11 April, 2019 06:30

Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Thursday, April 11, 2019, which is Barbershop Quartet Day, National Pet Day, National Submarine Day, and World Parkinson’s Disease Day.

Today in History:

  • On this day in 1945, the American Third Army liberates the Buchenwald concentration camp, near Weimar, Germany, a camp that will be judged second only to Auschwitz in the horrors it imposed on its prisoners.
  • 1951: In perhaps the most famous civilian-military confrontation in the history of the United States, President Harry S. Truman relieves General Douglas MacArthur of command of the U.S. forces in Korea. The firing of MacArthur set off a brief uproar among the American public, but Truman remained committed to keeping the conflict in Korea a “limited war.”
  • 1963: One hundred U.S. troops of the Hawaiian-based 25th Infantry Division are ordered to temporary duty with military units in South Vietnam to serve as machine gunners aboard Army H-21 helicopters. This was the first commitment of American combat troops to the war and represented a quiet escalation of the U.S. commitment to the war in Vietnam.
  • On April 11, 1970, Apollo 13, the third lunar landing mission, is successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying astronauts James A. Lovell, John L. Swigert, and Fred W. Haise. The spacecraft’s destination was the Fra Mauro highlands of the moon, where the astronauts were to explore the Imbrium Basin and conduct geological experiments. After an oxygen tank exploded on the evening of April 13, however, the new mission objective became to get the Apollo 13 crew home alive.


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    Stars & Stripes: Special counsel: VA miscommunication and delays to blame for amputation of veteran’s leg
    By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES | Published: April 10, 2019
    WASHINGTON — A veteran’s foot wound that went untreated due to miscommunication and delays at a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Indiana eventually became infected and led to the amputation of his leg, a federal investigative agency reported Wednesday.
    The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, an independent agency that protects whistleblowers, sent a letter to President Donald Trump with its findings about the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis. Following up on a complaint from three whistleblowers, the special counsel discovered a policy change at the hospital in 2017 led to “significant delays in care and harm to veterans.”
    The amputation was a direct result of the delays, the agency reported.
    “It is unacceptable that a situation should ever arise where our nation’s veterans are provided such substandard care that it resulted in a loss of limb, because of a mistake by the agency entrusted to take care of them,” Special Counsel Henry Kerner wrote to Trump.
    Leaders within the VA social work service in Indianapolis directed social workers to stop entering home health care consults into a computerized patient record system because they were concerned it was outside of their scope of practice.
    The lack of planning, communication and training with the change led to home visits not being properly logged, the special counsel found.
    “These actions resulted in a system breakdown because leadership attempted to implement the change without collaborating with key services or allowing time for coordination and education,” Kerner wrote.
    In June 2017, one veteran was discharged from the hospital after receiving treatment for complications from diabetes.
    The veteran had a foot abscess that needed to be redressed twice each day with help from a home health aide. However, a home consult was not properly scheduled in the patient record system, the office of special counsel said.
    The veteran was unable to change the dressing on his wound for three days following his discharge from the hospital. The abscess became infected, and eventually led to a below-the-knee amputation, Kerner wrote.
    Since the investigation ended, the Indianapolis VA updated its procedures to allow social workers to enter information into the patient record system. It also has trained all key staff members, the office of special counsel said.
    Kerner wrote to Trump that he commended the VA for taking steps to prevent future problems.
    “I am nonetheless distressed that such a situation occurred in the first place,” he wrote.

