Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Friday, October 25, 2019 which is World Lemur Day, National Breadstick Day, National Bandana Day, World Pasta Day and National Cartoonists Against Crime Day.
This Day in History:
- 1812 – War of 1812: The American frigate, USS United States, commanded by Stephen Decatur, captures the British frigate HMS Macedonian.
- 1920 – After 74 days on hunger strike in Brixton Prison, England, the Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwiney dies.
- 1940 – Benjamin O. Davis Sr. is named the first African American general in the United States Army.
- 1944 – Second World War: Heinrich Himmler orders a crackdown on the Edelweiss Pirates, a loosely organized youth culture in Nazi Germany that had assisted army deserters and others to hide from the Third Reich.
- 1983 – The United States and its Caribbean allies invade Grenada, six days after Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and several of his supporters are executed in a coup d’état.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Military Times:VA office charged with protecting whistleblowers hurts them instead, investigators say
- Defense News:Inhofe to offer ‘skinny’ defense policy bill as backup plan
- Military.com:Fight Over Border Troops, Wall Construction Obstructing Passage of Defense Budget
- Post Register:Bandits headed to the World Series
- American Press: American Legion Post 19 celebrates centennial
- Orange County Register:U.S. Marine combat veteran, long-time Long Beach resident, deported to El Salvador
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VA office charged with protecting whistleblowers hurts them instead, investigators say
By:Leo Shane III 20 hours ago
The seal affixed to the front of the Department of Veterans Affairs building in Washington, D.C. is shown in June 2013. (Charles Dharapak/AP)
A Veterans Affairs office set up specifically to help whistleblowers “floundered in its mission” and “created an office culture that was sometimes alienating to those it was meant to protect,” according to a new report from the department’s inspector general.
Administration officials, however, criticized the report as a one-sided look at the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, saying investigators failed to note significant changes from past VA administrations in responding to whistleblower complaints and improvements with the office over the last two years.
But the report is likely to again raise questions about how seriously VA officials investigate reports of misconduct and malfeasance, particularly among senior executives.
The issue has been a persistent point of criticism since the 2014 wait times scandal that forced the resignation of then VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, and was a key campaign promise of President Donald Trump in 2016.
Investigators say the new office — established in April 2017 by executive order and later mandated by the VA Accountability Act passed by Congress — has misinterpreted its own role and rules, “accepting matters that it should not have and declining matters the Act requires it to investigate.”
The report says staff:
- dropped cases of fraud and abuse if the individual reporting them didn’t meet the statutory definition of a whistleblower
- investigated criminal matters that should have been handled by other offices
- did not provide sufficient training to staff
- failed to “consistently conduct investigations that were procedurally sound, accurate, thorough, and unbiased.”
The report also accuses OAWP staff of failing to protect whistleblowers from retaliation by senior managers, one of the key focuses of the new office. It also refused to investigate any cases unless whistleblowers revealed their identity, discouraging employees who feared reporting wrongdoing could cost them their jobs.
“One troubling instance involved the OAWP initiating an investigation that could itself be considered retaliatory,” the report states.
“At the request of a senior leader who had social ties to the OAWP Executive Director, the OAWP investigated a whistleblower who had a complaint pending against the senior leader. After a truncated investigation" the OAWP substantiated the allegations against the whistleblower without even that individual, according to the report.
Whistleblower advocates in recent months have complained to Congress about operations at the office, saying that it lacks a clear mandate and too often complicates investigations into complaints instead of simplifying them.
VA officials have pushed back on those accusations. They note that under new firing authorities approved by lawmakers, VA has dismissed more than 8,630 people in the last 30 months.
And they lay a lot of blame for problems with the Obama administration.
“VA’s institutional approach to accountability is completely different than that of past administrations, and the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 has been a key factor in that culture change,” Christina Mandreucci, a VA spokeswoman, said in an email to Military Times.
The VA in particular takes issue with two aspects of the report, said Mandreucci.
“The first is its implication that the act was designed to target senior executives for discipline,” she said. “In reality, the act included expanded disciplinary authorities that apply to all VA employees and it is 2014’s Veteran Access, Choice and Accountability Act that aimed to better hold senior leaders accountable. This is a key distinction the report misses.”
Leadership continues to improve OAWP operations, "including ensuring that investigations are conducted in a timely and thorough manner; improving customer service; developing whistleblower rights and protections training; ensuring that OAWP complies with its statutory functions … and identifying trends to proactively identify areas of improvement based on data collected,” the department said in a statement.
The report contains 22 recommendations for improvements, all of which VA backed. Several, like providing new training to staffers and establishing new investigation procedures, are expected to be completed before the end of the year. A review of office operations is ongoing.
The full report is available at the inspector general’s web site. The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee has scheduled a hearing on Oct. 29 to discuss the report findings.
Inhofe to offer ‘skinny’ defense policy bill as backup plan
By:Joe Gould 19 hours ago
WASHINGTON ― Senate Armed Serviced Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe announced Thursday he would offer a “skinny” version of the 2020 defense policy bill this week as a backup plan, in case talks to reconcile the main bills become deadlocked.
