13 March, 2019 07:04

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Wednesday, March 13, 2019 which is Donald Duck Day, National Good Samaritan Day, Ken Day (as in the boyfriend of Barbie) and K-9 Veterans Day.
This Day in History:

  • On this day in 1942, the Quartermaster Corps (QMC) of the United States Army begins training dogs for the newly established War Dog Program, or “K-9 Corps.” Well over a million dogs served on both sides during World War I, carrying messages along the complex network of trenches and providing some measure of psychological comfort to the soldiers. The most famous dog to emerge from the war was Rin Tin Tin, an abandoned puppy of German war dogs found in France in 1918 and taken to the United States, where he made his film debut in the 1922 silent film The Man from Hell’s River. As the first bona fide animal movie star, Rin Tin Tin made the little-known German Shepherd breed famous across the country.
  • 1944: On this day, Britain announces that all travel between Ireland and the United Kingdom is suspended, the result of the Irish government’s refusal to expel Axis-power diplomats within its borders.
  • 1781: The German-born English astronomer William Herschel discovers Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun. Herschel’s discovery of a new planet was the first to be made in modern times, and also the first to be made by use of a telescope, which allowed Herschel to distinguish Uranus as a planet, not a star, as previous astronomers believed.
  • 1954: A force of 40,000 Viet Minh with heavy artillery surround 15,000 French troops at Dien Bien Phu. French General Henri Navarre had positioned these forces 200 miles behind enemy lines in a remote area adjacent to the Laotian border. He hoped to draw the communists into a set-piece battle in which he hoped superior French firepower would destroy the enemy. He underestimated the enemy.


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Defense News: Here’s the breakdown of the Pentagon’s budget request
By: Aaron Mehta   19 hours ago
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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s fiscal 2020 budget request includes increases in research and development, a cut to science and technology, and major investments geared toward the much-ballyhooed return to great power competition.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has repeatedly referred to the FY20 budget as the “masterpiece” document that has been shaped by conclusions based on a series of long-term strategies including the National Defense Strategy, the Nuclear Posture Review and the Missile Defense Review.
But with Congress already expressing skepticism about the budget proposal, due in part to its reliance on $164 billion in overseas contingency operations, or OCO, funding, the department’s “masterpiece” may be in trouble before it gets out of the gate.
The inclusion of $9.2 billion in “emergency” funding — which officials confirm will be used to backfill military construction dollars taken from FY19 appropriations to build a wall on the southern border, as well as build new construction along that border — only complicates matters. Up to $3.6 billion of that emergency funding is being eyed to backfill those costs.
Click here for more coverage of the FY2020 budget request.
Asked about whether the budget was dead on arrival, a senior defense official said the inclusion of the emergency fund and the amount of OCO funding was done with guidance from the Office of Management and Budget, and the official expressed hope Congress would work with the department going forward.
“When the department is looking at our budget, as is mentioned, we’re looking at it as a whole. This is the budget that we need to accomplish the National Defense Strategy," the official said. “What we’ve done is try to provide as much transparency as possible so that we can work in partnership with Congress on having them understand what’s where and they can do their important oversight role based on the information we give them.”
Still, the budget — $750 billion in total for national security, with $718 billion of that going directly to the Pentagon — contains a number of investments in high-end capabilities.
Of the $718 billion, $104.3 billion goes to research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) activities; $155.8 billion goes to military personnel accounts, $143.1 billion goes to procurement; $292.7 billion goes to operations and maintenance; and $22.5 billion goes to military construction and family housing.
Broken down by department, $205.6 billion goes to the Navy, a $9.95 billion increase from FY19; $204.8 billion goes to the Air Force, an $11.8 billion increase; $191.4 billion goes to the Army, a $12.5 billion increase; and $116.6 billion goes to defensewide efforts, a decrease of $930 million.
The Army’s figure appears to include the $9.2 billion in emergency funds as part of the service’s budget, making its increase significantly less than the other services at a time when the Pentagon is turning away from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and moving to potential conflict with Russia and China.
Included in the contingency funding are two flavors of OCO: $66 billion in traditional OCO dollars for war-fighting needs, and $98 billion in OCO-for-base funds — essentially, money that could be in the base budget but is classified as OCO for the purpose of skirting statutory budget caps imposed by the Budget Control Act.
Looking to the future, the Pentagon projects a defense top line of $713 billion in FY21, including $62 billion in OCO funding and $94 billion in OCO-for-base funds; $727 billion in FY22, including $20 billion in OCO; $742 billion in FY23, including $20 billion in OCO; and $747 billion in FY24, including $10 billion in OCO.
While the Pentagon’s budget has increased, the State Department’s budget request dropped by a staggering 23 percent. Asked about that discrepancy Tuesday morning, Shanahan expressed confidence in his colleagues at the State Department.
“I spoke with Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo this week. He’s confident that he’ll have the resources that he needs to perform his duties,” Shanahan told the pool report from Task & Purpose.
Major investment areas
The Pentagon plans investments in the following primary areas:

  • Air domain: $57.7 billion, including 110 fourth- and fifth-generation fighters, and 12 KC-46 tankers.
  • Maritime domain: $34.7 billion, including $447 million for large unmanned surface vehicles, and three Virginia-class submarines for $10.2 billion.
  • Land domain: $14.6 billion, including 6,402 combat and tactical motorized vehicles for $7.2 billion, and 4,090 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles at $1.6 billion.
  • Missile defense: $13.6 billion, including $1.7 billion for ground-based missile defenses, and $174 million for space-based missile warning systems.
  • Nuclear enterprise: $14 billion, including $570 million for the B-21 bomber, $712 million for the Long Range Standoff Weapon and $2.2 billion for the Columbia-class submarine. That number does not include nuclear costs for warheads managed by the National Nuclear Security Administration.
  • Special operations: $3.4 billion, including increases to end strength and technology such as the AC/MC-130J at $342.8 million and directed energy to the tune of $27.2 million.

The Pentagon is investing $104.3 billion in RDT&E, a roughly $9 billion increase over what was previously enacted.
Included in that total is $3.7 billion for unmanned and autonomous technologies, including the development of “offensive-armed Unmanned Surface Vessels”; $2.6 billion for hypersonic weapons; $927 million for artificial intelligence, including through the controversial Project Maven; and $235 million for directed-energy development, including implementation of the technology for base defense.
Also included is $14.1 billion for science and technology investments — a $1.5 billion drop from the budget enacted in FY19, although a raise from the requested FY19 budget. That includes $2.3 billion for basic research, $5.3 billion for applied research and $6.5 billion for advanced technology development.

The Pentagon’s cyberspace activities budget comes in at $9.6 billion, a 10 percent increase over last year.
For space, the total is $14.1 billion, a roughly 15 percent increase over last year. Included in that total is $72.4 million to stand up the Space Force, $83.8 million to stand up U.S. Space Command and $149.8 million to stand up the Space Development Agency.

NYT: Treated Like a ‘Piece of Meat’: Female Veterans Endure Harassment at the V.A.
By Jennifer Steinhauer
March 12, 2019

