16 April, 2019 08:14

Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Tuesday, April 16, 2019, which is Holy Tuesday, National Librarian Day, National Stress Awareness Day, and Teach Your Daughter to Volunteer Day.

Today in History:

  • 2007: In one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history, 32 people died after being gunned down on the campus of Virginia Tech by Seung Hui Cho, a student at the college who later committed suicide.
  • 1947: At 9:12 a.m. in Texas City’s port on Galveston Bay, a fire aboard the French freighter Grandcamp ignites ammonium nitrate and other explosive materials in the ship’s hold, causing a massive blast that destroys much of the city and takes nearly 600 lives.
  • 1972: In an effort to help blunt the ongoing North Vietnamese Nguyen Hue Offensive, the United States resumes bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong after a four-year lull.
  • 1947: Multimillionaire and financier Bernard Baruch, in a speech given during the unveiling of his portrait in the South Carolina House of Representatives, coins the term “Cold War” to describe relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. The phrase stuck, and for over 40 years it was a mainstay in the language of American diplomacy.


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Military Times: Here’s why no one was fired after VA mistakes cost a veteran his foot*
By: Leo Shane III | 19 hours ago
Officials at the Indianapolis Veterans Affairs hospital insist they wanted to fire the administrator whose mistakes led to the amputation of a veteran’s foot due to missed home care appointments, but couldn’t because the staffer retired before they could act.
“Had (the investigation) been completed before the employee retired, the Roudebush Veterans Affairs Medical Center would have proposed the employee for termination,” Craig Larson, spokesman for the VA’s Chicago District, said in a statement. “The employee chose to retire while the investigation was ongoing, and there was nothing the center could do to stop that.”
Last week, officials from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel said that an administrative decision in 2017 to stop recording home health care consults into a VA’s patient record system jeopardized the health of numerous patients at the Indiana VA hospital, and forced at least one of them to lose his foot to a medical amputation.
That man, who had been discharged from care after a diabetes treatment, was left to change the dressings on his foot wound by himself for several days, even though VA staffers were supposed to do that.
“[His] worsening infection … and subsequent amputation appears to have been related to the delay of the dressing changes by the home care agency,” the report states.
Pete Scovill, public and congressional affairs officer for Veteran Health Indiana, said hospital officials “remain in close contact with the veteran” today and have offered an apology and “options moving forward.”
He also said that all affected staff have been re-trained to ensure that home health care consults are being properly conducted and recorded.
But the Special Counsel report noted that despite the grave nature of the mistakes, no staffers were fired. A social work assistant chief was reassigned to a different position, and the senior chief retired.
Larson defended the moves, saying center leaders took immediate action in response to the whistleblower allegations. But officials could not prevent the senior chief from retiring, and could not take any adverse job actions after that.
President Donald Trump made accountability at VA a key promise during his election campaign. After less than six months in office, he signed a new department accountability measure into law, speeding up the time in which staffers can be fired and allowing the department to recoup bonuses from individuals later convicted of criminal wrongdoing.
But VA officials said none of those measures would apply in this case.
Overall firings at the department have increased each of the last three calendar years, as the number of VA staff has also continued to climb.
In 2016, VA fired 2,001 individuals through regular removals and probationary terminations. In 2017, that number rose to 2,537. Last year, from January to the end of November, it was 2,889.
But critics have insisted that more firings does not necessarily mean better outcomes for veterans, especially if administrators making sweeping decisions can avoid punishment.
In a statement in response to the Special Counsel report, American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad said that “increased accountability will improve an already strong VA system” and called for the department to institute a broader plan to prevent future communication mistakes.
“Tragedies such as what happened in Indianapolis should never occur,” he said. “We expect VA to learn from this and act accordingly.”

