3 April, 2019 06:36

Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Wednesday, April 4, 2019 which is American Circus Day, National Don’t Go To Work Unless It’s Fun Day, Pony Express Day and World Party Day.

Today in History:

  • On this day in 1860, the first Pony Express mail, traveling by horse and rider relay teams, simultaneously leaves St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California. Ten days later, on April 13, the westbound rider and mail packet completed the approximately 1,800-mile journey and arrived in Sacramento, beating the eastbound packet’s arrival in St. Joseph by two days and setting a new standard for speedy mail delivery. Although ultimately short-lived and unprofitable, the Pony Express captivated America’s imagination and helped win federal aid for a more economical overland postal system. It also contributed to the economy of the towns on its route and served the mail-service needs of the American West in the days before the telegraph or an efficient transcontinental railroad.
  • On this day in 1948, President Harry S. Truman signs the Economic Assistance Act, which authorized the creation of a program that would help the nations of Europe recover and rebuild after the devastation wrought by World War II. Commonly known as the Marshall Plan, it aimed to stabilize Europe economically and politically so that European nations would not be tempted by the appeal of communist parties.
  • 1996: At his small wilderness cabin near Lincoln, Montana, Theodore John Kaczynski is arrested by FBI agents and accused of being the Unabomber, the elusive terrorist blamed for 16 mail bombs that killed three people and injured 23 during an 18-year period.
  • 1882: Jesse James, one of America’s most notorious outlaws, is shot to death by Robert Ford, a member of his gang who hoped to collect the bounty on Jesse’s head. Jesse James, born in Clay County, Missouri, in 1847, joined a Confederate guerrilla band led by William Quantrill at the age of 15. Quantrill’s guerrillas, which included several future members of the James Gang, terrorized Kansas and Missouri during the Civil War and in August 1863 massacred civilians during a brutal raid on Lawrence, Kansas, an abolitionist town. After the war’s end in 1865, Jesse, his brother Frank, and brothers Cole, James, and Robert Younger decided to team up and use their military raiding skills for armed robbery.


