3 May, 2019 06:25

Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Friday, May 3, 2019, which is International Space Day, International Tuba Day, Paranormal Day, Public Radio Day, Wordsmith Day, and World Press Freedom Day.

This Weekend in American Legion History:

  • May 4, 1950: American Legion donations help launch the National Association for Mental Health.
  • May 4, 2011: The American Legion National Executive Committee passes a resolution to establish The American Legion Amateur Radio Club in support of the organization’s disaster-preparedness program, in association with the Department of Homeland Security. The ham radio club is authorized a budget of $1,000 to get started.
  • May 5, 2014: Following nationally publicized revelations that veterans died waiting for unscheduled appointments at the Phoenix VA Medical Center, American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger calls for the resignation of VA Secretary Gen. Eric Shinseki, Under Secretary for Health Care Robert Petzel and Under Secretary for Benefits Gen. Allison Hickey.
  • May 5, 2010: The American Legion National Executive Committee selects Shelby, N.C., to be the host city of The American Legion Baseball World Series at least through 2014, potentially becoming a permanent site for the tournament. More than 100 supporters of Shelby traveled to Indianapolis to make their case over Bartlesville, Okla., which was second in the bid to serve as home of the tournament. The water tower in the North Carolina town is soon repainted, “Shelby, Home of The American Legion Baseball World Series.” Keeter Stadium is redesigned, new lights are installed, and in 2012, The American Legion announces through a Fall NEC resolution that the Shelby contract would be extended through 2019.


*Includes quote from TAL.
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Connecting Vets: Women veterans don’t get equal treatment at the VA, so Congress is launching a task force
ABBIE BENNETT | MAY 02, 2019 – 9:50 AM
During Andrea Goldstein’s time as a Naval officer, she was frequently the only woman in the room "where life and death decisions were made."
But the teammates who were supposed to guard her life in turn "sexually harassed and belittled" her because of her gender.
Since leaving the military, she says it’s not gotten any better. Goldstein now faces barriers to care at the Department of Veterans Affairs because male veterans and VA healthcare workers "questioned my right to VA healthcare."
Now Goldstein will serve as the senior policy advisor for a new team in Congress, the Women Veterans Task Force, whose purpose it will be to knock down the obstacles to care and equality women veterans face.
The work of the task force will focus on culture, healthcare, economic opportunity and benefits access for women veterans, Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., chairwoman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee’s subpanel on health, said at a Thursday press conference.
Women veterans must be "visibly recognized for their service to the nation" and the VA must have an "essential cultural transformation … and foster an environment that is safe and respectful" especially after reports of "widespread sexual harassment of women veterans and employees at VA facilities," Brownley said.
The VA is the best-equipped place for women veterans to solve the complex issues they face, but "it can be the actual source of their trauma," she said.
VA spokeswoman Susan Carter said the VA is working to make women veterans feel more welcome.
"VA recognizes that all veterans should feel safe and at home in VA facilities, and that at times women veterans have experienced harassment by others," Carter said in a statement. "That’s why VA has launched a campaign of education, reporting and accountability to end harassment of veterans and to help staff and veterans intervene if harassment occurs."
The number of women receiving care from the VA has tripled since 2000, Carter said.
Carter said the VA has created posters, videos and training and rolled out the program at all facilities.
"We want veterans to be aware that VA is taking action so that all veterans can engage fully in their own health care," the statement read.
"Women often go from being the most visible service members on active duty … to some of the most invisible as veterans," said Mackenzie Wolf, a Marine Corps veteran and representative for The American Legion.
The task force will focus specifically on serving women veterans "and transforming existing systems with an eye on equity," she said, including transition assistance, poverty, homelessness, GI Bill access and use and more.
Women veterans are less likely to apply for veteran benefits and have higher denial rates than their male counterparts, Brownley said.
"We need to keep drilling down on why this happens and what needs to be done about it," she said.
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., said the task force is the first step in understanding and addressing the unique challenges of women veterans.
"We can begin to shed light on the issues the more than 2 million U.S. women veterans face and prepare the VA for the future," Takano said.
Ranking committee member Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., explained during his time in service he did not serve alongside women, but he knows many more women serve now and the VA must adapt to the changing demographics.
"The VA is not known for its speed of change," he said. "The VA has to change as the demographics of veterans change."
Brownley said the task force will aim to produce at least one larger, comprehensive bill to address inequities for women veterans and she expects it to be a bipartisan effort and make it to the president’s desk. The bill is planned to be named for Deborah Sampson, a hero of the American Revolution who disguised herself as a man to join the Patriot forces.
Brownley said the Department of Defense will be at the table for legislative discussions.
"It is abundantly clear it is the culture within the military that carries over to the culture in the VA," she said. "That needs to change. We’ve got to work hand in hand."
But all of the work will be focused on clearing the path for women veterans to access the VA care they’ve earned, she said.
"We see you, we thank you for your selfless service," Brownley said. "And we are dedicated to serving you in return."

