12 September, 2019 08:23

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Thursday, September 12, 2019 which is National Chocolate Milkshake Day, National Day of Encouragement, National Police Women Day and Video Games Day.
This Day in Legion History:

  • Sept. 12, 1932: Sons of The American Legion is founded at The American Legion National Convention in Portland, Ore., following three years of study by national committees. Within 10 years, SAL membership surpasses 37,000. In June 1933, Bruce P. Robinson Squadron 133 in Indianapolis is credited as the first local Sons of The American Legion squadron.
  • Sept. 12, 2001: The American Legion re-activates its Family Support Network to provide assistance to military families with loved ones deployed to service, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

This Day in History:

  • A German U-boat sinks a British troop ship, the Laconia, killing more than 1,400 men on September 12, 1942. The commander of the German sub, Capt. Werner Hartenstein, realizing that Italians POWs were among the passengers, strove to aid in their rescue.
  • 1974: In Boston, Massachusetts, opposition to court-ordered school “busing” turns violent on the opening day of classes. School buses carrying African American children were pelted with eggs, bricks, and bottles, and police in combat gear fought to control angry white protesters besieging the schools.


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Military Times: Court orders VA to cover veterans’ emergency room debts
By: Leo Shane III   12 hours ago

A federal court this week ordered Veterans Affairs officials to reimburse veterans for all expenses at non-department emergency medical centers, a move that could mean payouts of tens of thousands of dollars to patients facing financial distress because of their hospital bills.
The ruling also has the potential to add billions in medical care costs to the department’s budget in coming years.
A divided three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims on Tuesday said that VA’s current reimbursement regulation for veterans who seek non-department medical care violates existing federal law.
They blasted administration officials for creating an “unacceptable” policy and ordered that any emergency medical expenses not covered by veterans’ private medical insurance must be covered by the agency.
In August, the VA Inspector General found $716 million in improperly processed payments in cases involving veterans who sought medical care outside the department’s health system in 2017, including about $53 million that should have been refunded under existing rules.
The legal defeat is the second time in the last three years that the court has struck down VA’s emergency medical services payment policies, both times chastising the department for only partially covering veterans’ expenses. Advocates praised the ruling, which also established a class of veterans eligible for reimbursement
“The court’s decision rights a terrible injustice and its order ensures that veterans who were unjustly denied reimbursement for critical emergency treatment at non-VA facilities will finally be reimbursed,” said Bart Stichman, executive director of the National Veterans Legal Services Program. “It is a hard-won victory for hundreds of thousands of veterans.”
The latest case centered on two veterans who were denied several thousand dollars in unpaid emergency room expenses under existing VA policy. The majority of one plaintiff’s bills were paid for by private insurance. The other’s was mostly covered by Medicare.
But in both cases, VA insisted they did not need to handle the unpaid balance because the veterans were primarily covered under other insurance plans. The court ruled that violates both existing law and past legal precedent.
The ruling gives 45 days for VA to submit to the court plans to contact veterans with denied claims since 2016 and develop a criteria for reimbursing eligible claims. Those would not include the costs of co-payments related to private insurance.
NVLSP officials estimate the decision could cost the department as much as $6.5 billion by 2025, including the three years of past reimbursements ordered by the court.
VA officials can appeal the ruling to a higher court. In a statement, they said they are reviewing the decision but offered no further comment.
The full decision is available on the court’s website.

FoxNews: New 9/11 account recalls harrowing moments before Flight 93 crash: ‘I’ll ram the cockpit’

