28 August, 2019 05:30

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Wednesday, August 28, 2019 which is National Bow Tie Day, Red Wine Day, Willing-To-Lend-A-Hand Wednesday, and National Power Rangers Day.
This Day in Legion History:

  • 1879: King Cetshwayo, the last great ruler of Zululand, is captured by the British following his defeat in the British-Zulu War. He was subsequently sent into exile. Cetshwayo’s defiance of British rule in southern Africa led to Britain’s invasion of Zululand in 1879.
  • On August 28, 1968, at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, thousands of Vietnam War protesters battle police in the streets, while the Democratic Party falls apart over an internal disagreement concerning its stance on Vietnam. Over the course of 24 hours, the predominant American line of thought on the Cold War with the Soviet Union was shattered.
  • 1963: On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., the African American civil rights movement reaches its high-water mark when Martin Luther King, Jr., speaks to about 250,000 people attending the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The demonstrators–black and white, poor and rich–came together in the nation’s capital to demand voting rights and equal opportunity for African Americans and to appeal for an end to racial segregation and discrimination.
  • On August 28, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson is picketed by woman suffragists in front of the White House, who demand that he support an amendment to the Constitution that would guarantee women the right to vote.


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Inside Higher Ed: Veterans Turn Sights to 90-10 Rule
Veterans’ organizations see negotiations over the Higher Education Act as an opportunity to tighten a federal exemption they say makes service members target of aggressive marketing by for-profit colleges.
Andrew Kreighbaum

August 27, 2019
Veterans’ groups played a key role last year in blocking a Republican proposal to update the landmark higher education law. A campaign against the legislation, known as the PROSPER Act, zeroed in on a proposal to kill Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

Now with Democrats in control of the U.S. House of Representatives and a bipartisan effort to reauthorize the Higher Education Act on the horizon, those veteran groups have turned their focus to another long-held priority: addressing for-profit colleges’ recruitment of student veterans.

A federal rule known as 90-10 caps the share of revenue for-profits can take in from federal student aid at 90 percent. But the cap exempts federal tuition benefits for veterans and active members of the U.S. military. Several veterans’ groups want to those benefits to count toward the federal cap, which could spell trouble for some for-profits.

“Absolutely, 90-10 is our top priority,” said Lauren Augustine, vice president for government affairs at Student Veterans of America. “It will continue to be so until we see closure of the loophole.”

The abrupt shutdown of several for-profit college chains in recent years has added to the sense of urgency for veterans’ organizations. Veterans groups say an overreliance on federal aid makes colleges less stable when they face potential sanctions.

“That’s part of why momentum is picking up,” said Tanya Ang, policy and outreach director at Veterans Education Success.

Democrats in Congress have shown serious interest in addressing what critics of the rule call the veterans’ loophole. Lawmakers have introduced eight bills this Congress to modify the 90-10 rule. Some would count veterans’ benefits toward the cap, while others propose changing the ratio to 85-15, the original ratio until 1998.

Some would do both. That was the approach in the Aim Higher Act, a 2018 proposal from House Democrats to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.

Representatives of for-profit colleges are taking note of those proposals. Career Education Colleges and Universities, the trade group for the sector, said responding to 90-10 legislation is a top priority.

“All we’re talking about is stopping veterans from going to the schools they choose to go to,” said Michael Dakduk, executive vice president of CECU and a co-chair of Veterans for Career Education.

As for-profit chains faced intense scrutiny from federal regulators under the Obama administration, DeVry University opted to voluntarily set a target ratio of 85-15 itself.
Republicans in Congress recently have suggested doing away with the rule altogether. The House PROSPER Act, for example, proposed eliminating 90-10. And in a staff white paper released last year, Senator Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate education committee, suggested the rule does more to gauge students’ ability to pay for a program than their willingness to pay.

That paper cited a 2013 analysis by Mark Kantrowitz, a student aid expert and publisher of Savingforcollege.com, who found that including veterans’ benefits would have a negligible impact on the federal aid ratio of most colleges. But Kantrowitz said the rule is of limited use because it doesn’t actually measure program quality.

“Mostly it’s a proxy of the number of wealthy students a college enrolls who are not receiving any financial aid,” he said.

But advocates for the rule insist it is a useful market test of the value of for-profit programs. And they argue the exemption of veterans’ benefits from the rule creates an incentive to target those students for enrollment.

Even some public colleges have lobbied to tighten the rule. The University of North Carolina system has named 90-10 as one of its priorities for HEA reauthorization. That’s partly because the system is designated as the state authorizing agency for postsecondary institutions in North Carolina, said Dan Harrison, UNC’s senior associate vice president for academic and regulatory affairs.