    Stars & Stripes: Funding border mission forces National Guard to choose: reprogram funds or cancel training
    By ROSE L. THAYER | STARS AND STRIPES | Published: April 10, 2019
    The National Guard will have to scale back training and possibly cancel weekend drills unless the Pentagon can divert about $193 million into training accounts that have been depleted to pay for the ongoing mission at the U.S. southern border, the service’s top general told a Senate committee Wednesday.
    The border mission that began April 6, 2018, currently has about 2,079 Guard members in all four states that border Mexico. The mission, projected to cost about $247 million, is funded through the National Guard’s training budget, National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel told the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Defense.
    “If we don’t reprogram funds back into our training accounts, (we) will have to make modifications within our current appropriations that will either reduce our training opportunities or do things like cancel drill weekends to find the money,” he said.
    A single drill weekend costs about $100 million, Lengyel said.
    Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., the ranking member, pressed the issue.
    “General, haven’t you come before this committee and told us you need readiness more than anything else?” Durbin asked.
    Lengyel confirmed that readiness is a top priority as outlined by the National Defense Strategy.
    “Would you like to explain to me how canceling drill weekends enhances the readiness of the National Guard?” the senator asked.
    “Canceling drill weekends will impact readiness,” Lengyel replied. “I will tell you that our hope is that the department finds funds available inside the department that are re-allocatable so that we don’t have to do that.”
    The border deployment is expected to last through Sept. 30, which is the end of the current fiscal year. Durbin asked what is planned should the National Guard be asked to continue the border mission into fiscal year 2020.
    No funding for a potential border deployment extension is included in the proposed 2020 budget, the general said.
    Initially, Operation Guardian Support was expected to wrap up by the end of the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2018. The Department of Homeland Security requested it continue, and in August, an extension was announced. The Defense Department authorized up to 4,000 Guard members to serve at the border, but the current, lower number has remained relatively constant.
    Though Lengyel said Border Patrol would like to see more Guard members supporting its agents along the border, he anticipates the number of deployed troops will remain steady through September.
    Operation Guardian Support has resulted in more than 51,500 arrests and the seizure of more than 21,300 pounds of illicit drugs this fiscal year, April Grant, a spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection, said Monday.
    Though troops don’t physically arrest people or seize contraband, “these outcomes are attributed to the support they provide, including monitoring sensors and operating detection systems,” she said. “Ultimately, the mission gives us more eyes on cameras, more aircraft in the air, surveilling, and more boots on the ground, patrolling.”
    In addition to the National Guard, the president called for the active-duty military to support Border Patrol in October. That mission has about 3,100 servicemembers on the border and is expected to end along with the National Guard’s mission in September.
    Aside from the border, the 450,000 members of the National Guard were called upon 195 times last year to respond to emergencies, Lengyel said. There also are 30,000 Guardsmen mobilized on any given day in every combatant command around the globe.

    Military Times: Trump to boost troop deployments at U.S. southern border again
    By: Leo Shane III | 14 hours ago
    President Donald Trump said that he is considering sending even more troops to the southern U.S. border to help with security missions there, calling the situation there increasingly dangerous.
    "I’m going to have to call up more military,” he said Wednesday during a roundtable with supporters in Texas related to his plans for a southern border wall and tighter immigration laws for Central and South American migrants.
    “Our military, don’t forget, can’t act like a military would act. Because if they got a little rough, everybody would go crazy … They have all these horrible laws that the Democrats won’t change.”
    Neither the president nor White House officials clarified how many troops may be added or whether Trump’s comments reflected concerns about the Posse Comitatus Act, a 19th- century federal law that restricts active-duty military participation in domestic law enforcement activities.
    Trump’s remarks came a day after acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said he “would expect us to do more” in the border mission, given “how much the situation there has deteriorated.”
    About 5,000 military personnel are currently deployed to the border mission. Of those, about 3,000 are active-duty troops and 2,100 are National Guard members. The number has fluctuated by several hundred individuals over the last six months.
    Their current mission is in support of Homeland Security operations, reinforcing barriers and providing logistics support but not directly engaging with or detaining any immigrants or asylum seekers.
    White House and Pentagon officials have said that the military’s border mission, which began in October, will continue until at least this fall, but could extend even further if conditions warrant. Critics have accused the president of militarizing the immigration debate and in appropriately using service members for a non-emergency.
    Trump and congressional Democrats have also been locked in a months-long battle over funding for his controversial border wall proposal, which culminated in an extended partial government shutdown at the start of the year.
    In February, Trump announced that he plans to use more than $3 billion in unspent military construction funds to advance the wall project, over the objections of Congress. Pentagon officials have promised they will replace that money in future years, but lawmakers would have to approve such a move.
    Trump has also suggested that if his wall proposal does not receive support, he could indefinitely use military members to fill in gaps in border security.
    At a speech in Houston later in the afternoon, the president promised supporters “hundreds of miles [of wall] by the end of next year” and that Democratic opponents would see significant repercussions in the 2020 elections.
    Over the weekend, Trump forced Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to resign over policy differences related to the immigration issue.

