforcement functions,” Lt. Col. Davis said. “In any situation that requires DoD personnel to be in proximity to migrants, DHS law enforcement personnel will be present to conduct all custodial and law enforcement functions, and provide force protection of military personnel.”
Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Military Times:Frustrations mount over lack of progress on preventing veterans’suicide
Just hours before a Capitol Hill hearing Monday on how to address the problem of veterans dying by suicide, a veteran took his own life outside the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center.
Lawmakers said that the incident was a painful reminder for all the effort and funding put into suicide prevention in recent years, progress on the issue has been frustratingly inconsistent.
“Two weeks ago, three other veterans committed suicide at VA facilities in five days,” House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., said. “So far, we have seen seven this year.
“It’s clear we are not doing enough to support veterans in crisis.”
Both Democrats and Republicans in the House are pledging to try and fix that in coming months, launching a series of hearings and legislative pushes to address the lingering problem of veterans suicide.
Takano and committee ranking member Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., said they are optimistic they can advance bipartisan legislation on the issue, to include more research and monitoring within VA facilities.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a press conference ahead of the hearing to highlight the new congressional focus, called the issue an “uncomfortable, urgent crisis” and promised to work closely with Republican Party leaders on finding answers.
Preventing suicides has been VA’s top clinical priority for the past two years, and lawmakers noting that spending on support programs have more than doubled since 2005. Despite that, the rate of suicide among veterans has remained steady over the last 10 years, with about 20 a day across the country.
Veterans Affairs officials have noted the uptick in veterans who have died by suicide in public spaces at department facilities — 25 in the last 18 months — does not reflect a statistically significant increase in the overall suicide problem.
“But all of us feel these losses,” said Dr. Richard Stone, acting head of the Veterans Health Administration.
Lawmakers and veterans groups expressed frustration at the department, not for their effort, but for their results.
“We must confront an uncomfortable and deeply troubling truth: VA’s current efforts and approaches to suicide prevention and mental health are not working,” said Joe Chennelly, executive director at AMVETS. “How do we know this? In the simplest of terms, the suicide numbers aren’t decreasing.”
Officials at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America lamented that “we are far from a long-term sustainable solution to address veterans suicide.”
Earlier this year, President Donald Trump announced a year-long task force review of the veterans suicide issue, engaging experts across multiple departments to find new ideas. The House effort echoes that move, but lawmakers hope to bring legislative force along with that.
Among the ideas being discussed at other committee hearings later this week: expanding eligibility for health care services, expanding research on suicides, mandating more reporting by VA on suicides on campuses and increased monitoring of prescriptions by VA doctors.
Shelli Avenevoli, deputy director at the National Institutes of Mental Health, said in recent years officials have seen successes with a host of new approaches, such as universal mental health screening for all patients and detailed follow-up plans for suicidal patients. Those ideas may also be included in coming House plans.
Takano, whose uncle — a Vietnam veteran — died by suicide decades ago, said lawmakers are open to any innovations that could help with the issue.
VA officials said they are open to the conversation, calling challenge a national problem, not just one shouldered by their staff.
They did not disclose any additional details about the Cleveland suicide, which occurred early Monday morning outside of the campus’ emergency room. Stone noted that more than 240 suicides have been prevented on the grounds of VA facilities since the start of 2017, but the idea that 25 other deaths happened “with help just a few feet away is deeply troubling.”
Veterans experiencing a mental health emergency can contact the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1 for a VA staffer. Veterans, troops or their families members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance.