“While there are certainly good reasons that student veterans might choose to go to a proprietary school, we generally feel that they ought to be able to do so without being subjected to undue pressure because of targeting thanks to the 90-10 loophole,” he said.

CECU argues that counting veterans and military benefits toward the rule would result in for-profits enrolling fewer of those students.

“How do you comply with the rule? It’s simple. You restrict veterans from coming to the school,” Dakduk said. “It’s not going to solve any of the problems that critics of the sector suggest it would solve.”

A CECU analysis estimated that 260 of the group’s member schools would close if veteran and service member benefits were counted toward the cap.

Clare McCann, deputy director for federal higher education policy at New America, said it would be difficult for lawmakers of either party to ignore the 90-10 rule, with most veterans’ groups in lockstep on the issue. In addition to Student Veterans of America and Veterans Education Success, organizations including the American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Military Officers Association of America, the National Military Family Association, and Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors back a change to the rule.
“Veterans’ groups have been extremely effective when they band together,” she said.

Wesley Wilson, an army veteran and a fellow at High Ground Veterans Advocacy, said many veterans first enroll in for-profit colleges while they are still in active service because of both convenience and word of mouth. He said the military often isn’t accommodating of enrollment at local community colleges — partly because online programs have more flexible schedules — and many service members are more familiar with for-profit programs.

“When I was in the service, everybody that I knew basically went to a for-profit school like Kaplan or the University of Phoenix,” he said. “Everyone that I served with, those were the schools they were going to.”

Wilson attended American Military University during his service before later transferring to Fordham University. He’s now a graduate student at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. Wilson said the real marketing to veterans begins after they leave the military.

“There’s a huge target on veterans’ backs,” he said. “If you make us worth less money, there’s less incentive to be more aggressive with your recruitment or marketing.”

Military Times: Multiple suspicious deaths at West Virginia VA raise concerns over criminal activity
By:Leo Shane III   12 hours ago
Federal investigators are probing a series of suspicious deaths at a Veterans Affairs hospital in West Virginia, a situation that congressional lawmakers have labeled “incredibly disturbing.”
The potential crimes came to light after the family of one of the victims filed a wrongful death suit against VA alleging that their loved one’s death came as the result of an unneeded, fatal insulin dose while at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg.
The lawsuit alleges that VA officials did not take appropriate precautions and provide appropriate oversight to prevent harm to retired Army Sgt. Felix Kirk McDermott, 82, who died in April 2018. A copy of an Armed Forces Medical Examiner report provided by the West Virginia law firm Tiano O’Dell (which is representing McDermott’s family) ruled the death a homicide. McDermott’s health care plan did not include any insulin injections, and he was described “demonstrating clinical improvement” prior to his death.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. and a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said in a statement this week that he has been briefed on at least 11 suspicious deaths at the facility around the same time frame.
“These crimes shock the conscience and I’m still appalled they were not only committed but that our veterans, who have sacrificed so much for our country, were the victims,” he said. “These families and loved ones deserve answers as soon as possible and I will make sure they get them.”
VA officials have said the investigation does not involve any current department staffers at the hospital, and leadership is cooperating with law enforcement and inspector general investigations.
They added that new safeguards have been put in place “to ensure the safety of each and every one of our patients.”
House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., said he’ll also demand a full accounting of what happened at the hospital.
“If VA was aware, it must hold supervisors accountable for failing to protect veterans and must take decisive action now to prevent such appalling incidents in the future,” he said in a statement.
Officials from the VA Inspector General’s office did not offer any details on the investigation, saying only that they are working with law enforcement on the next steps. The suspected attacker in the case has not been named.
The lawsuit was first reported by The Exponent Telegram last week.

AP: US-backed Syrian Kurds begin pullout near Turkish border as part of ‘safe zone’ deal
By: Bassem Mroue, The Associated Press   13 hours ago