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Stripes: For 1 million US men, failing to register for the draft has serious, long-term consequences
By GREGORY KORTE | USA Today | Published: April 2, 2019
WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — For 39 years, it’s been a rite of passage for American men. Within 30 days of his 18th birthday, every male citizen and legal resident is required to register for Selective Service, either by filling out a postcard-size form or going online.
What’s less well known is what happens on a man’s 26th birthday.
Men who fail to register for the draft by then can no longer do so — forever closing the door to government benefits like student aid, a government job or even U.S. citizenship.
Men younger than 26 can get those benefits by taking advantage of what effectively has become an eight-year grace period, signing up for Selective Service on the spot.
After that, an appeal can be costly and time-consuming. Selective Service statistics suggest that more than 1 million men have been denied some government benefit because they weren’t registered for the draft.
With the current, male-only draft requirement declared unconstitutional, Congress will have to decide whether to eliminate Selective Service registration or to expand it to women.
Unable to decide that question for decades, Congress created the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service in 2016. It’s studying the future of the draft with a report due next year.
Among the issues it’s examining: Should draft registration be mandatory? If so, what’s fairest way to enforce it? Should the same consequences that have followed men for nearly four decades also apply to women?
“We’re taking a look at all of these questions,” said Vice Chairwoman Debra Wada, a former assistant secretary of the Army. “And that means looking at whether the current system is both fair and equitable — but also transparent.”
Men who have been caught in the older-than-26 trap say the system is anything but.
Since 1993, more than 1 million American men have requested formal copies of their draft status from the Selective Service System, according to data obtained by USA Today under the Freedom of Information Act. Those status-information letters are the first step in trying to appeal the denial of benefits, and are the best indication of how many men have been impacted by legal consequences of failing to register.
On paper, it’s a crime to “knowingly fail or neglect or refuse” to register for the draft. The penalty is up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Last year, Selective Service referred 112,051 names and addresses of suspected violators to the Justice Department for possible prosecution.
Still, only 20 men have been charged criminally with refusing to register for the draft since President Jimmy Carter reinstated it in 1980 in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Only 14 were convicted. The last indictment, in 1986, was dismissed before it went to trial.
So now, the system relies largely on voluntary compliance, a patchwork of state laws, and the risk of losing federal benefits.
Congress passed two provisions to tighten enforcement in the 1980s. The Solomon amendment in 1982 made Selective Service registration a requirement for federal student aid. The Thurmond Amendment in 1985 did the same for federal employment.
Federal student aid is the most common problem for men who haven’t registered for the draft, according Selective Service data obtained by USA Today.
Forty states and the District of Columbia link Selective Service to driver’s licenses. But some of those allow men to opt out of registration, and about a quarter of Americans in their early 20s don’t have drivers’ licenses.
Thirty-one states have legislation mirroring federal laws on student aid and employment, applying those bans to state-funded student aid programs and state employment.
Some states go even further:
• In eight states, men are not allowed men to register at state colleges or universities — even without financial aid — if they aren’t registered for Selective Service. Those states are Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Tennessee.
• In Ohio, men who live in the state but don’t register for Selective Service must pay out-of-state tuition rates.
• In Alaska, men who fail to register for the draft can’t receive an annual dividend from the Alaska Permanent Fund, which gave each Alaska resident $1,600 from state oil revenue in 2018.
As a result, registration rates vary from 100 percent in New Hampshire to 63 percent in South Dakota — and just 51 percent in the District of Columbia, according to Selective Service data.
“It’s very uneven across the country,” said Shawn Skelly, a former Navy commander and member of the 11-member commission studying the draft.
“How people register is predominately passively. Most men who register register though secondary means when they apply for student aid or get a driver’s license. There isn’t a real deliberate education of people about the law.”
Like the Vietnam War draft, which helped fuel the social upheaval of the 1960s and ’70s, today’s draft-registration requirement puts a disproportionate burden on lower-class Americans. They’re more likely to put off college until later in life — and to need student aid when they do go to school.
In comments to the national service commission, critics of the policy called that policy “exceptionally cruel.”
‘It was an honest mistake’
Depending on how you look at it, Brandon Prudhomme had either a very good or very bad reason for failing to register for the draft: He was in prison for most of the time between the ages of 18 and 25.
His arrest record includes assault, drug possession and resisting arrest.
“It was an honest mistake,” he said. “I was on my own since I was 14 years old. I got involved in gang-type stuff.”
But now he’s 39 and trying to turn his life around. While living in a homeless shelter, he started his own landscaping company “with two rakes and four lawn bags,” he said.
He’d like to go back to school for business. But because Prudhomme didn’t register for Selective Service, he can’t get student loans. “The financial aid people called me and said, ‘Sir, do yo know anything about Selective Service?’ I said, ‘No.’ They said my application had been red-flagged,” he said.
“If it was mandatory, how was there not the opportunity for me to sign those papers?” Prudhomme asked. “He said that was my responsibility.”
The law also has snagged federal information technology workers, Forest Service firefighters, Veterans Administration doctors and even federal contractors.
Richard Henry, a contractor for the Internal Revenue Service, lost his access to IRS facilities because he failed to register for Selective Service. They found out because Henry told them, repeatedly, beginning in 2001. But in 2011, the IRS changed the rules to make Selective Service a requirement. He was older than 26, so he couldn’t register.
So he sued, and lost, in 2017.
“If they’re going to enforce this law, you should know about the law and you should know about the consequences,” said Henry’s lawyer, Rachel L.T. Rodriguez. “The problem here is, you don’t know the consequences that follow you forever like this.”
But officials said that for draft registration to work, the law has to have teeth.
“If there were no penalties for failing to register, the rates would plummet, and fairness and equity would go out the window,” said Matthew Tittman, a spokesman for the Selective Service System, a civilian agency that administers draft registration.
Men who are older than 26 and are denied benefits can appeal the decision if they can prove that their failure to register was not “knowing and willful.”
It’s unclear how many men succeed. The Office of Personnel Management says it got 160 requests for waivers in the past fiscal year. The Department of Education would not release data nor discuss its process on the record.
And proving that someone didn’t intentionally evade the draft can be costly and time-consuming, taking as long as 18 months to decide.
Marc J. Smith, a Rockville, Md., federal employment lawyer who handles such cases, said the process can cost $3,500 to $4,000 in legal fees.
An appeal can involve researching when and where the Selective Service sent reminder letters, and gathering sworn statements from parents, childhood friends and school officials.
The cases rarely make it to court. The Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the courts didn’t have jurisdiction over federal employment cases because there was an administrative process to handle those claims.
Even if Congress eliminates the draft, Smith said, it’s unclear whether those old penalties will go away.
“People will still have this issue,” he said. “And I guess that means a much larger pool of potential clients for me.”

