Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Thursday, April 4, 2019 (I know, I had yesterday’s date wrong…again) which is National Tell a Lie Day, Vitamin C Day, International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action (you can read HERE) and National Burrito Day.
This Day in History:
- Just after 6 p.m. on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. is fatally shot while standing on the balcony outside his second-story room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The civil rights leader was in Memphis to support a sanitation workers’ strike and was on his way to dinner when a bullet struck him in the jaw and severed his spinal cord. King was pronounced dead after his arrival at a Memphis hospital. He was 39 years old.
- On this day in 1975, at a time when most Americans use typewriters, childhood friends Bill Gates and Paul Allen found Microsoft, a company that makes computer software. Originally based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Microsoft relocated to Washington State in 1979 and eventually grew into a major multinational technology corporation. In 1987, the year after Microsoft went public, 31-year-old Gates became the world’s youngest billionaire.
- 1841: Only 31 days after assuming office, William Henry Harrison, the ninth president of the United States, dies at the White House. The cause of death was officially reported as pneumonia.
- 1918: During World War I, the Second Battle of the Somme, the first major German offensive in more than a year, ends on the western front. On March 21, 1918, a major offensive against Allied positions in the Somme River region of France began with five hours of bombardment from more than 9,000 pieces of German artillery. The poorly prepared British Fifth Army was rapidly overwhelmed and forced into retreat. For a week, the Germans pushed toward Paris, shelling the city from a distance of 80 miles with their “Big Bertha” cannons. However, the poorly supplied German troops soon became exhausted, and the Allies halted the German advance as French artillery knocked out the German guns besieging Paris. On April 2, U.S. General John J. Pershing sent American troops down into the trenches to help defend Paris and repulse the German offensive. It was the first major deployment of U.S. troops in World War I. Several thousand American troops fought alongside the British and French in the Second Battle of Somme.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Stripes: Effort underway in Congress to add a fourth administration to the VA
- Military.com: Services Turn Focus to Warfighters as DHA Takes Over Military Hospitals
- Air Force Times: Airman to receive Silver Star after night raid with 75th Ranger Regiment
- Military.com: Military’s Top Lawyers Push to Keep Prosecution Decisions with Commanders
- Army Times: Muslim soldier demoted, planning to sue the Army after hijab controversy
If you wish to be removed from this email list, kindly email me at mseavey with “Remove from Daily Clips” in the subject line. If you have received this from someone who forwarded it and would like to be added, email me at mseavey and I will promptly add you to the list, that you might get the daily American Legion News.
[Editor’s Note: If it seems to you that the stories we’ve had lately have been a bit dry and not as interesting as ones previous, you are not alone. It’s actually
become a bit of a joke amongst those of us who compile these for you as well. I’m not exactly sure why it is, but I just wanted to assure you we are going about selecting the stories in the same manner. In fact, the dearth of good stories has made it more
difficult for us as we have to search a bit longer for stuff to share. Just wanted to assure everyone that we are dedicated to finding the best and most interesting stories, and our failures in finding them lately is not a sign of us not looking. As near
as we can tell, political machinations are sucking all the air out of the room.]
Stripes: Effort underway in Congress to add a fourth administration to the VA
By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 3, 2019
WASHINGTON — Legislation introduced in Congress on Wednesday would create a fourth administration within the Department of Veterans Affairs – one dedicated solely to veterans’ transition into education and employment.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the Veterans’ Education, Transition, and Opportunity Prioritization Plan, or VET OPP Act, in the House and Senate. It would create the Economic Opportunity and Transition Administration at the VA and add a new senior official to lead it. Lawmakers said the new administration could be established using existing VA resources.
“By aligning transition, education and employment programs in a fourth administration within the VA, we will ensure that these opportunity-focused programs get the high priority they deserve, and the oversight they need to better serve veterans,” said Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, one of the sponsors of the House bill.
The VA is made up of three administrations: the National Cemetery Administration, the Veterans Health Administration and the Veterans Benefits Administration.