WASHINGTON — Corey Foster spent her Army career caring for wounded troops, both as a flight medic in the Iraq war and at Walter Reed hospital, so she looked forward to one of the most celebrated benefits of military service — health care for life from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Then she walked through the door at a V.A. medical center in Temple, Tex.
“You felt like you were a piece of meat,” said Ms. Foster, 34, who retired as a sergeant. “Standing in line at the registration desk, I was getting comments from the male patients behind me, looking me up and down. It was a major source of discomfort.”
The treatment was the same at the Veterans Affairs medical center in Murfreesboro, Tenn., where Ms. Foster moved after living in Texas. At that point she gave up, and opted for her husband’s insurance outside the department. “They need to make the facilities not feel like an old soldier’s home,” Ms. Foster said.
An entrenched, sexist culture at many veterans hospitals is driving away female veterans and lags far behind the gains women have made in the military in recent years, veterans and lawmakers of both parties say. Although the Department of Veterans Affairs has scrambled to adjust to the rising population of female veterans and has made progress — including hiring more women’s health care providers, fixing basic privacy problems in the exam rooms and expanding service to women in rural areas — sexual harassment at department facilities remains a major problem.
Women say it is galling that such a demeaning atmosphere persists, especially for the roughly 30 percent of female veterans who have reported being harassed or assaulted while serving in the military. That number includes Senator Martha McSally, Republican of Arizona, who spoke at a congressional hearing last week about being raped by a superior officer while serving in the Air Force.
“Changing the culture has been an ongoing, overarching goal,” said Dr. Patricia Hayes, the chief consultant for Women’s Health Services at the veterans agency. “We want women veterans to feel respected and safe and secure.”
At a recent hearing with veterans agency officials on Capitol Hill, Representative John Carter, Republican of Texas, described the treatment of female constituents trying to obtain V.A. health care. “It’s like a construction site,” he said.
Mr. Carter cited the same medical center in Texas that Ms. Foster had used — and noted that the Women’s Trauma Recovery Center within it was moved last year to a female-only facility in Waco so that women, who said they feared for their safety, could receive treatment without facing harassment.
Representative Will Hurd, Republican of Texas, was visibly frustrated as he described women abandoning the center in his district because of harassment. “This is the biggest concern I hear from female veterans,’’ he said.
While the number of women using veteran health services has tripled since 2000 — to about 500,000 from 159,810 — they still make up only 8 percent of all users of health care at the V.A. Officials expect that the number will increase. Two million women are in the American veteran population, or about 10 percent, and yet they make up 16 percent of the active-duty military force.
“I believe that we still have a tsunami wave of women vets coming in,” said Dr. Hayes, of Veterans Affairs.
For now, many female veterans say they are made to feel as if they do not belong at the V.A., as they describe front-desk employees asking for a husband’s Social Security number when they check in or being passed over for items like complimentary coffee, which employees say are “for vets.”
“It’s hard to walk into a place and feel like everyone is looking at you wondering why you are there,” said Kristen Rouse, 45, founding director of the NYC Veterans Alliance, who described a sense of loss every time she glanced at the department’s motto affixed to her center in New York City: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” Her organization supports changing the motto.
“Over the 24 years I have served my country, I have never been any of those,” said Ms. Rouse, who remains a reservist in the Army. “And I never will be.” (That portion of the motto, coined by President Lincoln, is now the subject of legislation.)
Some centers, like the one in Washington, have removed benches from entryways so that men no longer have a place to linger and badger women, or have created separate facilities, like the one in Texas. Every center now has at least two providers focused on women’s health and nearly 6,000 providers have been trained in the practice; about 98 percent of them are women.
While the V.A. is still trying to address the needs of pregnant veterans — the centers do not provide full obstetrics care on site — many of the centers across the country now have baby showers around Mother’s Day, offering diapers and other baby supplies.
Yet the culture remains an impediment for many.
Brandy Baxter, who served as a senior airman in the Air Force, loves the care she receives at the women’s health clinic through the Veterans Affairs center in Dallas. But she hates the elevator ride to get there.
“The male vets give me the once over with their eyes,” she said. “I look them right in the eye, just to tell them, ‘I’m checking your height, your weight, your skin color — just in case I need to report you.’ ”
This year, the House Veterans Affairs Committee will establish a task force to address women’s health care, and harassment issues are expected to be front and center. “This is about the physical transformation of our facilities,” said Representative Mark Takano, Democrat of California and the new chairman of the committee.
A model for what women’s health care can be is on display at the Jesse Brown V.A. Medical Center in Chicago, where the vast majority of doctors and staff members are women. The five exam rooms and waiting area are only for women, and beyond offering basic health care, the center offers women a number of programs like a golf team, a weight loss group and art therapy.
“I think women veterans really want programming that speaks to their entire identity,” said Jenny Sitzer, the coordinator for women at the center.
Staff members wear badges that read, “My name is not ‘Hey baby,’” and banners all over the campus feature the faces of female veterans describing the pain of being harassed on their way through the broader V.A.
Lori Brown, 58, is grateful for all these services, but most of all for the ability to walk into the medical center without facing harassment, and to have only women for her care. “I can allow myself to be who I am in front of the doctor or nurse and not be intimidated by men,” said Ms. Brown, who was an Army sergeant.
Many other challenges face the V.A., like a shortage of providers for specialty services. Some women say they still struggle to get all of their birth control needs fulfilled at some facilities, and complex laws governing certain fertility treatments remain another area of complaint.
Many women do not use the medical facilities because they lack child care, which the department is largely not legally able to provide. Another issue is reaching homeless female veterans, a serious problem that also affects the male population.
Women also have mental health care needs — over 40 percent of female veterans who use the V.A. are diagnosed with at least one mental health condition, compared with about 25 percent of men.
Bills touching on these issues are expected to come up in this Congress, and some veterans’ organizations have made services for women a top legislative priority, especially Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, all in the name of making the V.A. a better place for women.
“One must be persistent,” Dr. Hayes said. “Culture change does not happen overnight. We want to continue to get the message to women that we want you here.”
Stripes: Retiring judge calls VA appeals system a ‘tragedy’

