Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Tuesday, May 7, 2019, which is Childhood Depression Awareness Day, National Concert Day, National Teacher Day, National Tourism Day, and World Asthma Day.
Today in History:
- On the afternoon of May 7, 1915, the British ocean liner Lusitania is torpedoed without warning by a German submarine off the south coast of Ireland. Within 20 minutes, the vessel sank into the Celtic Sea. Of 1,959 passengers and crew, 1,198 people were drowned, including 128 Americans. The attack aroused considerable indignation in the United States, but Germany defended the action, noting that it had issued warnings of its intent to attack all ships, neutral or otherwise, that entered the war zone around Britain.
- 1954: In northwest Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh forces decisively defeat the French at Dien Bien Phu, a French stronghold besieged by the Vietnamese communists for 57 days. The Viet Minh victory at Dien Bien Phu signaled the end of French colonial influence in Indochina and cleared the way for the division of Vietnam along the 17th parallel at the conference of Geneva.
- On this day in 1945, the German High Command, in the person of General Alfred Jodl, signs the unconditional surrender of all German forces, East and West, at Reims, in northwestern France.
- Indiana Pacers guard Reggie Miller scores eight points in 11 seconds to lead his team over the New York Knicks 107-105 on this day in 1995. Miller was famous throughout his career for what became known as “Miller Time,” clutch performances to finish games. This 1995 Eastern Conference semifinal playoff was Miller’s greatest late-game display, and one of the most shocking endings to a game in NBA history.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Federal Times: mseaveywith “Remove” in the subject line. If you have received this from someone who forwarded it and would like to be added, email mseavey.
Federal Times: VA and union clash in negotiations for a new contract
By: Jessie Bur | 16 hours ago
The Department of Veterans Affairs proposed a new collective bargaining agreement with the American Federation of Government Employees May 2, one that agency officials say will improve medical care, customer service and staff accountability.
But union officials say the proposed agreement strips significant protections offered under the current agreement that covers approximately 250,000 employees at the agency.
According to a VA news release, the new bargaining agreement would cut official time use at the agency from approximately 1 million man hours per year to 10,000 hours of official time, a 99 percent reduction.
Official time is used by union representatives while on the clock in their federal jobs to perform work like supporting other employees in grievance proceedings or preparing for negotiations with the agency.
According to the 2016 official time rates — the most recent published by the Office of Personnel Management — the VA’s use of official time calculates out to about 3.53 hours per bargaining unit employee per year.
The federal government average in 2016 was 2.97 hours per employee per year.
Under the new proposal and assuming the same number of bargaining unit employees, union representatives would have about two minutes of official time to use per employee per year, which the agency said will direct more that $48 million per year into other services.
“Secretary [Robert] Wilkie is making a mockery of the collective bargaining process to do the bidding of President Trump,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said. “This is all part of the Trump administration’s strategy to force the VA to fail, thereby paving the road to privatization.”
In May 2018, President Donald Trump issued three executive orders altering the treatment and collective bargaining of federal employees, which included a requirement that union reps use at least 75 percent of their time doing agency work, rather than on official time.
Significant sections of those orders were overturned by a district court judge in August of that same year, but the administration has appealed that decision.
Under the Trump administration, the VA has been aggressive in attempts to curtail official time, deciding in November 2018 that certain medical employees at the agency would not be allowed to use such time. That rule was brought to court by AFGE shortly after its introduction.
The new agreement would also empower frontline supervisors, streamline the hiring and training process and ensure the bargaining agreement doesn’t interfere with agency modernization legislation, according to the VA news release.
“It’s time for a reset in VA’s approach to labor-management relations. A reluctance to challenge the status quo produced the current agreement, which includes many benefits that favor the union rather than the veterans we are charged with serving,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in the news release.
“With VA facing thousands of vacancies, these proposals could add more than one million man-hours per year back into our work force — a vital influx of resources that would make an almost immediate difference for veterans and the employees who care for them. These proposals make clear that service to veterans must come first in all that we do, and I look forward to working with AFGE to ensure we achieve that goal.”
But according to AFGE, the proposal also eliminates 42 articles entirely or in part that concern areas such as employee training, workplace health and safety, and protection from whistleblower retaliation.
“As a veteran myself, it makes me sick to see how little regard this administration shows to the workers who serve our veterans day in and day out,” said AFGE District 3 National Vice President Phil Glover in a news release.
“VA employees deserve to be treated with the same respect we expect them to show the veterans they serve.”
The current collective bargaining agreement between AFGE and the VA has been in place since 2011, and the union and agency must now begin negotiations on the new proposed agreement.
Associated Press: Trump pardons former US soldier who killed Iraqi prisoner
By: Kevin Freking, The Associated Press | 10 hours ago
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has pardoned a former U.S. soldier convicted in 2009 of killing an Iraqi prisoner, the White House announced Monday.
Trump signed an executive grant of clemency, a full pardon, for former Army 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, of Oklahoma, press secretary Sarah Sanders said.
Behenna was convicted of unpremeditated murder in a combat zone after killing a suspected al-Qaida terrorist in Iraq. He was paroled in 2014 and had been scheduled to remain on parole until 2024.
