Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Tuesday, April 2, 2019 which is Equal Pay Day, International Children’s Book Day, National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day and National Ferret Day.
Today in History:
- On this day in 2005, John Paul II, history’s most well-traveled pope and the first non-Italian to hold the position since the 16th century, dies at his home in the Vatican. Six days later, two million people packed Vatican City for his funeral, said to be the biggest funeral in history.
- 1917: Jeannette Pickering Rankin, the first woman ever elected to Congress, takes her seat in the U.S. Capitol as a representative from Montana.
- Near present-day St. Augustine, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon comes ashore on the Florida coast, and claims the territory for the Spanish crown. Although other European navigators may have sighted the Florida peninsula before, Ponce de Leon is credited with the first recorded landing and the first detailed exploration of the Florida coast. The Spanish explorer was searching for the “Fountain of Youth,” a fabled water source that was said to bring eternal youth. Ponce de Leon named the peninsula he believed to be an island “La Florida” because his discovery came during the time of the Easter feast, or Pascua Florida.
- On this day in 1941, German Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel, “the Desert Fox,” resumes his advance into Cyrenaica, modern-day Libya, signaling the beginning of what nine days later will become the recapture of Libya by the Axis forces.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Military Times: Should VA move ahead with a BRAC-style commission to shutter some hospitals?
- Indy Star: It’s an American Legion Post like any other. Except it’s in a maximum security prison.
- AFP: NATO chief to meet Trump, alliance critic, on anniversary
- Marine Corps Times: Move for more gender integration at Marine Corps boot camp ends; future unclear
- Stripes: April Fools’: Military trolls troops over allowing beards for airmen, pets in barracks
- Military.com: VA Offering New Diabetes Treatment
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Military Times: Should VA move ahead with a BRAC-style commission to shutter some hospitals?
By: Leo Shane III 17 hours ago
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A pair of senators want to end the Department of Veterans Affairs facility closing commission before it even gets started.
Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Mike Rounds, R-S.D., introduced legislation last week to cancel the mandated VA Asset and Infrastructure Reviewscheduled for 2022. The pair argued the idea — based on the military’s controversial base closing process — could be detrimental to rural veterans’ medical options.
“Although I am very supportive of reducing waste and other inefficiencies in the VA system, I am against bureaucrats in Washington cutting vital health care access to veterans in rural areas,” Manchin said in a statement.
“At a time when the VA is investing heavily in community care through their new access standards, we have to be especially sure that our existing infrastructure needs are met in rural states like West Virginia.”
The AIR commission was a key pillar of last year’s VA Mission Act. Under the law, department officials are to spend the next few years developing market assessments to determine whether certain aging VA facilities should be closed entirely, or replaced with new structures.
VA officials have said they have nearly 1,000 non-vacant but underused facilities spread across the country, creating a significant drain on department resources. Closing many of them would require an act of Congress.
In February, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie suggested lawmakers consider moving up the timeline for the commission. The two senators — both members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee — want it dumped instead.
Rounds voted against the VA Mission Act and the AIR commission when the legislation passed overwhelmingly last summer. He and Manchin said they worry the commission will ignore the critical service VA health centers provide in rural areas, and instead recommending cuts there on the basis of fewer patients.
Guidelines for the commission’s work have yet to be finalized. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee ranking member Phil Roe, R-Tenn., and an early proponent of the commission idea, called the senators’ concerns misguided.
“AIR is the opposite of a threat to rural facilities and rural veterans. It’s a lifeline,” he said in a statement.
“What AIR does is creates a bipartisan, objective, data-rich, and veteran and community-driven process to provide VA with critical recommendations about how VA’s medical centers and clinics can be brought into the 21st century to ensure that veterans receive the best possible care from their government.”
The AIR commission was designed to be paired with new community care rules being put in place this summer for veterans who want to receive medical care outside the VA system but at taxpayer cost.
Those new rules have prompted a debate over privatization of VA operations and responsibility, though administration officials have called those fears baseless.
Dan Caldwell, executive director of Concerned Veterans for America, a vocal advocate of the commission, called the senators’ legislation “irresponsible and misguided” and promised to fight it.
