Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Wednesday, September 18, 2019 which is First Love Day, National Cheeseburger Day, National Respect Day and Rice Krispies Day.
This Day in Legion History:
- Sept. 18, 1927: More than 20,000 American Legion members make their way to Paris for what is not officially considered the 9th National Convention (although a program calling it a national convention is printed and distributed) but is regarded as a “pilgrimage” on the 10th anniversary of U.S. entry into the Great War.
- Sept. 18, 1930: Star singer Rudy Vallee leads the Maine American Legion delegation in a parade at the National Convention in Boston. An NBC radio broadcast of the parade reaches approximately 50 million listeners nationwide. An estimated 150,000 attend the convention, which at the time ranks as the largest convention of any kind in U.S. history.
- Sept. 18, 1938: Paramount releases the 60-minute feature film “Sons of the Legion,” featuring such future stars as Donald O’Connor (“Singin in the Rain”) and William Frawley (Fred Mertz in TV’s “I Love Lucy”), about a group of young men who cannot start a Sons of The American Legion squadron in their local post because they discover their father received a dishonorable discharge.
This Day in History:
- On September 18, 1793, George Washington lays the cornerstone to the United States Capitol building, the home of the legislative branch of American government. The building would take nearly a century to complete, as architects came and went, the British set fire to it and it was called into use during the Civil War. Today, the Capitol building, with its famous cast-iron dome and important collection of American art, is part of the Capitol Complex, which includes six Congressional office buildings and three Library of Congress buildings, all developed in the 19th and 20th centuries.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Military.com: VA’s $900 Million Caregiver Program Bogged Down by Bad Data, IT Issues, GAO Finds
- Military Times: Senior VA leaders disciplined after ant infestation at nursing home
- Military.com: Iran Warns US of Response to Any Action over Saudi Attack
- Wash Examiner: Afghanistan and Iraq veterans were the ‘ground zero’ of the opioid crisis: Study
- Stripes: Pressured to speed returns, the US military says South Korea can have 15 bases now
- The Hill: House rejects GOP motion on replacing Pentagon funding used on border wall
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17 Sep 2019
Military.com | By Patricia Kime
Inaccurate data kept by the Department of Veterans Affairs on its staff for the Family Caregiver Program and delays in the technology infrastructure needed to expand the program are hampering an effort to include the caregivers of injured veterans from World War II through Vietnam, a government watchdog agency has found.
The Government Accountability Office released a report Monday noting that the number of staff supporting the Family Caregiver Program at VA medical centers does not match the data kept by the program office — an inaccuracy that prevents the VA from fully understanding the number of personnel that will be needed as the program grows.
The GAO also found that delays in implementing a new information technology system needed to support the program mean the expansion, mandated by Congress, is not expected for at least a year.
"The initial replacement for the Caregiver Application Tracker is not expected until late October 2019. Further, despite this initial deployment and additional releases expected through the summer of 2020, the department has not yet fully committed to a date by which it will certify that the new IT system fully supports the program," GAO analysts noted in the report.
VA officials said earlier this year that they did not expect the required technology infrastructure to be ready until mid- to late-2020.
The VA missed a progress deadline on building the needed system on Oct. 1, 2018, and the department will not be able to certify the system by Oct. 1, 2019, as required by Congress. This means that caregivers of veterans from the Vietnam War and earlier will not be able to apply as expected starting Oct. 1.
And it’s unclear whether the system will even be ready by Oct. 1, 2020.
"Until the system is implemented and certified, the expansion of eligibility for the Family Caregiver Program will be delayed," the report states.
The VA Mission Act of 2018 mandated that the VA create and certify the IT system for the expansion. Congress inserted the requirement into the law to prevent similar problems to those seen last year when thousands of veterans didn’t receive housing payments related to the Forever GI Bill because of technology system challenges and an aging technology infrastructure at VA.
By law, applications were to be phased in with Vietnam War and earlier veterans eligible first. Those who served from May 1975 through Sept. 11, 2001, are to become eligible two years later.
