9 April, 2019 10:03

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Tuesday, April 9, 2019 which is International Be Kind to Lawyers Day, Appomattox Day, Free Cone Day and National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day.

This Day in History:

· 1865: At Appomattox, Virginia, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrenders his 28,000 troops to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the American Civil War. Forced to abandon the Confederate capital of Richmond, blocked from joining the surviving Confederate force in North Carolina, and harassed constantly by Union cavalry, Lee had no other option.

· On this day in 2003, just three weeks into the invasion of Iraq, U.S. forces pull down a bronze statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Firdos Square, symbolizing the end of the Iraqi president’s long, often brutal reign, and a major early victory for the United States.

· 1940: During World War II, Nazi Germany invades neutral Norway, surprising the Norwegian and British defenders of the country and capturing several strategic points along the Norwegian coast. During the invasion’s preliminary phase, Norwegian Fascists under Vidkun Quisling acted as a so-called fifth column for the German invaders, seizing Norway’s nerve centers, spreading false rumors, and occupying military bases and other locations. In June, Norway fell to the Nazis.

· 1969: The Chicago Eight, indicted on federal charges of conspiracy to incite a riot at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, plead not guilty. The trial for the eight antiwar activists had begun in Chicago on March 20. The defendants included David Dellinger of the National Mobilization Committee (NMC); Rennie Davis and Thomas Hayden of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS); Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, founders of the Youth International Party (“Yippies”); Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers; and two lesser known activists, Lee Weiner and John Froines.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

· Military Times: Car bomb kills 3 U.S. troops and a contractor in Afghanistan

· Politico: Trump again overrules top brass

· AJC: Two veterans kill themselves at separate VA medical centers in Georgia

· Syracuse.com: CNY veterans say VA Caregiver program is broken

· Defense News: Do border deployments hurt readiness or not? Key Senate Democrats demand answers from DoD

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Military Times: Car bomb kills 3 U.S. troops and a contractor in Afghanistan

By: Kyle Rempfer   16 hours ago

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Three U.S. service members and one contractor were killed by an improvised explosive device Monday near Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.

Three other U.S. service members were wounded in the blast, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan said in a press release Monday afternoon.

The wounded troops were evacuated and are receiving medical care, U.S. officials said.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack through the group’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid. The insurgent group claimed the attack was conducted by a suicide vehicle-borne IED.

The identities and units of those killed are being withheld until 24 hours after their next of kin have been notified.

Bagram Air Base is one of the largest U.S. military bases in Afghanistan. The airfield is located in the country’s northern Parwan province.

Despite it’s large size and long-term U.S. presence, Bagram has still been the site of insurgent attacks throughout the years.

In October, an IED detonated near Bagram Air Base, wounding six Czech soldiers as well as multiple civilians.

The U.S. presence in Afghanistan stands at roughly 15,000 troops.

There have been four other U.S. troop deaths in Afghanistan so far this year. Those deaths occurred during combat operations in more remote Afghan provinces.

An Army Ranger died in January of wounds sustained from small-arms fire in Badghis province. Later that same month, an Army Green Beret died after a combat operation in Uruzgan province.

In March, another Green Beret and an explosive ordnance disposal technician were killed during the same mission in Kunduz province.

Politico: Trump again overrules top brass

By WESLEY MORGAN and NAHAL TOOSI

04/08/2019 03:36 PM EDT

President Donald Trump has declared on more than one occasion that he’s smarter than America’s military leaders.

And with his unprecedented decision Monday to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist group, he’s setting up another test of that thesis.

Story Continued Below

Trump chose to overrule the Pentagon after National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo advised that the top brass’ warnings about risks to U.S. troops are overblown, several officials with direct knowledge of the deliberations told POLITICO.

The president’s move came despite Pentagon officials’ warnings that it could lead to retaliatory attacks against U.S. troops by Iranian-backed forces in the Middle East and threats from Iranian leaders that U.S. troops could face “consequences.”

“Like most things Iran-related, DoD opposed,” said a senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe ongoing tensions between the White House National Security Council, which has mounted a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, and a Pentagon brass that has cautioned against unnecessary provocations.

Senior military leaders used the same rationale this winter to try to resist the decision to designate an Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite militia group operating in Iraq known as Harakat al-Nujaba as a terrorist group.

After no retaliation resulted, the White House “pushed back hard” against Pentagon arguments that designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps would pose a risk to U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria, said the senior defense official.

“It was pretty much a fait accompli from Pompeo and Bolton, and DoD basically got rolled over,” added a former administration official familiar with the deliberations who also insisted on anonymity. “I think the NSC’s read is that DoD’s faking it, that there isn’t a real risk. That’s been an ongoing theme with Bolton with respect to all things Iran.”

