17 January, 2019 06:22

Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Thursday, January 17, 2019, which is Ben Franklin Day, Customer Service Day, Ditch New Year’s Resolutions Day, Kid Inventors Day, and National Bootleggers Day.

Today in History:

  • On this day in 1865, Union General William T. Sherman’s army is rained in at Savannah, Georgia, as it waits to begin marching into the Carolinas.
  • On January 17, 1961, in a nationally televised speech, Dwight D. Eisenhower addresses the American people for the last time as president. Expressing ideas that seem prophetic in retrospect, Eisenhower offered his fears and hopes for the future, warning against the unfettered growth of the “military-industrial complex,” as he coined it, and calling for diplomacy, restraint, and compassion in dealing with future crises with the Soviet Union. Despite his sadness that peace was not in sight, the great Allied commander offered a closing prayer to the world from America. “We pray,” he said, “that people of all faiths, all races, all nations…will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.”
  • 1972: President Richard Nixon warns South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu in a private letter that his refusal to sign any negotiated peace agreement would render it impossible for the United States to continue providing assistance to South Vietnam.
  • On this day in 1994, an earthquake rocks Los Angeles, California, killing 54 people and causing billions of dollars in damages. The Northridge quake (named after the San Fernando Valley community near the epicenter) was one of the most damaging in U.S. history.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

  • Military Times: mseaveywith “Remove” in the subject line. If you have received this from someone who forwarded it and would like to be added, email mseavey.

    Military Times: VA eyeing new partnership with states to help prevent veterans suicide
    By: Leo Shane III | 20 hours ago
    WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs officials in coming weeks will roll out new partnerships with at least seven states to focus attention and resources on preventing veterans suicide, re-upping a successful tool from their earlier campaigns to end veterans homelessness.
    Dr. Keita Franklin, director of VA’s office of suicide prevention, said Tuesday during a congressional staff briefing on the topic that department officials will be announcing a new “governor’s challenge” to expand ongoing prevention programs to audiences outside the veterans community.
    “VA must lead on this, and it’s our responsibility to prevent veterans suicide,” she said. “But when I can have a partner take our training, have them pass out our crisis number, develop peer mentoring models in workplaces, if I can help them make sure veterans have access to health care, that’s when we know we’re doing the work.”
    “We’re shifting from a model that says ‘let’s sit in our hospitals and wait for people to come to us’ and take it to them.”
    About 20 veterans a day nationwide commit suicide, a figure that has remained largely unchanged in recent years. Of that number, about 14 will have had little or no contact with VA health services.
    For the last year, VA officials have been using a “mayor’s challenge” model to work with 27 large cities on ways to better share VA crisis resources, train employees in suicide awareness and intervention, and coordinate existing support programs with national ones.
    The move followed similar outreach activities surrounding veterans homelessness. Advocates have praised the approach as a way to include communities in efforts to help veterans, creating more meaningful connections at a local level.
    “We know that integration of care is vital, not only within health systems, but within entire communities, to address challenges like suicide in the veteran population,” said Heather O’Beirne Kelly, director of military and veterans health policy at the American Psychological Association.
    “VA was instrumental in addressing veteran homelessness through a similar mayoral challenge, and we’ve seen success in other arenas. The Memphis police department’s crisis intervention team, for example, works with the VA medical center to ensure that veterans who come into contact with the criminal justice system get appropriate diversion and wraparound care.”
    Franklin said the “mayor’s challenge” will now expand to statewide offices in an initial set of state partners: Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Texas and Virginia.
    “The key is to work on a local plan,” she said. “Who are the local influencers? What are your measures of effectiveness over time?”
    Work will also be coordinated with the Department of Health and Human Services.
    Dr. Richard McKeon, chief of suicide prevention efforts at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said many veterans in distress may first reach out to local hospitals or doctors for help. That makes informing those organizations of veteran-specific resources critical.
    VA officials are expected to formally announce the new state partnerships next month.
    To contact the Veteran Crisis Line, callers can dial 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1 for a VA staffer. Veterans, troops or their families members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance.