According to the VA, more than 38,000 caregivers have been helped by the program since it was established in 2011 to provide compensation and benefits for the primary caregivers of severely injured post-9/11 service members.
The program costs more than $900 million a year.
Military Times: Senior VA leaders disciplined after ant infestation at nursing home
By: Leo Shane III 17 hours ago
Veterans Affairs officials are disciplining nine department workers — including the regional director for three southeastern states — in response to ant-infested conditions at a department-run community center in Georgia uncovered earlier this month.
Officials have also promoted the head of the VA medical center in Charleston, S.C., to take over as acting regional director immediately and lead reform efforts at facilities across that part of the department’s health network.
“What happened at (the community center) was unacceptable, and we want to ensure that veterans and families know we are determined to restore their trust in the facility,” Dr. Richard Stone, executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, said in a statement. “Transparency and accountability are key principles at VA, and they will guide our efforts in this regard.”
Last week, lawmakers reacted with horror at local news reports that at least three patients suffered injuries from numerous insect bites at the Eagle’s Nest Community Living Center near Atlanta. The family of one veteran (who later died from unrelated causes) said their complaints about the conditions were met with apathy from center staff.
Among the staff disciplined for the incident Tuesday were Leslie Wiggins, Veterans Integrated Service Network 7 director, who was placed on “immediate administrative leave.” The VISN Chief Medical Officer was also assigned to administrative duties, pending a review of safety issues in the network
Seven staff connected to the infested facility and the Atlanta VA Medical Center were also moved into non-patient care positions, pending job reviews.
The news comes amid a series of high-profile, unsettling medical problems at VA hospitals in recent weeks. Last month, a former VA pathologist in Arkansas was charged with three counts of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of former patients. Officials in West Virginia are also investigating a series of suspicious patient deaths at a VA medical center there.
Days after that news became public, officials announced they had opened an investigation into a series of sexual assault claims at another West Virginia medical center.
VA officials have insisted that they are moving quickly on all of the incidents to ensure patient safety is not compromised.
Last week, in a statement to local news, officials at the Atlanta VA Health Care System said that the convalescent care center underwent a full cleaning following the revelations of insect problems.
VISN 7 covers facilities in Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama.
18 Sep 2019
The Canadian Press
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran warned the U.S. that any action taken against it following an attack on Saudi oil installations will "immediately" be met with a response from Tehran, its state-run news agency reported Wednesday, further raising Mideast tensions.
Iran’s president and foreign minister also may skip next week’s high-level meetings at the United Nations as the U.S. has yet to issue them visas, IRNA reported.
The U.N. meeting had been considered as an opportunity for direct talks between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and President Donald Trump amid a summer of heightened tensions and attacks in the wake of America’s unilateral withdraw from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers a year ago.
However, the recent attack in Saudi Arabia and hardening comments from Iran suggest such talks are increasingly unlikely.
Related: Trump: It Looks Like Iran Hit Saudis, No Military Option Yet
Iran sent a note through Swiss diplomats in Tehran on Monday, reiterating that Tehran denies being involved in the Saudi attack, IRNA reported. The Swiss have looked after American interests in Tehran for decades.
"If any action takes place against Iran, the action will be faced by Iran’s answer immediately," IRNA quoted the note as saying. It added that Iran’s response wouldn’t be limited to the source of the threat, without elaborating.
IRNA separately reported Wednesday that Iran’s first delegation for the annual U.N. event had not left Iran due to not having visas. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was to travel to New York on Friday, with Rouhani following behind Monday, according to the agency.
As the host of the U.N.’s headquarters, the U.S. is mandated to offer world leaders and diplomats visas to attend meetings there. But as tensions have risen, the U.S. has put increasing restrictions on Iranians like Zarif.
The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is travelling to Saudi Arabia for meetings after Saturday’s attack on a Saudi oil field and the world’s largest crude oil processing plant. Saudi officials separately planned to share information about the weapons used in the attack they allege are Iranian.
