18 April, 2019 06:59

Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Thursday, April 18, 2019, which is Maundy Thursday, Adult Autism Awareness Day, International Amateur Radio Day, National D.A.R.E. Day, Newspaper Columnists’ Day, and National Lineman Appreciation Day.
NOTE: The American Legion National HQ will be closed Friday. Have a Happy Easter weekend.

Today & Tomorrow in American Legion History:

  • April 18, 1941: Future U.S. Sen. Frank Church of Boise, Idaho, wins The American Legion National Oratorical Contest in Charleston, S.C. For his top-judged oration, “The American Way of Life,” he receives a $4,000 scholarship. Church goes on to serve in the Army during World War II and attends Stanford University where he receives his law degree. He would go on to serve more than 30 years in the U.S. Senate, including his final two years, 1979-81, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
  • April 18, 1999: Kevin Sladek of San Marco, Texas, wins The American Legion National Oratorical Contest less than a year after his election as president of Boys Nation, only the second young man to have reached the top in both programs. Alan Keyes, also of Texas, did it in 1967.
  • April 18, 2016: The U.S. Postal Service issues the 20th Forever Stamp in its “legends of Hollywood” series. Featured on the stamp is Shirley Temple, “honorary colonel” and official “little sister” of Hollywood Post 43, who later, as Shirley Temple Black, was a distinguished State Department diplomat and U.S. ambassador to Czechoslovakia and to Ghana. A Post 43 color guard opens the ceremony at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles to unveil her stamp.
  • April 19, 1961: World War II veteran Howard Anderson, commander of American Legion Post 1 in Havana, Cuba, is executed by a firing squad after a so-called “show trial” by the Castro regime. American Legion National Commander William R. Burke interrupts an official visit to the Department of New York to fly to Miami to lead approximately 2,500 Legionnaires in a memorial service for Anderson.

Today in History:

  • 1906: At 5:13 a.m., an earthquake estimated at close to 8.0 on the Richter scale strikes San Francisco, California, killing an estimated 3,000 people as it topples numerous buildings. The quake was caused by a slip of the San Andreas Fault over a segment about 275 miles long, and shock waves could be felt from southern Oregon down to Los Angeles.
  • 1983: The U.S. embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, is almost completely destroyed by a car-bomb explosion that kills 63 people, including the suicide bomber and 17 Americans. The terrorist attack was carried out in protest of the U.S. military presence in Lebanon.
  • 1945: During World War II, journalist Ernie Pyle, America’s most popular war correspondent, is killed by Japanese machine-gun fire on the island of Ie Shima in the Pacific.
  • 1942: On this day in 1942, 16 American B-25 bombers, launched from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet 650 miles east of Japan and commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle, attack the Japanese mainland.


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    Military Times: Will the benefits for ‘blue water’ Vietnam veterans be settled soon?
    By: Leo Shane III | 19 hours ago
    The fate of disability benefits for “blue water” Vietnam veterans will be among the key topics lawmakers tackle when they return from their district break at the end of the month.
    In January, a federal court ruled that the Department of Veterans Affairs for years has used faulty reasoning to deny disability benefits to veterans who served in ships off the waters of Vietnam. VA officials had argued that extending the benefits to an additional 90,000 veterans would cost as much as $5 billion over 10 years, a figure that advocates have disputed.
    This week, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Steve Daines, R-Mont., announced plans to reinforce that ruling and establish a permanent fix for those veterans, who claim exposure to cancer-causing chemical defoliants has caused a host of rare cancers and respiratory illnesses.
    Already the chairman and ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee have introduced similar plans, and that House panel is preparing for an expansive hearing on the topic early next month.
    The Department of Justice has until the end of the month to appeal the ruling, but VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has advised against doing so.
    “Even though the court has ruled that the VA must provide these benefits, there is no guarantee it will happen,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “Congress must create a permanent legislative fix.”
    Lawmakers came close to passing a bill doing that last year, but the measure was blocked on the Senate floor in the final days of December. Gillibrand and Daines said Congress needs to act now to ensure that any VA response to the court ruling isn’t crafted too narrowly, again blocking aging veterans from receiving their deserved payouts.
    The “blue water” veterans problem centers on the idea of presumptive benefits claims. Because of the heavy use of chemical defoliants (like Agent Orange) during the Vietnam War, VA assumes any veteran who served on the ground there and later contracts an illness that could be related to toxic exposure should be presumed to have a service-connected health condition.
    That significantly reduces the paperwork and wait for disability benefits, worth up to several thousand dollars a month.
    Under current department rules, the “blue water” veterans — individuals who served in ships up to 12 miles off the coast who never made landfall — can receive medical care for their illnesses through VA.
    But to receive disability benefits, they must provide scientific proof that their ailments are directly connected to toxic exposure while on duty. Advocates have said that, given the time that has passed since the war, obtaining such proof is impossible and unfair.
    So while a veteran who served on the shoreline could receive disability payouts after contracting maladies like Parkinson’s Disease or prostate cancer, another vet who served on a ship a few miles away would have to provide evidence of direct contact with hazardous chemicals to receive any payouts. Supporters have said such successful claims are rare.
    Earlier this month, Wilkie said he was already working with lawmakers on possible future plans for awarding the benefits, and how to pay for them. John Wells, retired Navy commander and the executive director of group which filed the lawsuit, Military-Veterans Advocacy, has said he is in conversations with VA leaders about those issues as well.
    The House hearing is expected to touch on the costs — estimated by Congress at $1.1 billion over 10 years, although the court ruling changes how Congress must account for those expenses — and other eligibility questions. The full House chamber could vote on a compromise plan in May.
    Daines called quick action on the issue a “common sense” move to help veterans who served honorably. Gillibrand said she is hopeful the Senate can act quickly on the issue.

