25 September, 2019 08:17

Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Wednesday, September 25, 2019, which is Binge Day, Math Storytelling Day, National Comic Book Day, National Food Service Employees Day, National One-Hit Wonder Day, National Women’s Health and Fitness Day, and See You at the Pole.

Today in American Legion History:

· Sept. 25, 1939: As war engulfs Europe, The American Legion National Convention in Chicago passes a resolution to immediately expand the U.S. Armed Forces “to maintain our neutrality.” The American Legion’s top priority is clear: strengthen a Depression-depleted military in the event the United States is called to war, as it was in 1917.

· Sept. 25, 2017: The House of Representatives passes H.R. 2519 by unanimous consent, authorizing the striking of an American Legion 100th Anniversary Coin by the U.S. Mint. The Senate approves the measure three days later, and President Trump signs it in early October.

Today in History:

· 1789: The first Congress of the United States approves 12 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and sends them to the states for ratification. The amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, were designed to protect the basic rights of U.S. citizens, guaranteeing the freedom of speech, press, assembly, and exercise of religion; the right to fair legal procedure and to bear arms; and that powers not delegated to the federal government were reserved for the states and the people.

· 1959: Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev caps his trip to the United States with two days of meetings with President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The two men came to general agreement on a number of issues, but a U-2 spy plane incident in May 1960 crushed any hopes for further improvement of U.S.-Soviet relations during the Eisenhower years.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

· Stars & Stripes: Veterans plead with Trump to lift delay on Blue Water veterans claims

· Stars & Stripes: GAO to review rating system for VA nursing homes

· Military Times: US troops to Saudi Arabia? Stand by.

· Defense News: Senate to vote on ending border emergency that diverted DoD funds

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Stars & Stripes: Veterans plead with Trump to lift delay on Blue Water veterans claims

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES | Published: September 24, 2019

WASHINGTON — Vietnam veteran Bobby Daniels has between 24 to 32 months to live, and he’s using some of those to ensure that his wife receives the benefits she’s owed when he’s gone.

Daniels, 79, is diagnosed with terminal prostate and bone cancer, thought to be associated with his military service. He served aboard the USS Lexington and is a “Blue Water” Navy veteran — those who worked aboard aircraft carriers, destroyers and other ships in the territorial seas of Vietnam.

Daniels and other Blue Water veterans — a group that fought for years to prove they were exposed to the chemical herbicide Agent Orange — saw some major wins during the past year. They won a federal court case that granted them VA benefits. In June, they witnessed the passage of a new law, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, that reinforces their eligibility for disability compensation.

However, about a week after President Donald Trump signed the legislation, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie imposed a hold on processing Blue Water claims until next year, citing a provision in the new law that says the secretary can enforce a stay on claims until the law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020.

Daniels has been attempting to have the VA recognize his Agent Orange exposure so his wife can receive survivor’s benefits, known as disability and indemnity compensation, when he dies. The couple has taken a second mortgage on their home to pay for his medical expenses, he said.

They celebrated it as a victory when Trump signed the new law in June. Then, with Wilkie’s announcement, Daniels “felt like somebody sledgehammered me in the mouth.”

“My wife has been by my side for 56 years. We struggle through tough times together,” Daniels said. “My biggest fear now is leaving her behind to struggle through tough times alone.”

Daniels traveled from his home of New Madrid, Missouri, to join the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America and Disabled American Veterans, as well as Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., outside the Senate on Tuesday. The group urged Trump to lift the hold on claims. Earlier Tuesday, nine veterans organizations delivered a letter to the White House urging Trump to meet with them about the issue.

Shane Liermann, a leader with Disabled American Veterans, said they had recently received a response from Wilkie about the delay. His response prompted them to directly appeal to Trump.

“It is apparent our pleas have fallen on deaf ears,” Liermann said.

In an official statement this summer, Wilkie justified the delay by arguing the VA needed time to implement the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act without causing adverse effects on other veterans awaiting claims decisions.

“We are working to ensure that we have the proper resources in place to meet the needs of our Blue Water veteran community and minimize the impact on all veterans filing for disability compensation,” Wilkie said in the statement.

Tester said his office has asked the VA about the rollout of the claims processing Jan. 1 but has not received any details.

“We’ve done our job, the courts have done their job, and now they need to provide the benefits,” Tester said. “As far as I’m concerned, they should start right away, not January 2020. And if there are any excuses in January 2020, I may pull what little hair I have out.”

The lawmakers and veterans who spoke Tuesday believe the VA could process at least some Blue Water claims before Jan. 1, including those like the one submitted by Claudia Holt.