Marine Commandant: You Can Have Purple Hair in Our New Cyber Force

Purple spiked hair. (Creative Commons/orchdork1008)
29 Apr 2019
Military.com | By Gina Harkins
The Marine Corps is creating a new cyber unit, the top officer said Monday, and you won’t need to meet those strict Devil Dog hair regulations to join.
The service will stand up a new cyber auxiliary, Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said at the Future Security Forum 2019 in Washington.
"If anybody wants to join, you can sign up. You can have purple hair, too, but no EGA,” he said, referring to the Marines’ famous eagle, globe and anchor insignia.
Since Neller said the members of the Marine Corps’ new Cyber Auxiliary division won’t earn the coveted symbol new Marines get after completing boot camp or earning their commission, this program is likely to be strictly for civilians or veterans.
The military services have struggled to retain cyber uniformed personnel. Young enlisted troops are often attracted to lucrative six-figure salaries they can earn in the private sector.
Now, civilians could help fill the gap. It’s an idea that experts with the New America think tank, which hosted Monday’s event, have pushed.
"Today, we face the modern version of hidden attackers, who seek to undermine our security and economy; now they just use malware instead of torpedoes," Natasha Cohen and Peter W. Singerwrote in a Defense One op-ed last year. "And so too are the U.S. active and reserve military and government resources stretched too thin to meet the need."
The answer, they argued, is a civilian cybersecurity corps.
"It would create a place to recruit and identify youth into a field with a major looming talent crunch," they wrote.
Military leaders have looked for new ways to attract cyber experts. The Armyhas a direct accession program in cyber warfare, and the Marine Corps and other services have consistently offered cyber warriorssteep bonuses to re-enlist.
The Pentagon is facing more sophisticated cyber threats from potential adversaries such as Russia and China. Having a reliable, resistant and recoverable network is the No. 1 issue for the Defense Department, Neller said.
"It’s not going to be there 100 percent like it has been there the last 17 years because there has been nobody to contest it," he said. "There will be in the future."
Marines must be able to operate without high-tech equipment and gear to fire weapons or find their way around a new location because hitting your enemy’s network is likely to be a first line of attack in future warfare.
"To me, that’s going to be the first salvo of whatever competition there is," Neller said. "… [But] that fight is going on every day, every second right now."
And hopefully, he added, "we’ve done the same thing to the other guy."

29 April, 2019 10:18

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Monday, April 29, 2019 which is Day of Remembrance for all Victims of Chemical Warfare, National Shrimp Scampi Day, International Dance Day and Viral Video Day.
This Day in History:

  • On April 29, 2004, the National World War II Memorial opens in Washington, D.C., to thousands of visitors, providing overdue recognition for the 16 million U.S. men and women who served in the war. The memorial is located on 7.4 acres on the former site of the Rainbow Pool at the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The Capitol dome is seen to the east, and Arlington Cemetery is just across the Potomac River to the west.
  • 1992: In Los Angeles, California, four Los Angeles police officers that had been caught beating an unarmed African-American motorist in an amateur video are acquitted of any wrongdoing in the arrest. Hours after the verdicts were announced, outrage and protest turned to violence as the L.A. riots began. Protestors in south-central Los Angeles blocked freeway traffic and beat motorists, wrecked and looted numerous downtown stores and buildings, and set more than 100 fires.
  • Also on this day in 1946, Tojo Hideki, wartime premier of Japan, is indicted by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East of war crimes. In September 1945, he tried to commit suicide by shooting himself but was saved by an American physician who gave him a transfusion of American blood. He was eventually hanged by the Americans in 1948 after having been found guilty of war crimes.
  • On April 29, 1986, in a game against the Seattle Mariners at Fenway Park, Roger Clemens of the Boston Red Sox becomes the first pitcher in Major League Baseball to strike out 20 batters in a nine-inning game. Ten years later, Clemens repeats the feat, the only player in baseball history to do so.