    Stars & Stripes: New legislation would recognize nine more diseases caused by Agent Orange
    By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES | Published: April 17, 2019
    WASHINGTON — A group of lawmakers introduced legislation that would add nine more diseases to a list of conditions presumed to be caused by the chemical herbicide Agent Orange, giving veterans who suffer from them a fast-track to Department of Veterans Affairs disability compensation and health care.
    The Keeping Our Promises Act, introduced last week, adds prostate cancer, bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, hypertension, stroke, early-onset peripheral neuropathy, AL amyoloidosis, ischemic heart disease and Parkinson-like syndromes to a list of diseases presumed to be caused by Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War.
    Researchers with the National Academy of Medicine released findings in November that there was “suggestive” evidence that eight of the diseases could be caused by Agent Orange. For hypertension, researchers found that “sufficient” evidence exists.
    “American heroes affected by Agent Orange deserve the peace of mind knowing that the federal government recognizes the existing link between their exposure and illness,” said Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., one of eight lawmakers who banded together to introduce the legislation.
    VA experts have begun a “formal, deliberative review” of the National Academy of Medicine’s latest report, VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour said Tuesday. The review is expected to be complete in the summer, at which time the agency will make recommendations about presumptive conditions, he said.
    During a Senate hearing March 26, Richard Stone, the executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, guessed the review would be complete within 90 days.
    “We’re working our way through that right now,” Stone said of the national academy report.
    Recommendations would be sent to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, who would choose when – and whether – to act on them.
    The VA previously recommended that some of the conditions be added. After the last National Academy of Medicine report in 2016, the VA took 20 months before it sent recommendations to the White House that bladder cancer, hypertension, hyperthyroidism and Parkinson’s-like tremors be added to the list.
    The recommendation hasn’t made it past the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. Last year, VA officials told the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs that the Office of Management and Budget is waiting for results of ongoing mortality and morbidity studies, which could provide more evidence of a connection between the diseases and Agent Orange.
    On Tuesday, Cashour said some of those results will be published as early as mid-2019.
    But some lawmakers don’t want to wait on the executive process.
    Fitzpatrick, along with Reps. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., Scott Tipton, R-Colo., Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., Joe Cunningham, D-S.C., Brendan Boyle, D-Penn., and Mike Thompson, D-Calif., are trying to use a legislative route.
    Boyle estimated it would help tens of thousands of Vietnam War veterans.
    “This bipartisan legislation makes good on that promise by ensuring all servicemembers exposed to these herbicides and chemicals as a part of their military service get the health care they need,” Boyle said in a statement. “Not one more servicemember should be forced to suffer in this way without the best care our federal government has to offer.”
    The bill is likely to face an uphill battle in Congress, where veterans and advocates have fought for years to prove toxic exposures and secure VA benefits.
    Attempts failed in Congress last year to approve benefits for “blue water” Navy veterans – sailors who served on ships off the coast of Vietnam and argue they were exposed to Agent Orange. The veterans could be close to getting VA benefits, but the victory was won in court, not Congress.
    The VA opposed the legislative effort to approve benefits for blue water Navy veterans, citing high costs and insufficient scientific evidence. The agency has not yet issued an opinion on the Keeping Our Promises Act.