By NIKKI WENTLING | Stars and Stripes | Published: March 12, 2019
WASHINGTON — The retiring chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims told lawmakers Tuesday that the Department of Veterans Affairs appeals system is “ancient” and “inefficient” and in need of drastic change.

While testifying before a House Appropriations subcommittee, Chief Judge Robert Davis said the pressure on VA employees to get through a large backlog of benefits claims leads to poor decision-making and a high number of appeals. Davis, a Navy veteran, has held a seat on the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims for nearly 15 years. The court, often referred to as “Veterans Court,” provides veterans an impartial review of decisions made by the VA Board of Veterans’ Appeals.

“I think it’s a tragedy, the way the system operates currently,” Davis said. “I think we’ve been tied to a structure that is ancient and inefficient. The sooner Congress and all of us in this area look at this system from a 50,000-foot level and say, ‘We need to make these kinds of adjustments,’ the sooner we’ll be able to meet the needs of our veterans in a much better way.”

Davis has been critical of the VA system. The topic was brought up Tuesday by Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Penn., who cited an August article by the Wall Street Journal in which Davis criticized the appeals process as “horribly flawed.”

“We can’t ignore that when you come here to testify, chief judge,” Cartwright said.

‘Cautiously optimistic’ about new law
Davis elaborated Tuesday on his comments to the Wall Street Journal. He said he remains skeptical of a new law implemented last month that VA officials promised would allow veterans to receive decisions on their benefits claims in days or months, instead of years.

The new law, titled the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act, was approved by Congress in 2017 and went into effect Feb. 19. It involves multiple avenues for veterans to appeal their claims, including an option to get a review from a higher-level adjudicator or go directly to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.

Under the old system, veterans waited three to seven years to reconcile their appeals. The new one could get veterans through the process in as few as 125 days, VA officials vowed. Officials also said the new system would help cut down the backlog of appeals, which included 402,000 cases as of last month.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that this modernization act may help the system, but in my view, congressman, it is tinkering around the edges, when a larger fix is needed,” Davis said. “And it’s a fix that might be viewed as radical by some.”

When pressed for specifics, Davis suggested using mediation to negotiate a settlement between the VA and veterans or providing them general pensions. He said there were “a lot of possibilities” that he believed should be discussed with the VA secretary.

Once he retires from the court, Davis agreed to discuss the issue further with Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Fla., who is chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies.