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US News: Afghanistan’s Hired Guns
The number of private contractors in America’s longest war jumped at an unprecedented rate in the last three months.
By Paul D. Shinkman Senior National Security WriterApril 26, 2019, at 5:00 a.m.
U.S. marines talk to contractors at a guard station at Camp Shorab in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, on Sept. 11, 2017.(Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images)
The number of security contractors the military employs in Afghanistan is higher now than at any time since President Barack Obama declared an end to combat operations in the country in 2014, Defense Department documents show.
More than 5,800 privately employed security personnel are currently operating in Afghanistan under Pentagon contracts, according to the latest report released this month that the military headquarters overseeing Middle East wars compiles for Congress. The number of security contractors jumped by more than 1,000 in the three months since the last report – a spike of more than 20 percent and the biggest increase in two years.
More than 17,000 uniformed troops from NATO and partner countries are currently operating in Afghanistan in support of local forces, up from roughly 13,000 when President Donald Trump took office. Of those, roughly 8,500 are Americans. Another 5,500 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan for the separate mission of hunting insurgent forces like the Islamic State group and elements of the Taliban.
The last time the number of private security contractors exceeded 5,000 was in April 2014 during the height of the Obama administration’s effort to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan. When Trump entered the White House in January 2017, the number stood at just over 3,400.
The new data comes amid concerns that the administration could increasingly turn to private companies to carry out the war. Officials and analysts, meanwhile, are raising alarm that the U.S. government is concealing the situation on the ground.
"The main problem with contractors of all sorts is there’s just not enough attention to what they’re doing. That’s not been reported out in a clear way to anybody’s satisfaction for all these years," says Catherine Lutz, a professor at Brown University and a director of its Costs of War project, which documents the use of private contractors in U.S. conflicts. "The Pentagon should be telling us, the American public, who’s funding this, what that means, why this is happening."
"The main problem with contractors of all sorts is there’s just not enough attention to what they’re doing."
U.S. military headquarters in Kabul did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A Pentagon spokeswoman declined to provide further detail on how the military uses its security contractors and what accounts for the sudden increase.
Of the 5,883 security contractors outlined in the latest reports from U.S. Central Command, 2,567 of them are armed private security contractors. The rest provide support functions, like driving vehicles or other logistics work related to security activities.
Security contractors – both armed and unarmed – are a subset of a larger group of contractors who perform a broad range of tasks, including translation, construction and information technology services. But at nearly 20 percent of that pool, they now represent a bigger portion of all contractors than at any time since 2013. The Costs of War project has documented that as many as 2,800 contractors have died in Afghanistan – a figure that often goes unmentioned in public remembrances of the 2,400 U.S. military deaths in that war.
The extent to which the U.S. needs more security contractors because of a deteriorating situation on the ground is unclear, largely because the Trump administration, like its predecessors, has opted to withhold pertinent information. Faced with reports of a rising death toll among Afghan soldiers and national police officers, the government in Kabul – with U.S. support – stopped releasing those figures two years ago.
Even those who monitor the security situation there closely cannot discuss it publicly. When asked, for example, about the death rate among Afghan soldiers, which open source reporting indicates has reached unsustainable levels of as many as 40 per day, a top official tasked with scrutinizing reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan said he could not answer.
"A lot of the answers or information to answer that question is classified now," John Sopko, the congressionally appointed special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, told a small group of reporters earlier this week. "What we are finding now is almost every indicia, metrics, however you want to phrase it, for success or failure is now classified or nonexistent."
When pressed about whether the situation appears to be improving or worsening, Sopko again refused to answer, but added, "Governments don’t usually classify good news."
Contractors have provided critical support functions in U.S. conflicts going back to the Revolutionary War and regularly carry out benign tasks like meal service and maintaining infrastructure on military bases. They may also be called upon to train local troops or service military equipment like helicopters.
In other circumstances, like with the subsequently rebranded firm Blackwater in the early days of Iraq, they provide security for high-profile officials or for U.S. bases and convoys. Prohibitions on their engaging in direct combat become murky when they operate in conflict zones where enemies move freely among the local populace. Blackwater, in particular, generated heated controversy for its heavy-handed battlefield tactics with seemingly little oversight.
And American leaders have relied on private security contractors to purposefully mask distasteful aspects of war. The Obama administration reportedly replaced troops that came home with private contractors, allowing it to maintain pressure on enduring enemies while publicly claiming the war was waning.
Lutz draws particular attention to Blackwater’s founder Erik Prince, who has developed close ties with the Trump administration and who has advocated for Trump to turn over responsibility for the war in Afghanistan to private companies, akin to the British East India Company that governed colonial commerce in South Asia and whose use of private armies to maintain stability grew increasingly forceful. Prince’s suggestion wrought widespread criticism.
In response to queries about the spike in the number of security contractors, Pentagon spokeswoman Heather Babb said in an emailed statement that military leaders in Afghanistan "continue to assess and right-size contracted support to provide executable options in pursuit of established strategic goals." She added that these leaders regularly conduct reviews of existing contracts "to identify requirements for reduction, consolidation, elimination, or transition to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan."
Services provided by private contractors in this fiscal year amount to approximately $2.3 billion, Babb says.