    Military.com: VA Looks to Create Artificial Organs, Even Bones, With 3D Printing
    17 Apr 2019 | Military.com | By Patricia Kime
    A veteran at a VA medical center had been diagnosed with a tumor in his one remaining kidney. Facing possible dialysis for the rest of his life, the former service member was anxious about surgery and wondered whether he should risk removal of the mass.
    Confused by the CT scans of his diseased organ, the veteran faced difficulty making a decision about the potentially life-altering procedure. But his VA surgeon had another option: the doctor loaded the medical imagery into a 3D printer, which used the information to build an exact replica of the patient’s kidney, tumor included. Using the model, the doctor could walk the veteran through the surgery, step-by-step. Then, once the veteran agreed to the surgery, the doctor followed the exact plan in the operating room.
    "[3D printing] is a total game-changer," said Dr. Beth Ripley, a radiologist at VA Medical Center Puget Sound and chair of the Veterans Health Administration’s 3D Printing Advisory Committee. "Often [technology] pushes us further away from our patients … this technology is allowing our VA staff to really come close to the patient."
    VA has launched an aggressive campaign to put 3D printers in many of its medical centers. The initiative aims to improve patient care by aiding surgical planning, crafting assistive medical devices and prosthetic limbs and eventually, creating bones and organs for transplant.
    The department has more than 100 printers at 23 medical centers, up from just three in 2017. And it has plans to expand to even more, making it a leader in the effort to adapt 3D printing for medical use nationwide, where fewer than 100 academic and private health facilities — mainly at research universities — use 3D printing, according to Ripley.
    "VA remains at the forefront of innovative work in 3D printing by expanding our expertise across VA," Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a release. "Through this growing virtual network, VA continues to help define how 3D printing technology will be used broadly in medicine for the benefit of patients."
    While models may be the most obvious use for 3D printers, which create three-dimensional solid objects by layering various materials slice-by-slice, bottom-up, VA scientists are also looking to bioprinting — using the technology to create replacement tissues and organs — to treat diseases.
    VA Ann Arbor Healthcare Systems in Michigan currently is working on creating an artificial lung that could be utilized while a patient waits for a lung transplant or needs help breathing during recovery from a respiratory illness.
    The 3D artificial lungs would replicate the structure and size of the blood vessels and would be constructed of substances that would be more compatible with the human body, reducing immune response.
    According to a VA release, the technology could eventually have long-term applications, such as providing replacement lungs. "This exciting project is the latest in a long string of incredible research and medical advancements developed by researchers over the years," Wilkie said.
    Other bioprinting initiatives at VA include creating vascularized bones. Ripley said that while the biologics printing is at least eight to 10 years away, VA plans to complete installation of the technology and train staff within the next two years; grow its ability to print prosthetics and other devices using advanced materials such as titanium in the next three to five years; and then, hopefully, be able to start implementing its development of human body parts within a decade.
    The technology can also help occupational therapists build devices to improve veterans’ mobility and create orthotics that can be made and fitted in a day.
    In one case, an occupational therapist at Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, Virginia, designed a specialized device that enabled a veteran to balance a pool cue at a billiards table, despite having lost an arm in combat.
    "He was a world-class pool player … he could start to play pool again with just one hand. That is so cool," Ripley said.
    All this work is made possible, in part, through a partnership with GE Healthcare that provides software and work stations for the initiative while VA provides feedback on its medical needs and use of printers.
    "We have a very comprehensive program that we are building throughout VA to make sure we are using 3D-printing technologies to the fullest," Ripley said.
    The VA’s 3D Printing Center of Excellence falls under what VA calls its VHA Innovation Ecosystem, which encompasses programs that aim to identify best practices at VA medical centers and push them out across the VA’s health system.
    Ripley did not say how much the buildout of the printing network is costing VA, but she said printers, which come in seven different types, range from $3,000 for a basic printer that builds with simple plastics to $300,000 for one that can print with different colors and materials and up to $1 million for a titanium metal printer.
    She said VA does not have a titanium printer — yet.
    "Walter Reed [National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland] has titanium printers … and we talk with them. But we have [one] is in our three- to five-year plan, so stay tuned," Ripley said.
    She said for radiologists and physicians using the technology, it’s an exciting time to be at VA.
    "This is happening through a specific program that encourages frontline staff to bring their best ideas forward … What you see with 3D printing is that the decision of what gets made is happening on the frontlines. These are people that are caring for patients every day, interacting with patients every day, seeing what they need. 3D printing allows them to become innovators at the bedside," she said.