Saudi Arabia also said on Wednesday that it joined a U.S.-led coalition to secure the Mideast’s waterways amid threats from Iran after an attack targeting its crucial oil industry, while Rouhani told the kingdom it should see the attack as a warning to end its yearslong war in Yemen.
Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have claimed the attack. The U.S. accuses Iran of being behind the assault, while Saudi Arabia already has said "Iranian weaponry" was used. Iran denies that.
"Almost certainly it’s Iranian-backed," Prince Khalid bin Bandar, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, told the BBC. "We are trying not to react too quickly because the last thing we need is more conflict in the region."
The state-run Saudi Press Agency carried a statement Wednesday morning quoting an unnamed official saying the kingdom had joined the International Maritime Security Construct.
Australia, Bahrain and the United Kingdom already have joined the mission.
"The kingdom’s accession to this international alliance comes in support of regional and international efforts to deter and counter threats to maritime navigation and global trade," the news agency said.
Cmdr. Joshua Frey, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy‘s 5th Fleet, declined to comment on the Saudi announcement, saying it "would be inappropriate to comment on the status of individual nations and the nature of any potential support."
The coalition aims to secure the broader Persian Gulf region. It includes surveillance of the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of the world’s oil travels, and the Bab el-Mandeb, another narrow strait that connects the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden off Yemen and East Africa. Smaller patrol boats and other craft will be available for rapid response. The plan also allows for nations to escort their own ships through the region.
The U.S. blames Iran for the apparent limpet mine explosions on four vessels in May and another two in June sailing in the Gulf of Oman near the Strait of Hormuz, something Iran denies being behind. Iran also seized a British-flagged oil tanker and another based in the United Arab Emirates.
In Tehran, Rouhani told his Cabinet that Saudi Arabia should see the attack as a warning to end its war in Yemen, where it has fought the Houthi rebels since 2015 and sought to restore the internationally recognized government.
Rouhani said Yemenis "did not hit hospitals, they did not hit schools or the Sanaa bazaar," mentioning the Saudi-led coalition’s widely criticized airstrikes.
He added that Iran does not want conflict in the region, but it was the Saudi-led coalition that "waged the war in the region and ruined Yemen."
"They attacked an industrial centre to warn you. Learn the lesson from the warning," he said, portraying the Houthis as responsible for the drone strikes.
Wednesday’s announcements comes after Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said late Tuesday that more than half of the country’s daily crude oil production that was knocked out by an attack had been recovered and that production capacity at its targeted plants would be fully restored by the end of the month.
Pompeo was due to land in the Red Sea city of Jiddah, where he was scheduled to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Pompeo later will travel to the United Arab Emirates on Thursday to meet with Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Both nations are U.S. allies and have been fighting against the Houthis in Yemen since March 2015.
The Saudi military planned to speak to journalists Wednesday in Riyadh to discuss the investigation into Saturday’s attack "and present material evidence and Iranian weapons proving the Iranian regime’s involvement." It did not elaborate.
Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday that U.S. military experts were in Saudi Arabia working with their counterparts to "do the forensics on the attack" — gleaning evidence that could help build a convincing case for where the weapons originated.
On Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron’s office announced experts from his nation would be travelling to Saudi Arabia to help the kingdom shed light " on the origin and methods" of the attacks. France has been trying to find a diplomatic solution to the tensions between Iran and the U.S., so any conclusion they draw could be used to show what a third-party assessed happened.
Wash Examiner: Afghanistan and Iraq veterans were the ‘ground zero’ of the opioid crisis: Study
by Cassidy Morrison
| September 17, 2019 04:03 PM
Veterans who were stationed in Afghan and Iraqi war zones after the 9/11 terror attacks have been hit hardest by the opioid crisis, according to new research.
Veterans of the global war on terrorism are experiencing an opioid epidemic nearly twice as severe as the one plaguing civilians, according to a new study distributed by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Researchers affiliated with the University of Connecticut, University of Georgia, and San Diego State University concluded that combat veterans who were deployed after the 9/11 attacks have an opioid abuse rate about seven times higher than civilians who have never served in a combat zone.