Military.com: US-Backed Fighters Clash with ISIS Militants in Eastern Syria
3 Apr 2019
The Associated Press
BEIRUT — U.S.-backed Syrian fighters are battling the Islamic State group in eastern Syria 10 days after declaring victory over the extremists, an official with the Kurdish-led force said Tuesday.
Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, said they are rooting out groups of militants who were hiding in caves in and near the village of Baghouz. He added that SDF experts are still removing mines and booby-traps in areas liberated in recent weeks.
The SDF declared military victory over ISIS on March 23 after liberating what it said was the last pocket of territory held by the militants. The victory marked the end of the brutal self-styled caliphate the group carved out in large parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
The nearly five-year war left a swath of destruction across both countries and ended in Baghouz, a tiny village near the Iraqi border where the cornered militants made their last stand, under a grueling siege for weeks.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the U.S.-led coalition is still conducting airstrikes against ISIS. It says senior ISIS commanders and prisoners held by the extremists are believed to be in the caves on the east bank of the Euphrates River.
The Observatory, which closely monitors the Syrian war through contacts on the ground, says scores of ISIS fighters and commanders who refused to surrender are still in the area.
During the last weeks of fighting in Baghouz, thousands of civilians, ISIS fighters and their families were evacuated. Many were moved to al-Hol, a camp for the displaced in northeastern Syria, which now holds 70,000 people.
An aid group said 31 deaths were recorded in the final week of March among people making their way out of Baghouz and toward the camp.
The International Rescue Committee said the highest weekly death rate reflected the desperate conditions endured by those who left, mostly women and children. It said a total of 217 people died while evacuating Baghouz in the final weeks of the battle. Most were toddlers suffering from malnutrition.
The IRC figures could not be independently confirmed.
Stripes: House lawmakers ask VA to delay expansion into private sector, citing IT issues

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 2, 2019

WASHINGTON – House lawmakers suggested Tuesday that Department of Veterans Affairs officials postpone a major expansion of veterans’ access to private-sector doctors, following warnings that its information technology system is flawed and could disrupt patient care.

The department is working toward a June 6deadline to implement a new community care program for VA patients that was mandated by Congress under the VA Mission Act, a major reform bill. The program aims to replace the much-maligned Veterans Choice Program, which has been in place since 2014.

The U.S. Digital Service – a White House team of software developers that helps federal agencies improve their technology – recommended last month that the VA stop developing its IT system for the new program, which it described as flawed, with the potential to create confusion and disruption for veterans and VA doctors.

“I believe in taking the time to get things right,” said Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “I would rather VA postpone implementation of this program than to rush to implementation in name only and have veterans pay the price for it.”

Despite the warnings, the VA intends to launch the new program June 6, said Richard Stone, executive in charge of the VA health system.

“Are we concerned about the complexity of the work? Absolutely. But I am optimistic we’re going to get this done now,” he told the committee.

Stone said later in the hearing that the VA didn’t have the option to halt its work.
“The Choice [Program] expires on [June
],” Stone said. “I have no ability to buy care if we don’t go forward. We must go forward with the Mission Act on June 6.

The new community care program aims to be more flexible concerning when veterans are eligible for private-sector health care.

As of now, the VA plans to allow veterans to see private doctors when they’re forced to drive more than 30 minutes to reach their VA mental health or primary care providers or wait longer than 20 days for an appointment.

For specialty care, veterans could go outside the VA for medical treatment if a VA provider was longer than a 60-minute drive away or they faced a 28-day wait.