Court experiences a ‘second surge’

Davis appeared before the subcommittee Tuesday to discuss the court’s budget request for fiscal year 2020, which totals $35.4 million. The proposed amount — released Monday as part of President Donald Trump’s budget plan — didn’t increase from the fiscal year 2019, though Davis said the court experienced a surge of work in 2018.

The court had its first surge in 2009, when its case load increased from about 2,000 cases each year to more than 4,000. That year, Congress temporarily approved two more judges to join the court, bringing it from seven judges to nine.

Davis described a “second surge” last year, during which the case load rose from about 4,000 to more than 6,800.

The VA touted last year that the Board of Veterans’ Appeals had worked through a record number of cases – about 85,000, up from 52,000 cases the previous year. Davis attributed the surge at the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims to the board’s increased pace.

He warned appropriators Tuesday that the court might soon need congressional approval for an additional two judges, bringing the total to 11. Of the nine judges now on the court, two – including Davis – are scheduled to retire at the end of their 15-year terms in December 2019.

“We’re watching our numbers carefully to track the very real possibility that nine judges may not be sufficient to keep pace with this growth trend,” Davis said.

AP: Longest US-Taliban peace talks see ‘progress,’ but agreement on withdrawal timeline still a sticking point
By: Fay Abuelgasim, The Associated Press andKathy Gannon, The Associated Press11 hours ago
DOHA, Qatar — The longest peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban to end America’s 17-year war in Afghanistan concluded Tuesday night in Qatar, with both sides saying progress had been made.
The nearly two weeks of talks produced two draft agreements between the militants and the U.S. government on a “withdrawal timeline and effective counterterrorism measures,” American envoy Zalmay Khalilzad wrote on Twitter.
The diplomat said he’d go to Washington and meet with other concerned parties, likely including the Afghan government, which did not take part in the 13 days of face-to-face talks in Doha, the Qatari capital.
"The conditions for #peace have improved," Khalilzad wrote. "It’s clear all sides want to end the war. Despite ups and downs, we kept things on track and made real strides."
The Taliban issued their own statement, similarly saying "progress was achieved" on both of those issues. It stressed no cease-fire deal had been reached, nor any agreement for it to speak to the Afghan government.
"For now, both sides will deliberate over the achieved progress, share it with their respective leaderships and prepare for the upcoming meeting, the date of which shall be set by both negotiation teams," the statement read.
It wasn’t immediately clear when the next round of talks would begin.
A Taliban official at the talks, who earlier spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity as he was unauthorized to reveal details of the negotiations publicly, said the main sticking point remained when U.S. forces would withdraw. The Taliban want a withdrawal within three to five months, while the U.S. is saying it will take 18 months to two years, he said.
Another sticking point would be a demand from America that the Taliban guarantee Afghanistan would never again host militants that would launch an attack against it. The Taliban have said it can agree to a general promise, but remains unwilling to identify specific groups in its pledge.
Osama bin Laden’s successor in al-Qaida, Ayman al Zawahri, is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan. Scores of other militants from Arab countries, including Yemen and Saudi Arabia, are also believed to be living in Afghanistan.
The Taliban, who refuse to talk with the government in Kabul and describe it as a U.S. puppet, have long demanded direct talks with the U.S. but until Khalilzad’s appointment last September, Washington had shied away from opening face-to-face negotiations.
The Taliban, who had harbored al-Qaida and its leader, bin Laden, ruled Afghanistan before U.S. forces invaded in October 2001, following the 9/11attacks. The Taliban have made a major comeback in recent years, and today carry out near-daily attacks on Afghan security forces. That has made a peace process even more pressing and President Donald Trump has expressed frustration at the protracted conflict.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Pakistan has helped push the peace talks, which in turned has helped Islamabad’s long-troubled relationship with Washington. Trump has repeatedly accused Pakistan of failing to crack down on Islamic militants operating in its border regions, saying it had harbored bin Laden for years despite getting billions of dollars in American aid. Trump later reached out to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan for help in the Taliban talks.
Earlier on Tuesday, Qureshi similarly spoke about progress being made at the talks.
"Pakistan has encouraged all factions within Afghanistan to sit together and have a meaningful intra-Afghan dialogue," he said alongside German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.
The talks have taken place at one of the most luxurious resorts in Qatar, a tiny, energy-rich country that sticks out like a thumb into the Persian Gulf. A glamorous female pianist playing everything from Chopin to Mariah Carey provided a soundtrack to the journalists loitering around the hotel, straining to get any information about the closed-door talks.
The surrealism extended just outside of the doors leading to the talks, where bikini-clad sunbathers by the pool drank alcohol. Mullah Baradar, the co-founder of Taliban, walked in and out of meetings accompanied by his son and Qatari security. Passing tourists expressed surprise when journalists identified the men walking past in traditional Afghan waist coats, rounded chitrali caps and turbans that had suddenly become part of their vacation.