Though House and Senate lawmakers initially hoped to quickly negotiate competing versions of the bill, Inhofe’s idea is to ensure there’s no year-end scramble to authorize special payments and bonuses for service members, construction projects and military acquisition program oversight that would otherwise expire at the end of the calendar year.
“My fellow conferees and I have made good progress on the fiscal year 2020 defense authorization bill, but we haven’t yet reached a final agreement. We’re not giving up. We’ve passed this bill for 58 years running because it is our constitutional duty, and we’re going to do it again this year,” Inhofe, R-Okla., said in a statement. “However, we’re running out of time.”
The House has a recess planned for early November, after which both chambers are in session for only eight days before they recess for Thanksgiving. From there, both chambers would have another eight working days before the Christmas recess begins in mid-December.
Inhofe’s comments came days after House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., said that after weeks if negotiations, partisan splits remained on war powers, Guantanamo Bay, transgender service members, the Feres Doctrine, the so-called widow’s tax and the border wall ― a key priority of the White House.
“I still believe that we’re going to get a bill done, that we’re not going to go with this smaller bill,” Smith said. “Just yesterday I really started talking with the White House about the issues we’re still divided on, and I’m confident that we can resolve this. It’s not going to be as quick as we would like because government’s divided.”
Among a range of differences on nuclear issues, the House bill bars funding for the deployment of a low-yield variant of a submarine-launched warhead called the W76-2. It would cut the entire $19.6 million Defense Department request and $10 million Energy Department request for the program.
Republicans insist prohibiting these weapons puts the U.S. at a disadvantage against Russia. Smith ― speaking Thursday at an event sponsored by the Ploughshares Fund, an anti-nuclear weapons group ― repeated his view that this class of weapons is too dangerous to produce but admitted there are low odds the House language will prevail.
House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said Wednesday the skinny bill was Inhofe’s backup plan, and acknowledged the border wall as a key sticking point.
“The end of the year approaches, but we’re also getting tied up in other challenging issues that [we] have to resolve on the appropriations side,” Thornberry said.
President Donald Trump’s efforts to divert millions of dollars in military construction funding to his promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border has been a key barrier for the conference negotiations and for talks over individual appropriations bills.
The House bill has language barring such funding transfers in the future, and it does not include money to cover the projects that lost funding in the shift. The Senate version has money in the draft and does not include any language restricting funding transfers.
Fight Over Border Troops, Wall Construction Obstructing Passage of Defense Budget
FILE — Marines walk along the California-Mexico border at the Andrade Point of Entry in Winterhaven, California. (U.S. Army/Army Spc. Ethan Valetski)
24 Oct 2019
Military.com | By Richard Sisk
Paying for the border wall and thousands of U.S. troops to reinforce Customs and Border Protection personnel has become a major roadblock to reaching congressional agreement on spending bills and avoiding the threat of a Nov. 21 government shutdown.
Deployed troops "see the news and they know there’s a big fight on border funding in Washington" that could affect their promised 3.1% pay raise and the overall defense budget, said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, who recently returned from a congressional delegation to visit troops in Afghanistan and Jordan.
"Just because we’re having a disagreement on that issue does not mean that they should not be supported," said Thornberry, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.
"The clock is ticking, less than a month" to Nov. 21, he said. "I want to fully fund border security and fully fund the military and not have to choose between the two."
However, the House impeachment inquiry "is sucking all the oxygen out of the room, and we’re not doing the essential work that the people and our troops expect us to do," Thornberry said.
Congress was unable to reach agreement on the National Defense Authorization Act legislation and spending bills by the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year; it is now operating on a continuing resolution to keep spending at 2019 levels until Nov. 21.
Last week at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference in Washington, D.C., Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, said work on the border wall is progressing.
"My job is basically to stay in construction. As far as any long-term funding ramifications or implications — I’ll leave that up to the Department of Defense," he said.
Semonite noted that about $3.6 billion in funding appropriated by Congress for military construction projects, including schools, firing ranges and hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico, was taken from the DoD budget under emergency order from President Donald Trump and devoted to wall funding.
Most of the 127 military construction military projects in 23 states, 19 countries and three U.S. territories were not going to be awarded in 2019, Semonite said, adding that it is an open question as to whether the funding will be restored.
"It’s not my job to guess on how that’s going to happen," he said. "I think it’s still [DoD’s] desire to continue to try to secure that funding to build those critical projects."
At the same AUSA event with Semonite, Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, commander of Army North, said funding had been secured from the Department of Homeland Security to keep at least 5,500 troops on the border through next September, but that funding also could be affected by the budget impasse. She did not give a figure for the funding from Homeland.
Last month, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Pentagon officials said that some of the funding from the $3.6 billion diverted from military construction projects would go to building 175 miles of new or reconstructed wall along the border with Mexico.
Pentagon chief spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said at the time, "This funding will all go to adding significantly new capabilities to [Homeland’s] ability to prevent illegal entry.
"In areas where we go from, say, a vehicle barrier to a 30-foot wall, we will have a significantly new set of capabilities that didn’t exist previously," he said.
At the time of Esper’s announcement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, issued a statement: "The administration’s irresponsible decision to transfer funds from appropriated U.S. military construction makes America less safe and dishonors the Constitution."