Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Monday, October 21, 2019, which is Celebration of the Mind Day, Check Your Meds Day, International Day of the Nacho, Multicultural Diversity Day, and National Pets for Veterans Day.
Today in History:
- 1967: In Washington, D.C. nearly 100,000 people gather to protest the American war effort in Vietnam. More than 50,000 of the protesters marched to the Pentagon to ask for an end to the conflict. The protest was the most dramatic sign of waning U.S. support for President Lyndon Johnson’s war in Vietnam. Polls taken in the summer of 1967 revealed that, for the first time, American support for the war had fallen below 50 percent.
- On October 21, 1921, President Warren G. Harding delivers a speech in Alabama in which he condemns lynchings — illegal hangings committed primarily by white supremacists against African Americans in the Deep South.
- On October 21, 1941, German soldiers go on a rampage, killing thousands of Yugoslavian civilians, including whole classes of schoolboys.
- 1805: In one of the most decisive naval battles in history, a British fleet under Admiral Lord Nelson defeats a combined French and Spanish fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar, fought off the coast of Spain.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
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Military.com: VA Watchdog Calls Mishandling of Veterans’ Personal Info a ‘National Issue’
18 Oct 2019 | Military.com | By Dorothy Mills-Gregg
The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Inspector General found in its latest report that veterans’ sensitive personal information was stored unprotected on two servers, which OIG staff say might expose vets to fraud and identity theft.
In a report released Thursday, OIG staff investigated a veterans service organization officer’s complaint that medical records linked to veterans’ names, Social Security numbers or date and place of birth were accessible remotely by anyone authorized to access the drives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin — a violation of VA security policy.
"The files the OIG team observed contained medical records, correspondence about medical examinations and disability claims decisions, and veterans’ statements in support of their claims," staff said in the report. "These files dated back as far as 2016 and were available to any network users with permission to access the drives, regardless of their business need to do so."
The OIG labeled the problem a "national issue" because it found the problems stretched beyond the Milwaukee VA regional office.
"Any VBA [Veterans Benefits Administration] user with permission to access VA’s network remotely would have had access to the shared drives hosting veterans’ sensitive personal information," the report said. "IT operations personnel stated that approximately 25,000 remote access users could have accessed the shared network drives."
Those users include veterans service organization officers who are representatives for veterans making claims for VA benefits. They belong to organizations such as The American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, The Military Order of the Purple Heart, Paralyzed Veterans of America and Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The OIG determined the issue occurred for three reasons: Certain users were "knowingly or inadvertently negligent" when storing veterans’ sensitive data on shared network drives despite VA security policy prohibiting it; there were no technical controls to keep such users from storing that information on those drives; and due to a lack of oversight, the Office of Information and Technology and VBA personnel did not discover nor remove any sensitive personal information from those drives.
"Veterans should have confidence that their sensitive personal information is handled strictly in accordance with federal laws and VA regulations," the OIG report said, adding that unsecured personal information could result in avoidable expenses for the VA.
The OIG recommended providing remedial training to users on safely handling and storing sensitive personal information on network drives and establishing technical controls and oversight procedures that keep users from storing such information on shared network drives.
The assistant secretary for information and technology agreed with the recommendations.
Meanwhile, the VA’s Data Breach Response Service determined the issue did not qualify as a "data breach" so the VA does not have to notify the affected individuals that their information was compromised nor offer them credit protection services.
Associated Press: Pentagon chief says American troops leaving Syria will conduct anti-ISIS operations from Iraq
By: Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press | 21 hours ago
KABUL, Afghanistan — While President Donald Trump insists he’s bringing home Americans from “endless wars” in the Mideast, his Pentagon chief says all U.S. troops leaving Syria will go to western Iraq and the American military will continue operations against the Islamic State group.
They aren’t coming home and the United States isn’t leaving the turbulent Middle East, according to current plans outlined by U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper before he arrived in Afghanistan on Sunday. The fight in Syria against ISIS, once spearheaded by American allied Syrian Kurds who have been cast aside by Trump, will be undertaken by U.S. forces, possibly from neighboring Iraq.
Esper did not rule out the idea that U.S. forces would conduct counterterrorism missions from Iraq into Syria. But he told reporters traveling with him that those details will be worked out over time.