By Ronn Blitzer | Fox News
“They made the decision we didn’t have to make.”
Those are the words of Lt. Col. Marc Sasseville, as recalled 18 years later in a new account of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks from the perspective of decision-makers in Washington, survivors, military service members and the families of those aboard United Flight 93, which was hijacked before passengers fought back and brought the plane down.
Sasseville – an F-16 Air Force pilot who, along with Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney, was tasked with stopping Flight 93 by any means necessary from being weaponized like the jets at the World Trade Center and Pentagon that morning – lauded the brave passengers for doing exactly that, sacrificing themselves to foil the terrorists.
But the new book, "The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11" by Garrett M. Graff, details the harrowing moments before it all ended.
Top Bush administration officials scrambled to respond. From a bunker, then-Vice President Dick Cheney planned for the possibility of bringing down Flight 93. As for Sasseville and Penney, they were looking at a suicide mission.
Because they had no missiles, any operation to take out Flight 93 would put their lives on the line too.
“We would be ramming the aircraft. We didn’t have [missiles] on board to shoot the airplane down,” Penney said. “As we were putting on our flight gear in the life support shop, Sass looked at me and said, ‘I’ll ram the cockpit.’ I made the decision I would take the tail off the aircraft.”
This would be a last resort if they could not otherwise divert the aircraft. At the time, Sasseville said, he “was going into this moral or ethical justification of the needs of the many versus the needs of the few.”
It was a suicide mission, but they were ready to do it if needed.
“I genuinely believed that was going to be the last time I took off,” Penney said. “If we did it right, this would be it.”
Excerpts of the book, now released, were first published by Politico.
The permission to carry out an operation that would normally be unheard of – taking down a commercial flight, killing passengers in the process – came from Cheney, who was planning a course of action from a bunker underneath the White House. The vice president discussed it with President George W. Bush, who agreed to the course of action.
Bush was aboard Air Force One because Washinton, D.C. was deemed too dangerous, and he was mostly cut off from the ground due to the lack of in-flight internet access in 2001. Senior adviser Karl Rove, who was with Bush at the time, witnessed the phone conversation between the president and vice president.
"He turned to us and said that he had just authorized the shoot-down of hijacked airliners," Rove recalled.
Cheney said the decision to bring down United Flight 93 “wasn’t a close call” after he watched the Twin Towers fall and the Pentagon had been hit.
“It had to be done. Once the plane became hijacked—even if it had a load of passengers on board who, obviously, weren’t part of any hijacking attempt—having seen what had happened in New York and the Pentagon, you really didn’t have any choice.”
Before it got to that point, Cheney, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and others began their day as usual. Everything changed after the second plane hit the World Trade Center. They understood that the first strike was no accident and that the U.S. was under attack.
Then radar found another plane heading toward Washington, and they were swiftly whisked out of the White House by the Secret Service to the hidden bunker.
“I remember being driven along, almost propelled along,” Rice recalled. “We had no idea where it was safe and where it wasn’t. We didn’t think the bunker of the White House was safe at that point.”
“A few moments later,” Cheney said, “I found myself in a fortified White House command post somewhere down below.” The bunker, which had been build as a Cold War bomb shelter, had never been needed before.
Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta used a monitor to track the locations of every plane in the country.
With Bush on Air Force One, Cheney found himself in charge of the situation on the ground. His background prepared him for the worst.
“As bad as the events of 9/11 were, some of us had practiced exercises for far more dangerous and difficult circumstances—an all-out Soviet nuclear attack on the United States,” he recalled. “That helped—that training kicked in that morning.”
When United 93 was tracked as heading toward Washington, D.C., he was prepared to give the order to bring it down.
It ended up being unnecessary, as the passengers took matters into their own hands. The men and women on that flight had learned about what had already happened at the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and were determined to fight back in order to prevent a similar attack.
Graff’s book, published by Avid Reader Press, includes accounts from phone operators and loved ones who spoke to passengers aboard the flight before they brought it crashing down into a Pennsylvania field, killing themselves and the hijackers.