Military Times: After nearly a year, Trump moves to fill VA’s second-highest leadership post
By: Leo Shane III | 21 hours ago
After nearly a 10-month wait, the Department of Veterans Affairs has a nominee to fill its second-highest leadership post.
On Friday, President Donald Trump formally named VA General Counsel James Byrne as his pick for the VA deputy secretary post, vacant since Thomas Bowman retired from the job last June. Byrne has served as the acting deputy secretary since last August.
The position was the highest ranking of multiple leadership vacancies within the department, including VA’s top health official. White House officials did not say whether they plan to name a new general counsel candidate to replace Byrne, or if he will continue to manage the responsibilities for both posts.
Byrne is a Naval Academy graduate who deployed overseas as a Marine infantry officer and later joined the Department of Justice as an international narcotics prosecutor. He also previously worked as an investigator with the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction before leaving government to work for the Lockheed Martin Corporation for several years.
Both his father and sons have also served in the military.
During his July 2017 confirmation hearing for the general counsel post, Byrne said he was activated as a reservist in 2004 to lead the Marine Corps Liaison Office at National Naval Medical Center in Maryland.
“The hearts and minds of men and women who returned home for medical care were, of course, always with their team members (still) engaged in combat,” he said. “This loyalty, service, and undying dedication had a profound effect on me, and drove home the profound importance of the mission of supporting these wounded warriors under my command and their families.”
In a statement, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., praised the move and said he expects confirmation hearings on Byrne in coming weeks.
“The deputy secretary of the VA is responsible for working closely with the secretary to make sure the federal government’s second-largest Cabinet department is operating effectively, efficiently and in the best interest of our veterans,” he said. “I am glad to see Mr. Byrne nominated to serve in this critical role.”
Lawmakers have expressed concerns about the leadership vacancies in recent months, though White House officials have blamed the pace of filling those posts on Democratic senators moves to slow the confirmation process.
Bowman retired from his post shortly after the firing of VA Secretary David Shulkin. Twice in ensuing months, Trump passed over Bowman for the acting VA secretary job, instead nominating other federal officials amid reports that Bowman had fought with White House operatives on a host of policy issues.

Military.com: Want to Run for Office? Now There’s a Politics Boot Camp for Veterans
15 Apr 2019 | Military.com | By Richard Sisk
If you’re a veteran eyeing a run for office, you now have access to a training program specially designed to get you in the race.
Syracuse University, with a grant from JP Morgan Chase & Co., plans to start a training program late this fall or early winter for veterans on the nuts-and-bolts of running for office at the state, local and federal levels.
The goal of the "Veterans in Politics," or VIP, program is to take advantage of veterans’ commitment to public service and translate that into organizing and running a campaign, but the school is upfront about potential pitfalls.
"We want to be clear about what they’re getting into. It’s not all cookies and cream," said Steve Lux, director of executive education at the university’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, located in central New York state.
He said the program will start with online preparation, leading to a free, week-long intensive seminar at the Maxwell School, tied for No. 1 with Indiana University as the nation’s top public affairs graduate school, according to U.S. News & World Report.
The program’s launch was announced last week by Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families, or IVMF, and the Maxwell School, with the intent of aiding veterans and military family members who aspire to public office or administration.
In a statement, David M. Van Slyke, dean of the Maxwell School, said the collaboration with IVMF would "empower those who have served our nation in uniform with preparation, expertise and confidence, so that they can extend their commitment to public service in the form of a political career at the local, state or federal level."
University and IVMF officials said VIP courses will cover election law, party politics and public policy; creating, managing and leading campaign teams; campaign finance; understanding voters; message development; and other aspects of running for office.
Dr. Mike Haynie, executive director of IVMF, said he began discussions with the Maxwell School about a year ago, adding "once we started the conversation, it was a no-brainer."
He called JP Morgan’s grant "generous," though he would not give details.
In a statement, Mark Elliott, head of Military and Veterans Affairs at JP Morgan & Chase, said the program is intended "to help develop the next generation of political leaders" from veterans and their families, who have a commitment to the public sector.
Both Haynie and Lux said VIP is non-partisan and open to veterans with widely divergent political views, but there will be screening to keep out extremists whose values are not in line with those of the university.
Lux said the plan is to start small with a first class of 20 to 25 applicants. The first phase will be online with required readings and videos to set up the week-long, on-campus phase involving immersion seminars, he said.
The third phase entails follow-ups to gauge the veterans’ progress in achieving their political goals, he said. "We don’t just want to send them out there in the woods and say ‘Good luck.’"
"We need to keep the first cohort size relatively small," Haynie said.
But, he added, the eventual goal is to put more veterans in office in Congress and at the state and local level.
According to IVMF, veterans made gains in the 2018 elections, but overall veteran representation in Congress has dropped from more than 75% in the 1960s to 19.1% today.
Currently, the 116th Congress has a total of 96 veterans — 30 Democrats and 66 Republicans.
More information on the VIP program and instructions on how to apply are available here.

