12 March, 2019 05:32

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Tuesday, March 12, 2019 which is Girl Scout Day, National Baked Scallops Day, National Plant a Flower Day and World Day Against Cyber Censorship.
This Day in History:

  • On this day in 1933, eight days after his inauguration, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gives his first national radio address—or “fireside chat”—broadcast directly from the White House.
  • On March 12, 1930, Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi begins a defiant march to the sea in protest of the British monopoly on salt, his boldest act of civil disobedience yet against British rule in India.
  • 1947: In a dramatic speech to a joint session of Congress, President Harry S. Truman asks for U.S. assistance for Greece and Turkey to forestall communist domination of the two nations. Historians have often cited Truman’s address, which came to be known as the Truman Doctrine, as the official declaration of the Cold War.
  • On March 12, 1903, the New York Highlanders are given the go-ahead by team owners to join baseball’s American League. The Highlanders had recently moved from Baltimore, where they were called the Orioles and had a winning tradition dating back to the 1890s. Called the “Yankees” by fans, the team officially changed its name to the New York Yankees in 1913, and went on to become the most dominant franchise in American sports. [Editor’s Note: They remain a
    horrible band of reprobates and fans to this day.]

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

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Military Times: Trump wants a huge increase in VA spending, but some vet groups are still unhappy. Here’s why.
By: Leo Shane III   16 hours ago
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is proposing another big increase in Veterans Affairs spending for fiscal 2020 — but also reintroducing a controversial cost-savings measure that veterans groups have long opposed.
The increased VA spending — up to $216 billion, an increase of $19 billion or 9.5 percent from fiscal 2019 — comes as a host of non-defense programs face steep cuts in the budget proposal. The Departments of Transportation, Education, Energy and State all face double-digit funding cuts under the president’s plan, which is already facing fierce opposition from Democrats in Congress.
In a statement, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the increase in his department’s budget “supports the most significant transformation of VA since its inception, positioning the department as the premier provider for veterans’ services and benefits.” He also called it a continuation of the administration’s commitment to supporting veterans.
Under Trump and his predecessors, the department has seen steady budget increases since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The fiscal 2020 budget request is nearly double the total VA funding level from 10 years ago and more than four times the total in fiscal 2001, when the entire budget was about $45 billion.
But a 9.5 percent jump in total VA funding would be among the largest single-year increases over that span. The total includes about $123 billion in mandatory funding and $93 billion in discretionary programs.
Medical costs alone account for more than $80 billion of the discretionary money. Community care funding will increase by about $1 billion from fiscal 2019 levels, accounting for about 19 percent of the total VA medical budget.
That’s in line with the ratio of spending in recent years for appointments and care outside the VA system, but it is certain to undergo extra scrutiny as department leaders introduce new rules for community care eligibility in June.
The overhaul of private-sector medical appointment availability has been a centerpiece of Trump’s promised VA reforms but has also draw criticism as a privatization of VA responsibilities. Some veterans groups worry too much funding will be shifted to those programs and away from VA health care.
Another budget item certain to draw criticism is the reintroduction of plans to “round down” veterans’ annual cost-of-living increases to the nearest whole dollar. The move would cost an individual veteran no more than $12 annually, but it has been decried by veterans groups in the past as unfairly using their earned benefits to balance the budget.
White House officials have countered that rounding down annual benefit hikes was VA policy from the late 1990s until 2013. Returning to the move will save $36 million in fiscal 2020 alone, and more than $2 billion over the next 10 years.
Administration planners also want to place education benefit caps on flight training schools, a proposal that many veterans advocates have backed but has faced strong opposition from education lobbyists. That move would save about $30 million annually.
Under the president’s plan, VA would spent more than $1.6 billion in fiscal 2020 on improvements to electronic medical records, part of the department’s 10-year plan to bring those files in line with Defense Department health computer systems.
That’s up nearly 45 percent from spending totals this year and has raised concerns from some congressional Republicans in recent months.
While most VA accounts would see significant increases, medical research would be cut by about $17 million (2 percent), and construction accounts would be cut by more than $1.3 billion (45 percent). Both moves are likely to raise concerns about the administration’s long-term plans to maintain and advance department medical care.
About $9.4 billion would be spent on programs to prevent suicide among veterans (4.5 percent more than fiscal 2019) and about $1.8 on outreach to homeless veterans. The number of full-time VA employees would rise to nearly 394,000 individuals.
Per law, the budget request also includes advance appropriations for fiscal 2021, to ensure a government shutdown or other political stalemate won’t disrupt any needed medical or support programs. That funding will top $217 billion.
Lawmakers will spend the next several months debating both the details of the VA funding proposal and how it fits with Trump’s broader budget priorities. Congress must adopt a new federal budget by Sept. 30 or face another partial government shutdown.