Stars & Stripes: ‘We’re not aliens, we’re women:’ New task force to target gender inequality at the VA
By ROSE L. THAYER | STARS AND STRIPES | Published: May 2, 2019
Women seeking health care at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities often have longer wait times for appointments than men and one in four have reported being sexually harassed or had their military service questioned, House lawmakers and women veterans said Thursday.
“[Women] do not feel welcome or safe at VA facilities” and “were significantly more likely to report delaying or missing care,” said Army veteran Joy Ilem, national legislative director for Disabled American Veterans. “There is no bigger barrier to care than a culture that does not embrace women vets or at best makes them feel marginalized.”
To address the challenges facing women seeking VA health care services, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on Thursday launched a bipartisan women veterans task force with Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., as its chairwoman.
That announcement and news conference about the new task force was followed by a congressional hearing where Ilem spoke alongside four other women veterans and an official from the VA’s Women Health Services.
“Our mission to increase the visibility of the 2 million women veterans living in the United States and to promote inclusivity and equitable access to resources, benefits, and healthcare for women veterans,” Brownley said during the news conference on Capitol Hill to announce the task force.
The task force is the first organized effort dedicated to women veterans and the inequities that they endure, she said.
Culture, health care, economic opportunities and veteran access are the four main points of focus for the task force. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., plans to launch a similar initiative in the Senate, Brownley said.
The hearing of the health subcommittee of the House VA committee met following the announcement to hear women veterans testify about the barriers and challenges that they face when accessing the VA, primarily for health care.
Only about 22 percent of women veterans use the VA for their health care, making them about 7 percent of all veterans using the VA, retired Navy Capt. Lory Manning, director of government relations for Service Women’s Action Network, said citing a VA report.
When women do go to the VA, they are “irked” when asked for their husband’s Social Security number when checking in, and then annoyed again when denied a free cup of coffee, because it’s for the veterans. “These slights seem minor but they [build] over time leaving women veterans frustrated and disheartened,” Manning said. “The invisibility becomes more damaging when the gender-specific needs of women veterans are ignored, as happens for example when they are sometimes issued prosthetic devices designed for men. This should never happen.”
The damage becomes major when leadership makes tough decisions without understanding the need for women programs and choose to reallocate funding from programs for women because it “helps many while hurting only a few,” she said.
Manning, along with Lindsay Church, CEO of Minority Veterans of America, also said in opening statements that their organizations support changing the motto of the VA, because its exclusive language greets women as they enter facilities.
The agency’s official motto is a quote from President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address in 1865: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has said he opposes changing the motto, but women lawmakers have pledged to fight him on this front.
Lincoln’s words are a “physical representation of the invisibility” women experience,” Church said. “Changing the motto won’t by itself address the deep cultural divide, [but
it is] a step in the right direction.”
Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Fla., the subcommittee’s ranking member, suggested during the hearing that vouchers for community-based care could serve as a way to help women get better access to care.
Ilem said she worried this could create fragmented care for women that would result in gaps of understanding larger issues women veterans face.
“We need to make sure the providers women are going to that they are going to get quality care with expertise in the conditions and what exposures women have experienced and what conditions they are being treated for,” she said.
Ginger Miller, president and CEO of Women Veterans Interactive, an organization that advocates on behalf of women veterans, said she would support an initiative like this as a stopgap solution.
“The VA has been researching women veterans for years. We’re not aliens, we’re women. There are plenty of doctors out in the private sector that support and service women every day,” she said. “Why should I have to suffer and walk through the halls getting cat-called and all these different things while you figure it out?”
Patricia M. Hayes, chief consultant for Women’s Health Services with the Veterans Health Administration, explained what the VA is doing for women and their efforts to change the culture.
To address the harassment from male veterans, she said the VA launched an education program called End Harassment. It teaches men that what they might see as a compliment is harassment.
“This behavior disrupts care,” Hayes said. “It disrupts to whole system…I think that on the issue of culture change—we really can’t say enough about how that is a problem we are focused on. VA is not only stepping up, but we have to step up. We have to end the harassment.”
Brownley said she saw Thursday’s events as the beginning of the women veterans’ “Me Too” moment, referencing to the movement that grew from exposing gender discrimination in Hollywood.
“We need to make it into a movement,” she said.