Stripes: For veterans’ families, health hazards of open-air burn pits hit home

By JEREMY REDMON | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution | Published: April 26, 2019
TYRONE, Ga. (Tribune News Service) — Tammy McCracken said her husband was fit and lean before he deployed to Iraq, a weightlifter and a runner with no history of serious illnesses.

But David returned home from Baghdad in 2009 with a persistent dry cough. Headaches came next. Then confusion, disorientation and memory loss. On the day he learned of his promotion to colonel in 2011, his doctors in Atlanta performed a biopsy and found a brain tumor. It would kill him in less than a year. He died at 46, leaving behind three children.

Tammy is certain of what caused his cancer — the vast open-air burn pits the U.S. military used to eliminate all kinds of waste in Iraq. Everything went in them: unexploded ordnance, metal cans, plastics, Styrofoam, rubber, paint, lubricants, even body parts and animal carcasses. Ignited with jet fuel, the pits belched heavy smoke into the same air the soldiers breathed around their bases.

More than 170,000 troops and veterans who spent time in Iraq and elsewhere have added their names to a national government registry that tracks exposure to burn pits, oil well fires and other airborne hazards. As of Dec. 31, 7,255 Georgians were on the list. A nonprofit advocacy group that tracks the issue, Burn Pits 360, says it has tracked 130 deaths tied to burn pit exposure.

The Veterans Affairs Department has rejected most disability compensation claims to date. It points to a 2011 Institute of Medicine report that says insufficient data makes it impossible to conclude whether burn pit emissions could cause long-term health problems. But the VA says it continues to study the issue.

Several bills focusing on the issue are pending in Congress. Among them are measures that also would allow families of deceased veterans to participate in the government’s airborne hazards registry and require the VA to create evaluation criteria for disability benefits for an illness often linked to burn pits, obliterative bronchiolitis. Meanwhile, Georgia Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, is planning to hold a hearing on exposures to burn pits and other toxic hazards next month.

Former Vice President Joe Biden brought more attention to the issue last year, when he speculated whether his 46-year-old son’s death from brain cancer was linked to burn pits. In 2009, Beau Biden deployed to Camp Victory in Iraq — the same base where David McCracken was stationed — before dying in 2015 from the same brain cancer that killed McCracken, glioblastoma multiforme.

Tammy McCracken’s experience inspired her to volunteer with Burn Pits 360 and to enroll in a graduate analytics program at Georgia Tech. She hopes to use what she has learned and publish the locations of the military’s burn pits. She also wants to help other families get the same VA indemnity compensation and education benefits her family received after nearly four years of appealing to the agency to link her husband’s death to his military service.

To incinerate the many tons of waste created each day on bases in Afghanistan, Iraq and on the Horn of Africa, the U.S. military set up scores of open-air burn pits.

Approved by the Pentagon, they were supposed to be temporary until trash incinerators could be installed, but some remained in operation up until as recently as 2015, according to Joseph Hickman’s exposé, “The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers.” Many soldiers were “housed as close as a few hundred yards away from the burn pits, and in some cases recreational halls and other base facilities were built nearly adjacent to the toxic pyres,” wrote Hickman, a former Marine and Army sergeant.

The pit that drew the most attention burned north of Baghdad at Joint Base Balad, home at one point to about 25,000 troops and civilians. The pit stretched across 10 acres, incinerated several hundred tons of waste each day and sent smoke over the base’s living areas, VA records show. Military air tests there revealed dioxin, a compound linked to some cancers. Agent Orange, the herbicide the U.S. military sprayed during the Vietnam War, also contained a form of dioxin.
The Defense Department said it is “concerned that toxins from burn pit emissions may pose health risks” and that the pits are generally meant to be short-term.
“For the longer term,” Defense Department spokeswoman Heather Babb said, “we use incinerators, engineered landfills or other accepted solid waste management practices. When used, open-air burn pits must be operated in a manner that prevents or minimizes risks to human health and safety of DOD personnel.”