Holt, 78, is the widow of a Blue Water Navy veteran who died in May. Frank Holt was part of a search-and-rescue team stationed aboard the USS Prichett during the Vietnam War. He was diagnosed with lung cancer and struggled for 19 years with various illnesses.

Claudia Holt on Tuesday clutched a portrait of her husband from his military days. She brought the photo to Capitol Hill from their home in Fruitland, Maryland, where it usually sits next to a cold can of Natural Light beer, his favorite.

Holt said the VA’s delay on claims processing is holding up her claim for disability and indemnity compensation — money that would offer her financial certainty.

“Before he died, he told me I would need to fight for survivor’s benefits,” Holt said. “He said, ‘You fought for me, now you fight for you.’ And now, here I am at 78 years old, worried about how I will pay my bills or whether or not I will lose my home, keep food on my table and a roof overhead.”

Bobby Daniels doesn’t want his wife, Judy, to be in Holt’s position. He traveled from Missouri, he said, to try to get Trump’s attention.

“Sometimes late at night after my wife has gone to bed, I get up in the rural area where I live and I scream into the darkness. That’s where I’m at,” Daniels said. “I have so much fear and anxiety bottled up inside of me, not knowing how long I’ll be here and not knowing how my wife and son will be able to survive without my help financially.”

Stars & Stripes: GAO to review rating system for VA nursing homes

By ROSE L. THAYER | STARS AND STRIPES | Published: September 24, 2019

AUSTIN, Texas — The Government Accountability Office will examine how the Department of Veterans Affairs rates its nursing homes at the request of three senators, who announced the upcoming review Monday.

Sens. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., who is the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, sent a letter to the GAO with the request in August, following a number of “reports indicating poor quality ratings as well as disturbing anecdotal stories of substandard treatment and conditions at some” nursing homes over the years.

The VA refers to these facilities as community living centers because they are not solely intended for end-of-life care but also a place to recover from surgery or a mental health crisis or to receive respite care. The VA operates more than 100 of these facilities across the country.

The senators asked the accountability office for a review in August, before this month’s revelation of an ant infestation at the VA’s Atlanta nursing home.

Officials at the Eagle’s Nest Community Living Center in the Atlanta VA Medical Center confirmed that three veterans were bitten by ants that had infested rooms in the facility. One veteran, a cancer patient, was bitten more than 100 times in the days before he died. The incident led to disciplinary action for nine employees, including the removal of two leaders at the southeast regional level.

The Atlanta nursing home isn’t the only facility encountering bugs. The Northern Arizona VA Health Care System’s community living center in Prescott had a bout with bedbugs this month, according to an internal email from the system’s director.

“Bedbugs can occur in any hospital,” Director Barbara Oemcke wrote Sept. 16. She further advised employees to follow their local policy on encountering bedbugs and to call the in-house pest control to allow the facility’s “professional team of experts to treat and exterminate” the bedbugs.

Three of the bugs were found in two rooms earlier this month, according to Mary Dillinger, spokeswoman for the Prescott VA. Staff immediately “reported the incident to pest control officials, who followed protocol by conducting preventive measures throughout the hospital and resolving the issue,” she said. “No patients were found with bedbugs on their person, and this incident did not negatively affect patient care in any way.”

Nearly 60% of exterminators said they have encountered bedbugs in nursing homes, according to a 2018 survey conducted by the National Pest Management Association.

When the VA first released star-rating data in 2018, nearly half of the nation’s centers were rated one-star, the lowest rank, according to the senators’ release. The latest data has shown improvement in these ratings.

“We thank the Government Accountability Office for accepting our request for this important review,” Markey, Tester and Warren said in the statement. “We appreciate that many community living centers care for a disproportionately complex resident population with multiple chronic and difficult conditions. But public concerns and reporting underscore the need to ensure [community living centers] have the tools, resources and properly trained staff necessary to provide the quality nursing home care our veterans need and deserve.”

VA welcomes GAO’s oversight, said Susan Carter, spokeswoman for the department.

“Like any health-care provider — including those in the private sector — VA nursing homes sometimes encounter isolated problems, and when we find them, we fix them,” she said. “But overall, VA’s nursing home system compares closely with private-sector nursing homes, though the department on average cares for sicker and more complex patients than do private facilities. Many of our patients carry the wounds of war.”

The rating system used for VA nursing homes is an adapted version of Medicare’s five-star methodology based on health surveys, staffing and quality of resident care measures. The health surveys and star ratings are available on the VA’s website, as well as a map to compare the ratings with nearby facilities.