    Stars & Stripes: Congress concerned about lack of disaster relief for military bases devastated by hurricanes
    By CAITLIN M. KENNEY | STARS AND STRIPES | Published: April 10, 2019
    WASHINGTON — A House lawmaker voiced his alarm and displeasure Wednesday with the failure of Congress to deliver more funds to help the military with disaster recovery, several months after hurricanes devastated a Marine Corps base and an Air Force base.
    “I’m a little taken aback with what’s happened at Camp Lejeune and with the [Marine] Corps. And the damage and the need that you have for a supplemental appropriations bill,” said Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., to a panel of Navy and Marine Corps leaders during a budget hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.
    Last week, the Marine Corps received $400 million in reprogrammed funds to address the immediate needs at Camp Lejeune, N.C., after Hurricane Florence caused widespread damage at the base in September.
    The Air Force also received authorization to reprogram $200 million in funds to help Tyndall Air Force Base on the Florida Panhandle, which was devastated by Hurricane Michael in October. Scott raised concerns about the Air Force’s available funding to rebuild Tyndall. Without supplemental disaster assistance, the base might have to stop flights there.
    However, even with the reprogrammed money, it will cost $3.1 billion during the next three to four years to fix Camp Lejeune “so that we don’t have to go through this again,” Gen. Robert Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps, said at Wednesday’s hearing.
    Scott said the district that he represents in Georgia was also affected last year by Hurricane Michael and it also has not received relief, forcing farmers to file for “bankruptcy even though they were promised disaster assistance. It hasn’t come.”
    “You guys need it just like we do,” he told Navy and Marines officials at the hearing.
    Since Hurricane Florence hit Camp Lejeune in September, about 50% of the homes on the base have been repaired, Neller said. They also have identified 31 buildings on base that will cost more to repair than they are worth, so they will have to be rebuilt.
    Neller agreed Wednesday that the base would continue to worsen without supplemental disaster funding.
    “Otherwise, we’re going to have to figure out how we’re going to self-fund this,” he said. “We don’t have insurance, the Congress is our insurance.”
    Congress will leave for a two-week recess, Scott said, “and I’m embarrassed, quite honestly, that this job hasn’t been done,” referring to approval for disaster assistance funding.
    Scott implored Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, as well as the other service secretaries, to speak directly to the White House “about the damage that’s going to be done,” if supplemental disaster funding is not passed before the congressional recess.
    “I do not think President [Donald] Trump would be allowing Congress to go home for two weeks if he knew what was about to happen to the readiness of the Air Force and the [Marine] Corps,” Scott said. “I think that he would be challenging us … to stay here and get this job done.”

    Reuters: Julian Assange arrested by British police at Ecuadorean embassy
    LONDON (Reuters) – WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested on Thursday by British police and carried out of the Ecuadorean embassy, where he has been holed up for nearly seven years to avoid extradition to Sweden over a sexual assault investigation.
    A video posted online showed an agitated, frail-looking man with white hair and a white beard being carried out of the central London building by at least seven men.
    “Julian Assange, 47, has today, Thursday 11 April, been arrested by officers from the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) at the Embassy of Ecuador,” police said.
    Police said they arrested Assange after being “invited into the embassy by the Ambassador, following the Ecuadorean government’s withdrawal of asylum.”
    He was taken into custody at a central London police station and will be brought before Westminster Magistrates’ Court later.
    Assange took refuge in 2012 in Ecuador’s London embassy, behind the luxury department store Harrods, to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where authorities wanted to question him as part of a sexual assault investigation.
    Sweden later dropped the investigation, but Assange was arrested on Thursday for breaking the rules of his original bail in London.
    He feared being extradited to face charges in the United States, where federal prosecutors are investigating WikiLeaks.
    Assange’s relationship with his hosts collapsed after Ecuador accused him of leaking information about President Lenin Moreno’s personal life. Moreno had previously said Assange has violated the terms of his asylum.
    Moreno said that he had asked Britain to guarantee that Assange would not be extradited to a country where he could face torture or the death penalty.
    “The British government has confirmed it in writing, in accordance with its own rules,” Moreno said.
    WikiLeaks said Ecuador had illegally terminated Assange’s political asylum in violation of international law.
    To some, Assange is a hero for exposing what supporters cast as abuse of power by modern states and for championing free speech. But to others, he is a dangerous rebel who has undermined the security of the United States.
    Supporters of Assange had argued that living in the cramped conditions without access to sunlight had damaged his health.
    Sweden closed its preliminary investigation into a suspected rape in 2017 as there was “no reason to believe that the decision to hand him (Assange) over to Sweden could be implemented within a reasonable timeframe”.
    But then Chief Prosecutor Marianne Ny said at the time that the probe could be reopened should the situation change.
    “If he at a later time were to make himself available, I can decide to immediately resume the preliminary investigation,” Ny, who has since retired, said in a 2017 statement.
    The statute of limitations for rape in Sweden is 10 years, unless it is deemed to be aggravated, in which case the ability to prosecute runs for longer.
    The Swedish Prosecution Authority had no immediate comment on Thursday regarding the news of Assange’s arrest or whether a probe could be reopened.

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