Stars & Stripes: Sexual assaults on young servicewomen on the rise, DOD report finds
By CAITLIN M. KENNEY | STARS AND STRIPES | Published: May 2, 2019
WASHINGTON — Sexual assaults against female troops have increased by 44% since 2016, with the highest increase affecting junior enlisted servicemenbers, according to a Pentagon report released Thursday.
“The results of this report are not acceptable by any standard,” Elizabeth Van Winkle, the executive director of the Office of Force Resiliency at the Defense Department, told reporters Thursday at the Pentagon. “We will learn from what our women and men in uniform told us this year and adjust our strategies. I remain optimistic that we will course correct.”
The Defense Department’s 2018 report on sexual assault in the military included results from the 2018 Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Active-Duty Members, which found 20,500 servicemembers experienced sexual assault within the past year — an increase of 38% from 14,900 in fiscal year 2016 when the survey was last conducted.
The report found 6.2% of servicewomen experienced sexual assault in 2018, a 44% increase from the rate of 4.3% in fiscal year 2016.
The increase in sexual assault was mostly among women servicemembers between the ages of 17 to 24 and junior enlisted women, “who are already at the highest risk for sexual assault,” according to a Pentagon document highlighting the report’s findings.
“This increase is absolutely unacceptable,” said Rear Adm. Ann Burkhardt, the director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.
According to the Pentagon, the report found most of the perpetrators were in the junior enlisted ranks of E-3 to E-5 and they were often the same rank or just above that of the victim. The report also found that 24% of women and 6% of men experienced sexual harassment in fiscal year 2018, which was a significant increase from 2016, said Ashlea Klahr, director of health and resilience research of the Office of People Analytics at the Pentagon.
But one in three servicemembers reported their sexual assaults to a Defense Department authority, about the same as fiscal year 2016, according to the report.
The DOD received 6,053 reports of sexual assault by servicemembers for incidents that occurred during military service. The rate for women reporting decreased from 43% to 37% between fiscal years 2016 and 2018 and the rate for men reporting stayed the same for those years at 17%.
The report findings showed 62% of the “most serious sexual assault situations involved alcohol use by the victim or the alleged offender as reported by the victim.”
The Marines had the highest rate of sexual assault for women at 10.7%. Klahr said 39% of active-duty women servicemembers are younger than 25 years old, which is the most at-risk group for sexual assault. In the Marine Corps, it is 60%.
“So certainly age doesn’t account for all of it, but it is when we’re seeing the largest increases in our youngest folks and the proportion of women in the Marine Corps are primarily this young group, we believe that that explains at least part of why they might be seeing such a significant increase,” Klahr said.
The Marine Corps released a statement Thursday about the report’s findings that read: “Our Marines have a fundamental right to live and work in an environment free from sexual assault and harassment. The Marine Corps is committed to purging these criminal behaviors from our ranks, taking care of victims, and holding offenders accountable.”
Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan on Thursday responded to the report findings with the actions that the DOD will take to address the sexual assault in the military.
“To put it bluntly, we are not performing to the standards and expectations we have for ourselves or for each other,” he wrote in a memo. “This is unacceptable. We cannot shrink from facing the challenge head on. We must, and will, do better,” he wrote in the memo.
Shanahan’s reaction also follows a sexual assault and harassment report for the military service academies that came out earlier this year and the recently established Sexual Assault Accountability and Investigation Task Force that was put together in coordination with Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz. In March, McSally said during a hearing on sexual assault in the military that she was raped when she served as a pilot in the Air Force.
Shanahan wrote the first action by the Defense Department is to take steps to make sexual harassment a stand-alone military crime.
They are also going to launch a “Catch a Serial Offender Program” that will improve the identification of repeat offenders, the memo stated. It will launch in the summer, Burkhardt said, and it will “allow our servicemembers who choose to make a restricted report confidentially [and] identify information about the alleged incident to investigators.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., admonished Pentagon leadership Thursday for its failure to rein in the issue of sexual assault within its ranks, telling a top Army leader the problem was just as bad now as it was five years ago when she began advocating for reforms.
“It is unconscionable,” Gillibrand told Army Gen. James McConville, the service’s vice chief of staff, who was appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing to consider his nomination for chief of staff.
Gillibrand accused Pentagon leaders of playing lip service to the issue and not taking concrete actions to address the problems, which she said stem from command climates where senior officers have failed to take the issue seriously.
Gillibrand has long advocated for changing how the military handles sexual assault cases. She wants commanders removed from the process in favor of handing such cases to career prosecutors to decide whether they warrant further investigation or legal action. She said victims, who tend to be lower ranking than their assailants, have often told her that they did not report their attack because they did not have confidence higher-ups would support them.
“What angers me the most, general [is] for the last 25 years, every secretary of defense has told this body, told this public that they have zero tolerance for sexual assault,” said Gillibrand, who is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 2020. “I am tired of excuses. I am tired of statements from commanders stating zero tolerance. I am tired of the statement I get over and over from the chain of command – “We’ve got this, ma’am. We’ve got this.” You don’t have it. You are failing us.”
She asked McConville to treat the issue as if his own daughter – an active-duty Army captain assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division – had experienced a sexual assault.
“Yes, senator,” replied McConville, who was heaped with praise throughout the hearing and appeared poised to be confirmed.
Retired Air Force Col. Don Christensen, once the service’s top prosecutor who is now president of the Protect Our Defenders organization that works to end sexual violence in the military, echoed Gillibrand’s outrage over the report. He called for lawmakers to remove commanders from the decision making process on sexual assault cases.
“The numbers are shocking,” Christensen, who retired from the Air Force after 23 year in 2014, said in a statement. “It is time for Congress to stop giving the failing military leadership the benefit of doubt and pass real reform empowering military prosecutors. Enough is enough.”