A military court had sentenced Behenna to 25 years in prison. However, the Army’s highest appellate court noted concern about how the trial court had handled Behenna’s claim of self-defense, Sanders said. The Army Clemency and Parole Board also reduced his sentence to 15 years and paroled him as soon as he was eligible.
Behenna’s case attracted broad support from the military, Oklahoma elected officials and the public, Sanders said. She added that Behenna was a model prisoner while serving his sentence, and "in light of these facts, Mr. Behenna is entirely deserving" of the pardon.
Oklahoma’s two Republican senators, James Lankford and Jim Inhofe, hailed the pardon, thanking Trump for giving Behenna “a clean slate.”
Behenna acknowledged during his trial that instead of taking the prisoner home as he was ordered, he took the man to a railroad culvert, stripped him, and then questioned him at gunpoint about a roadside bombing that had killed two members of Behenna’s platoon.
Behenna, a native of the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond, said the man moved toward him and he shot him because Behenna thought he would try to take his gun.
Oklahoma’s attorney general first requested a pardon for Behenna in February 2018 and renewed his request last month. Attorney General Mike Hunter said he believed Behenna’s conviction was unjustified because of erroneous jury instructions and the failure of prosecutors to turn over evidence supporting a self-defense claim.
CNBC: Pentagon shrugs off Trump’s call to reverse student athlete policy at service academies
PUBLISHED MON, MAY 6 2019 6:38 PM EDT | Kevin Breuninger, Christina Wilkie
The Pentagon stood firm Monday on its policy of prohibiting service academy athletes from getting deferments from their active-duty service requirements in order to play pro sports — even after President Donald Trump said earlier in the day that he was considering reversing it.
In a speech at the White House honoring the U.S. Military Academy’s football team, Trump said that he was “going to look at doing a waiver for service academy athletes who can get into the major leagues like the NFL, hockey, baseball.”
The president said that those athletes should be able to defer their required service so they can play professional sports. “I think it sounds good,” Trump said of reversing the policy. “They’ll serve their time after they’re finished.”
The policy that Trump talked up in the Rose Garden, which allowed military academy athletes to request reserve status in order to clinch pro sports contracts, was expanded by the Obama administration in 2016. One year later, however, Trump’s own Defense Department abruptly rescinded it.
On Monday, Trump clearly expressed his preference for a return to the old deferment policy, adding that he had mentioned it to West Point football coach Jeff Monken. “I mentioned this to the coach, and it’s a big deal,” Trump said.
“Can you imagine this incredible coach with that little asset?” Trump said. “I think it sounds good, right?”
Shortly after Trump’s comments, Pentagon spokeswoman Jessica Maxwell told CNBC that the Defense Department is currently following the 2017 guidance, which requires military academy athletes to complete two full years of active-duty service before going into pro sports.
“No service shall make unique or special arrangements pertaining to the initial assignments for [military service academies] or [Reserve Officer Training Corps] graduates that are not typically available to other such graduates,” Maxwell said.
The White House did not respond to CNBC’s inquiry about what had changed, if anything, about the president’s thinking on the service policy. The Pentagon did not immediately say whether Trump had been informed of the 2017 policy change at the time it was made.
The apparent disagreement Monday between the president and the Pentagon was only the latest chapter in the decades-long saga of whether to allow student athletes at service academies — where, like all students, their tuition is free — to defer their active-duty service to play pro sports.
For most of the 20th century, the policy was simple: Everyone served on active duty, regardless of their athletic prospects. But starting in the 1980′s the military began granting waivers to some star athletes to go pro right away. At the time, the military justified the waivers as a good public relations move for the service academies.
Waivers continued to be granted to star athletes during the next 30 years, but only in select cases, and only for two years. Then, as now, a lot depended on who was in charge in Washington.
In 2016, the Obama administration expanded the waivers to include up to five years of deferment, not just two. As part of the expansion, then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced at the Naval Academy graduation ceremony in May that recently drafted quarterback Keenan Reynolds would be allowed to defer his active-duty service to play for the Baltimore Ravens.
“Keenan . . . you are cleared and approved to defer your service so you can pursue your NFL dreams. Go get ’em,” Carter said to Reynolds, prompting the audience to burst into cheers.
Fast forward one year to the spring of 2017, just days before the National Football League’s annual draft.
At the Air Force Academy in Colorado, two football players who expected to be drafted and granted waivers to play in the NFL were stunned to learn their waivers had been denied. At the time they got the news, there had been no formal announcement of a policy switch.
But on April 29, the final day of the 2017 draft, then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis signed a memo requiring that all service academy graduates serve a minimum of two years active duty upon graduation. With a stroke of his pen, Mattis had effectively ended three decades of selective waivers granted to star athletes.
It was unclear late Monday what the next steps might be for the Pentagon’s current policy.
Marine Corps Times: North Carolina Raider theft rings: Marines stole tactical gear, vehicle parts, flashbang grenades, and pawned off some of the loot
By: Shawn Snow | 16 hours ago
From 2016 to 2018 the motor pool and supply warehouse for 3d Raider Battalion aboard Camp, Lejeune North Carolina, were the targets of thieves within the elite commando unit, according to military charge sheets.