Military.com: VA Budget Poised to Grow for 3rd Straight Year
11 Mar 2019
Military.com | By Patricia Kime
The White House’s proposed fiscal 2020 budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs would increase funding for the third straight year — $220 billion in total spending to support consolidation of the VA’s private health programs, modernize its technology infrastructure and expand the national cemetery system. It’s an increase of nearly 11 percent from last year’s $198.6 billion total VA budget proposal.
The VA’s proposed $97 billion discretionary budget would be $8 billion more than President Donald Trump sought in the fiscal 2019 budget. According to the White House, the increases would largely go toward implementing key legislative initiatives, including the VA Mission Act — the law that supports consolidating the department’s private medical care programs — and expansion of a VA program that provides compensation and health care to the caregivers of injured veterans.
The proposed budget would provide $8.9 billion to implement the VA Mission Act and $1.6 billion for modernizing the VA’s medical records system, with a goal of deploying a new electronic health system compatible with the Defense Department’s system at three initial sites, with more to follow.
The budget also would support expansion of the VA’s caregiver program to include those who care for veterans injured on duty before Sept. 11, 2001. And it would fund the technology infrastructure needed to implement the program, although the initial budget releases did not state the amount of funding allocated to expand the caregiver program.
The budget also would fund a new program to allow most veterans enrolled in VA health care up to two urgent care visits per year without a co-payment.
Other programs within VA that would see increases under the president’s budget include women’s health ($547 million for gender-specific health care); funding for a new hospital in Louisville, Kentucky ($410 million), and improvements to the VA medical center in Manhattan, New York ($150 million).
The budget includes a 4.2 percent increase to the VA’s National Cemetery Administration to support opening five new cemeteries across the country and sustain 144 current cemeteries and sites. The funding also would help support the transfer of 11 cemeteries from the Department of the Army to the VA.
Those cemeteries include active and former posts at Fort Devens, Massachusetts; Fort McClellan Post Cemetery and Prisoner of War Cemeteries, Alabama; Benicia Post Cemetery, California; Fort Sheridan Cemetery, Illinois; Fort Missoula Cemetery, Montana; Fort Stevens Cemetery, Oregon; Fort Douglas Cemetery, Utah; and Fort Lawton, Fort Worden and Vancouver Cemeteries, Washington.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the budget request will "ensure that the nation’s veterans receive high-quality health care and timely access to benefits and services."
"This is a significant increase in VA funding and demonstrates the administration’s commitment to supporting our veterans," he said.
According to the administration, the budget also focuses on customer service and transparency. It proposes spending $8.1 million to improve customer service, $22 million to support the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, a 25 percent increase from the previous year, and an increase in the Office of Inspector General’s budget of nearly 8 percent to $207 million, to "strengthen accountability, promote transparency and reduce waste, fraud and abuse."
The budget also includes $123.2 billion for mandatory funding, an increase of $12.3 billion, or 11 percent, to fund required budget items such as compensation and pensions, housing, insurance and other benefits.
This story will be updated.

