15 January, 2019 07:10

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Tuesday, January 15, 2019 which is National Bagel Day, Humanitarian Day, National Fresh Squeezed Juice Day and National Strawberry Ice Cream Day.
This Day in History:

  • On this day in 2009, a potential disaster turned into a heroic display of skill and composure when Captain Chesley Burnett Sullenberger III safely landed the plane he was piloting on New York City’s Hudson River after a bird strike caused its engines to fail. David Paterson, governor of New York at the time, dubbed the incident the “miracle on the Hudson.” Sullenberger, a former fighter pilot with decades of flying experience, received a slew of honors for his actions, including an invitation to Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration and resolutions of praise from the U.S. Congress.
  • On January 15, 1929, Martin Luther King Jr. is born in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of a Baptist minister. King received a doctorate degree in theology and in 1955 helped organized the first major protest of the African-American civil rights movement: the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott. Influenced by Mohandas Gandhi, he advocated civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance to segregation in the South. The peaceful protests he led throughout the American South were often met with violence, but King and his followers persisted, and the movement gained momentum.
  • 1962: Asked at a news conference if U.S. troops are fighting in Vietnam, President Kennedy answers “No.” He was technically correct, but U.S. soldiers were serving as combat advisers with the South Vietnamese army, and U.S. pilots were flying missions with the South Vietnamese Air Force. While acting in this advisory capacity, some soldiers invariably got wounded, and press correspondents based in Saigon were beginning to see casualties from the “support” missions and ask questions.
  • Fiery hot molasses floods the streets of Boston on this day in 1919, killing 21 people and injuring scores of others. The molasses burst from a huge tank at the United States Industrial Alcohol Company building in the heart of the city. The United States Industrial Alcohol building was located on Commercial Street near North End Park in Boston. It was close to lunch time on January 15 and Boston was experiencing some unseasonably warm weather as workers were loading freight-train cars within the large building. Next to the workers was a 58-foot-high tank filled with 2.5 million gallons of crude molasses. Suddenly, the bolts holding the bottom of the tank exploded, shooting out like bullets, and the hot molasses rushed out. An eight-foot-high wave of molasses swept away the freight cars and caved in the building’s doors and windows. The few workers in the building’s cellar had no chance as the liquid poured down and overwhelmed them.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

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Military Times: Supreme Court rejects appeal from veterans in burn pit lawsuit against KBR, Halliburton
By: Todd South 19 hours ago
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The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an appeal in which veterans sought to hold private companies responsible for their use of open-air burn pits that have been linked to scores of often fatal illnesses, from cancers to neurological damage.
The high court let stand an appellate court ruling that decided more than 60 separate lawsuits could not move forward.
Plaintiffs allege that KBR, formerly owned by Halliburton Corporation, and other companies dumped tires, batteries, medical waste and other materials into the burn pits downrange. The smoke from those pits caused health issues in more than 800 veterans in the lawsuits, attorneys claim. At least a dozen affected have since died.
Judges with the Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, who issued the ruling in last year’s appeal, said that KBR had little discretion in how to dispose of the waste, as they were under military control and the use of the burn pits was a military decision.
They said the lawsuits amounted to a “political question” that Congress and the president should resolve, not the courts.
The law firm Motley Rice, LLC, representing plaintiffs in the case, issued a statement to Military Times Monday morning.
“For nearly a decade, we have been working in the court system to secure justice for our veterans who have come home and suffered from debilitating diseases as a result of their exposure to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan," the statement said. "Over and over, KBR, a military contractor with the duty to handle waste on bases, did not do so with care. KBR operated burn pits that burned everything from plastics and human waste to car parts. We are disappointed that the Supreme Court declined to hear this case. We encourage all of those impacted and those who care about our veterans to contact their local representatives to push for change.”
Motley Rice attorney and Army veteran James Ledlie told Military Times that KBR’s defense argued that the only way to control actions by contractors was through military oversight.
But, Ledlie said, that would put an enormous burden on the limited number of military staff available to oversee sometimes complicated contractor work in combat zones.
The high court decision ends this litigation but, more importantly, it could give contractors an argument on which to lean in future cases regarding negligence or harming troops, he said.
However, Ledlie remained optimistic for future cases that might raise this same question.
“The decision in this case is limited to the facts of this case, and in this country there has been a long history of access to the courts to address acts of negligence, even those that touch on the military, and I would hope that the courts would remain open to that history,” Ledlie said.
An advocacy group that continues to work in helping veterans and service members and their families who’ve been affected by burn pits challenged President Donald Trump and Congress to do more to help:
“It’s been nearly a decade since we began advocating for those service men, women and widows plagued by this generation’s Agent Orange. We are living proof of the damage already done. We demand accountability. As Americans it is our moral obligation to care for the war heroes and contractors affected, many of whom were veterans,” wrote Rosie Torres, spokeswoman for the nonprofit Burn Pits 360.
“While veterans endure illnesses such as brain tumors, lung diseases, toxic brain injury and cancer, our government has decided to leave our fate at the hands of Congress. While families bury their loved ones as a result of tax payers dollars poisoning our troops, we are now left to fend for ourselves,” Torres wrote.
The advocacy group has the following initiatives as part of its goals:

  • Improving the registry so that it can be an effective tool for research, monitoring and identifying the health consequences of these exposures, to include mortality.
  • Conducting more and better research into the health consequences of these exposures and to develop effective treatments to improve veterans’ health and lives.
  • Establishing evidence-based clinical practice guidelines and a specialized care program for respiratory and co-morbid conditions, including pre- and post-deployment pulmonary function testing.
  • Creating a scientific federal advisory committee related to these exposures and health outcomes.
  • Improving VA disability compensation claims for afflicted veterans, including establishing presumption of service-connection for debilitating symptoms and diseases that have been linked to these exposures.

KBR and Halliburton attempted to have the case dismissed but failed. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case in 2015, before the most recent ruling was issued last year.
Though burn pits were in use as early as during the invasion of Iraq and continued to be used in both Iraq and Afghanistan through most of the duration of the wars, guidance that such pits should be placed far from areas near troops wasn’t published until 2011.
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 3.7 million veterans and service members were exposed to the toxic fumes from burn pits in both theaters.
And links remain elusive because burn pit sites, and what was burned in them, have not been made readily available or such information has not been recorded accurately.
The Protection for Veterans’ Burn Pit Exposure Act of 2018 remains in subcommittee. It would have the VA presume service connection for veterans with illnesses related to open burn pit exposure.
The following list includes some, but not all, of the symptoms, diseases or disorders associated with burn pit exposure:
Asthma, breathing restrictions, cancers, chronic bronchitis, recurring infections, cramps and severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, leukemia, lung cancer, nose bleeds, pulmonary injuries, bronchiolitis, severe heart conditions, severe headache, skin infection, sleep apnea, throat infections, ulcers, unexpected weight loss, vomiting, and weeping lesions on extremities.
Information from the Associated Press was included in this article.
Military Times: VA secretary slams union comments on government shutdown as politicizing veterans’ suicide
By: Leo Shane III 16 hours ago
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WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie on Monday accused union officials of politicizing veterans mental health care by saying the ongoing government shutdown could cost some veterans their lives.
In a letter to the American Federation of Government Employees leadership, Wilkie demanded an apology for the “reckless comments” and asked for officials to “outline the steps you plan to take to ensure AFGE leaders demonstrate proper respect for our nation’s heroes.”
The move is the latest chapter in ongoing friction between federal workers’ unions and President Donald Trump’s administration, and the VA leadership specifically. In a response statement, AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. called the Trump administration “one of the worst on record for our country’s heroes” and pushed back on Wilkie’s accusations.
“Federal government employed veterans are hurting right now,” he said. “Regardless of their continued service to our country the President and his cabinet have left them out in the cold, forcing them to work without pay or subjecting veterans and their families to the uncertainty of not knowing when or where their next paycheck will come from.”
At the heart of the dispute is the decision of congressional Democrats and other Trump critics to invoke the impact of the ongoing government shutdown on veterans.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is fully funded for the year, meaning VA employees and veterans support programs are not affected by the ongoing partial shutdown. But about 800,000 employees from other departments — including more than 125,000 veterans — have been furloughed or forced to work without pay because of the ongoing budget dispute.
In a news interview last week, AFGE Local President Edward Canales said that if the shutdown doesn’t stop soon, “we are going to have fatalities, we’re going to have suicides.”
Wilkie took exception to the remarks, saying they played into stereotypes that veterans are “so fragile from their service that the slightest hint of hardship can push them to the brink of mental breakdown or even self-harm.” He said the “disgraceful” comment requires public correction.
“As leader of the largest union representing VA employees, many of whom are veterans, you should know how harmful this stereotype is to veterans, especially those attempting to enter the civilian workforce following their service,” Wilkie wrote.
“I was surprised and disappointed to see (Canales) pushing the "Veteran as victim" myth and going so far as to exploit the real tragedy of veteran suicide to make political arguments.”
VA officials delivered the letter to AFGE officials on Monday morning and posted the full text online on their news release site early Monday afternoon. Union officials dismissed the message as itself a political act.
“Financial pressures experienced by working people are apparently not something this administration either understands or cares about,” Cox said. “AFGE will continue to work to alleviate those kinds of pressure on veterans and all other working and middle class Americans.”
VA and union leaders have sparred in recent months over a host of issues, including administration plans to expand outside health care options for veterans. VA officials have said the effort will dramatically expand health care options for veterans. Union leaders insist the move will drain much-needed resources from VA in an attempt to privatize the department.
Wilkie’s staff has also moved to limit how much union business certain VA employees can perform during official work hours, a plan decried by union leaders as an attempt to erode workers’ rights instead of improving workplace efficiency.
The government shutdown, the result of a budget fight between Trump and congressional Democrats over his demand for more than $5 billion in funding for his controversial border wall, has lasted for 23 days, the longest in U.S. history.
Military.com: CBO Suggests Raising Tricare Fees, Cutting Veteran Benefits to Slash Deficit