“(The bill) would force the VA to potentially waste billions in taxpayer dollars to maintain VA facilities that are clearly outdated and not serving the needs of the current or future veteran population,” he said. “We urge the Senate to reject this bill and we hope Sens. Rounds and Manchin reconsider this counterproductive proposal.”
House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., said he sympathizes with the senators’ concerns, and promised close oversight of the commission. But he stopped short of backing the bill killing off the AIR idea altogether.
The measure is more likely to receive support in the House than in the Senate, where the original proposal passed by a 92-5 margin last summer. In the House, 70 Democrats voted against the idea, many citing concerns over potential facility closings.
Indy Star: It’s an American Legion Post like any other. Except it’s in a maximum security prison.
Vic Ryckaert, Indianapolis Star Published 7:02 a.m. ET April 1, 2019
Jim Robinson knows he’ll never repair the damage, never heal the pain he caused 18 years ago in the parking lot of a Frankfort apartment complex.
But the U.S. Army veteran also believes a man is more than his worst deed.
That’s one reason he joined American Legion Post 608.
"(The American Legion has) actually helped me be a better person," Robinson said. "It’s allowed me to know that I am the person that I’ve always been."
Robinson is a proud member of the post in Pendleton, which meets in a legion hall decorated with hand-painted patriotic murals of flags and combat scenes.
You won’t find beer or mixed drinks in 608’s Legion Hall, but there are bars — the black steel kind — on this campus compound guarded by towers and razor wire fences.
Post 608 is inside the maximum-security Pendleton Correctional Center.
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This is one of seven posts operating inside Indiana prisons, said John Raughter, a spokesman for the American Legion’s national headquarters. The organization knows of nine other states with posts in a prison.
There could be more. The Legion treats these like any other post, Raughter said, noting there may be others operating inside prisons that they just don’t know about.
The Legion, members say, offers offenders another way to find in themselves the men they once were.
Robinson, 56, served in the U.S. Army. He spent time in Iraq. He was home in April 2001 when he threatened his wife with a gun. Days later, he found her in an apartment parking lot and fatally shot her with a .22-caliber handgun.
A Clinton County judge handed Robinson a 60-year sentence. He’s projected to be released in about 8 1/2 years.
A family suffering such carnage doesn’t heal.
Robinson said he’s watched from afar as his sons have grown. He’s rebuilt his relationship with them as best he could through prison visits. But he said they pulled away after they had children of their own.
"It got to a point it was hard to explain to (his grandchildren) why they don’t have a grandma and why grandpa’s in here by himself," Robinson said. "I understood it, so I let them have their distance."
The Legion, he said, helps him keep his mind right. It reminds him he’s still worth something.
The Legion Hall is a space away from the drudgery of the general population. It shares space with the wood shop, part of a separate building on the compound
The walls aren’t thick enough to block the sound of power saws whirring in the background, Here, Legion members hand-paint toys, signs, gadgets and other crafts that will be sold or auctioned to support a canine training program and other charitable causes.
They hold meetings, where they vote to accept new members and debate how to spend the tens of thousands of dollars they raise every year. The money has helped feed hungry kids, deliver clean water in Haiti and serve Thanksgiving meals to the needy in Indianapolis.
Their lives are a contradiction. They are veterans or sons of veterans. They love their country, even though they’ve betrayed oaths and committed some of the worst crimes. Murder, rape, child molestation.
Each man wants to do better.
"They’re leaders in the facility, the way they carry themselves, the way they act," said Jeff King, the prison’s community services director and adviser to the post.
"Getting in the post is real hard, but it’s real easy to get kicked out."
In a prison population of more than 1,700 men, only about 25 are members of the post
Offenders in the Legion have opportunities they wouldn’t get anywhere else in prison. They find respite and brotherhood in the legion hall, away from the rest of the facility.
They conduct services for Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. Members get to invite relatives to attend the special ceremonies inside the prison and share a real, sit-down meal at a table.
They get a reminder of what they had before the crimes that brought them here. They remember they felt human once.