Defense News: Here’s Trump’s FY20 budget. It’s about to get shredded.
By: Joe Gould   19 hours ago
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WASHINGTON — While President Donald Trump’s new budget Monday reflects White House funding priorities, it has little if any chance of becoming law, as Democrats who control the House strongly disagree with what they consider the bookkeeping gimmickry accompanying it.
The White House officially released the broad details of its fiscal 2020 budget on March 11. It requests $750 billion for national defense, or $34 billion above the funds enacted for FY19, while it cuts the nondefense side to $563 billion, a 9 percent drop from FY19. For the Defense Department alone, there’s $718 billion, up $33 billion.
“In order to preserve peace through strength, the Budget provides for increased end strength, bolsters our global force posture, and invests in the capabilities and domains critical to future conflicts, like space, artificial intelligence, and hypersonics,” Russ Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, said in a statement Sunday night.
To stay within the statutory budget caps, the budget funds national defense at the cap level, $576 billion, and shifts $164 billion of the defense spending to an overseas contingency operations, or OCO, fund, which some fiscal hawks will view as an accounting stunt.
It’s already a focal point for disagreement. Vought has said it was part of plan to increase defense spending and cut the nondefense side of the budget. But House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., and House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., have called it “a giant OCO gimmick to prop up defense spending.”
Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee and a key voice for increased defense spending on Capitol Hill, acknowledged the White House path here is a dead end.
“I think the idea of having this massive OCO is not one that pretty much anyone takes seriously,” he told reporters last week. “The real negotiations will have to happen on Capitol Hill.”
Congressional Democrats and Republicans “are highly motivated” to reach another two-year budget deal and “the chances are good there will be another negotiated budget outcome,” said Thornberry of Texas. (Absent a budget agreement, the statutory budget caps would mean a $71 billion cut for defense spending and $55 billion from nondefense programs.
Appropriators reached a deal last year whereby they paired a Pentagon spending bill with its counterpart for labor, health and human services, education, and related agencies — a possible way forward now, Thornberry said.
Asked if the large OCO request would poison those talks, Thornberry advised that lawmakers not "handwring over the massive OCO,” but focus on shoring up military readiness and countering Russia and China.
The White House plans to rely on this strategy next year, too, to get around budget caps. Long-range plans for OCO show it as $156 billion in FY21, and then — after caps expire — $20 billion for the next two years, before it drops to $10 billion in 2024.
Also controversial is it would use Pentagon funding for a border wall. Defense officials have promised lawmakers they will seek to backfill those funds, and there is a $9.2 billion “emergency requirements” line item “to address border security and hurricane recovery,” the budget says.
The budget contains $8.6 billion for more than 300 miles of new border wall. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., signaled Sunday that this is a fight for them.
“President Trump hurt millions of Americans and caused widespread chaos when he recklessly shut down the government to try to get his expensive and ineffective wall, which he promised would be paid for by Mexico,” they said in a joint statement. “Congress refused to fund his wall and he was forced to admit defeat and reopen the government. The same thing will repeat itself if he tries this again. We hope he learned his lesson.”
In seeking the wall funding, Trump would more than double the $8.1 billion now potentially available to the president for the wall after he declared a national emergency at the border last month in order to circumvent Congress — although there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to use that money if he faces a legal challenge, as is expected. The standoff over the wall led to a 35-day partial government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history.
The budget arrived as the Senate readies to vote this week to terminate Trump’s national emergency declaration. The Democratic-led House already did so, and a handful of Republican senators, uneasy over what they see as an overreach of executive power, are expected to join Senate Democrats in following suit. Congress appears to have enough votes to reject Trump’s declaration, but not enough to overturn a veto.
Trump invoked the emergency declaration after Congress approved nearly $1.4 billion for border barriers, less than the $5.7 billion he wanted. By doing that, he can potentially tap an additional $3.6 billion from military accounts and shift it to building the wall. That’s causing discomfort on Capitol Hill, where even the president’s Republican allies are protective of their power to decide how to allocate federal dollars. Lawmakers are trying to guard money that’s already been approved for military projects in their states, for base housing or other improvements.
Military Times: White House proposes 3.1% pay raise for military
By: Leo Shane III and Tara Copp
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WASHINGTON — Service members would see a 3.1 percent pay raise next January and the military would add about 30,000 more active-duty and reserve troops under President Donald Trump’s fiscal2020 budget proposal released on Monday.
For junior enlisted troops, a 3.1 percent pay hike would to about $815 more a year in pay. For senior enlisted and junior officers, the hike equals about $1,500 more. For an O-4 with 12 years service, it’s more than $2,800 extra next year.
In his budget announcement, Trump said the 3.1 percent increase was “the largest increase in a decade." According to the Pentagon’s records, service members received a 3.9 percent pay increase in 2009 and a 3.4 percent increase in 2010. The size of each year’s raise is linked to private sector wages, as measured by the Employment Cost Index.
The proposed $750 billion defense budget is dependent upon Congress supporting an additional $164 billion in overseas contingency operations spending, or OCO. It would be the largest OCO amount requested since the Obama administration requested $167 billion at the height of the surge in Afghanistan, and $194 billion in 2008 at the height of the Iraq surge. That request, however, is likely to be challenged by House Democrats who object to increased military funding while domestic programs face sharp cuts.
The document highlights a host of administration priorities for the Defense Department, including personnel policies. In the budget, officials said their plan “builds on steady gains that have restored military readiness, enhanced lethality, and increased force size” in recent years. The plus-up of personnel would increase military end strength to 2,140,300 active and reserve military personnel, according to the budget documents.
White House officials said extra troops are needed “to achieve the objectives in the National Defense Strategy.” Details on which services will gain forces are expected in the coming days.

Stripes: Taliban leader spent last days just miles from US base, report says

By J.P. LAWRENCE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 11, 2019

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban have confirmed that their shadowy founder died just a few miles from an American base in Afghanistan — and not in Pakistan, as generally believed — even as the Kabul government rejected the claim, which is at the center of a new report from a New York-based research center.

Experts and intelligence analysts have long believed Mullah Mohammad Omar fled to Pakistan after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001. From there, according to the consensus view, he at some level directed Taliban operations until his death in 2013.