“We’re waiting until we’re over a rural area. We’re going to take back the airplane,” passenger Tom Burnett said, according to his wife Deena, who spoke to him on the phone while he was in the air. She said she pleaded with him not to do anything to endanger himself, but he insisted, “If they’re going to crash this plane, we’re going to have to do something.”
Verizon Airfone operator Lisa Jefferson spoke about her conversation with passenger Todd Beamer.
“I could hear the commotion in the background. I heard the flight attendant screaming,” she said. Beamer’s wife was pregnant with their third child at the time, but when Jefferson offered to connect him to her, he declined so as not to upset her. Instead, Jefferson said, he gave her his home phone number and asked Jefferson to call his wife if something happened to him.
Jefferson then heard Beamer ask someone else, “Are you ready?” then saying, “OK. Let’s roll.”
Meanwhile, in New York City, Mayor Rudy Giuliani joined police and fire department officials who were responding to the attacks on the Twin Towers. Graff’s book includes accounts from survivors who were at the World Trade Center that day, as well as first responders who scrambled to help in the midst of utter chaos.
"I was pretty confident that we were the most prepared place in the United States for any emergency—maybe in the world," he said. "This was beyond anything that anybody had imagined."
Bush was eventually taken to an Air Force base outside Omaha, Nebraska. By evening, the president was headed back to the White House. Congressional leaders, who had been taken to a remote location, returned to Washington. They were joined at the Capitol by approximately 200 members of the House and Senate. After speeches were delivered, they broke out into "God Bless America."
Those responding that day still credit the passengers on United 93 for their swift action, preventing the deadliest terror attack in history from being even worse.
"The real heroes are the passengers on Flight 93 who were willing to sacrifice themselves," Penney said.
Military Times: At Pentagon 9/11 ceremony, Trump says he’s hitting the Taliban ‘harder than ever before’
By: Meghann Myers   17 hours ago
Eighteen years after a jihadi attack on the Pentagon killed 184, President Trump told the crowd at a 9/11 remembrance ceremony for survivors, family members and first responders that the U.S. is striking back harder than ever before.
Hundreds of current and former Defense Department employees who were in the building on Sept. 11, 2001, along with families of the 125 killed, gathered at the Pentagon’s 9/11 memorial Wednesday morningto pay their respects. In his remarks, Trump alluded to the current situation in Afghanistan, where troops have been stationed since October 2001.
We had peace talks scheduled a few days ago," he said of a planned clandestine meeting with senior Taliban officials. “I called them off when I learned that they had killed a great American soldier from Puerto Rico and 11 other innocent people.”
Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, 34, an 82nd Airborne Division soldier, was killed Thursday in an IED attack near the U.S. embassy in Kabul.
“They thought they would use this attack to show strength. But actually, what they showed is unrelenting weakness,” Trump. "The last four days, we’ve hit our enemy harder than they have ever been hit before, and that will continue.”
U.S. Central Command chief Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told reporters traveling with him in Afghanistan on Monday that retribution would come.
“We’re certainly not going to sit still and let them carry out some self-described race to victory,” he said. “That’s not going to happen.”
His remarks came a day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in an appearance on ABC’s This Week, said that the U.S. had killed 1,000 members of the Taliban in the previous 10 days.
CENTCOM did not immediately return a request by Military Times for the number of missions carrier out against the Taliban over the past week. Officials from U.S. Air Forces Central Command could not immediately provide those figures.
While an agreement with the Taliban could be the key to ending the war in Afghanistan — which, along with the war in Iraq, has cost nearly 7,000 service members’ lives — it was five al-Qaida hijackers who crashed Flight 77 into the Pentagon. All 184 victims’ names were read off as part of the remembrance.
“Most of us recall exactly where we were when we first learned that our country was under attack," Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in his remarks at the Pentagon ceremony. "Some were at work, others were at home. A number of you were present in this very building when [American Airlines] Flight 77 crashed into those concrete walls.”
Officials have emphasized that any deal with the Taliban will depend on the group’s commitment to ensuring no terrorist organization is again able to use Afghanistan as a base to plan, train for and execute an attack on American soil.
“We’re here today to renew our commitment to never forget,” Chair of the Joint Chief of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford said in his remarks. “The terrorist attacks were intended to challenge our way of life and they sought to break out spirit. But their purpose was never realized. That day made us stronger, more determined, more resolved to protect our nation and that for which it stands.”