Ricky Harlan, Post 608’s sergeant at arms, said the post doesn’t consider what happened before a person ended up in prison. But all members must demonstrate their good character after they were locked up. No discipline problems. No gang members.
They must always be on their best behavior.
"We have a higher standard than the rest of the population," Harlan said. "Basically, we hold people accountable for their actions."
Harlan once served in the Indiana National Guard.
Afterward, he said he started stealing to support a drug habit. In 1989, a judge handed him a six-year prison sentence. His first, not his last.
He racked up more convictions for burglary and residential entry over the years, records show. In 2010, a judge looked at his long criminal record and sentenced Harlan to 40 years in prison. His projected release date is Aug. 25, 2032.
"A person like me, I’ve taken so much out of the community by committing crimes, you know," Harlan said.
"And to give something back into the community, like having somebody get a meal on Thanksgiving day or having a way for kids to have a good meal to take home with them, that makes me feel good."
When you live in a cage, there aren’t many things to feel good about.
But the Legion offers a chance to feel good about helping someone else.
Members make craft projects like hand-painted iPad holders that support a dog training program. They make and decorate rocking-horse-style wooden toy motorcycles that will sell for hundreds of dollars at charity auctions.
Additionally, the Legion raises tens of thousands of dollars by setting up a special store for fellow inmates. It sells things offenders can’t typically buy in the commissary: Nutella, Ranch dressing and Axe Body Spray are among the hot items.
Post 608 donated more than $32,000 in 2018.
For these men who have wronged so many, being a member of the American Legion is a "cherished honor," said King, the post’s adviser.
"They are trying to restore the valor that they once had," King said. "Through bad decisions they lost that valor.
"They are trying to get that back."
Call IndyStar reporter Vic Ryckaert at 317-444-2701. Follow him on Twitter: @VicRyc.
AFP: NATO chief to meet Trump, alliance critic, on anniversary
2 Apr 2019
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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was due to meet President Donald Trump Tuesday ahead of celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the alliance, a frequent target of the US leader.
The White House visit comes before two days of talks in Washington among the 29 foreign ministers of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, with the specter of Russia again topping the agenda.
Trump, in an unlikely role for the president of NATO’s founding member, has long questioned the usefulness of the alliance and characterized fellow members as freeloaders.
He has derisively questioned why NATO would defend tiny Montenegro and has been incensed that Germany, Europe’s largest economy, is not on track to meet a NATO target for each country to spend 2.0 percent of GDP on defense.
Stoltenberg, speaking to reporters before leaving NATO’s home base of Brussels, agreed that Germany should live up to commitments from a NATO summit in 2014.
"I expect Germany to make good on the pledge Germany made together with all other NATO allies," said Stoltenberg, a former prime minister of Norway.
"I expect them to meet spending commitments, and they have submitted to NATO a national plan where they outline how Germany will increase defense spending in real terms by 80 percent over a decade."
Kay Bailey Hutchison, the US ambassador to NATO, also voiced hope for more military spending by German Chancellor Angela Merkel but was more diplomatic than Trump.
"We need more from Germany because they are the strongest economy in Europe. They need to do more, they say they need to do more, so I know the will is there of Chancellor Merkel," she told reporters, noting that the German leader was navigating a complicated coalition government.
– Further steps on Ukraine –
If spending questions are dividing NATO, most alliance members share concerns about Russia which backs separatists in a low-intensity war in Ukraine from which it seized the Crimean peninsula in 2014.
"We will be looking at ways to do more in the whole Black Sea region. We will be doing more surveillance, there will be more ships in the Black Sea from NATO countries, and there are sanctions that have already been imposed" over actions against Ukraine, Hutchison said.
Stoltenberg said the foreign ministers will likely agree to step up support to Ukraine as well as Georgia, including through training maritime forces and coast guards and further port visits and exercises.
He said NATO will also discuss further steps after the collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, with the United States and its allies saying that a Russian missile system has negated the key Cold War pact.
Stoltenberg will address a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday.
But the anniversary will be comparatively low-key, with NATO waiting until December to hold a full leaders-level summit in London.