Programs and services such as the GI Bill, vocational rehabilitation, home loan benefits and the Transition Assistance Program now fall under the Veterans Benefits Administration. Lawmakers who introduced the VET OPP Act argue the benefits administration is focusing most of its staff and resources on veterans’ claims for disability compensation, resulting in a lack of attention on education and employment programs.
Last year, Student Veterans of America went to Capitol Hill to fight for a fourth administration. The group, which represents GI Bill recipients nationwide, argued VA economic opportunity programs were buried in the agency’s bureaucracy.
The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank, wrote in a report last March that procuring employment and education after military service creates stress for veterans. The think tank supported the idea that a new VA division would help “raise the profile” of available assistance.
Economic opportunity programs have been “neglected” and “smothered” by more pressing issues within the benefits administration, which has been working through a large backlog of veterans’ claims for disability benefits, the report states.
Lauren Augustine, vice president of government affairs for Student Veterans of America, said Wednesday that VA education and employment programs are “truly unique and separate” from other operations managed by the benefits administration.
“Separating the appointed management of these programs honors that difference, creates greater accountability, attention and leadership over some of the most successful and empowering programs and benefits currently administered by VA,” Augustine said in a statement.
In addition to Wenstrup, the bills were introduced by Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif., and Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H. So far, it has the support of several major veterans organizations, including Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Disabled Veterans of America, Paralyzed Veterans of America and Veterans Education Success.
Military.com: Services Turn Focus to Warfighters as DHA Takes Over Military Hospitals
3 Apr 2019
Military.com | By Patricia Kime
The head of the Defense Health Agency and the services’ surgeons general on Wednesday outlined their approaches to realigning the military health system, including changes that will have civilians providing the majority of care to beneficiaries and a slimmed-down uniform staff focusing primarily on operational medicine.
Testifying before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, Vice Adm. Raquel Bono, director of the Defense Health Agency, said that after assessing the operational medical needs of the military forces, the Defense Department will reduce uniformed medical positions and explore civilian options for providing care for 8 million non-military beneficiaries.
The exact number of uniformed jobs that will be eliminated was not shared, but reports say between 15,000 and 17,000 positions, including doctors, dentists, nurses, technicians, medics and corpsmen, are on the chopping block.
Bono said the DHA, which also manages the Tricare program, is weighing options for replacing that care, including hiring civilians, using contract staff, entering into "military-civilian partnerships" or using existing Tricare networks.
"While care delivery locations may change, our commitment to provide high-quality health care will remain steadfast," she said.
The military health system provides medical care to more than 9.6 million beneficiaries, 1.3 million of whom are active duty. As directed by Congress in 2017, the military health system is in the middle of a major transformation, with the Defense Health Agency taking control of the medical facilities operated by the individual services.
By October, roughly half of all military hospitals and clinics will be under DHA management, with the remaining facilities completely consolidated under DHA by October 2021.
As a result of the consolidation, Bono said that the DHA will reduce "unwarranted variation in both clinical and administrative functions," which she said will improve health outcomes, reduce errors and increase patient safety.
"We are moving to a market-based approach to the delivery of our care, where we will be sharing resources across all of the services in geographic areas," she said.
Under the reforms, roughly 7,300 Army provider billets, and 5,300 billets in both the Navy and Air Force, are targeted for reduction, according to reports.
During the hearing, Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Nadja West said the service has "identified military medical and dental positions that do not pose high risk to mission for conversion to civilian positions."
"These carefully considered conversions will enable the Army to repurpose the converted billets across the operational force to increase lethality and strength of operational units," she said.
The Navy, to meet the operational medical focus, has established a Navy Medicine Readiness Training Command designed to support the fleet and Fleet Marine Forces, responsible for maintaining medical force readiness and supporting commanders’ requirements for medical care, Navy Surgeon General Vice Adm. C. Forrest Faison said.
"The opportunity for us is to be able to refocus exclusively on the readiness of our medical service members, to get them ready for combat casualty care and to provide better care in support of our service members who did not get a break due to the operational tempo," Faison said.