Veterans could also seek private treatment if the services that they need are unavailable at a VA facility, if they live in a state without a full-service VA medical center, if it’s determined to be in their “best medical interest,” or if the VA determines its services in that area don’t meet quality standards.

The Decision Support Tool, software that’s intended to help the VA determine when veterans are eligible for care, presents “significant risks,” the USDS wrote in a report issued March 1. The report was obtained and made public by ProPublica, a nonprofit news agency.

“The Mission Act is a big mandate, and we need to get it right,” said Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., the chairman of the House committee. “If the tech experts say the VA should cease development on the Decision Support Tool and for the VA to rethink its approach, we want to understand those recommendations and what the VA is doing about them.”

Stone said Tuesday that if any technical problems do occur, the VA has other methods to make decisions on when veterans are eligible to see private doctors.

“Veteran care will not be disrupted,” he vowed.

IT issues have plagued the VA as its attempted to implement other changes mandated by Congress in the past year.

Critical IT errors resulted last year in thousands of GI Bill recipients receiving late payments.
Technology challenges have also created doubts about whether the agency will be delayed in extending benefits to more veteran caregivers.

Under the Mission Act, caregiver benefits are supposed to become available starting Oct. 1to veterans who were injured before May 7, 1975. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told senators last week that the department might miss the deadline.
“I do expect to come to this Congress by the deadline on Oct. 1, hopefully certifying that the commercial, off-the-shelf technology we purchased to support caregivers is in place,” Wilkie said. “I’m not going to certify anything that doesn’t work. We’ve been down that road before.”

IT problems were the subject of a subcommittee hearing earlier Tuesday, where representatives from the Government Accountability Office and VA Office of Inspector General blamed the VA’s issues on the frequent turnover in IT leadership.

In January, Congress confirmed James Gfrerer as the VA’s chief information officer. Prior to his confirmation, three people held the position on a temporary basis since January 2017.

“The average tenure of the VA [chief information officer] is two years, and that’s a major problem,” said Carol Harris, a director with the GAO. “Our work has shown that a CIO needs to be in office roughly three to five years to be effective and about five to seven years for any major change to take hold.”