Associated Press: Cost to rebuild Offutt after the flood now estimated at $420 million
By: The Associated Press | 14 hours ago
OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. — The Air Force is raising its cost estimate to $420 million to repair and rebuild at Nebraska’s Offutt Air Force Base following severe flooding that forced officials to scramble to save munitions and move aircraft to higher ground.
More than 130 structures were damaged by the Missouri River flooding at the base that houses the U.S. military’s Strategic Command. Roughly 60 of those structures were damaged beyond repair and will need to be demolished, said John Henderson, assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and energy.
“It wasn’t just the water, it was what was in the water,” Henderson told the Omaha World-Herald. The floodwaters ran as deep as 9 feet (2.7 meters) in some places and left behind a toxic sludge.
The latest estimate is $70 million more than the initial estimate issued last month as part of the Air Force’s $4.9 billion federal funding request for disaster relief. The call for emergency funding would also cover damage from Hurricane Michael nearly leveling Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida last fall.
Henderson said $300 million would be designated to design and build new structures at the Offutt Air Force Base, while $120 million will go toward cleanup and the repair of structures that can be saved.
Most of the new facilities will be built on higher ground, if possible, Henderson said.
The two levees protecting Offutt that were overwhelmed by floodwaters this spring are slated to be raised through a $30 million project by the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District.
Henderson said it’s important for the two-year project to move forward. Construction was expected to begin this spring, but it’s been pushed back because of flood damage to the levees.
John Winkler, the district’s general manager, said they’re working with the Army Corps of Engineers to assess the damage. Winkler said crews will need dry weather and lowered river water levels to get started.