The culprits, five Marines with 3d Raider Battalion, managed to steal vehicle parts, military tactical gear, SureFire flashlights and even flashbang grenades in one instance.
More than $300,000 worth of government property was stolen by one group of four Marines in 2017 alone, according to Gunnery Sgt. Lynn Kinney, a spokeswoman with Marine Forces Special Operations Command.
Some of the stolen gear found its way into a local Jacksonville, North Carolina, pawn store, while other gear was sold to an unnamed civilian.
The crime spree involves two separate theft rings, which spanned from 2016 to 2018, according to charge sheets.
Four Marines, who raided the 3d Raider Battalion supply warehouse in 2017, were subject to courts-martial, where the accused Marines pleaded guilty and were sentenced to confinement ranging from five to 28 months, according to Kinney.
The Marines were subsequently demoted in rank and punitively booted from the Corps, Kinney said.
A fifth Marine, who broke into various motor transport lots in 2016, including the 3d Raider motor pool, was also subject to a court-martial, according to details in charge sheets.
Some of the charges included larceny of government property, wrongful sale of military property and obstruction of justice for at least two Marines.
“These actions are not consistent with Marine Forces Special Operations Command values and deter from our priority mission of deploying special operations forces,” Kinney told Marine Corps Times in an emailed statement.
The details of these crimes were laid out in a series of charge sheets obtained by Marine Corps Times via Freedom of Information Act request.
One of the Raider bandit theft rings involved four Marines, two lance corporals and two corporals, all from 3d Raider Battalion.
The names on the charge sheets have been redacted and it’s unknown what jobs those Marines held at Marine Forces Special Operations Command.
For at least a year, the Marines conspired together in some instances to steal equipment from the 3d Raider supply warehouse, and a couple of the Marines also took gear designated for the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office, or DRMO.
In March 2017, one of the corporals conspired with another lance corporal to steal SureFire Hellfighter Lights — a popular weapon mountable tactical flashlight.
To carry out the crime, the two Marines moved pallets to block the view of a security camera at the 3d Raider supply warehouse. After stealing the tactical flashlights, they sold 13 of the SureFires for $2,600 to an unnamed civilian, according to the charge sheets.
Other instances of theft, which involved the entire gang of four, included loading 72 fixed rifle buttstocks and 130 rifle buttstock subassembly parts into a Marine Corps 7-ton vehicle where the gear was then offloaded into a lance corporal’s personal car.
Those rifle parts were then sold to a civilian in Sneads Ferry, North Carolina.
The four Raider bandits, between the time span of January 2017–January 2018, managed to steal Leatherman multitools, Benchmade knives, SureFire scout lights, SureFire helmet lights, Ka-bars, Gerber knives, recon sleeping systems and Blackhawk rifle slings, charge sheets detailed.
The gear was sold to a civilian in Sneads Ferry.
And around January 2018, two of the Marines loaded 25 pelican cases containing portable solar panels for charging communications gear. That equipment was intended for the DRMO lot, which often houses old or outmoded gear that may be reused again by other units who find use for it.
Around Aug. 1, 2016, and May 2017, one of the Marines, without proper authorization, sold a Leatherman, four Benchmade knives, four Gerbers, one MTech knife, one Ka-bar, three SureFire lights, two SureFire scout lights and one SureFire light with an M93 rail mount to the Jacksonville Park-n-Pawn store.
Two of the Marines attempted to clean up after their crimes, according to charge sheets.
After learning that security cameras at the Raider warehouse may have recorded them stealing the equipment, two of the Marines made an effort to destroy the footage.
Sometime around July and August 2017, at least two of the Marines went to a local Jacksonville Best Buy where they purchased a hard drive.
They then replaced the hard drive connected to the 3d Raider security camera with the newly acquired hard drive. The old hard drive was tossed into a body of water.
The theft ring came crashing down around March 2018 when the command dished out charges to the four Marines for theft of the equipment.
But prior to that, in 2016, another 3d Raider Marine had managed to steal tactical military equipment and vehicle parts from several motor transport lots.
The Marine lance corporal gained entry to one the motor pool lots with a key, and in another instance, he used bolt cutters to cut a chain link fence.
The Marine stole gear from the 3d Raider motor pool lot and the II Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group motor transport lot.
The lance corporal also used bolt cutters to gain entry to a vehicle lot housing Logistics Vehicle System Replacements, or LVSR, trucks.
Looted gear from the crime spree included flashbang diversionary hand grenades, tool kits, multi-meters, BF Goodrich Baja tires, plate carriers, helmets, M16 magazines, military medical kits, fog lights, wire harnesses, headlights and composite lights.
In all, over the past several years, hundreds of thousands of dollars in tactical gear and vehicle parts have been stolen by Marines, where the 3d Raider warehouse and motor pool lot have been the central focus of the crime sprees.
“We are committed to accountability against any violation the standards we set for our Marines,” Kinney said.