But the Taliban’s one-eyed leader actually might have remained in Afghanistan and relinquished direct command of the group, according to the report.

The report’s author, long-time Afghanistan researcher Bette Dam, relied on interviews with Mullah Omar’s bodyguard as well as members of the Taliban and Afghan security agencies, she wrote. The report was published during the weekend by the Zomia Center, a research group affiliated with New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington.

Omar gave up control of the Taliban within days of their defeat and went into hermitic isolation in rural Zabul, an insurgent-friendly province on Afghanistan’s southern border with Pakistan. At various points, he lived in houses just miles away from forward operating bases Lagman and Wolverine, said the report, titled “The Secret Life of Mullah Omar.”

Omar did not trust Pakistan, and would not go there even for medical help, it said.
Dam’s book about her own efforts to track down Mullah Omar, “Searching for an Enemy,” was published in Dutch in February.

In the Zomia Center report, she disputes the U.S. narrative that Mullah Omar actively commanded Taliban forces while cooperating with al-Qaida militants in Pakistan. The mullah had almost no interaction with other people until his death, except for a few scares in which American troops failed to find his hidden room, the report said.

It noted that the New York Times and Politico had also reported on speculations that Mullah Omar had died in Afghanistan.

The report has received mixed reactions in Kabul, where officials have long blamed Islamabad for insecurity in the region.

A former high-ranking member of the Taliban said he has not read the report, but its findings fit what he has heard.

“Mullah Omar did not die in Pakistan,” said Hakim Mujahid, a member of High Peace Council of Afghanistan and former Taliban representative to the United Nations during their regime. “He suffered somehow but he didn’t go anywhere out of the country and died there.”

The Taliban founder didn’t go to any other country “for a single day,” the Taliban said in a statement Monday.

Members of the government in Kabul, meanwhile, have rejected the report’s claims.

“We strongly reject this delusional claim & we see it as an effort to create & build an identify for the Taliban and their foreign backers. We have sufficient evidence which shows he (Mullah Omar) lived & died in #Pakistan,” presidential spokesman Haroon Chakhansuri said on Twitter.
The idea that Mullah Omar would stay in a country swarming with more than 140,000 U.S. and NATO troops seems unlikely, David Petraeus, a former CIA director and a onetime U.S. military commander in Afghanistan and Iraq, told the Wall Street Journal.

For its part, the U.S. has long accused Pakistan of harboring the Taliban, including its deadly Haqqani network, and has made foreign aid to the country contingent on a crackdown. Mullah Omar’s successor was killed on the Pakistan side of the border in a 2016 drone strike, and last year, Washington cancelled about $300 million in aid after President Donald Trump criticized Islamabad for its counterterrorism record.

The Taliban founder’s hidden life in Afghanistan, however, suggests a staggering U.S. intelligence failure regarding the group with whom it is now negotiating an end to the war, now in its 18th year, the report’s author said.

“Remarkably little is known about the men on whom the U.S. is pinning its hopes for peace,” Dam wrote, referring to ongoing talks between U.S. and Taliban representatives, including Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in Doha, Qatar.

1st Course – Post #6

FYI All,

Begin forwarded message:

From: "denenpeg" <denenpeg>
Date: March 11, 2019 at 8:09:34 AM MST
To: "Undisclosed Recipients" <asdic60700>
Subject: 1st Course


10 March, 2019 16:50

Annual Official visit of state Commander. Steve Aguirre at a recognition and appeal of our American Legion National Emergency Fund replenishing our support of our Coast Guard warriors. “There aren’t enough thanks for all that this Family works for in our community for those who lay it on the line.” Says commander Steve. State President Cyndi Queen, echos his remarks, adding Veterans here now, “thank you ladies and gentlemen, for your service.” Post 81 Commander, Larry Dupton, his staff and volunteers, the consummate hosts. Blessings All. And as a matter of personal privilege, thank you to all who have lent your prayers to my brother Dave’s familia’s current travails as we mourn the loss of his boy Austin. We will catch up soon mi hijo, you ran too fast but we will catch up.

7 March, 2019 13:50

Good afternoon Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Thursday, March 7, 2019 which is National Cereal Day, Nametag Day, National Be Heard Day, and National Crown Roast of Pork Day.

This Day in Legion History:

· March 7, 1919: Stars and Stripes publishes an invitation to the Paris Caucus, calling on “Veterans in AEF in Liberty League.” Liberty League is Lt. Col. Eric Fisher Wood’s preferred name for the new association. Organizers expect about 300 to attend. Roosevelt, Jr., however, would not be one of them. He returns to the United States before the caucus is called to order, in part to begin promoting the yet-to-be-born American Legion.