14 Jan 2019
Military.com | By Patricia Kime
With the federal deficit expected to top $984 billion this year, the Congressional Budget Office in December published a list of options for reducing the imbalance over the next 10 years, including three suggestions on Tricareand six that address veterans benefits.
In its Options for Reducing the Deficit: 2019 to 2028, the CBO laid out 121 opportunities for curtailing spending and raising revenue. These include raising Tricare enrollment fees for military retirees, instituting enrollment fees for Tricare for Life and reducing veterans benefits.
The publication marks the fourth time in five years that the CBO has suggested raising Tricare enrollment fees for working-age retirees and introducing minimum out-of-pocket expenses for those using Tricare for Life.
The CBO suggested that increasing Tricare enrollment fees for working-age retirees — those under age 65 — could help slash the deficit by $12.6 billion. To obtain this, it said, the Defense Department should more than double annual enrollment fees for individuals and families enrolled in Tricare Prime and institute annual fees of $485 for an individual and $970 for a family for Tricare Select. Most working-age retirees currently pay no enrollment fees for Tricare Select.
The CBO also suggested instituting enrollment fees for Tricare for Life, the program that serves as supplemental coverage for military retirees on Medicare. Analysts estimated that the Defense Department could save $12 billion between 2021 and 2028 if it adopted annual enrollment fees of $485 for an individual or $970 for a family for Tricare for Life, in addition to the Medicare premiums most military retirees 65 and older pay.
According to CBO analysts, these options would reduce the financial burden of Tricare for Life to the DoD in two ways: It would cut the government’s share by the amount of fees collected and indirectly would save money by causing some patients to forgo Tricare for Life altogether, either by buying a private Medicare supplement or simply going without one.
Another option would be to introduce minimum out-of-pocket requirements for those using Tricare for Life. In this proposal, TFL would not cover any of the $750 of cost-sharing payments under Medicare and would cover just 50 percent of the next nearly $7,000.
Retired Navy Capt. Kathryn Beasley, director of government relations for health issues at the Military Officers Association of America, said her organization is concerned that the CBO continues to include health care rate hikes for military retirees in its list of options, which it publishes every few years or so. The CBO also ignored the fact that rate increases went into effect last year, she added.
"CBO does this every year. Our biggest concern is that some of these options would make their way into the president’s budget," Beasley said. "With all the changes to the military health care system in the past year, we think we simply need to stabilize Tricare. It’s been a lot to absorb."
According to the CBO, the Department of Veterans Affairs also presents several opportunities for cost-savings measures. Some suggestions in the CBO assessment include:

  • Narrowing eligibility for disability compensation for seven diseases the Government Accountability Office has said are not caused or aggravated by military service, including arteriosclerotic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Crohn’s disease, hemorrhoids, multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis, and uterine fibroids. This option would save $33 billion over 10 years.
  • Ending the VA’s individual unemployability payments to disabled veterans when they turn 67, the retirement age for receiving full Social Security benefits, which would save an estimated $48 billion.
  • Reducing disability benefits to veterans older than 67 who are receiving Social Security payments. This could save the government $11 billion.
  • Eliminating disability compensation for 1.3 million veterans with disability rates below 30 percent, saving $38 billion over an eight-year period.

The VA option with some of the largest savings potential, according to CBO, would be to end enrollment for the two million veterans in Priority Groups 7 and 8 — those who do not have service-connected disabilities and have income above the VA national threshold and below a geographically adjusted threshold (Group 7) or above both thresholds (Group 8). This could save the government up to $57 billion, CBO analysts said.
Finally, the CBO said the federal government could raise revenue by including VA disability payments as taxable income. According to the CBO, if all disability payments were to be taxed, federal revenues during the time frame would increase by $93 billion.
If just veterans rated 20 percent or less paid taxes on their disability compensation, federal revenues would increase by $4 billion, it said.
CBO analysts say their options only "reflect a range of possibilities" and are not recommendations or a ranking of priorities. "The inclusion or exclusion of any particular option does not imply that CBO endorses it or opposes it," they wrote.