When comparing the community living centers with non-VA facilities rated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, VA has a lower number of low-performing facilities and a higher number of high-performing facilities, Carter said.

In a letter to Tester’s office, the GAO said a staff member should begin reviewing the rating system in about four months.

Military Times: US troops to Saudi Arabia? Stand by.

By: Meghann Myers | 10 hours ago

NORFOLK, Va. ― The U.S. is figuring out a game plan to send troops to support Saudi Arabia following Iranian airstrikes on its oil fields, but how many, their capabilities and where they’ll come from won’t be announced until later this week, a senior official told reporters Tuesday.

Following the Pentagon’s Friday announcement that it would deploy forces as a deterrent to Iran’s recent antagonizing of a U.S. ally, senior leaders are looking at options for a deployment, the official said, and hoping for a contribution from key European allies.

“At this point, we’re going to wait and see what other countries are going to do in supporting Saudi,” the official said, reiterating Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s comments in a Pentagon briefing Friday.

Esper spoke with his counterparts in the United Kingdom, France and Germany over the weekend, the official said.

“They all came out today and indicated that they also believe that Iran is responsible," the official added.

Esper told reporters Friday that, without any solid plans laid down, the troops would be primarily from an air and missile defense background.

“They’ve got to go through the process of talking to the combatant commands to see who can contribute,” the official said Tuesday.

The deployment would be in the hundreds, rather than thousands, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Friday.

That number is still under discussion, the official said Tuesday.

“The European announcement and the possibility they may send forces could change U.S. contribution,” he said.

Defense News: Senate to vote on ending border emergency that diverted DoD funds

By: Joe Gould | 15 hours ago

WASHINGTON ― Republicans will be “forced” to vote as soon as Wednesday whether to end the president’s emergency diversion of military funding to his border wall, according to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Schumer and other Democrats turned up the pressure on their GOP colleagues months after 12 Senate Republicans voted to end the emergency declaration and the House failed to override President Donald Trump’s veto.

The decision to force a second vote comes after the Pentagon released the list of 127 projects in 23 states and 19 allied countries that were deferred by the administration to devote $3.6 billion to the border wall.

“Now we have a whole number of Republicans who voted with the president who see their military bases being ransacked, pillaged,” Schumer said Tuesday. “I don’t think anyone, no matter what state they are from, will want to see money being taken away from their military installations, [which is] very much needed.”

At a news conference Tuesday, Schumer hosted a retired middle school teacher to talk about delayed school construction on Fort Campbell, in Tennessee and Kentucky — that latter being the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell, a Republican, reportedly plans to protect the project.

Several Republican senators have said the list’s release hadn’t changed their minds, including Sen. Dan Sullivan, whose state was hit hardest. Though the Pentagon is deferring $102 million in funding from projects in his home state of Alaska, Sullivan said he plans to repeat his vote in favor of the emergency declaration.

“While I do not agree with the decision to defer any military construction in Alaska, it should be noted that the Democrats’ obstruction to fund much needed border security has forced the Trump administration to undertake these measures,” Sullivan told National Journal in a statement. “Going forward, I will work with the Pentagon’s leadership and my Senate colleagues to reconstitute the necessary funding required to complete these projects.”

In the home state of Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., the administration deferred a new $17 million fire station at hurricane-struck Tyndall Air Force Base. The senator said he too would vote with the president and “make sure the money goes to the wall.”

“I don’t like that Democrats don’t want to fund the wall,” Scott said. “I want to make sure the wall gets funded, and I’ve talked to [the Department of Defense], and they’re convinced we will get our funding for the project.”

One of the 12 Senate Republicans who voted “no" last time is the other Republican senator from Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio ― who said he would again vote against the border emergency “on constitutional principles.”

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he plans to vote against the emergency again.

“To me, it’s a matter of conscience and protecting the separation of powers. We won’t always have a conservative Republican in the White House,” Wicker said, adding that he was subject to “very little lobbying” for him to change his vote.

“The president knows where the votes are, he’s got the votes and he’s worried about other issues.”

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he was unaware of Democratic outreach to Republicans. To illustrate the tricky politics in play, he made an oblique reference to Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who opposed the emergency in a Washington Post op-ed before voting with Trump.

“I don’t know what pressure these Republicans face in questioning presidential overreach,” Durbin said.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., a 2020 presidential candidate, said Republicans voting to maintain the emergency would have to ignore that a Republican Congress previously voted against funding the president’s wall request and that the administration is seizing private land to host the wall.

“I don’t know how a single person who voted that way could call themselves a conservative ever, in the mirror,” Bennet said.

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