Trump nonetheless tweeted: “USA soldiers are not in combat or ceasefire zones. We have secured the Oil. Bringing soldiers home!”
The president declared this past week that Washington had no stake in defending the Kurdish fighters who died by the thousands as America’s partners fighting in Syria against ISIS extremists. Turkey conducted a weeklong offensive into northeastern Syria against the Kurdish fighters before a military pause.
“It’s time for us to come home,” Trump said, defending his removal of U.S. troops from that part of Syria and praising his decision to send more troops and military equipment to Saudi Arabia to help the kingdom defend against Iran.
Esper’s comments to reporters traveling with him were the first to specifically lay out where American troops will go as they shift from Syria and what the counter-ISIS fight could look like. Esper said he has spoken to his Iraqi counterpart about the plan to shift about 1,000 troops from Syria into western Iraq.
Trump’s top aide, asked about the fact that the troops were not coming home as the president claimed they would, said, “Well, they will eventually.”
Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told “Fox News Sunday” that “the quickest way to get them out of danger was to get them into Iraq.”
As Esper left Washington on Saturday, U.S. troops were continuing to pull out of northern Syria after Turkey’s invasion into the border region. Reports of sporadic clashes continued between Turkish-backed fighters and the Syria Kurdish forces despite a five-day cease-fire agreement hammered out Thursday between U.S. and Turkish leaders.
The Turkish military’s death toll has risen to seven soldiers since it launched its offensive on Oct. 9.
Trump ordered the bulk of the approximately 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria to withdraw after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made it clear in a phone call that his forces were about to invade Syria to push back Kurdish forces that Turkey considers terrorists.
The pullout largely abandons America’s Kurdish allies who have fought ISIS alongside U.S. troops for several years. Between 200 and 300 U.S. troops will remain at the southern Syrian outpost of Al-Tanf.
Esper said the troops going into Iraq will have two missions.
“One is to help defend Iraq and two is to perform a counter-ISIS mission as we sort through the next steps,” he said. “Things could change between now and whenever we complete the withdrawal, but that’s the game plan right now.”
The U.S. currently has more than 5,000 American forces in Iraq, under an agreement between the two countries. The U.S. pulled its troops out of Iraq in 2011 when combat operations there ended, but they went back in after ISIS began to take over large swaths of the country in 2014. The number of American forces in Iraq has remained small due to political sensitivities in the country, after years of what some Iraqis consider U.S. occupation during the war that began in 2003.
Esper said he will talk with other allies at a NATO meeting in the coming week to discuss the way ahead for the counter-ISIS mission.
Asked if U.S. special operations forces will conduct unilateral military operations into Syria to go after ISIS, Esper said that is an option that will be discussed with allies over time.
He said one of his top concerns is what the next phase of the counter-ISIS missions looks like, “but we have to work through those details.” He said that if U.S. forces do go in, they would be protected by American aircraft.
While he acknowledged reports of intermittent fighting despite the cease-fire agreement, he said that overall it “generally seems to be holding. We see a stability of the lines, if you will, on the ground.”
He also said that, so far, the Syrian Democratic Forces that partnered with the U.S. to fight ISIS have maintained control of the prisons in Syria where they are still present. The Turks, he said, have indicated they have control of the ISIS prisons in their areas.
“I can’t assess whether that’s true or not without having people on the ground,” said Esper.
He added that the U.S. withdrawal will be deliberate and safe, and it will take “weeks not days.”
According to a U.S. official, about a couple hundred troops have left Syria so far. The U.S. forces have been largely consolidated in one location in the west and a few locations in the east.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing operations, said the U.S. military is not closely monitoring the effectiveness of the cease-fire, but is aware of sporadic fighting and violations of the agreement. The official said it will still take a couple of weeks to get forces out of Syria.
Also Sunday, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a group of American lawmakers on a visit to Jordan to discuss “the deepening crisis” in Syria.
Jordan’s state news agency Petra said that King Abdullah II, in a meeting with the Americans, stressed the importance of safeguarding Syria’s territorial integrity and guarantees for the “safe and voluntary” return of refugees.
Washington Post: Three U.S. soldiers killed during training exercise at Fort Stewart
By Kyle Swenson | Oct. 20, 2019 at 4:08 p.m. EDT
An accident during a training exercise at a U.S. Army base in Georgia resulted in three deaths Sunday morning, the service said.