· March 7, 1919: What would become regarded as the first post of The American Legion, General John Joseph Pershing Post Number 1 in Washington, D.C., is organized and makes plans to apply for the first charter of the as-yet-unnamed organization. It receives a charter on May 19, 1919. The St. Louis caucus of May 8-10, 1919, determines that Legion posts cannot be named after living persons, so Pershing Post 1 is renamed George Washington Post 1.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

· Stripes: VA contracting at ‘high risk’ for wasting tax dollars

· Military Times: Lawmakers to DoD: You knew about water contamination. Why haven’t you done more?

· Military Times: Arizona senator reveals she was raped by a superior officer while in the Air Force

· Stripes: Advocates for sexual assault victims create one-stop support site

· Military Times: Here’s what’s coming next in the battle over burn pit benefits

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Stripes: VA contracting at ‘high risk’ for wasting tax dollars

By NIKKI WENTLING | Stars and Stripes | Published: March 6, 2019

WASHINGTON —The Government Accountability Office on Wednesday declared Department of Veterans Affairs contracting, which topped $26 billion in 2017, is a “high risk” area of government, susceptible to waste and mismanagement of taxpayer money and in need of more oversight.

The GAO, a leading government watchdog agency, presented a biennial report to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on government programs that are vulnerable to fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement. After a government-wide review, the GAO added two new areas to its latest report, one of them being VA contracting.

The VA spent $26 billion in fiscal 2017 to contract for goods and services – one of the largest procurement budgets across the U.S. government, said Gene Dodaro, who leads the GAO. The watchdog found outdated acquisition policies, little oversight and an unreasonable workload on its contracting officers, among other risks.

“They have outdated policies and practices and haven’t been able to save a lot of money,” he told the oversight committee. “Many purchases are being made under emergency situations.”

Dodaro specifically brought attention to how the VA purchases medical supplies.

Contracting officers rushed orders of a large amount of medical supplies that could’ve been routinely purchased, he said. Those emergency purchases accounted for 20 percent of the Veteran Health Administration’s overall procurements in fiscal 2016, totaling nearly $2 billion, the GAO report states.

Other watchdog groups have recorded problems during the past two years with how the VA buys medical supplies.

According to documents released last year by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, the VA hospital in Durham, N.C., spent more than $1.3 million on medical supplies that it didn’t need or use. The logistical problems there were analogous to issues the VA Office of Inspector General discovered in 2017 at the Washington DC VA Medical Center, where roughly $150 million in medical supplies were not inventoried.

The GAO began focusing its attention on VA contracting in 2015. Since then, the watchdog made 31 recommendations for the agency, 21 of which haven’t been implemented.

In addition, overall VA health care remained on the high-risk list this year. It’s been there since 2015, following the discovery of veterans suffering long waits for treatment at VA facilities.

Of the 35 areas of government on the list, seven made progress since 2017, Dodaro said. VA health care wasn’t one of them.

“Unfortunately, many of the areas haven’t really changed that much since our last update,” he said. “Veterans health care remains a problematic area.”

In its newest report, the GAO listed VA health care as one of nine areas that need special attention from Congress and the White House.

The agency cited a “lack of progress” and noted ongoing issues at the VA with accountability, information technology, staff training, ambiguous policies and cost efficiency.

Leadership instability at the agency was partially to blame for the problems, Dodaro said. Since VA health care was added to the list, the department has been led by three secretaries: Bob McDonald, David Shulkin and Robert Wilkie.

“So that shows you at the very top of the department how much turnover there’s been,” Dodaro said. “As a result of that, the VA — to this day — does not yet have a good plan for addressing fundamental causes of why we put them on the list. It’s prevented them from dealing with some very underlying management problems.”

Dodaro has met with Wilkie, the current secretary, and said he is hopeful Wilkie can make progress. Wilkie designated a team of people to work with GAO staff, Dodaro said.

Nikki Clowers, managing director of health care for the GAO, said vacancies among other top VA jobs have caused confusion and delays.

The agency is still without a permanent undersecretary of health – a position that’s gone unfilled since 2017. The job requires a presidential appointment and confirmation by the Senate. VA official Richard Stone has taken on those duties on a temporary basis.

“When you have those vacancies and not clear policies or clearly defined roles and responsibilities for those in acting positions, it can cause confusion,” Clowers said. “And we’ve seen that.”

Military Times: Lawmakers to DoD: You knew about water contamination. Why haven’t you done more?

By: Tara Copp   18 hours ago

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The Pentagon’s decision not to take action to protect military families from decades of exposure to cancer-causing chemicals until a 2016 Environmental Protection Agency warning did not sit well with members of Congress, who questioned Defense Department leadership on the issue at a hearing Wednesday.