    Associated Press: North Korea test-fires a new tactical guided weapon
    By: Foster Klug, The Associated Press and Kim Tong-Hyung, The Associated Press | 12 hours ago
    SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said it test-fired a new type of “tactical guided weapon” in an announcement Thursday that was possibly an attempt to register displeasure with the deadlock in nuclear talks with the United States without causing those coveted negotiations to collapse.
    Leader Kim Jong Un observed the unspecified weapon being fired Wednesday by the Academy of Defense Science, the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency said. Kim was reported to have said "the development of the weapon system serves as an event of very weighty significance in increasing the combat power of the People’s Army."
    The Associated Press could not independently verify North Korea’s claim, and it wasn’t immediately clear what had been tested.
    It is likely not, however, a banned ballistic missile test, which would jeopardize the diplomatic talks meant to provide the North with concessions in return for disarmament. A South Korean analyst said the North’s media report indicates it could have been a new type of cruise missile. A possible clue is that one of the lower level officials mentioned in the North’s report on the test — Pak Jong Chon — is known as an artillery official.
    The test comes during an apparent deadlock in nuclear disarmament talks after the failed summit in Hanoi between Kim and President Donald Trump earlier this year. Some in Seoul worry the North will turn back to actions seen as provocative by outsiders as a way to force Washington to drop its hardline negotiating stance and grant the North’s demand for a removal of crushing international sanctions. A string of increasingly powerful weapons tests in 2017 and Trump’s response of “fire and fury” had many fearing war before the North shifted to diplomacy.
    But, as that diplomacy stalls, there have been fresh reports of new activity at a North Korean missile research center and long-range rocket site where Pyongyang is believed to build missiles targeting the U.S. mainland. North Korean media said Wednesday that Kim guided a flight drill of combat pilots from an air force and anti-aircraft unit tasked with defending the capital Pyongyang from an attack.
    During a speech at his rubber-stamp parliament Friday, Kim set the year’s end as a deadline for Washington to offer mutually acceptable terms for an agreement to salvage diplomacy.
    Kim Dong-yub, an analyst from Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said North Korea’s descriptions of the test show the weapon is possibly a newly developed cruise missile. The North’s report said the "tactical guided weapon" successfully tested in a "peculiar mode of guiding flight" and demonstrated the ability to deliver a "powerful warhead."
    The North said Thursday that Kim mounted an observation post to learn about the test-fire of the weapon and to guide the test-fire.
    This is the first known time Kim has observed the testing of a newly developed weapon system since last November, when North Korean media said he observed the successful test of an unspecified "newly developed ultramodern tactical weapon." Some observers have been expecting North Korea to orchestrate "low-level provocations," like artillery or short-range missile tests, to register its anger over the way nuclear negotiations were going.
    The analyst in Seoul, Kim Dong-yub, who is a former South Korean military official, said it wasn’t yet clear whether the North conducted an advanced test of the same weapon Kim Jong Un observed in November or tested something different.
    The White House said it was aware of the report and had no comment. The Pentagon also said it was aware but had no information to provide at this point.
    A U.S. official familiar with monitoring operations said that neither U.S. Strategic Command nor NORAD observed any weapons test. That rules out tests that go high into the atmosphere, such as a ballistic missile, but does not rule out tests at lower altitudes.
    After the animosity of 2017, last year saw a stunning turn to diplomacy, culminating in the first-ever summit between Washington and Pyongyang in Singapore, and then the Hanoi talks this year. North Korea has suspended nuclear and long-range rocket tests, and the North and South Korean leaders have met three times. But there are growing worries that the progress could be killed by mismatched demands between Washington and Pyongyang over sanctions relief and disarmament.
    Washington says it won’t allow the North’s desired sanctions relief until the nation commits to verifiably relinquishing his nuclear facilities, weapons and missiles. Kim has shown no signs that he’s willing to give away an arsenal he may see as his strongest guarantee of survival.