According to a news release, three members of the Army’s 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team were pronounced dead at Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield, about 40 miles southwest of Savannah, after “an early morning training accident” involving a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Additional details have not been released on the crash.
“Today is a heartbreaking day for the 3rd Infantry Division, and the entire Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield community,” Maj. Gen. Tony Aguto, commanding general of the 3rd Infantry Division, said in the release. “We are extremely saddened by the loss.”
Three other soldiers were injured and were transported to Winn Army Community Hospital for treatment, according to the release.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to all the families affected by this tragedy,” Aguto said.
The Army has yet to release the names of the soldiers involved. Next of kin are being notified, and the incident is under investigation, the release said.
The Fort Stewart incident comes as more than a dozen American service members have been killed in training exercises in the past year. The death toll has prompted calls from military families and congressional leaders for improved training standards and practices.
As The Washington Post reported in August, fatalities in training exercises outnumber combat deaths 4 to 1. According to the Pentagon, training fatalities are down overall, but at least 15 service members have been killed in the past year. Those fatalities also represent an increase from last year.
Among the most recent deaths was in April, when Joshua Braica, 29, a Marine special operator, was killed in an accident at Camp Pendleton in California. A month later, Marine 1st Lt. H. Conor McDowell died in a rollover at the same base. Also in May, Marine Lance Cpl. Hans Sandoval-Pereyra, 21, was killed in Australia. In June, a Humvee accident in Alaska resulted in the death of Army Spec. Marquise Elliott, 25. Staff Sgt. Andrew Michael St. John, 29, was killed in a Humvee rollover in August at Fort Hood in Texas.
As The Post has reported, the Government Accountability Office is expected to study the military fatalities.
The Pentagon has implemented technical solutions aimed at improving training safety in vehicles, including anti-lock brakes and systems designed to reduce the risk of rollovers.
“I keep thinking, is anyone taking seriously what happened to my son?” Alexandrina Braica, mother of Joshua Braica, told The Post in August. “Did anyone say, ‘Okay, we had a fatality, let’s ensure this doesn’t happen again?’”
Military Times: This week in Congress: Syria questions aboundHouse Foreign Affairs — 10 a.m. — 2172 Rayburn
By: Leo Shane III | 8 hours ago
Lawmakers this week will have a series of hearings and briefings on the ongoing situation in Syria and its long-term impact on U.S. national security.
White House and Turkish government officials last week announced a temporary ceasefire in regards to fighting among Syrian, Kurdish and Turkish forces in areas of northern Syria recently vacated by U.S. troops. The moves have drawn bipartisan criticism of President Donald Trump, who has defended the move as ensuring that American troops are caught in a regional conflict.
Already the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations committees have announced plans for hearings on the issue, with other committee’s contemplating additional events to come.
Last week members of the congressional armed services committees received classified briefings on the latest developments in the region from U.S. military leaders, but those lawmakers have also promised additional investigation into the issue in coming days.
All that comes amid ongoing budget negotiations in both chambers and House Democrats impeachment investigation into Trump’s handling of military aid to Ukraine.
Tuesday, Oct. 22
State Department officials will testify on human rights abuses in South Asia.
House Veterans’ Affairs — 10:30 a.m. — H210 Visitors Center
The subcommittee on disability assistance will consider nine pending bills.
House Homeland Security — 2 p.m. — 310 Cannon
Federal officials will testify on emerging cyber threats and U.S. officials’ response.
Senate Foreign Relations — 2:30 p.m. — 419 Dirksen
Turkey and Syria
State Department officials will testify on the impact of Turkish military activities in Syria on regional stability.
House Veterans’ Affairs — 10 a.m. — H210 Visitors Center
Guard and reserve benefits
Outside experts will testify before the committee on issues with benefits parity for Guard and reserve veterans.
House Foreign Affairs — 10 a.m. — 2172 Rayburn
Turkey and Syria
State Department officials will testify on the impact of Turkish military activities in Syria on regional stability.
House Foreign Affairs — 2 p.m. — 2172 Rayburn
Latin America policy
State Department officials will testify on U.S. Policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean.
Senate Armed Services — 9:30 a.m. — G-50 Dirksen
The committee will consider the nomination of Vice Adm. Charles Richard to be head of U.S. Strategic Command.