Michael Keister mapped the locations of more than a dozen burn pits in Iraq while working with Tammy McCracken for a Georgia-based military contractor about nine years ago. He remembers wearing a bandana over his mouth and nose and goggles to protect himself from the acrid smoke.
“No one would ever get away with this in any county in the United States,” said Keister, a Vietnam War veteran who has suffered from diabetes connected to Agent Orange exposure. “It appeared they didn’t give a hoot about anybody over there, including our own soldiers and Marines.”

Kris Marbutt of McDonough said her 34-year-old husband, Sgt. John Marbutt, died from brain cancer — glioblastoma multiforme — in 2016 after being exposed to burn pits during his deployment to Mosul, Iraq, in 2009 and 2010. She remembers him telling her how thick the air was in Iraq and how he later suffered from two brain tumors, headaches, dizziness and numbness.

Dozens of veterans, civilian contractors and their families sued the military contractors who were responsible for managing the burn pits, including KBR, alleging they were harmed by the smoke coming from them. But in December, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected their appeal, leaving in place a lower court decision that blocked the lawsuits from moving forward.

The VA says it is pursuing a new review focusing on respiratory health.

Still, the agency has approved some disability compensation claims that had at least one condition related to burn pit exposure. From June of 2007 through March of this year, the VA processed 12,378 of them. Of those, 2,425 — or a fifth — had at least one burn pit condition granted, according to the VA.

His final words

David McCracken grew up in New Castle, Penn., the son of a Korean War veteran and a homemaker. An industrial hygienist, he was sharp, he thrived in school and he loved the military, according to his widow, Tammy. She got one of his favorite expressions, Embrace every moment, tattooed on her right wrist after he died.

In her tidy home in Tyrone, she is surrounded by things that remind her of him: The silver sword she presented him the day he was promoted to colonel, his plentiful challenge coin collection, his mint green camouflage Army caps, and the American flag that draped his casket.
The day he died, she said, he shared some vanilla ice cream — his favorite flavor — with her and their three children in the hospice wing of the Atlanta hospital that cared for him. He asked Tammy if he did a good job as a husband and father. Absolutely, she told him, you did a fantastic job. Those were the final words they shared.