“While grim national statistics about the ‘worst drug overdose epidemic in history’ are increasingly well known to the American public, far less well known is that combat veterans constitute a population at ground zero of this crisis,” the authors concluded.
They found that veterans not only deal with chronic pain that has to be treated when they return from war zones, but also post-traumatic stress that sometimes leads to drug use as a coping mechanism.
Many cases of prescription opioid and heroin abuse arise from treating chronic pain from serious injuries, but the study’s authors say that veterans didn’t even have to be in the line of fire everyday to show an increased risk of opiate abuse and post-traumatic stress.
The Department of Defense saw the problem coming early on, and mandated annual random drug testing in 2002 for all military service members. The drug testing panel did not include prescription opioids until 2005, however, when the epidemic was well underway.
Veterans Affairs has cut the number of prescriptions for opioids since 2012 by almost half, due primarily to increased prescription costs for patients, but researchers behind the study say veterans could be turning to heroin to replace prescription opioids that are now too expensive to fill.
The Defense Department promotes non-drug treatments for chronic pain, including acupuncture and yoga, but another treatment is gaining in popularity — medical marijuana.
The study, which has not undergone peer review, notes that states that have legalized medical marijuana and opened dispensaries have seen lower rates of opioid addiction and overdose deaths. But marijuana is still a Schedule I drug along with heroin and ecstasy thanks in part to former Attorney General Jeff Sessions who, in early 2018, nixed Obama-era policies of non-interference with state laws that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana use.
The paper’s authors say that medical marijuana "may provide an alternative, less addictive, and less unhealthy means of treating pain," but the Sessions memo may have inadvertently hurt efforts to treat veterans effectively and safely.
By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 18, 2019
SEOUL, South Korea — The U.S. military wants to set the record straight as it faces South Korean pressure to expedite the handover of bases as part of a drawn-out relocation plan.
U.S. Forces Korea is ready to turn over more than half of the bases now, including parts of Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, the command said Wednesday in a rare public display of frustration.
South Korea “recently announced that it desired to expedite the return process of 26 U.S. military installations,” USFK said. “Fifteen of the 26 U.S. military installations, including four sites specifically requested for transfer at the earliest possible date … have been vacated, closed and available for transfer to the (South Korean) government.”
“Two parcels of Yongsan Garrison have been vacated, closed and available for transfer since 2014 with another three parcels since summer 2019 for a total of five parcels available now,” it added.
The statement came amid concerns of a widening rift in the longstanding U.S.-South Korean alliance after Seoul ended a U.S.-based military intelligence sharing pact with Japan.
The allies also are gearing up for defense cost-sharing negotiations that are likely to be contentious since President Donald Trump has demanded that the South sharply increase its contribution.
Both sides have insisted they remain committed to the alliance, which stems from the 1950-53 Korean War, despite the differences.
“As a testament to our U.S.-(South Korean) alliance, USFK remains committed to returning installations as expeditiously as possible to (South Korean) government control,” in accordance with relevant agreements, the USFK press release said.
When asked about the statement, a South Korean military official told Stars and Stripes that the 15 bases are still the subject of negotiations over environmental concerns “so they haven’t been handed over to the Republic of Korea yet.”
The plan to move most American forces from bases in Seoul and near the border with North Korea stems from agreements reached in the early 2000s, but it was frequently delayed due to construction problems and quality-control issues.
South Korea has paid for most of the nearly $11 billion expansion of Camp Humphreys, a former helicopter outpost south of Seoul, into theshiny new home for the main military headquarters and more than 30,000 American troops, families and civilian employees.
Yongsan, a sprawling base in the heart of Seoul that had served as military headquarters since the war, has been shrinking from within by closing many facilities as the bulk of the population has moved to Humphreys and other southern hubs.