CNN: Pentagon developing military options to deter Russian, Chinese influence in Venezuela
By Barbara Starr, Ryan Browne and Zachary Cohen, CNN | Updated 3:38 PM ET, Mon April 15, 2019
Washington (CNN) — The Pentagon is developing new military options for Venezuela aimed at deterring Russian, Cuban and Chinese influence inside the regime of President Nicolas Maduro, but stopping short of any kinetic military actions, according to a defense official familiar with the effort.
The deterrence options are being ordered following a White House meeting last week where national security adviser John Bolton told acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan to develop ideas on the Venezuela crisis.
The official emphasized strongly that the initial work is being done by the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, which conducts planning for future military operations along with the Southern Command, which oversees any US military involvement in the southern hemisphere.
And even though Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently said that "all options" remain on the table for dealing with Venezuela, several Pentagon officials continue to say there is no appetite at the Department of Defense for using US military force against the Venezuelan regime to try to force it from power.
While President Donald Trump has called for Maduro to leave and has said the Russians have to get out of Venezuela, there is no indication he wants to commit US troops to a major military action there.
Instead, deterrence options could include US naval exercises in the immediate region to emphasize humanitarian assistance and more military interaction with neighboring countries. The idea would be to challenge any Russian, Cuban or Chinese notion that they could have unchallenged access to the region.
The preliminary planning work being done will at some point be forwarded to Shanahan, who in turn will then present ideas to the White House, the official said.
The US called for Maduro to step down in February, when National Assembly President Juan Guaido declared himself interim president on the grounds that a 2018 election had been rigged. Since then, tensions have climbed as senior US officials have repeated their calls for the military to abandon Maduro, while Maduro has blamed the US for Venezuela’s troubles.
During a speech commemorating the 17th anniversary of the failed coup against the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Saturday, Maduro called on all Venezuelans who want to get involved and defend their homeland to enlist and train with the military to reach the "new goal of 3 million members."
Maduro reminded the crowd that last year he set the goal of 2 million military members and said "we have accomplished our mission," calling for the additional one million members to join and "defend our territory and borders."
Maduro said he will have a total of 3 million or more military troops by December of 2019.
Pompeo, speaking in Paraguay on April 13, reiterated that all options remain on the table for Venezuela. "We keep all options on the table because it’s very important, in that we don’t know how things will proceed," he said.
The top US diplomat, on a three-day tour of Chile, Paraguay and Peru, did not directly answer questions about whether the US has a strategy to deal with Maduro should he retain the military power necessary to stay in office, but insisted that any decision will be up to the Venezuelan people.
"The strategy is not just an American strategy. It’s the Venezuelan people’s strategy," he said during an interview Saturday with Voice of America Spanish.
"Sometimes people think Maduro is winning, and yet he’s handed over all of his power to the Cubans, to the Russians. This is weakness from Maduro. And so this weakness will ultimately lead to his departure, and democracy and prosperity will be restored in Venezuela. I am very confident of that," he added.
During his trip, Pompeo said that as Venezuela’s neighbors struggle to cope with the refugees fleeing the country, "a hundred percent" of that challenge is the "direct result" of Maduro as well as Russia and Cuba, which support him.
And he also rapped Beijing, another Maduro supporter. "When China does business in places like Latin America, it often injects corrosive capital into the economic bloodstream, giving life to corruption and eroding good governance," Pompeo said during an April 12 speech in Chile.
"China’s bankrolling of the Maduro regime helped precipitate and prolong the crisis in that country. China invested over $60 billion — $60 billion — with no strings attached. Well, it’s no surprise that Maduro used the money to use for tasks like paying off cronies, crushing pro-democracy activists, and funding ineffective social programs. And you all know, better than anyone in America could know, the crushing, devastating results of that," Pompeo said.
"I think there’s a lesson, a lesson to be learned for all of us: China and others are being hypocritical calling for non-intervention in Venezuela’s affairs. Their own financial interventions have helped destroy that country," Pompeo added.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a press briefing Monday that Pompeo "has wantonly slandered and deliberately provoked China-Latin America relations. It is irresponsible and utterly unjustifiable. We strongly oppose this."
"It should be pointed out that for some time, some US politicians have been carrying the same version, the same script of slandering China all over the world, and fanning the flames and sowing discord everywhere. The words and deeds are despicable. But lies are lies, even if you say it a thousand times, they are still lies. Mr. Pompeo, you can stop," he added.