Within Air Force-managed facilities, the service has established a squadron configuration with Operational Medical Readiness Squadrons treating only active-duty patients and Health Care Operations Squadrons seeing all other beneficiaries.
Air Force Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Dorothy Hogg said the new model will enhance operational readiness because it allows medics to focus on the health needs of active-duty patients, which is shown to reduce the number of airmen designated as non-deployable.
The setup also will improve medical care for all other beneficiaries, she argued, since "the Health Care Operations Squadrons would operate without the distractions of military medical requirements, such as periodic health assessments and waiver requirements."
The surgeons general all noted that the changes have not been without challenges, since the goal is to merge three health systems into one global system that serves both civilians and military personnel.
For more than six decades, the individual services have managed health care systems tailored specifically to the needs of their troops and family members as well as service-specific research, with the Air Force focused on aeromedical evacuation, the Navy specializing in sea and undersea medicine, and the Army supporting ground medical care.
"Trying to bring these cultures [together] is challenging. But we are committed to making this successful. It is the right thing to do to allow the services to focus in on readiness," Hogg said.
The changes are being closely watched by military support organizations such as the National Military Family Association, which last year urged Congress to maintain close oversight of the health care reforms.
"We urge you to … hold [the Defense Department] accountable for making improvements to accessing quality care a reality," Kelly Hruska, NMFA’s director of government relations, said last year.
Air Force Times: Airman to receive Silver Star after night raid with 75th Ranger Regiment
By: Kyle Rempfer 19 hours ago
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An Air Force Special Tactics operator stationed at Hunter Army Airfield will be presented a Silver Star Medal April 9 at the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum, in Pooler, Georgia.
Tech. Sgt. Cam Kelsch, a tactical air control partyairman assigned to the 17th Special Tactics Squadron at Hunter, will be awarded the nation’s third highest medal for gallantry in combat.
In addition to the Silver Star, Maj. Gen. Vincent Becklund, deputy commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, will present Kelsch with a Bronze Star with Valor for a separate mission, according to AFSOC.
Kelsch is being honored for his role during an April 25, 2018, night raid against a high value target in Afghanistan.
The Air Force would not disclose in which province the mission occurred. However, Rangers have been particularly active in Afghanistan’s northwest and eastern provinces. An Army master sergeant with 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, also received a Silver Star for his actions during an April 25mission.
Those assigned to 1st Ranger Battalion ran 198 combat missions that resulted in roughly 1,900 insurgent forces killed or captured during their latest deployment, according to the Army.
During Kelsch’s mission, the TACP exposed himself to enemy fire in order to call in close-air support from an AC-130 gunship using 40mm air-to-ground munitions roughly 35 meters from his position.
“Minutes later and without regard for personal safety, Sergeant Kelsch willingly exposed himself to effective enemy fire again, by closing with the enemy in order to adjust fire and save the life of a wounded American team-mate by dragging him to safety under fire,” the Silver Star citation, provided to Air Force Times, reads.
Kelsch was hit by enemy fire. He then readjusted the AC-130′s targeting and eliminated a heavy machine gun nest 70 meters away using 105mm rounds.
He maintained the flow of air-to-ground fires on the enemy positions while the friendly assault force fell back and regained composure. Kelsch was able to then identify the enemy defensive fighting position using intelligence aircraft overhead.
With a wounded American and Afghan commando on hand, the assault force prepped for exfiltration. Meanwhile, Kelsch ordered one last airstrike onto the enemy position with two F-16 Fighting Falcons using precision-guided 500 pound bombs and 105mm rounds from the AC-130.
Kelsch will also receive the Bronze Star with Valor for a separate incident.
While serving with an interagency enabling team for a joint task force in Afghanistan, Kelsch placed himself between an enemy position and his ground force commander, who had been wounded during a near ambush.
“While still being engaged by enemy personnel in immediate proximity, Sergeant Kelsch eliminated the threat and allowed his ground force commander to regain his bearing,” the Bronze Star citation reads.
The Air Force’s Special Tactics teams are ground special operations forces that conduct personnel recovery, global access missions, precision air strikes and battlefield surgical operations.