However, the transition process has been slow in large part because of disputes over dealing with polluted soil and other environmental concerns as the land is returned. The status of forces agreement between the two countries essentially throws the burden of paying for any clean-up on South Korea.
Earlier this month, South Korea’s presidential office said it would redouble efforts for the early return of the 26 bases, including Yongsan.
That prompted media reports speculating that President Moon Jae-in was seeking to complete the relocation before his six-year term ends in 2022.
“We’re correcting the record,” USFK spokesman Col. Lee Peters said Wednesday. “The perception is that USFK is holding up the process when the reality is we’ve already got 15 of 26 bases and five parcels of Yongsan that are ready to be turned over to the (South Korean) government.”
The remaining 11 still house troops who can’t be moved until facilities are ready. “You can’t move somebody to a place that doesn’t exist or is being built,” he said.
Four installations on South Korea’s wish list have been closed for years, including Camp Eagle and Camp Long that have been available since December 2010; the Shea Range parcel located at Camp Hovey since October 2012; and parcels of Camp Market since February 2015, according to USFK.
Seoul also stated its intent “to initiate the return process of Yongsan within this year,” it said.
South Koreans have long been eager to regain control of Yongsan, which was originally on the outskirts of an impoverished Seoul but has become prime real estate since the South Korean capital has grown into one of Asia’s most prosperous cities.
The tree-lined base is expected to eventually be transformed into a park similar to New York City’s Central Park.
The population on the Army garrison has dropped from a peak of more than 25,000 to just over 5,000 after the relocation to Humphreys. The last major unit will move after the new hospital on Humphreys opens in mid-November, allowing the medical facility on Yongsan to close.
Seoul and Washington also have agreed to move the Combined Forces Command to Humphreys instead of keeping it in Seoul as had been originally expected.
Garrison officials recently outlined plans for closing most facilities by the end of the year and ending on-post family housing by July 2020 but said the transition process is expected to take a few more years.
“As we vacate and close areas, we will be barricading those areas. There’s no change to the perimeter, the actual footprint” in the meantime, garrison commander Col. Monica Washington said during an Aug. 29 town hall-style meeting.
BY REBECCA KHEEL – 09/17/19 07:02 PM EDT
The House on Tuesday rejected a Republican motion on replacing military construction funding President Trump is dipping into for his border wall as the chamber moved to officially start negotiations with the Senate on the annual defense policy bill.
The House voted 198-219, largely along party lines, against a Republican “motion to instruct” negotiators to support backfilling $3.6 billion in military construction funds. The vote followed the House agreeing by unanimous consent to start negotiations with the Senate on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
The minority party typically offers motions to instruct in an attempt to message.
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, argued the motion would “ensure that, as we continue to argue about border security and a whole variety of other issues, that our troops do not suffer as a result of that argument.”
Earlier this month, the Pentagon announced it was taking $3.6 billion from 127 military construction projects to build 175 miles of wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, in line with Trump’s emergency declaration at the beginning of the year.
The Senate’s version of the NDAA includes $3.6 billion to backfill what’s being used for the wall, but the House’s does not.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) called the Republican motion “irrelevant” since the projects losing money are already authorized for five years.
“What this amounts to is a sense of Congress on whether or not we ought to allow a president to effectively steal $3.6 billion out of the Pentagon’s budget for his own personal policy desire that Congress has already said they shouldn’t,” he said.
While Tuesday’s votes were the first official movement toward House-Senate negotiations on the NDAA, lawmakers and staffers have been unofficially meeting since both chambers passed their bills earlier this summer.
The so-called “Big Four” — Smith, Thornberry, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) — also met Tuesday with Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
“We discussed progress made along the priorities laid out in the National Defense Strategy, our current operational environment & commitment to continue working together on the FY20 NDAA,” Esper tweeted Tuesday.
In addition to border wall issues, the House and Senate will have to find compromises on a number of thorny issues, including House-passed provisions to block military action against Iran, end U.S. military support to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen, reverse Trump’s transgender military ban and ban Pentagon funds from being used at Trump-owned properties.