Marine Corps Times: Move for more gender integration at Marine Corps boot camp ends; future unclear
By:Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press 1 day ago
WASHINGTON — The Marine Corps’ brief and limited experiment integrating female recruits into an all-male unit for their initial training at boot camp came to an end Friday.
And as the recruit class graduated at Parris Island, S.C., officials said they were undecided about whether the Corps, which has long refused to fully integrate its recruit training, will ever do it again.
This year for the first time, a platoon of female recruits was part of a company that included five all-male platoons. They were all housed in the same complex, but on different floors — unlike the usual practice that has all female recruits living and doing some of their training on a separate part of the base.
Commanders and Marines in the course told The Associated Press they didn’t notice any problems during the brief flirtation with increased integration. But the lack of disaster didn’t appear to change minds in a Marine Corps that has steadfastly rejected congressional and other outside pressure to build combined platoons of female and male recruits at boot camp, like the other military services do.
For the recruits, just surviving the rigorous course was all-consuming.
"I showed up to train — everybody trains the same," said Pvt. 1st Class Harley Mesiemore, 19, of Greensboro, N.C. "I was focused on myself and getting through the week and just getting out of here."
Top Marine leaders have argued for years that young, female Marines perform better if they do the bulk of their early training in a separate unit where they can build their strength and confidence.
Brig. Gen. James Glynn, commander of Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, said that this latest move, putting men and women in more frequent proximity, didn’t look much different than usual.
He said the intense training needed to "make a Marine" stayed the same. But, because all six platoons in Company I — one all-female and five all-male — were located in the same building complex, they saw each other a bit more. They ate at the same chow hall and marched to meals together. When they got up for physical fitness in the morning, the platoons lined up together.
Could it happen again?
"The jury is still out on that," said Glynn. "As conditions permit in the future, we could pursue it." But, he added, "no one looked at this and said we don’t want to do it again."
The decision to put the female unit with the others this winter was driven by logistics and money. There were fewer recruits in the class, so it made sense to move the roughly 50 females into the complex with the men, rather than bus them or make them march to the main campus for drills or classes.
"It always comes down to money," and whether or not there are the "right number of people and the infrastructure to accommodate it," said Glynn.
He said that while it was hard to measure the benefits of the move, it did expose young, male recruits to female Marine leaders — such as drill sergeants — earlier in their career.
Under the regular system, women who enlist in the Marine Corps go to Parris Island for their initial three months of recruit training and are assigned to one battalion. Men are assigned to three other battalions. The groups get together for some training and exercises and are separate for others.
The Marine Corps says this gives women time to do early training and study with female drill instructors who can serve as role models, help them build confidence and develop the skills needed to progress. Marine leaders say the separation also minimizes distractions and harassment issues, and better prepares the women to compete as they move on.
Some lawmakers and others, however, say the segregation fuels a perception that female recruits are less able and less qualified than men. And they say it suggests that the females are held to lower standards and makes it more difficult for them to be accepted as equals.
Capt. Trenton Snody, commander of Company I, called the winter course a success. "There was more interaction between males and females, they saw each other a lot," said Snody, 31, of Seguin, Texas. "But there was no change to how we do business."
Staff Sgt. Brittany Aroha, 27, of Ironton, Ohio, has been a drill instructor for the female boot camp battalion for two and a half years. For her, the biggest change was convenience: Since they didn’t have to spend as much time in buses or on foot to cross the base, there was more time for other training.
“They were seeing both males and females work together much more,” Aroha said. “So the male and female recruits were able to see leadership of both genders.”
Stripes: April Fools’: Military trolls troops over allowing beards for airmen, pets in barracks
By JAMES BOLINGER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 1, 2019
For a brief period of suspended disbelief Monday, the Air Force authorized beards for its airmen and the Marine Corps approved barracks pets for members of the III Marine Expeditionary Force.
But the joke was on the airmen who tossed their razors or Marines who beelined to the animal shelter. They’d been trolled on April Fools’ Day.
The Facebook post about beards by Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, had attracted more than 1,400 shares and comments as of Monday afternoon. It was also shared by the popular Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook account.