Air Force Times: Tricare approved this disabled airman’s surgery, then stuck him with a $46K bill
By: Stephen Losey | 22 hours ago
First, Tricare approved the surgery that a retired and disabled Air Force master sergeant needed to correct a debilitating back disease and reimbursed his costs.
Then, the Defense Department’s health insurance program said they had made a mistake — and sent him a bill for nearly $46,000.
Retired Master Sgt. Robin Gift, 56, has now been fighting Tricare on this for roughly seven years, and he’s almost out of moves — and money. Tricare at one point agreed to cut the $45,956 debt in half, to $22,978, his attorney Stephen Jewell said — but he would have to declare the forgiven debt as income and pay taxes on it.
Gift now lives in Seminole, Florida, on his disability payments from his time in the Air Force, with a roommate to make ends meet. If Tricare forces him to repay this debt, Jewell said, it will make his already-dire financial situation even worse.
Defense Health Agency spokesman Kevin Dwyer said the agency could not comment specifically on Gift’s case.
“Tricare is committed to providing safe, quality, accessible and patient-centered care for those in our charge and their families,” Dwyer said in an email Tuesday. “Though we do not discuss specifics regarding any particular case, Tricare continually reviews claims to ensure they have been properly paid. Tricare works with patients to secure repayment.”
Gift medically retired in 2006, after serving more than 22 years in passenger service operations for aircraft — hauling cargo and baggage, as well as cooking and serving food and working as a flight attendant.
He pulled a back muscle during physical training one day, sought treatment, and in 2002 was diagnosed with a pre-degenerative disc disease in his back, Jewell said. In 2003, he was diagnosed with full-blown degenerative disc disease, and the military found he had become injured as a result of his job.
“It was kind of a wear-and-tear type of thing,” Jewell said of Gift’s injury. “He’s 100 percent disabled, he pretty much can’t work. He’s really in some rough shape.”
In 2009, he underwent a lumbar disc replacement surgery in Germany, the cost of which he paid up front. Tricare approved the surgery and in early 2010, reimbursed him for $45,956.
But by 2012, Tricare’s opinion had changed, according to a release from Jewell’s law firm, Tully Rinckey. Tricare told Gift that it had made a mistake; the procedure was not covered and he would have to repay the full amount.
Gift refused to pay, Jewell said, and asked them to reconsider. He had a letter from his doctor at the time of the surgery, which said that without the procedure, he might not have been able to walk within a year.
“When he started [fighting] this back in 2012, he thought cooler heads would prevail,” Jewell said.
Gift asked for help from his representatives, including Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida. Jewell said congressional assistance helped convince Tricare to offer some relief, such as by offering to cut his debt in half.
But Jewell said Gift doesn’t think he should have to pay, since Tricare agreed to cover the costs nearly a decade ago. What’s more, Jewell said, Tricare now officially covers the surgery Gift received, and has since at least 2017.
Gift is almost out of moves, Jewell said. He’s exhausted his appellant options and doesn’t have any more money to further pursue a lawsuit. He’s hoping someone in Congress steps in to relieve him of the financial burden. If he has to pay, Jewell said, “he does not know what will happen to him.”

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