The teams are comprised of combat controllers, pararescue jumpers, TACPs and special operations weather technicians.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, Special Tactics airmen have received one Medal of Honor, nine Air Force Crosses and 44 Silver Star Medals.
Tech. Sgt. Kelsch is the first Air Force TACP operator to be awarded the Silver Star for actions in combat during the past seven years, AFSOC said in its release.
3 Apr 2019
Military.com | By Patricia Kime
The military services’ top attorneys are holding the line against a renewed push by lawmakers to remove commanders from the process of deciding to prosecute sexual-assault cases.
Speaking at a House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee hearing on the role of commanders in sexual-assault cases, the service attorneys said Tuesday that an 18-month review of the Pentagon’s handling of sex crimes and subsequent "Report of the Response Systems to Sexual Assault Crimes Panel," completed in 2014, concluded that Congress should not "further limit the authority of the [commanders] under the Uniform Code of Military Justice to refer charges for sexual-assault crimes to trial by court-martial."
Although Congress ordered the Pentagon to form the panel to study the issue in 2013, several Senate and House Democrats have revived the issue. They say they’re concerned that the number of assaults remains high while reporting rates are still low.
"A culture of endemic retaliation and doubt persists" in the military, said Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who leads the subcommittee. "Too many of our service members live and work in toxic cultures characterized by pervasive, unrelenting harassment and assault."
"I’m incredibly disappointed that after years of fighting this problem, after so many incremental changes in the law, that we’re still in the exact same place," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, during a hearing on the same subject March 7. "Sexual assault in the military is still pervasive. It’s still hurting our military readiness. It’s still causing thousands of our service members to suffer. … We need a fundamentally different approach to how these crimes are being prosecuted."
Testifying Tuesday, the attorneys insisted that the system works as-is, with commanders involved in decisions on whether to prosecute.
Army Lt. Gen. Charles Pede said that while there is much to do to address sexual assaults in the ranks, commanders must be the "fulcrum to any solution." He pointed to the recent military housing scandal caused by the Pentagon hiring private companies to manage base housing, effectively allowing commanders to relinquish oversight of the program.
"Who do our families look [to] for solutions? Who do you look [to] to drive change? Soldiers look to their commanders … the notion that stripping commanders of authority over serious crimes will reduce crimes, result in more prosecutions or higher conviction rates is not supported by empirical evidence," Pede said.
The Response Systems to Sexual Assault Crimes Panel was comprised of nine members, including five appointed by the Pentagon and four named by Congress. The group included retired military officers, legal experts and a former member of Congress.
The panel concluded that changes previously made by Congress, including restricting a commander’s ability to grant clemency to perpetrators and changes to Article 32 hearings, were sufficient. The members concluded that removing convening authority from commanders would not reduce sexual-assault incidence rates or increase reporting.
The panel made the decision, with two members dissenting, after a review that involved 65 meetings, 14 public hearings, site visits to military bases, hundreds of interviews and thousands of documents.
Navy Vice Adm. John Hannink said that his service’s Victims Legal Counsel Program members agree with the panel’s recommendations.
"Based on their work, they don’t think that the removal of convening authority is a significant barrier to reporting," Hannink said.
Military personnel filed 6,769 reports of sexual assault in 2017, and personnel surveys show that nearly 15,000 active-duty troops experienced a sexual assault the previous year. But in 2006, the estimated number of troops who were sexually assaulted was 34,000.
While the attorneys all said that one sexual assault is one too many, they said recent changes to the UCMJ are improvements that will help increase prosecution rates and reporting.
"The military justice system might be the most studied criminal justice system in the past decade. We welcome this scrutiny," Hannink said.
According to retired Air Force Col. Don Christensen, president of the Protect Our Defenders advocacy group, conviction rates for prosecutions have declined significantly. Citing data provided by the Defense Advisory Committee on Investigations, Prosecution and Defense of Sexual Assault in the Armed Forces, Christensen said less than a quarter of "penetrative offenses" that went before a judge in fiscal 2017 resulted in a conviction. And just 3.6% of contact offenses, which include unwanted touching, groping or kissing, were convicted before a judge.