    USA Today: Furloughed workers to get back pay once government shutdown is over
    Michael Collins, USA TODAY
    Published 4:42 p.m. ET Jan. 16, 2019 | Updated 9:40 p.m. ET Jan. 16, 2019

    WASHINGTON – Federal employees who have been forced to take unpaid leave because of the partial government shutdown will get back pay.
    President Donald Trump signed legislation Wednesday guaranteeing that furloughed workers will be paid retroactively.
    The legislation, which cleared both the House and the Senate last week, does not spell out specifically when workers will see the money but says they will be paid as soon as possible when the shutdown ends.
    “The partial government shutdown represents a failure to govern and harms not only those who need to interact with the closed agencies, but also hundreds of thousands of federal employees and their families who don’t know when they will receive their next paycheck,” said Sen. Susan Collins. R-Maine, one of the bill’s sponsors.
    Some 380,000 federal employees from nine departments and several smaller agencies have been forced to go on furlough because of the government shutdown, which is now in its 26th day – the longest in U.S. history.
    Another 420,000 employees – many in public-safety positions – are working without pay because their jobs are considered essential. They were assured of back pay once the shutdown is over.
    Without legislation, however, there was no guarantee that furloughed workers would receive back pay when funding to their agencies is restored, although that has been the practice following previous shutdowns.
    Last Friday marked the first time that affected workers have not received a paycheck since the shutdown began on Dec. 22.
    The bill that Trump signed into law applies not only to workers furloughed during the current shutdown. It mandates that workers furloughed in future shutdowns also get back pay.
    The current shutdown was triggered by a fight between Trump and congressional Democrats over funding for a wall along the U.S-Mexico border. Trump wants $5.7 billion to build the structure, but Democrats say a wall would be costly, ineffective and – in the words of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – an "immorality."

    Associated Press: Coast Guard families attend free dinner at Rhode Island university during shutdown
    By: Jennifer McDermott, The Associated Press | 15 hours ago
    BRISTOL, R.I. — Spouses of U.S. Coast Guard members said they appreciated a university in Rhode Island hosting a free dinner for their families Tuesday, as they tightened their budgets due to the partial federal government shutdown.
    Roger Williams University invited active-duty Coast Guard members in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts and their families to the Bristol campus Tuesday night. About 75 people attended.
    "It means a lot to us to be able to come here. Banding together is important," said Rachel Malcom, 32, whose husband serves in the Coast Guard in Rhode Island. They went to the dinner with three of their four young children.
    Malcom and other Coast Guard spouses said they’re choosing less expensive items at the grocery store, going fewer places to save on gasoline and looking for other ways to cut costs.
    "I’m really scaling back on everything at this point," said Mariah Battermann, whose husband serves in the Coast Guard in Rhode Island. They went to the dinner with their two children.
    Several Coast Guard members said they couldn’t speak publicly about the shutdown. The Coast Guard, part of the Department of Homeland Security, isn’t funded during the shutdown. Other military services are receiving funding through the Defense Department.
    President Donald Trump has said he’s willing to keep the government closed to get funding to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
    John King, vice president of student life at Roger Williams University, said the Coast Guard patrols the local waters that students and nearby residents swim and sail in.
    "They’re always there for us. We wanted to do a small act of kindness and gratitude for them," he said.
    The Coast Guard has about 330 people in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts, including a team in Bristol that maintains aids to navigation.