“To put it charitably: it is unclear why DoD feels justified in passing the buck to the EPA," said House Oversight and Reform subcommittee on the environment chairman Rep. Harley Rouda, D-Calif. “Particularly in light of evidence suggesting DoD’s awareness of the toxicity of the chemicals since the early 1980s.”

Rouda and ranking member James Comer, R-Ky., heard testimony from EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Dave Ross and Maureen Sullivan, deputy assistant secretary of defense for environment.

The perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl chemical compounds in question are found in everyday household items, but they were concentrated in firefighting foam the military used until just last year.

But at least one other DoD installation, Fort Carson in Colorado, use of the chemicals was stopped in 1991 after an Army Corps of Engineers study looked at harmful chemicals at its installations.

“Aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) is considered a hazardous material in a number of states,” the 1991 study, which was obtained by Military Times, read. “Firefighting operations that use AFFF must be replaced with nonhazardous substitutes.”

DoD has previously said that until the 2016 guidance from EPA on recommended exposure level limits, it did not know the severity of its exposure problem, which spurred it voluntarily providing filters and shutting some water sources, EPA’s guidance is not enforceable,

In March 2018, at the direction of Congress, DoD published its first-ever assessment of each contaminated base where the compounds had been found in either on-base or off-base water sources. More than 126 locations were identified — some with exposure levels hundreds of times greater than EPA’s 70 parts per trillion recommendation.

Since the release of the list, scores of families and veterans have contacted Military Times with stories of families or neighbors with cancer, or children with birth defects. Hope Martindell Grosse, who attended Wednesday’s hearing, is one of them.

Grosse grew up in a neighborhood that was across the street from the firefighting training center at Naval Air Warfare Center Warminster, in Pennsylvania.

Her family and others in the neighborhood relied on their private well for water. Now, not only that well, but a public water well installed in the late 1990s is shut down — with remaining levels of PFAS at more than 1200 parts per trillion,

Her father died in 1990 at age 52, from cancer. Three months later, at age 25, Grosse was diagnosed with cancer as well. She has successfully fought it since, but “anytime something is wrong with my health — just about anything — I am immediately filled with a crippling fear that it is cancer,” she said in testimony submitted for the hearing.

Military Times: Arizona senator reveals she was raped by a superior officer while in the Air Force

By: Leo Shane III16 hours ago

WASHINGTON — Arizona Sen. Martha McSally, a former Air Force colonel and one of the first female combat veterans elected to Congress, revealed she was raped by a superior officer during her military career but kept the attack secret out of fear of reprisal.

“Like so many women and men, I didn’t trust the system at the time,” she said during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I blamed myself. I was ashamed and confused. I thought I was strong but felt powerless. The perpetrators abused their position of power in profound ways.”

The revelation came as the committee heard from other military sexual assault victims, and questioned Pentagon officials on whether have done enough to address the problem.

Earlier this year, the Defense Department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office found the number of service academy cadets reporting unwanted sexual encounters increased almost 50 percent over the last three years, to 747 incidents in 2018.

That news has spurred a series of hearings and legislative proposals in recent weeks aimed at changing cultural norms within the military, and forcing more aggressive action by Defense Department leadership.

McSally, a Republican lawmaker who has been an outspoken voice on issues of equality of women in the ranks, served in the Air Force from 1988 to 2010. She was the first military woman to fly in combat after the military lifted rules barring them from those pilot posts, and provided close-air support during operations in Iraq and Kuwait as part of Operation Southern Watch.

She did not say when the assault occurred or who her attacker was, but did say she did not discuss it with anyone until years later.

“Later in my career, as the military grappled with (sexual assault) scandals and their wholly inadequate responses, I felt the need to let some people know I too was a survivor,” she said. “I was horrified at how my attempt to share generally my experiences was handled.

“I almost separated from the Air Force at 18 years of service over my despair. Like many victims, I felt like the system was raping me all over again.”

Despite that experience, McSally said she does not support legislation to remove sexual assault and harassment crimes from the rest of the military justice system. A number of advocates have pushed for that move, saying that military leaders have repeatedly shown they are not equipped to properly respond to the crimes or handle their prosecution.

“I share the disgust of the failures of the military system,” she said. “But it is for this very reason that we must allow, we must demand, that commanders stay at the center of the solution and live up to the moral and legal responsibilities that come with being a commander.

“We must fix those distortions in the culture of our military that permit sexual harm.”

McSally was appointed to the open Arizona Senate seat after losing the November election against Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. During that campaign, McSally told the Wall Street Journal that she was sexually abused as a teen by a high school track coach.