AZ Central: Unclaimed remains of 17 veterans are buried with honors in Marana
Ellie Nakamoto-White, Arizona Republic Published 6:20 p.m. MT April 27, 2019 | Updated 8:00 p.m. MT April 27, 2019
More than 100 people gathered Saturday morning in Marana to honor 17 deceased U.S. military veterans whose remains were never claimed, some for decades.
Missing in America Project arranged for the burials at Arizona Veterans Memorial Cemetery as a final tribute to veterans who, while they died without being claimed by next of kin, were worthy of recognition for their service.
"Whether someone served two years and got out because of an injury, or they served 30 or 40 years and made it their whole career, they all deserve at least to be recognized for what they did," said Peter Redwine, an MIAP supporter.
The ceremony began with honor details folding U.S. flags in perfect unison. As pairs of servicemen and women marched up to a table holding the boxes of cremated remains, the rhythmic tapping of their boots on the concrete was the only sound.
The crowd raised their arms in salute as each box was carried away for placement in a vault. A lone bugle blared.
"It’s just such a moving experience and such an honor to be a part of this," said Mary Cartter, an MIAP member. "Every chance I get, I come to one of these. I love the dedication. I think it renews our pride in America. These guys in the MIAP, they search the world to find these soldiers. Thank God for them."
MIAP states their mission as:
The purpose of the MIA Project is to locate, identify and inter the unclaimed cremated remains of American veterans through the joint efforts of private, state and federal organizations. To provide honor and respect to those who have served this country by securing a final resting place for these forgotten heroes.
Elizabeth Bartel, the MIAP National Chaplain for the Western Region, said that MIAP works because of loyal people like Cartter.
"People faithfully come out every time we call for it, so you can tell it’s near and dear to our hearts and just the community in general," Bartel said.
Bartel said she was proud to work for an organization like MIAP’s because "it gives honor to these people that served our country and died a lonely death."
Redwine said he thought it was "fantastic that we have an organization that renders the honors to the men and women that they deserve."
“I just hope these poor soldiers are looking down. They signed a blank check and gave their all.”
Mary Cartter, Missing in Arizona Project member
He noted that this was the smallest mission he’d been on, with the largest in Cave Creek that laid 42 veterans to rest.
"I think it’s a critical thing for our veterans to know they’re not forgotten. Think about how many veterans who live alone or are homeless, who hear about MIAP and don’t have to worry as much about what’s going to happen when they’re gone," Redwine said.
Cartter agreed, saying, "I just hope these poor soldiers are looking down.They signed a blank check and gave their all."
The next event is sometime in October, Bartel said.
For more information, visit https://www.miap.us/.
Jacksonville: Call Box: The midnight ride of John Gibson to save the GI Bill
By Sandy Strickland
Posted Apr 21, 2019 at 4:04 PM Updated Apr 21, 2019 at 7:21 PM
Dear Call Box: I know the 75th anniversary of the passage of the GI Bill is coming up, and I heard a South Georgia congressman and the old Jacksonville airport had a role in helping get it passed. What can you tell me about it?
N.P., Southside
Dear N.P.: The congressman was missing. So a desperate manhunt was launched. State troopers even stopped South Georgia drivers to ask if they were U.S. Rep. John Gibson. A plane was waiting at Jacksonville’s Imeson Airport, and they had only hours to get him to Washington for a critical vote on a bill that would affect millions of veterans. And yes, it was the proverbial dark and stormy night.
In short, it had all the ingredients of a suspense thriller.
Some historians refer to it as the Midnight Ride. Once Gibson was tracked down, it was a wild journey in a speeding car as a thunderstorm raged. The native of Folkston, Ga., just across the Florida line, has become known as the man who saved the GI Bill.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted Congress to pass the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, better known as the GI Bill or government-issue. In 1943 disabled World War II veterans were returning home to few resources at an alarming rate.
The American Legion’s solution was a comprehensive bill that would provide housing, education and job benefits to veterans. It included minorities and women while other versions of the bill did not.
The problem was that a House and Senate conference committee was deadlocked 3-3 on the bill, and Gibson’s vote was needed to move it to the floor. A couple of weeks earlier, Gibson had returned home to Douglas in South Georgia to recuperate from an illness. After he recovered, Gibson spent the day fox hunting, unaware that the bill he supported was in danger.
The committee had adjourned at 6 p.m. June 9, 1944, and was going to meet at 10 a.m. the next day for one last vote. John Stelle, an Amerian Legion lobbyist, asked, “What can we do?” according to an article in the February 1969 edition of the American Legion magazine.
“Get John Gibson up here from Georgia,” Rep. Pat Kearney of New York told Stelle. “He’ll vote the right way. He’s the only one who can save the bill.”
They had only a few hours to locate Gibson, and with wartime restrictions on telephone service, it wasn’t going to be easy.