Military Times: One month later, still no answers on which military construction projects will be delayed by Trump’s wall
By:Leo Shane III17 hours ago
WASHINGTON — After the Pentagon this week released hundreds of pages of funding requests for fiscal 2020, Democrats on Capitol Hill are demanding more information about what military construction projects this year will be disrupted by President Donald Trump’s controversial border wall plans.
For the last month, Democrats in Congress have been pushing for greater detail on how Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency on immigration and use military construction money for his wall may affect readiness.
Now with the administration’s release of next year’s military budget, those lawmakers are accusing Pentagon leaders of deliberately hiding those funding details from the public even as they ask for a massive increase in appropriations next year.
“The Pentagon has to come clean with the winners and the losers in this process,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. and the second-ranking Democrat in the chamber.
“We estimate the military could be forced to delay 20 percent of military construction projects to generate the money the president is asking for … At risk are nearly 400 projects in 43 states.”
Nearly one month ago, Trump announced he was declaring a national emergency on immigration in order to shift around billions in funding for his southern border wall project, after lawmakers failed to provide the money through the normal appropriations process.
Part of his plan to amass more than $8 billion for the wall is to tap about $3.6 billion in military construction funding that has been awarded by lawmakers but not yet obligated by defense officials.
Democrats on Capitol Hill have repeatedly decried the plan as undermining congressional budget authorities for a political priorities.
“It will hurt military families, it will hurt military funding, it will hurt our troops, it will hurt democracy,” said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii and the top Democrat on the chamber’s panel handling military construction appropriations. “Congress trusts that when the military asks for money, it’s because they need it. That trust may fray now.”
Earlier this month, the House voted to vacate the emergency declaration. The Senate is expected to take up the issue in coming days.
Last week, in a letter to acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, a group of House Democrats demanded that the military turn over a list of construction project categories which could be targeted in the funding shift.
On Tuesday, a group of Senate Democrats lead by Durbin sent a letter asking for a list of projects deemed “too valuable to be used to pay for the wall,” in order to provide insight into how decisions are being made.
Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack Reed, D-R.I., said he believes that military leaders already have a good idea of which projects will be hurt by the move. “If they don’t, they should be criticized for being incompetent,” he said.
Reed said officials are likely waiting on congressional and court challenges to the emergency declaration before releasing any of that information. But doing so violates the transparency that military leaders are supposed to have with Congress and undermines the relationship between the executive and military branches, he said.
Defense officials have said they will not target programs that compromise military “lethality” but have declined to name specific projects. In the fiscal 2020 budget request, the administration is seeking another $8 billion in wall funding, which would also impact Defense Department spending.
WaPo: Pentagon faces internal questions about program to screen recruits with foreign ties, emails show
Officials have touted the program as a way to speed up vetting of recruits who have what the Pentagon considers “foreign nexus” risks.
By Dan Lamothe
March 12 at 10:51 AM
A Pentagon program designed to screen potential recruits with foreign ties, including green-card holders and some U.S. citizens, has prompted questions from military officials about whether it will have detrimental effects on the services, according to emails and documents obtained by The Washington Post.
Defense officials touted the program as a way to speed up vetting of recruits who have what the Pentagon considers “foreign nexus” risks. The process could be completed “in a matter of days or . . . in a few weeks, as compared to months and years” required under traditional background checks, according to one Defense Department memo.
The program, which was tested by the Army last summer but has not been implemented, would rely on mining several government databases for information.
But the plan also may come with complications, according to emails obtained by The Post. That would be a concern for a military that has long sought to attract immigrants to meet its recruiting goals in part by promoting the possibility of U.S. citizenship.
of immigrant recruits risk ‘death sentence’ after Army bungles data, lawmaker says