    Washington Post: Suicide blast kills four Americans in Syria, a sign of remaining extremist danger
    By Louisa Loveluck and Missy Ryan | January 16 at 7:09 PM
    BEIRUT — Four Americans were killed in a suicide attack in Syria on Wednesday, the largest loss of life in the Pentagon’s war against Islamic State militants there and a sign of the potent threat that remains as the Trump administration begins to withdraw.
    Officials said a bomber detonated an explosive vest as a group of Americans, including two service members, a Pentagon civilian and a U.S. contractor slain in the attack, met with local military officials at a restaurant in the northern city of Manbij.
    Three additional U.S. service members were wounded, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.
    The incident occurs as the Pentagon begins its drawdown from Syria in keeping with President Trump’s announcement last month that the Islamic State had been defeated and troops would be coming home.
    The president’s surprise Dec. 19 announcement upended plans, backed by military leaders and Trump’s top national security advisers, for an ongoing mission in Syria and drew widespread criticism, including from Republican allies who warned a premature departure could allow militants to return. Nearly a month after Trump’s initial pronouncement, conflicting statements from senior officials, including the president himself, have fueled ongoing confusion about what precisely the administration’s plan entails.
    The Islamic State, in a message posted by its unofficial news agency, Amaq, asserted responsibility for the Manbij blast but provided no evidence to back up that claim.
    Surveillance camera video showed the explosion erupting on a busy sidewalk, sending a child running from the flames with hands clasped over his ears. Bodies and blood trails could be seen spread across the ground in photographs taken during the immediate aftermath.
    The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 19 people were wounded or killed.
    White House press secretary Sarah Sanders praised the “brave American heroes” who died in the attack. “Our service members and their families have all sacrificed so much for our country,” she said in a statement.
    The White House said Trump had been “fully briefed” on the incident, the most deadly since U.S. troops arrived in Syria in 2015. Previously, two American service members had been killed in action there.
    Speaking at the State Department several hours after initial casualty reports appeared, Vice President Pence did not mention the incident but hailed Trump’s leadership in combating the militants in Syria.
    “We are bringing our troops home,” Pence said in an address to more than 180 U.S. ambassadors and chiefs of missions abroad gathered for a conference in Washington. “The caliphate has crumbled, and ISIS has been defeated.”
    In a statement issued by his office later in the day, Pence offered sympathy to the families of the Americans who were killed, condemned the attack and said the United States would “never allow the remnants of ISIS to reestablish their evil and murderous caliphate — not now, not ever.”
    The dissonance between the vice president’s initial statement and the bloodshed on the ground in Syria reflects conflicting internal assessments about where the campaign against the Islamic State stands.
    Trump, announcing last month that the force of more than 2,000 U.S. service members would be leaving Syria, heralded categorical victory over the Islamic State more than four years after U.S. forces launched an international coalition to dislodge militants from their self-declared “caliphate” straddling Syria and Iraq.
    The president’s declaration generated consternation from foreign partners, including France and Britain, and accusations of abandonment from a U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish force that has suffered thousands of casualties. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned the next day.
    Since then, Trump and other senior officials have at times used more cautious rhetoric in addressing the Islamic State, which the Pentagon has said retains significant combat power, especially in eastern Syria, where it continues to hold territory.
    Despite Trump’s initial suggestion that troops would depart immediately, the White House subsequently has said there is no timeline for the U.S. departure. Compounding the confusion, military officials say they are proceeding with orders to withdraw within about four months.
    On Friday, the military announced it had begun withdrawing equipment but not forces. It’s not clear what weaponry or equipment has been removed from Manbij, which was reclaimed from militants in 2016.
    Hundreds of U.S. troops have been stationed in Manbij in an attempt to prevent extremists from regaining strength and to foster stability in an area strategic to both NATO ally Turkey to the north and Syrian Kurdish forces who have been the chief U.S. partner against the Islamic State.
    Turkey considers some Syrian Kurds, including U.S. partner forces, to be part of a terror group.
    U.S. troops have been more visible in Manbij than they have in other areas, flying U.S. flags as part of their stabilization effort there.
    Lawmakers of both parties seized on the attack as proof that Trump should rethink his Syria plans. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who has gone between lauding and excoriating the president, made an impassioned speech at the start of William P. Barr’s confirmation hearing to serve as attorney general, imploring Trump to reconsider his position in light of the carnage.
    “My concern about the statements made by President Trump is that you set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we’re fighting. You make people we are trying to help wonder about us, and as they get bolder, the people we’re trying to help are going to get more uncertain. I saw this in Iraq, and I’m now seeing it in Syria,” Graham said.
    “I know people are frustrated. But we’re never going to be safe here unless we’re willing to help people over there who will stand up against this radical ideology,” he added. “To those who lost their lives today in Syria, you were defending America in my view . . . and I hope the president will look long and hard at what we’re doing in Syria.”
    Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), at a meeting of HillVets, a Washington veterans group, said the United States was failing to demonstrate the global leadership it had shown in the past.
    “Today’s very tragic situation is a reflection that ISIS is not gone and done with,” he said. Reed said it was vital to keep military pressure on the group and warned that ISIS leaders interpreted Trump’s calls for a withdrawal from Syria as “a great relief of the pressure on them.”
    As the Pentagon begins its withdrawal, it remains unclear whether the White House plan will include an exit for several hundred troops now stationed at the Tanf garrison in southeast Syria. While national security adviser John Bolton has suggested that base, seen as key to constraining Iran’s influence in Syria, could remain open, military officials are planning to shut it down.