David Camelon, who covered the passage of the bill and wrote the magazine’s story, reported that the legion’s effort to bring Gibson to Washington involved dozens of people across the country. Atlanta Constitution editors, for example, used their newspaper clearance to call him at home. There was no answer. The Douglas telephone operator said, “I’ll find him for you, some way or other,” the story said.
She telephoned his friends and learned he was supposed to be on the highway between Valdosta and Douglas, 70 miles apart. She promised to ring every five minutes until she got him. Time raced by — 9 p.m., 10 p.m., 11 p.m.
Radio stations in Atlanta and Valdosta broadcast repeated appeals to anyone knowing Gibson’s whereabouts to ask him to immediately call Operator 2 in Washington.
City, county and state police stopped cars on highways he might be traveling. Sirens roaring, they flagged down nervous motorists and waved them along when they discovered they weren’t Gibson.
The clock ticked on. Gibson, whose family was out of town, finally arrived home sometime after 11 p.m., long past the operator’s quitting time. But she hadn’t quit. Gibson stepped out of his car, heard the phone ring and ran to answer it.
He was told that in a few minutes, Clark Luke, the legion commander for Georgia, would be picking him up. Luke would take him to Waycross where an Army car was waiting.
Priority travel plans already had been authorized. Officials ranging from the chief of Air Force public relations to the national traffic manager for Eastern Airlines had been roused from bed to make it happen. Eastern had a 2:30 a.m. flight out of Jacksonville, and the traffic manager called the airport with the message to “Bring Gibson to Washington on that plane if you have to wait all night.”
Meanwhile, Gibson told Luke: “I just remembered, I haven’t got any cash on me.”
Then he said, “Never mind. There’s always a poker game at the Elks Club on Friday night. I’ll get some money from the boys.”
After a stop at the club, Luke drove him to the Waycross Army Air Base in what had become a slashing thunderstorm. Police provided a motorcycle escort. In Waycross, Gibson jumped into another Army vehicle driven by Cpl. Jack Hunter, a former Notre Dame track star, in what probably was his most important race, albeit by car.
Hunter gunned the vehicle over gravel roads at up to 90 mph on the mad dash to Jacksonville, roughly 78 miles away.
Florida police waited at the state line to escort the car to Imeson on North Main Street. Once there, Gibson ran up the boarding ramp of the plane, whose twin propellers roared as soon as he was seated.
At 6:37 a.m. the plane landed at Washington National Airport, and the legion’s special committee greeted Gibson. He was fighting mad, according to all accounts.
Before leaving Washington, he had given Rep. John Rankin of Mississippi authority to cast his vote in favor of the bill. As one of those opposed, Rankin had refused to cast Gibson’s absentee vote.
At 10 a.m., Gibson strode into the committee room and thundered, “Americans are dying today in Normandy in the greatest invasion in all history. I’m going to hold a press conference after this meeting and castigate anyone who dares to vote against the bill.”
No one did, and the bill went back to the House and Senate in the form the legion wanted. After it was passed by Congress, Roosevelt signed it into law on June 22.
In a recent interview from national legion headquarters in Indianapolis, spokesman John Raughter paid tribute to the pivotal role Gibson and his midnight ride played.
“Without that vote, there would be no GI Bill as we know it today,” Raughter said, adding that some people were opposed because of the cost and the fact the bill was color-blind at a time when society was not necessarily so.
Though it has changed form in subsequent years, billions of dollars in benefits have helped millions of veterans reenter civilian life.
Marvin Gibson, the congressman’s son and an orthopedic surgeon in Washington for many years, said in interviews that his father was a man who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. Gibson, who won the first of his three terms in 1940, was a leading proponent of the bill due to his own educational experiences and how much going to college helped him, he told relatives in Jacksonville and South Georgia. His father also was always for the underdog.
John Gibson, who was born in Charlton County in January 1893, was the youngest of 13 children. He moved to Douglas in 1920 where he graduated from Georgia State Normal College. He studied law through LaSalle Extension University and passed the bar exam on his first try because he had a photographic memory, said Marvin Gibson, who operated on thousands of veterans and died in 2014.
After becoming one of Georgia’s “most feared and respected attorneys,” Gibson was elected as solicitor general (equivalent to a district attorney today) of the Waycross Judicial Circuit in 1934, and his trials attracted large numbers of people who came to be entertained, relatives and others said.
In 2006 the legion’s headquarters in Indianapolis acknowledged Gibson’s contribution with a special tribute. There’s now a traveling exhibit that traces the story of the bill.
Gibson died in 1960 at age 67.
If you have a question about Jacksonville’s history, call sstrickland or mail to Call Box, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL 32231. Please include contact information. Photos are also welcome.
Sandy Strickland: (904) 359-4128

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