    Associated Press: Military service academies begin to follow transgender ban
    By: The Associated Press | 13 hours ago
    ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The elite academies that educate officers for the nation’s armed forces have begun to implement the Trump administration’s ban on transgender service members.
    The U.S. Naval Academy will ban people who are transgender from attending the school, beginning with the 2020 school year. The Defense Department confirmed that change to the Capital Gazette newspaper on Monday. The school in Annapolis, Maryland, currently accepts transgender students and retains midshipmen who transition to another gender.
    The administration’s new policy took effect last week, stripping transgender troops of rights to serve openly and denying servicemen and women medical care if they choose to transition to another gender.
    The Obama administration had lifted restrictions on transgender service members in 2016, allowing them to serve openly and covered gender affirmation surgery.
    A current Naval Academy student, Midshipman Regan Kibby, is one of six service members suing the Trump administration over its ban.
    The U.S. Coast Guard has also implemented the new policy. It states on its website that the new policy took effect April 12.
    Coast Guard Academy spokesman David Santos confirmed in an email Wednesday that the policy change applies to the school in New London, Connecticut. A lengthy explanation on the Coast Guard’s website states that past medical treatment, such as gender-reassignment surgery or hormone therapy, may disqualify future applicants from joining up.
    The Trump administration’s new policy also bars future applicants who’ve been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a condition that can apply to people who identify as another gender and experience distress. Doctors say counseling, hormone therapy or surgery can lessen the anxiety.
    There are some exceptions for people who’ve been diagnosed with gender dysphoria. For instance, someone can join the Coast Guard if their doctor says they can demonstrate three years of "stability in his/her biological sex immediately before applying to serve." The Defense Department says transgender people can serve if they remain in their "biological sex."
    The administration’s policy calls for troops diagnosed with gender dysphoria to be medically evaluated before they are discharged to see if they qualify as having a disability. Otherwise gender dysphoria can be considered a "condition that interferes with military service" like sleepwalking, bed wetting, motion sickness and personality disorders.
    The American Medical Association has blasted the administration’s transgender policy for military service. It told The Associated Press last week that the new policy and its wording mischaracterize transgender people as having a “deficiency.”
    The Defense Department said its use of the words "deficiencies" is military lingo for when an individual fails to meet standards to maintain a lethal force. It is not a reference to gender dysphoria, a condition of extreme distress from not identifying with one’s biological gender, Lt. Col. Carla Gleason said.
    An estimated 14,700 troops identify as transgender. An organization that represents transgender service members said several are attending each academy, although many haven’t come out.
    "The policy turns off access to some of our best and brightest, and that’s not what our country needs to win future wars," said B Fram, communications director for Service Members, Partners and Allies for Respect and Tolerance for All, or SPARTA.
    The nation has five service academies. They include the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
    The Air Force Academy will conform with Defense Department policy when admitting future cadets, said Lt. Col. Tracy Bunko, an academy spokeswoman.
    That means transgender people can serve "in their biological sex" if they meet Defense Department standards for that sex, she said. People who have had cross-sex hormone therapy, sex reassignment surgery or genital reconstruction surgery are disqualified.
    People with a history of gender dysphoria cannot be admitted unless they meet certain conditions, including having no dysphoria in the previous three years, Bunko said.
    The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security. The Merchant Marine is part of the Maritime Administration, which is within the U.S. Department of Transportation.

    Air Force Times: For Doolittle Raider Dick Cole, a grand farewell planned on Thursday
    By: Stephen Losey | 12 hours ago
    Top Air Force commanders, elected officials, and civic leaders will be among the many expected to pay their last respects to Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Cole, the final surviving member of the Doolittle Raiders, at his memorial service at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph in Texas on Thursday.
    The memorial service will begin at 3 p.m. local Texas time (4 p.m. Eastern time) today, at the base’s Hangar 41, on the 77th anniversary of the audacious bomber raid on mainland Japan during World War II. Eighty U.S. Army Air Forces airmen, including Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle and his co-pilot Cole, flew 16 modified B-25B Mitchell bombers from an aircraft carrier to strike Japan, rallying American morale a few months after Pearl Harbor.
    Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein will be among the dignitaries attending Cole’s service. Air Education and Training Command said that current and former commanders of major Air Force commands have also been invited.
    Hundreds of airmen will line the main entrance at Randolph to salute the Cole family as they enter the base. The service will also include a fly-by, a missing man formation, and the display of several static aircraft.
    The ceremony will be streamed online at AirForceTimes.com.

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