The Hill: Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall

BY NIV ELIS – 09/11/19 05:36 PM EDT

Senate Democrats are threatening to withhold their votes on a spending bill for the Pentagon unless Republicans agree to block President Trump from repurposing defense funds for his wall on the Mexican border, a tactic he’s employed in recent months.
Democrats on Thursday will offer an amendment in committee to block Trump from reprogramming defense funds for his wall.
“There will likely be some amendments offered, and my vote on final passage depends on the fate of those amendments,” said Sen. Dick Durban (Ill.), the top Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee on defense.

While the bill could squeak through the committee with GOP support, Democratic votes will be needed for the measure to win Senate approval.
“It doesn’t portend very well for what’s going to happen on the floor, because we all know that without bipartisan support, appropriation bills are very difficult to call and pass,” Durbin said.
Political wrangling has not been limited to the defense bill.
Committee work on two other spending bills were scrapped as Democrats prepared amendments blocking President Trump’s abortion policies. Republicans say that violates a deal to keep controversial policy riders, or “poison pills,” out of the spending bills.

“Both sides agreed there would be no poison pills. No partisan wrenches thrown into the gears,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) lamented Wednesday.

“Unfortunately, yesterday brought some disturbing signals that Democrats may be rethinking that commitment,” he added.
The abortion battles affect the spending bills covering the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, and the appropriations measure for the State Department and foreign operations.
That leaves the typically noncontroversial energy and water bill and so-called 302(b) allocations, which divvy up total spending among the 12 annual appropriations bills.

But Democrats are complaining about those measures, too, arguing that Republicans have shuffled resources to pay for portions of Trump’s proposed border wall and to backfill accounts he has emptied for that purpose.

“We’re not going to vote for a budget that is partisan, attempted to be jammed down our throat, that puts an additional $12 billion in the wall. Forget that,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Without a change, Democrats could withhold support from all the bills.

“With the 302(b) allocations as they are today, I am not going to support them,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee’s vice chairman, is planning on offering an amendment proposing a different set of 302(b)s, but barring an agreement with Republicans, it stands no chance of passage.

“We like them like they are,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the committee’s chairman.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a committee member who has been known to cross the aisle and faces a tough reelection in 2020, said Democrats have not said what their preferred spending levels are.

“The Democrats have not seen fit to share with me at least the 302(b)s that they are going to propose,” she said Wednesday morning. “If they were trying to advocate, you would think they would let us know what they were.”
But even if the bills pass through committee on a party-line basis, appropriators could work something out before the bills come to the floor, noted Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

“I think we’re going to continue to negotiate,” she said.

Members of Congress are clear that they have little chance of getting any spending bills signed into law by the Sept. 30 deadline, and are preparing a stopgap measure into mid-November to prevent a government shutdown.