ReBoot Camp: Vet groups say this rule makes troops vulnerable to ‘predatory schools.’ Here’s why.
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By: Joshua Axelrod   19 hours ago
Veterans groups want to change a rule governing for-profit colleges that some have said can lead to shady recruitment of troops and vets.
Known as the “90-10 rule,” it requires that for-profit colleges receive no more than 90 percent of their revenue from federal student aid.
But the rule doesn’t count the Post-9/11 GI Bill or Defense Department-sponsored tuition assistance as federal education benefits subject to the 90-percent limit, so for-profit colleges can get around the rule by enrolling large numbers of veterans and active-duty service members.
That has led some veterans advocates to argue that the 90-10 rule incentivizes for-profit colleges to target veterans and troops for enrollment, sometimes in a predatory manner. These groups are pressuring Congress to change the rule as part of its reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.
“The 90-10 loophole has been abused long enough, and this important change is a major check on the quality of institutions,” said Lauren Augustine, Student Veterans of America’s vice president of government affairs, during a recent news conference on Capitol Hill.
Six other groups joined SVA at the news conference to press the case: American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Military Officers Association of America, Veterans Education Success, the National Military Family Association and Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.
The for-profit education sector is also unhappy with the 90-10 rule — but for a completely different reason.
Officials with the trade group Career Education Colleges and Universities question why the rule only applies to for-profit schools, instead of applying to all types of schools, including public and nonprofit.
“There are good and bad programs at every school in America,” said Steve Gunderson, the group’s president. “We ought to identify the bad programs and tell the schools, either improve them or [we’ll] stop them.”
The Higher Education Act, a main focus of the Capitol Hill news conference, governs federal higher-education programs, including those related to student loans and other ways to make college more affordable and accessible.
It has been around since 1965 and has been rewritten eight times since, with the most recent re-authorization coming in the form of the Higher Education Opportunity Act in 2008. It was supposed to be reauthorized in 2013, but Congress extended the deadline.
“The time for equivocation on 90-10 is over,” John Kamin, an American Legion credentialing and education policy associate, said at the news conference. "We do not accept that this is, by nature, a partisan issue. Protecting veterans never should be.”
Tom Porter, legislative director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, emphasized that a veteran’s GI Bill benefits aren’t renewable. He wants to change the 90-10 rule so veterans become less likely to attend for-profit colleges and earn “a bunch of credits that are worth nothing," essentially wasting their benefits.
“We can’t afford to have predatory schools going after student veterans with dollar signs on their backs, and it’s a disgrace that this is happening,” he said.
The situation he described is similar to the experience of Eric Luongo, a Navy veteran who testified before Congressat a previous hearing that he believes the for-profit school DeVry University made him promises they didn’t keep. He accused the school of leaving him with more than $100,000 in student-loan debt and a degree employers wouldn’t take seriously.
One prominent veterans group that wasn’t at the news conference was Veterans of Foreign Wars. Patrick Murray, VFW’s deputy director of national legislative service, told Military Times that his organization doesn’t necessarily oppose the 90-10 rule, but rather they’re more afraid of “what it could lead to.”
VFW still supports changing the 90-10 rule to avoid the “predatory tactics” it might incentivize, Murray said.
“One of the things it can lead to is heavily targeting military members and veterans, because you can essentially run your school off these government funds,” he said. “It’s time that we use common sense to figure out where federal funds are coming from and how they’re accounted for.”
Gunderson, president of for-profit trade group CECU, doesn’t believe in the rule because “it’s not any kind of indicator of academic quality.” But he doesn’t necessarily think getting rid of it should be a priority.
Michael Dakduk, CECU’s executive vice president and director of government relations, said he wants to know why the 90-10 rule is only discussed in terms of for-profit colleges, as opposed to the entire education sector.
“Our sector will live with any regulation that applies to all institutions regularly," he said.
Changing or ending the 90-10 rule did not come up during a recent conference call with a senior administration official about what the White House wanted to see with the HEA’s re-authorization. The call was introduced by Ivanka Trump, President Donald Trump’s daughter.
“We need to modernize our higher education system to make it affordable, flexible and outcome-oriented so all Americans, young and old, can learn the skills they need to secure and retain good-paying jobs,” she said.

Stripes: Man who claimed to have been ‘Navy sergeant’ gets additional jail time after other false statements
By CHRISTIAN MENNO | The Intelligencer | Published: April 3, 2019
DOYLESTOWN, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — Lying about completing a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program while in prison has led to more jail time for a Pennsylvania man already accused of lying about serving in the military.
Joseph Gorzoch, 41, was back in Bucks County Court this week after Deputy District Attorney Bob James checked on the man’s previous statements to a judge — who factored in the man’s supposed graduation of the 90-day HOPE program while in county prison during a sentencing on DUI and retail theft charges last month.
"I knew he was only in prison for 67 days," James said Tuesday, "so I called the prison and they checked the records."
Gorzoch had in fact not finished the program, having been bailed out of jail before he could do so.
Following Gorzoch’s March 21 sentencing, James filed a motion of reconsideration, hoping to have the judge take another look at the case in light of the man’s most recent claim.
On Monday, President Judge Wallace H. Bateman Jr. added one to two years to Gorzoch’s sentence, which will keep him in state prison for five to 10 years.
This wasn’t the first time a statement from Gorzoch raised red flags to James and prompted him to investigate.
The man said he suffered from "service-related PTSD" and experience nightmares and flashbacks as a result of being injured by an explosion while serving in Afghanistan as a U.S. Navy sergeant.
James, a U.S. Air Force veteran, knew something was fishy as the Navy has no rank of sergeant.
That lie, which James said dishonored those who actually served their country, was one he could not let go.
He also said he learned Gorzoch had lied about his mother dying in an attempt to have his court case delayed at the district level.
Regarding Gorzoch’s attempt to gain credit for the uncompleted rehab program, James called it "just another lie on top of another lie on top of another lie."
"And these were all claims that we could rationally and quickly check on," the prosecutor added. "He’s nothing but a sham."

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