Discussions about the program began in earnest after a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction in November ordering the Pentagon to begin sending a backlog of thousands of green-card recruits to initial training. The order came after two prospective recruits — one born in China and interested in joining the Navy and one originally from Jamaica who planned to join the Air Force — sued the Pentagon, arguing that months-long delays in screening had caused them harm.
The two men were among thousands who were left in limbo after the Trump administration, citing security concerns, adopted a policy in October 2017 that called for green-card holders to submit to more stringent background checks before they could go to boot camp. That was in addition to standard requirements for green-card applicants, such as biometrics screening.
The program would need approval in court to overcome the injunction. But internally, some defense officials have expressed concern that it also will create some delays.
Russ Beland, a senior civilian official in the Navy Department, said in a Feb. 27 email obtained by The Post that the estimates officials were using to determine which recruits needed additional screening “may be far too low.” After assessing its pool of recruits waiting to go to initial training, the Navy determined that “somewhere between a third and half” could require new screening, he wrote.
“I recognize there are risks from inadequate screening, but there are also risks from gapped billets,” Beland said, using military parlance for empty slots in training.
In response, Lernes Hebert, a senior defense official overseeing personnel issues, said he was committed to working with the Navy Department on exceptions to the policy “if class seats are at risk of going vacant.” In that case, he wrote, the Pentagon would require tracking recruits who are identified for additional screening to be completed “as soon as possible” while they make their way through initial stages of training.
Such exceptions would be rare, Hebert predicted, and would require Pentagon approval.
Beland said he had concerns about that, too. By the time a recruiting command became aware of concerns about a recruit, it could be too late, he wrote. If every case must go up to that level at the Pentagon, he added, it “does not sound workable to me if we encounter widespread delays.”
Beland, in an email, said that he could not comment on the messages because the policy is “in a pre-decisional state.”
Hebert referred comment to the Pentagon’s public affairs office.
Air Force Lt. Col. Carla Gleason, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said that she was unable to address questions but that the Defense Department needs “every qualified patriot who is willing and able to serve.” As of May 2018, about 19,800 noncitizens were among the nation’s 1.2 million active-duty service members.
The Trump administration’s new restrictions on service members with foreign ties also has included the end of a program begun in 2008 to attract foreign recruits with key medical and language skills. That effort, known as the Military Accessions Vital to National Interests (MAVNI) program, offered a path to citizenship but ended in 2017 after U.S. officials concluded it was vulnerable to insider threats.
The Pentagon began discharging some service members who joined the military under MAVNI, but suspended the process in 2018. In a lawsuit brought by 17 U.S. service members who became U.S. citizens through MAVNI, lawyers argued during a trial late last year that the Pentagon was treating them differently from other citizens by requiring them to undergo extensive biannual screening.
In January, U.S. District Judge Thomas S. Zilly found in the MAVNI troops’ favor, ruling that the Pentagon had not met its burden of proof to require the screening.
During the trial, Stephanie Miller, a senior Pentagon official involved in recruiting, said the Defense Department Inspector General and intelligence agencies had warned defense officials that “direct threats for espionage” had been identified in the MAVNI program and that “hostile governments” were targeting it.
Under questioning, Miller said that in the program’s nearly 10-year history, one person who attempted to join through MAVNI had been charged in an espionage case. That person had not yet obtained U.S. citizenship or a security clearance. More than 10,000 U.S. troops joined the military through the program.
Miller referred questions to the Pentagon’s public affairs office.
In the other pending case, the American Civil Liberties Union and the law firm Latham & Watkins have argued in federal court that obtaining a green card already requires significant screening and that requiring even more is not only discriminatory but also harms the Armed Forces by withholding recruits.
The Justice Department, arguing on behalf of the Pentagon, has countered that researching the background of someone who was not born in the United States can be difficult and that some recruits had falsified information while seeking security clearances. The case could go to trial this year.
Stripes: Trump to award posthumous Medal of Honor to Army staff sergeant