BEIRUT — The main U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia has begun withdrawing its fighters from two towns near Turkey’s border, part of a deal for a so-called “safe zone” in northeastern Syria involving the U.S. and Turkey, the Kurdish-led regional administration in northern Syria said Tuesday.
Turkey has been pressing for a safe zone, running east of the Euphrates River toward the Iraqi border, to push U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish militias away from its frontier. Turkey wants to control — in coordination with the U.S. — a 19-25 mile (30-40 kilometer) deep zone within civil war-ravaged Syria.
Turkey wants the region along its border to be clear of Syrian Kurdish forces and has threatened on numerous occasions to launch a new operation in Syria against Syrian Kurdish forces if such a zone is not established.
Turkey sees the Syrian Kurdish fighters, who make up the majority of the Syrian Democratic Forces and are allied with the U.S., as terrorists aligned with a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey. American troops are stationed in northeast Syria, along with the Kurdish forces, and have fought the Islamic State group together.
The differing positions on the Kurdish fighters have become a major source of tension between NATO allies Turkey and the U.S.
The administration said “the first step” in these understandings began three days ago in the town of Ras al-Ayn, from where members of the militia known as YPG withdrew with their heavy weapons. The statement that was read by Zeidan al-Assi, head of defense office at the administration, added that similar steps were taken Monday in the border town of Tal Abyad.
It said the Kurdish militia positions were taken over by local forces, without elaborating.
On Monday, Turkey’s defense minister, Hulusi Akar, said Turkish and U.S. troops will soon begin joint patrols as part of a deal for a so-called “safe zone.” He said a joint helicopter flight has already taken place.
In northwest Syria, Syrian insurgents launched counterattacks Tuesday in and near areas recently taken by government forces in the country’s last remaining rebel region, after a series of setbacks they suffered in recent weeks, opposition activists said.
The fierce fighting killed more than 50 fighters on both sides, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It also underscored that President Bashar Assad’s forces will face a long, hard fight as they try to chip away at the last rebel-held territory.
The counterattacks began early in the morning and government forces called in Syria’s air force to repel them, the Observatory said. It said 29 Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen were killed, as well as 23 insurgents.
The insurgents captured two villages, Salloumieh and Abu Omar, and pushed into the nearby village of Sham al-Hawa, it said.
The Ibaa media outlet of the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham militant group said its fighters were attacking Syrian positions east of Khan Sheikhoun, a major town that was held by rebels until they lost it last week.
Pro-government activists said on social media that Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen are repelling the attack.
Syrian government forces captured wide areas from insurgents over the past weeks in an offensive that began on April 30. The areas taken include all rebel-held parts of Hama province as well as villages on the southern edge of Idlib, the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria.
Tuesday’s clashes came after Syrian warplanes pounded the rebel-held town of Maaret al-Numan and nearby villages over the past two days — their likely next target for takeover.
Maaret al-Numan, like Khan Sheikhoun, sits on the highway linking Damascus with the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest. Government forces are trying to eventually open that highway.
Taher al-Omar, a citizen journalist with the al-Qaida-linked militants, wrote on social media that they have carried out several suicide attacks so far.
The months of fighting have displaced more than half a million civilians toward northern parts of Idlib, already home to some 3 million people, according to U.N. humanitarian officials.
Elsewhere in northern Syria, a bomb exploded on a minibus, killing two people and wounding nine near the town of Azaz. The town is controlled by Turkish troops and Turkey-backed opposition fighters, according to pro-government media and the Azaz media center, an activist collective.

AP: Coalition of Iraqi lawmakers calls for US troops to withdraw, Israeli strikes a ‘declaration of war’