    Washington Post: Pentagon developing plan to scrutinize recruits with green cards and other foreign ties, memos show
    By Dan Lamothe | January 16 at 6:33 PM
    The Pentagon, citing terrorism and espionage fears, is developing a plan to scrutinize prospective recruits with foreign ties, including some U.S. citizens, after a related effort targeting thousands of green-card holders was blocked by a federal judge last year.
    The new policy, still in development, will be distributed to the military services by no later than Feb. 15, according to two Defense Department officials and several department memos obtained by The Washington Post. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity.
    The new vetting is likely to screen thousands of recruits per year who have what the Pentagon considers “foreign nexus” risks, including some Americans who marry a foreign spouse or who have family members with dual citizenship, the memos said. Anyone identified for the screening would not be allowed to attend recruit training until they are cleared, a process that could take days for some but drag on much longer for others.
    One draft document, labeled “predecisional,” has circulated in recent weeks among senior officials and others who oversee recruiting. It is attributed to Joseph D. Kernan, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and James N. Stewart, who performs the duties of undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, a post President Trump has left without a permanent political appointee since Robert Wilkie left it to run the Department of Veterans Affairs.
    “One primary concern associated with qualifying for these positions relates to the potential counterintelligence or terrorism risks,” the memo says. " . . . The Department must implement expanded foreign vetting and screening protocols to identify and mitigate the foreign nexus risks.”
    Defense officials declined to comment on the memos, saying the new policy is undergoing legal reviews and that some changes could be made.
    The documents show the Pentagon to be grappling with the dual challenge of thoroughly screening prospective recruits for potential security threats and finding enough men and women willing to join the military. The armed forces have long sought green-card holders as recruits, marketing such jobs as a chance to attain U.S. citizenship.
    The initiative comes as the Trump administration continues to take unprecedented steps to curb immigration to the United States. Many of its efforts have been halted by federal courts, including the president’s efforts to bar Central Americans from seeking asylum in the United States, end a deferred-action program for young, undocumented immigrants and withhold funds from “sanctuary cities” that refuse to cooperate with certain immigration enforcement efforts.
    Among the people who could be targets of the foreign-nexus screening are people who have foreign contacts, foreign citizenship, dual citizenship, a birthplace outside the United States if born to foreign parents, family members who are not U.S. citizens, and immediate family members who have dual citizenship, according to one of the memos.
    Other factors that could require such screening include possessing a non-U.S. passport, having financial interests abroad, residing outside the United States for more than three of the previous 10 years and living in the country for less than the last five consecutive years unless the circumstances involved work related to the U.S. government.
    A Dec. 21 memo prepared by Stephanie P. Miller, who oversees recruitment policy for the Pentagon, says the Defense Department recognized gaps associated with its screening of individuals with foreign ties “since the receipt of specific reporting beginning of 2016,” though the memo does not specify what that information covers. But the concern stretches to some American citizens, too, she argued.
    “DoD recognizes that some U.S. citizens pose a similar risk by virtue of their foreign associations, foreign travel, marriage to a foreign spouse, or dual citizenship,” she wrote. “It is imperative to treat the risk related to a foreign nexus in a similar fashion for any recruit or Service member, regardless of citizenship.”
    The Pentagon is preparing the new policy after Kernan’s office and the Army combined in the summer of 2018 to screen green-card holders already in the military through a new process that relies on dozens of existing intelligence databases, one Defense Department memo said. The screening detected more derogatory information about the service members in less time than traditional background checks managed by the Office of Personnel Management, the memo said.
    The memo promised that the new process — called foreign nexus screening and vetting, or FNSV — “can be completed in a matter of days or, depending on the analysis required for detected anomalies, in a few weeks, as compared to the months and years” required under traditional background checks. The new screening process, the memo said, “can process up to 1,600 cases per day.”
    Historically, about 70 percent of all recruits with green cards are processed quickly, defense officials said in the memo. Under the new policy, the other 30 percent would still be withheld from recruit training until their screening has been completed, but the process would in theory be faster.
    The new screening process still faces a major hurdle: another court injunction.
    In November, Judge Jon S. Tigar of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that it was unreasonable for the Pentagon to require all green-card holders to undergo a full background check and receive a favorable determination in a security review. He issued a preliminary injunction, forcing the Pentagon to begin shipping a backlog of thousands of green-card holders to recruit training.
    The Defense Department has continued to fight the case in court. Miller argued in a Dec. 14 declaration that if the court does not stay its order, “the harm to the military and national security could be significant and irreparable.”
    “Foreign nationals, including those with [green-card] status, raise unique counterintelligence and counterterrorism concerns because of the heightened susceptibility to influence by foreign governments and organizations and because of the difficulty in verifying information about them that is maintained overseas,” Miller’s declaration said.
    The injunction has not been lifted, but the Defense Department memo from Kernan and Stewart said the Pentagon is preparing to put in place its new policy within 30 days of the court’s approving it. It is unclear whether the court will do so.
    Separately, the Pentagon faces litigation after ending in 2017 another program known as Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest, or MAVNI. It promised expedited citizenship to immigrants the Army recruited to take hard-to-fill language and medical jobs, but was ended as defense officials cited security concerns.
    More than 10,400 immigrants entered the military through the MAVNI program. Last year, the Army sought to force out some soldiers recruited this way but reversed course after several lawsuits were filed.

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