McSally is one of three Iraq War combat veterans in the Senate today, including Iowa Republican Joni Ernst and Illinois Democrat Tammy Duckworth. Duckworth was on hand at the subcommittee hearing for McSally’s announcement and was among senators who praised her courage and insight on the issue.

McSally called the problem of sexual assault in the ranks a threat to national security.

“Commanders have a moral responsibility to ensure readiness of their units,” she said. “That includes warfighting skills, but demands the commander cultivates and protects and enriches a culture of teamwork, respect, and honor.

“Any conduct that degrades this readiness doesn’t just harm individuals in the ranks, it harms the mission and places at risk the security of our country.”

In a statement following the hearing, Air Force officials issued a statement saying "the criminal actions reported today by Senator McSally violate every part of what it means to be an airman. We are appalled and deeply sorry for what Senator McSally experienced and we stand behind her and all victims of sexual assault.

"We are steadfast in our commitment to eliminate this reprehensible behavior and breach of trust in our ranks.”

Stripes: Advocates for sexual assault victims create one-stop support site

By MATTHEW M. BURKE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 5, 2019

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Two women have joined together to help victims of sexual assault in the military find justice in a system they say often regards victims as an afterthought.

Survivors United is a sexual-assault victims advocacy group that offers a one-stop shop of resources at www.survivorsunited1.com. At the site, visitors can find information and links to other sites for help reporting a sexual assault and coping with its aftermath.

Adrian Perry, a Marine Corps spouse, and Kylisha Boyd, a civilian, are the group’s co-founders. Survivors United is a start-up organization, but both women said they have the backing of others.

“You just have no clue where to begin or what to do next,” Perry said, referring to the aftermath of a sexual assault. “We strive to be the organization that is in the trenches with the survivor, fighting with them, so that they can be heard, whatever they choose to do.”

The website offers instructions for each individual and situation, whether as an active-duty servicemember, National Guard and Reserve, transitioning servicemember or civilian. The site has information on the difference between confidentially reporting a crime and an investigation undertaken by a military command.

It provides legal statutes and rights as far as seeking prosecution inside or out of the military system; information on obtaining special victims’ counsel; how to file a Freedom of Information Act request for pertinent case files; how to report reprisal; resources and treatment options.

It also provides forms and information on how to contact members of Congress if a victim feels his or her case has been swept under the rug.

Perry’s role as a survivors’ advocate took root in summer 2016, when her daughter, age 6 at the time, told her family that Daniel Wilson, a Marine Corps colonel, had touched her inappropriately.

Wilson was convicted by a court-martial in September 2017 of sexual abuse of a child as well as six counts of conduct unbecoming an officer and absence without leave. He was sentenced to 5 ½ years in prison.

From the start, Perry said, her family became entangled in a bureaucratic web of military law enforcement and judicial proceedings where nobody seemed to fully comprehend their rights or available options.

The process itself seemed disproportionately callous and unfair toward victims, she said.

Perry wanted to make sure that no other family had to go through a similar situation, so she teamed with Boyd and launched Survivors United in February.

“You’re not always made aware of all of your rights,” she said. “Our main goal is to be able to provide people with knowledge and empower survivors so that they can move forward and figure out the way ahead after an assault like this.”

Boyd said she was sexually assaulted by a U.S. servicemember in Virginia in 2016. Navigating the military justice system was an eye-opening experience that led her to advocacy, she said.

“It is difficult to get a conviction in any prosecution of a sexual assault,” she said. “I was completely unprepared for the events following the initial report. The dynamic of military involvement added another layer of difficulty and complexity.”

Boyd said her civilian status made it hard to obtain legal help in her case; she said she got no legal assistance from the military and could not find a local lawyer interested in taking on the military.

Ultimately, Boyd said, the servicemember was acquitted at a bench trial by a military judge.

“Overall, my experience with the military justice system was one disappointment after another,” she said.

“In the beginning, I hoped that the military would be proactive in securing vital evidence from my attacker — defensive wounds, forensic evidence, text messages revealing his guilt, etc. … None of this was obtained from him. This is a systemic issue where the victim is the sole source of evidence during investigation.”

Each branch of the military does have victim advocates, Perry said.

In Perry’s case, she said more emphasis was placed on the rank of the accused and his service record than on the evidence. Wilson, who at the time was on the II Marine Expeditionary Force general staff at Camp Lejeune, N.C., was also accused of sexually abusing a second daughter and plying the third with alcohol.

The Perry family sued the Marine Corps for $25 million for the pain and suffering of their three daughters and for long-term mental-health treatment. The Marine Corps has denied the claim, Perry said. The family plans to file for reconsideration before filing a lawsuit in federal court.