USNI: Marine Who Led ISIS Fight Says Threat Still Remains

By:John Grady
September 11, 2019 1:48 PM

ISIS might have lost control of its last territorial stronghold in March, but the retired Marine Corps general who led American efforts to defeat the terrorist organization five years ago says the group remains much alive.
The killing of more than 60 attendees at a Kabul wedding party last month by a suicide bomber is a clear demonstration that, “ISIS remains a very virulent threat in the world,” retired Marine Gen. John Allen said Tuesday at the Brookings Institution. “We may see this [provincial offshoot of the Islamic State] become even stronger” as a result of the breakdown in peace negotiations between the United States and the Taliban.
Allen, who is now president of Brookings, said a clear indication of a future threat of terrorist attacks upon the United States may lay in the camps in Turkey where the spouses and children of detained foreign fighters are being housed because “no state will take [the youngsters] back.”
European nations have been reluctant to take back foreign fighters held by the Syrian Democratic Forces and try to rehabilitate them or, if that fails, detain them on their soil, he said. The Syrian Democratic Forces are made up of Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian and Armenian militias.
At the same time, Turkey, which currently houses millions of Syrian refugees, warns unless Western European countries help shoulder the cost of sheltering the growing refugee population, it plans to send them either back across the border into a “safe zone” or to Western European countries.
A new generation of terrorists might be emerging in the refugee camps and prisons, said Brett McGurk, who worked with Allen to build the coalition that successfully defeated the Islamic State militarily in Syria and Iraq. The same situation produced men like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who organized jihadists in Afghanistan and Iraq to fight against the Americans and coalition partners. Al-Zarqawi was killed in 2006.
“We have a difficult time taking Americans [who fought alongside ISIS in Syria or Iraq] back,” so the United States is not providing a model that other nations might use.
“This is the moment for American leadership,” Allen said. Five years ago, the U.S. led the way to assemble the coalition of 21 nations against the Islamic State. Now, the U.S. needs to similarly lead the way in handling foreign fighters and their families. Then ISIS controlled large parts of Iraq, threatening to capture Baghdad, and Syria, which already was engaged in a civil war.
Allan and McGurk agreed defeat of main force units doesn’t mean ISIS is defeated. The evidence is the bombings in Kabul, and splinter organizations operating from Africa to the Philippines. The extremist ideology behind the Islamic State’s claim to be the new caliphate also remains active on the internet, Allen said.
The problem now, after the fall of ISIS’ proclaimed capital of Raqqa, is “you have to have ends and means aligned,” McGurk said. For a time, they were, but not now. After the fall of Raqqa, McGurk said, “President [Donald] Trump made it clear we’re putting no money into stability” operations there. In contrast, the previous administration’s work with the United Nations and non-governmental organizations spent money on stability.
Speaking by video teleconference, Lisa Grande, who headed the U.N.’s work with the coalition, recalled speaking with Allen and her bosses before arriving in Iraq five years ago. At the time, she estimated there would be 2 million refugees as the liberation campaign unfolded. The reality was more — 6 million refugees. However, by continually reinforcing the need to address the evolving needs to care for so many refugees, the stabilization work in Iraq was mostly successful.
Grande, who was involved in the coalition’s planning from the start, said she also was surprised that in places like Ramadi, which was then threatened by ISIS, “everyone left at once.”
“The suffering was incomprehensible,” Allen said, describing the refugees on the move and then in the camps.
Stability operations were vital to long-term success after cities like Ramadi, Fallujah or Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest, are cleared of terrorists. Local forces and coalition partners were crucial for military success while the active involvement of the Iraqi government in stabilization later staved-off an ISIS return.
“You need the resources [that can] give people a chance to come home” like the police to keep order and shelter, medical aid, food and water. “You know you’ve won when they come home.”
Just as when the population left Ramadi, Grande added, “they all come back at once.” Security forces and basic services need to be in place and sustained when that movement begins.
The effort “was the largest stabilization [effort] the U.N. had ever attempted,” and her only success, Grande said.
The situation in Syria is less clear, the three agreed.

Stripes: Navy veteran remembered by family for ‘obnoxious pranks,’ ‘cheap mischief’ and colorful language
[Editor’s Note: If you need a good chuckle, you should definitely read this obituary in full HERE.]
By STARS AND STRIPESPublished: September 12, 2019
The obituary of Joseph Heller Jr., an 82-year-old Navy veteran who died this week, pays loving tribute to "a lifetime of frugality, hoarding and cheap mischief, often at the expense of others."
The Connecticut native’s antics included naming his first dog Fart so that his mother would have to yell the dog’s unfortunate moniker; being a frequent "shopper" at the local dump; and inviting his daughters’ dates into the house, "where shotguns, harpoons and sheep ‘nutters’ were left clearly on display."
His daughter Monique Heller wrote the obituary, according to CNN.
"My dad has an unorthodox view of life and I wanted to honor him and make people smile," Monique Heller told the network.
Joseph Heller served in the Navy as a Seabee and later met his wife, Irene, when he was a self-taught chemist at Chesebrough-Ponds.
"To this day we do not understand how he convinced our mother, an exceedingly proper woman and a pillar in her church, to sew and create the colorful costumes and props which he used for his antics," the obituary said.
As a dad, he was a tolerant hair and makeup customer when his daughters wanted to play beauty shop, and he assembled doll furniture and play forts. In retirement, he was the local dog catcher and "refused to put any of his ‘prisoners’ down and would look for the perfect homes for them," according to the obituary.
In lieu of flowers, the obituary said that the "family is seeking donations to offset the expense of publishing an exceedingly long obituary which would have really pissed Joe off." Or, it suggests, perhaps have a cup of coffee with a friend and remember his antics, or "play a harmless prank on some unsuspecting sap."

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