The post featured a bearded man wearing a camouflage uniform beneath a headline claiming the Air Force had authorized beards, a topic that airmen regularly ask the service to review.
The same day, the Defense Visual Information Service Distribution website, a source of official news from the military, released a statement from the III Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa, Japan.
“III MEF Allows Pets in Barracks” announced that a new Marine Corps order allows Marines living in the barracks to keep one pet if they submit a package to their chain of command and complete a class, Pet Care and Training 100.1.
A photograph accompanying the announcement showed a lance corporal holding a short-haired orange cat in her barracks room.
The story continued that all pets would be required to wear a reflective belt outside their residences to ensure their “safety and protection,” be fitted with a microchip and obtain a photo ID to be carried by the owner.
The announcement listed acceptable pets: dogs, cats, fish smaller than 6 inches, hedgehogs and bearded dragons, as long as they “maintain grooming standards.” Rodents and rabbits would not be permitted under any circumstance, according to the report.
The article concluded: “Happy April Fools’ Day, III MEF!”
III MEF spokesman Lt. David Mancilla said there’s a purpose behind such pranks.
“April Fools’ Day allows III Marine Expeditionary Force the opportunity to build camaraderie and foster esprit de corps within our ranks, as well as highlight that the most lethal and ready military force in the Indo-Pacific region can have a sense of humor,” he told Stars and Stripes in an email Monday.
Military-sanctioned April Fools’ jokes have become a tradition on social media. Last year, U.S. Forces Japan tweeted a story about a cat named Muffins, pictured in a tactical camouflage harness like that of a military working dog.
The meme claimed that Muffins was one of 10 “Military Working Cats” that made it to the final phase of training in a prototype program and was on its way to a military installation to begin a service career.
Military April Fools’ pranks have been documented back to at least 1915, when a French pilot dropped a bomb-shaped object onto a German encampment. The German forces scattered, but after the lack of an explosion discovered the object was a football with a note reading, “April Fool,” according to the Museum of Hoaxes website.
Military.com: VA Offering New Diabetes Treatment
1 Apr 2019
Military.com | By Jim Absher
Are you one of the nearly 1.5 million veterans being treated by the VA for type 2 diabetes? If so, the Department of Veterans Affairs is offering free access to an online specialty clinic providing diabetes management strategies.
VA says they will offer a "limited number of veterans" up to one year of free treatment with the Virta online treatment program. This program usually costs over $350 per month.
The Virta program offers dietary guidance, coaching, access to medical specialists and peer support as part of its individualized treatment program.
The main focus of Virta’s online program is controlling diabetes through diet, specifically the ketogenic or "keto" diet. This very low-carbohydrate diet has been shown to help people burn fat more easily than other methods. More than 50 percent of veterans receiving medical care from the VA are overweight or obese, data shows.
Reducing body fat has been proven to help patients reduce or eliminate their insulin usage and lower their Hemoglobin A1C, or HbA1c, which measures glucose in the blood. Nearly 60 percent of participants in the Virta program had reversed their type 2 diabetes within one year of beginning treatment, program leaders say.
Unlike traditional healthcare, where patients only check in with their provider a couple of times a year, the Virta program provides 24/7 monitoring and care from their team of board-certified providers providing around-the-clock monitoring and care. They work in tandem with VA physicians to monitor veterans’ conditions, adjusting medications as necessary and developing an individualized care plan.
The program provides veterans with tools to track their progress, including a body-weight scale that uploads data to the app automatically, a blood pressure cuff for some patients, and a meter with glucose and ketone strips, lancets, and swabs.
"Many veterans have trouble managing their diabetes and blood sugar, and many struggle with their weight and sticking to any diet," Dr. Laurence J. Meyer, chief officer of VA specialty care services, said in a statement. "This leads to a lot of functional limitations. This partnership is potentially a way that some veterans might benefit from this care on an individual basis."
VA also offers diabetes management services including diet counseling, weight loss programs, blood glucose monitoring, and other medical care both through telehealth programs as well as traditional medical means.