Perry said that when they called the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to report Wilson, they were unaware of the process and their rights. A full understanding of these rights, available options and procedural issues were not explained in layman’s terms, she said.

At times, Perry said, she and her family felt they were the ones under investigation. They were shocked, for example, when they were asked to give up their mobile devices, but Wilson was not required to do so in the search for evidence.

Perry has become a fierce advocate for her family but also for anyone else who has experienced sexual assault, Boyd said.

“Adrian and I saw in each other the struggles we shared, and both wanted to lessen the load for others going through the process,” she said.

Military Times: Here’s what’s coming next in the battle over burn pit benefits

By: Leo Shane III   21 hours ago

WASHINGTON — House lawmakers on Tuesday advanced legislation to improve tracking of troops’ exposure to toxic chemicals from war zone burn pits, but the real political fight over how to help those ailing veterans is set for later this spring.

A group of lawmakers led by California Democrat Rep. Raul Ruiz is planning a push to classify combat burn pit exposure as the presumed cause of a range of lung diseases for veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, opening the door for easier access to medical care and disability benefits.

The proposal is likely to face fierce opposition from VA leadership, which has emphasized the need for clear scientific links between war zone exposures and illnesses later in life before making large-scale benefits decisions.

The department’s official position is that “research does not show evidence of long-term health problems from exposure” to burn pits.

But advocates say those scientific shortcomings have more to do with poor monitoring than a lack of proof of the dangers that burn pits present. They point to a host of rare cancers, respiratory illnesses and other health problems among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans that cannot be dismissed as coincidental clustering.

“The study for this illness … can take up to 20 years,” Ruiz said at a press conference with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America before Tuesday’s House vote. “We don’t have the time for that.

“There’s no perfect study, but there is enough evidence to determine there is a high enough suspicion of a link. We have veterans who are dying, so we have to act on that suspicion.”

In recent years, much of the focus in Congress on burn pits has centered on improving research to inform future benefits decisions.

Tuesday’s legislation — sponsored by Ruiz and Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio — would allow family members to submit information into VA’s Burn Pit Registry, giving the department information on veterans who passed away from suspected toxic exposure illnesses or who are too sick to access the list themselves.

Wenstrup said in a statement that the move will “ensure the VA has more accurate records for veterans exposed to burn pits, so we can better serve those with service-related illnesses.”

Sen. Tom Udall, R-N.M., has introduced companion legislation in his chamber and called the idea a way “to gather more information so that veterans can receive the answers they deserve and the medical treatment they have earned.”

Nearly 170,000 veterans and current service members have entered information in the registry since it was launched five years ago. Ruiz said that information is invaluable, but he warned that policy makers need to see that as a first step and not an end goal.

Ruiz, a former emergency room doctor and medical school administrator, said his personal review of available research literature shows a clear connection between the burn pits and pulmonary issues, lung diseases and cancers.

His proposed legislation would allow any veterans who can show burn pit exposure to receive “priority group 6” status for VA care — putting them ahead of veterans without any service-connected problems seeking appointments in the department’s health system — and lessen the standard of proof to receive disability benefits for burn pit veterans with lung diseases.

He compared the problem to the issue of Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War. The department took until 1991 to recognize exposure to the chemical defoliant in that war as the likely cause of a host of illnesses, and is still fighting the exposure claims of some sailors who served in ships off the coast there.

Melissa Bryant, chief policy officer for IAVA, said veterans from recent wars have already waited long enough on burn pit research and analysis.

“We have known about his problem for years,” she said. “We’re going on almost two decades already. We see this as our Agent Orange. And we know how long it took for that to be declared a presumptive condition.

“We will not stand for that happening to our generation.”

Moving vets exposed to burn pits to the front of the line for medical care may have only a nominal cost for VA, but making burn pit exposure a presumptive condition for disability benefits is likely to run into the billions of dollars. Ruiz said the costs of his proposal have not yet been finalized.

But, like the scientific questions surrounding the issue, he called the cost concerns beside the point of the problem.

“VA has been really good at coming up with excuses as to why they shouldn’t be covering Agent Orange for so many years,” he said. “Our Vietnam veterans understand that song and dance so much.

“For this generation, we have to stop it as soon as they start talking about excuses.”

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UPS hiring Vets in Phoenix area

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WEBSITE NEWS & INFO PROGRAMS POST 44 OFFICERS CONTACT
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Just learned today that UPS is launching a hiring campaign and wants to place the top priority on hiring veterans. This could be a significant opportunity for vets who are looking for work or interested in changing jobs. Contact me here at Post 44 if you are interested and I will hook you up with people who can help.

Rodger Wells

Adjutant, Post 44
480-941-0130

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