Christensen said the services need to improve their investigative teams that respond to sexual assaults.
"This needs to be something that is a career track," he said. "Let investigators be investigators for their entire career."
Rep. Trent Kelly of Mississippi, the subcommittee’s ranking Republican, said much "remains to ensure that every sexual-assault perpetrator [in the military] is held accountable." But he warned against making changes to the UCMJ before reforms that went into effect Jan. 1 take root.
"I would caution against additional major changes to the commander-centric justice system when we have not even seen results from the reforms instituted just 90 days ago," said Kelly, who also serves in the Army National Guard.
The Defense Department Inspector General in March found that one of the reforms of the past five years — a provision in the fiscal 2015 defense law that required DoD officials to ask sexual-assault victims about whether they would prefer the offense to be prosecuted by court-martial or in a civilian court — was not being followed.
In 77 of 82 cases the IG reviewed, officials did not ask about or did not document that they asked about preference. Of the 77 cases, 21 victims weren’t asked about preference, and in 56 cases, if victims were asked, their preference was not documented.
Christensen’s group, Protect Our Defenders, called the UCMJ in sexual-assault cases "a broken military justice system exemplified by the obvious failure to hold offenders accountable."
Speier said she favors leaving convening authority within the military system, but would prefer the decisions be made by an independent prosecuting authority rather than the commander.
"Something here is fundamentally broken. We need to act," she said.
Army Times: Muslim soldier demoted, planning to sue the Army after hijab controversy
By:Meghann Myers 20 hours ago
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Following a rejected equal opportunity complaint and a demotion in rank, a Muslim soldier who has accused her Fort Carson, Colorado, leadership of religious discrimination is contemplating a federal lawsuit, her attorney confirmed to Army Times on Wednesday.
Spc. Cesilia Valdovinos, who was demoted this week following an unrelated Article 15 investigation, will file a complaint alleging violation of her civil rights either in northern Virginia or Denver, according to Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
“This is a pattern and practice of anti-Muslim bigotry, prejudice and harassment,” he said.
The 26-year-old culinary specialist’s story first went viral in mid-March, after she filed an EO complaint with her command based on an incident with her command sergeant major at the 704th Transportation Battalion.
The senior noncommissioned officer, believing that Valdovinos was wearing her hair down underneath her hijab ― rather than in a bun, per regulation ― demanded the soldier remove the head covering,
Her hair fell to her shoulders, Valdovinos told Army Times, because she uses the extra fabric in the cap to secure her bun. When she removes it, the bun falls out.
A week later, as the EO investigation was finishing, Command Sgt. Maj. Kerstin Montoya approached the soldier again, demanding that she go to the bathroom and fix her hair.
“I don’t have long, thick hair,” Valdovinos said. “My hair is thin and short, so because she doesn’t see a full bun sticking out of my hijab doesn’t mean I don’t have it in a bun.”
Her command has denied any discrimination.
“The findings of our commander’s inquiry determined the senior non-commissioned officer acted appropriately by enforcing the proper wear of the hijab, in compliance with Army regulations,” Col. David Zinn, who commands the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, said in a statement to Army Times on Wednesday. “We take pride in the diversity of our soldier teams who work together as professionals regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.”
Valdovinos’ demotion stems from another matter, according to her lawyer, though he believes that her newfound notoriety contributed to the punishment.
“There was another issue that was going on with her, where she was accused of something downrange,” Weinstein said. “A quote, ‘inappropriate relationship.’ ”
Valdovinos said she had been assigned to take a soldier back to his barracks after wisdom teeth surgery, but soldiers who saw them together suspected more.
“That was supposed to be ― at worst ― a letter of reprimand,” Weinstein said. “But then this story hits and it went viral. We don’t find it a coincidence that, all of the sudden, what was supposed to be a letter of reprimand turned into an Article 15.”
In addition to the federal lawsuit, he added, Valdovinos’ legal team is contemplating an additional complaint with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.