By: Qassim Abdul-Zahra, The Associated Press and Ali Abdul-Hassan, The Associated Press
BAGHDAD — A powerful bloc in Iraq’s parliament called on Monday for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, following a series of airstrikes targeting Iran-backed Shiite militias in the country that have been blamed on Israel.
The Fatah Coalition said it holds the United States fully responsible for the alleged Israeli aggression, “which we consider to be a declaration of war on Iraq and its people.” The coalition is a parliament bloc representing Iran-backed paramilitary militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces.
The coalition’s statement came a day after a drone strike in the western Iraqi town of Qaim killed a commander with the forces — the latest in strikes apparently conducted by Israel against the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq. It added that U.S. troops are no longer needed in Iraq.
The Shiite militiamen, meanwhile, held a funeral procession in Baghdad for the commander killed Sunday.
“There is no greater God but God!” the mourners shouted as they marched behind a banner with the words “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.” Some trampled on an American flag as they marched.
The U.S. Defense Department issued a statement Monday denying responsibility for the recent attacks and promising to cooperate with Iraqi investigations.
"We support Iraqi sovereignty and have repeatedly spoken out against any potential actions by external actors inciting violence in Iraq, " Pentagon spokesman Jonathan R. Hoffman said. “The government of Iraq has the right to control their own internal security and protect their democracy.”
Anger is mounting in Iraq following a spate of mysterious airstrikes that have targeted military bases and a weapons depot belonging to Iran-backed militias. The drone attacks have not been claimed by any side but U.S. officials have said Israel was behind at least one of the attacks.
The Shiite militias have blamed the attacks on Israel but hold its ally the United States ultimately responsible. The attacks are threatening to destabilize security in Iraq, which has struggled to remain neutral in the conflict between Washington and Tehran.
“These strikes won’t break us, they’ll make us stronger,” the militias’ Lt. Gen. Hussein Abed Muttar told The Associated Press at the funeral.
Along with the commander, another member of the Shiite militia was also killed in the drone attack on Sunday evening near the Qaim border crossing with Syria. The attack targeted vehicles belonging to the Hezbollah Brigades faction, also known as Brigade 45, which operate under the umbrella of the state-sanctioned Shiite militias.
U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011, but returned in 2014 at the invitation of the government to help battle the Islamic State group after it seized vast areas in the north and west of the country, including Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul. A U.S.-led coalition provided crucial air support as Iraqi forces regrouped and, together with the PMF, drove IS out in a costly three-year campaign.
The U.S. maintains about 5,000 troops in Iraq, and some groups say there’s no longer a justification for them to be there now that IS has been defeated.
“While we reserve the right to respond to these Zionist attacks, we hold the international coalition, particularly the United States, fully responsible for this aggression which we consider a declaration of war on Iraq and its people,” the statement by the Fatah Coalition said.
Iraqi President Barham Saleh hosted a meeting Monday that included the prime minister and parliament speaker as well as PMF militia leaders to discuss the recent attacks.
A statement issued after the meeting avoided blaming the drone attacks on any specific country, but described it as a “blatant act of aggression” aimed at dragging the PMF away from its ongoing role of eradicating remnants of the Islamic State group.
Absent from the meeting were the leaders of two of the most powerful factions strongly allied to Iran, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Qais al-Khazali. An official who attended the meeting said they were in Iran.
Navy Times: Homeland Security raids Coast Guard coffers to pay for border programs
By: Colleen Long, The Associated Press   10 hours ago
WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security is moving $271 million from other agencies such as FEMA and the U.S. Coast Guard to increase the number of beds for detained immigrants and support its policy forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases play out.
The news comes as hurricane season is ramping up and Tropical Storm Dorian is heading toward Puerto Rico.
The sprawling 240,000-person Homeland Security Department includes the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Coast Guard and the new Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in addition to immigration agencies.
It is not uncommon for unassigned funds to be transferred between agencies under the same department as the fiscal year ends. Last year around the same time, about $200 million was transferred, including $10 million from FEMA that prompted major criticism from Democrats.
Homeland Security officials said in a statement Tuesday they would transfer $155 million to create temporary facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border for holding hearings with the aim of moving asylum cases through the system faster.
The government has sent more than 30,000 people back to Mexico to wait out their immigration cases in an effort to deter migrants from making a dangerous journey to the U.S. and ease the crush of families from Central America that has vastly strained the system.
Asylum seekers generally had been released into the U.S. and allowed to work, but many Trump administration officials believe migrants take advantage of the laws and stop showing up to court.
Lawyers for migrants waiting in Mexico have reported major problems reaching clients and getting them to the U.S. for their hearings. And some of the locations in Mexico where migrants are sent are violent and unsafe.
The money will come out of unobligated money from the base disaster relief fund at FEMA, lawmakers said.
Democratic House members strongly disagreed and accused DHS of going around their specific appropriations.
The chairwoman of the House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee, Lucille Roybal-Allard of California, said the reprogramming would support "inhumane" programs and take away necessary funding for other agencies.
"I am greatly concerned that during the course of this administration, there has been a growing disconnect between the will of Congress … and the implementation of the Department’s immigration enforcement operations," she said in a statement.
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said DHS was flouting congressional intent.
"Taking money away from TSA and from FEMA in the middle of hurricane season could have deadly consequences," he said.
Homeland Security officials will also transfer $116 million to fund detention bed space for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Congress allocated 45,000 beds for detention, but as of Aug. 24, ICE was detaining 54,344 people.
Congress specifically did not authorize additional ICE funding for detention beds when it approved an emergency supplemental funding request of about $1.3 billion from Homeland Security to manage the huge increase in migrants.
"Given the rise of single adults crossing the border, ICE has already had to increase the number of detention beds above what Congress funded," according to the DHS statement.
Without the funding increase ICE can’t keep up with apprehensions by Border Patrol.
"This realignment of resources allows DHS to address ongoing border emergency crisis … while minimizing the risk to overall DHS mission performance," according to the statement.
More than 860,000 people have been encountered at the Southern border this budget year, a decade-long high. Of that, 432,838 were in families — last year for the whole fiscal year there were only 107,212 in families. The increase has caused vast overcrowding in border facilities and reports of fetid, filthy conditions and children held for weeks in temporary facilities not meant to hold anyone for longer than a few days.
As Tropical Storm Dorian approached the Caribbean and gathered strength, it threatened to turn into a small hurricane that forecasters said could affect the northern Windward Islands and Puerto Rico in upcoming days.

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