Air Force Times: US killed No. 2 leader of ISIS-Somalia, officials say
By: Kyle Rempfer | 16 hours ago
An American airstrike in northeastern Somalia has killed the deputy leader of the Islamic State group in the country, U.S. officials said Monday.
Abdulhakim Dhuqub, who was responsible for the extremist group’s daily operations, attack planning and resource procurement, was killed in the vicinity of Xiriiro, in the Bari region, on Sunday.
The U.S. military has been supporting the government of Somalia as it increases the competency of its security forces and pushes back against extremist groups in the country.
U.S. Africa Command said that precision airstrikes support Somali security forces and allow time and space for governance to grow in the country.
“We continue to work with our Somali partners to keep pressure on the al-Shabab and ISIS-Somalia terror networks," said Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Gregg Olson, U.S. Africa Command director of operations. “When it supports the strategy, we use precision airstrikes to target those who plan and carry out the violent extremist activities that put Somalis at risk.”
The airstrikes help to create “organizational confusion within the terrorist networks in Somalia," according to Air Force Col. Chris Karns, an AFRICOM spokesman.
“By consistently placing pressure on the terror networks, it keeps them off balance and reflects the federal government of Somalia’s commitment to enhancing stability and security for the Somali people,” he told Air Force Times. “Various levels of leadership within the terror networks are effectively being targeted and removed from doing further harm to innocent Somalis.”
The strike occurred in an autonomous region of northern Somalia known as Puntland. Most airstrikes have taken place in the southern part of the country. ISIS-Somalia is primarily active in Puntland and is estimated to have roughly 300 members.
ISIS-Somalia is a splinter group of al-Shabab, a group the U.S. says is aligned with al-Qaida and that is also active in Somalia.
At this time, AFRICOM is assessing that the airstrike killed only Dhuqub and destroyed one vehicle.
“Currently, we assess no civilians were injured or killed as a result of this airstrike,” officials said in a statement. “Our process and procedures allow for additional information to inform post-strike analysis.”
U.S. airstrikes killed two civilians in an airstrike on a vehicle on April 1, 2018, in central Somalia. That revelation came after AFRICOM self-reported that an error had been made roughly a year after the strike first occurred.
So far, that civilian casualty is the only such incident that has come to light.
Since 2007, the U.S. has conducted airstrikes to kill militants in Somalia, but the number of strikes per year was never more than three. Beginning in 2016, airstrikes in Somalia spiked to 15. In 2018, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Long War Journal cataloged 47 strikes in-country.
AFRICOM is working with the African Union Mission to Somalia to build the federal government’s capabilities and expand state security.

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