WASHINGTON — An Army staff sergeant who saved the lives of three other soldiers in Iraq by diving onto a suicide bomber will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the White House announced Tuesday.

Family members of Staff Sgt. Travis Atkins, a 10th Mountain Division squad leader, are scheduled to join President Donald Trump for the service slated for March 27 to commemorate Atkins’ selfless service and sacrifice, the White House said.

Atkins, a Bozeman, Montana native, was killed in action on June 1, 2007, while his unit — Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team 0151 conducted route clearance southwest of Baghdad, according to an Army account of the incident.

During the mission, Atkins, 31, heard a report over the radio of suspected insurgents crossing an intersection in the Iraqi town of Abu Samak, the Army said.

As truck commander in his Humvee, Atkins ordered the driver to stop the vehicle at the intersection so they could intercept the suspected insurgents, according to the Army. Atkins approached one of the men to check him for weapons, but when Atkins attempted to search him, the man resisted. As the two men fought, the insurgent reached for an explosive vest under his clothing. Atkins grabbed the suicide bomber from behind with a bear hug and slammed him to the ground, away from the other soldiers standing only a few feet from the fight. As he pinned the insurgent to the ground, the bomb detonated.

Atkins was killed by the blast.

“When he noticed the insurgent was about to trigger the suicide vest, Staff Sergeant Atkins tackled him, selflessly using his own body to shield his fellow soldiers from the imminent explosion,” the White House said in its release. “Staff Sergeant Atkins’ heroic actions, at the cost of his life, saved the lives of three of his teammates.”

For his actions, Atkins was initially given the Army’s second-highest award, the Distinguished Service Cross, which will be upgraded now to a Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor.

Before Atkins joined the Army, he worked for concrete and painting contractors and as an engine mechanic in Montana, according to the service. He enlisted in the Army in 2000 and attended basic training at Fort Benning in Georgia. He was assigned to Company A, 3rd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell, Ky., the White House said.

He was deployed to Iraq in 2003 and later honorably discharged as a sergeant.

Atkins went on to study at the University of Montana before re-enlisting in the Army in 2005. He was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division and deployed to Iraq a second time in August 2006. In May 2007, he was promoted to staff sergeant.

The 10th Mountain Division, which is based at Fort Drum in New York, honored Atkins by naming a fitness center at the installation after him in 2013, the Army said.

During the dedication ceremony, then-Sgt. Aaron Hall, a friend of Atkins, described the staff sergeant as a "quiet professional" who always had the respect of others.

"When my 4-year-old son Travis tells me his favorite superhero is Captain America and asks me who my favorite superhero is, my reply always has and will be Staff Sgt. Travis W. Atkins," Hall said.

Atkins’ Army awards and decorations include the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, the Army Achievement Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal with four Bronze Service Stars, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon, the Valorous Unit Award with one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster, the Meritorious Unit Commendation, the Combat Infantryman Badge and the Air Assault Badge.

Atkins was buried June 12, 2007, in his hometown of Bozeman in south-central Montana, according to the Army. He is survived by his son, Trevor Oliver of Coon Rapids, Minn., and his parents, John and Elaine Atkins of Bozeman, Montana, the White House said.