The IRGC, a paramilitary arm of the Iranian military, has been blamed for a series of terrorist attacks around the world dating back decades.

Its formal designation as a terrorist group is the first time the United States has labeled an official segment of another government as a terrorist group. Such designations, which carry a more robust set of economic sanctions against personnel and those with financial ties to the organization, typically are reserved for non-state actors.

In response to Monday’s decision, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif asked Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to declare U.S. Central Command, the American military headquarters responsible for the Middle East, a terrorist organization, Iranian state-run media reported.

The Pentagon would not say whether it had made any adjustments or issued any new warnings to itsforces deployed in the region. “As a matter of policy, we do not discuss adjustments to force protection levels or measures for operational security reasons,” a spokesperson said.

The CIA, which also operates paramilitary forces in the region, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But many in the Pentagon’s top leadership were clearly against Trump’s move.

The Pentagon resistance came mainly from Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and top civilian officials including John Rood, the Pentagon’s top policy official, and Kathryn Wheelbarger, the acting assistant defense secretary for international security affairs.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who is auditioning to be the permanent Pentagon chief, has not been a leading opponent.

“It’s never been from Shanahan. It’s always been from Rood and the chairman and Wheelbarger and her Iran director,” the senior defense official said.

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Still, Trump’s decision is par for the course for a president who has bucked the advice of military leaders on numerous occasions — including when ordering the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria and bycriticizing NATO allies.

While campaigning for president, Trump declared at one point: "I know more about [the Islamic State] than the generals do. Believe me.”

Last year he also told an interviewer that he knew more about NATO than his then-Pentagon chief, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, a retired general.

"Frankly, I like General Mattis," Trump told CBS’ “60 Minutes.” "I think I know more about it than he does. And I know more about it from the standpoint of fairness, that I can tell you.”

Trump made it clear early on he wanted the U.S. military to get out of Syria, where it was fighting the Islamic State, but for much of the first half of his term so far, Trump held off on the pull-out, doubling down on the fight against the terrorist group, also known as ISIS.

But late last year, Trump shocked nearly all of Washington – in that case including hawkish aides such as Bolton and Pompeo — by suddenly announcing that the U.S. would leave Syria, where the fight against ISIS was still ongoing.

In the months since, Pentagon and other officials have managed to convince Trump to walk back his decision some; the U.S. is leaving at least several hundred troops in Syria for the time being, but it’s anyone’s guess when Trump may suddenly pull the plug once more.

Trump also has dismissed the traditional U.S. approach to NATO by questioning the value of the 70-year-old military alliance and at times refusing to commit to its core concept of mutual defense. Trump’s main beef with NATO is that many of its other member states do not spend enough on collective defense.

He publicly dismissed the alliance despite advice from then Defense Secretary Mattis, a retired general who resigned late last year after the Syria pullout decision and used his resignation letter to highlight the value of alliances.

When it comes to Iran, Trump has repeatedly clashed with military leaders. Mattis, for instance, supported the Iran nuclear deal but Trump nonetheless decided to pull the U.S. out of the international agreement, which lifted sanctions in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.

According to the Trump administration, Iran is responsible for the deaths of at least 603 American service members in Iraq since 2003. Iran’s government, including through the IRGC, has backed a range of militias in Iraq that are often at odds with U.S. troops.

Some analysts and others thus downplay the idea that designating the IRGC a terrorist group could make things worse for U.S. troops.

“The IRGC has already killed a few hundred U.S. troops and looks for opportunities to support and facilitate those proxy forces who also want to do harm to U.S. troops—so how much more at risk could U.S. troops be than they already are?” said Luke Coffey of the conservative Heritage Foundation, which generally supports Trump.

Aside from military concerns about potential Iranian retaliation against U.S. troops in places such as Iraq and Syria, there also are legal concerns about how enforceable the penalties associated with such designations can be. For one thing, the IRGC plays a major role in Iran’s economy, and many foreign companies, not to mention individuals, may wind up providing so-called material support to the IRGC even if they do not intend to, including by purchasing non-military goods.

Some hawkish anti-Iran voices in Washington are pushing Trump to do even more to isolate and weaken the Iranian regime, in the hopes that it will somehow collapse. But opponents of that hardline approach worry that the moves he’s making now will not destroy the regime, but will instead make it harder for the U.S. to use diplomacy to deal with Tehran in the future.

AJC: Two veterans kill themselves at separate VA medical centers in Georgia

AJC Continuing Coverage: Veteran’s Health

13 hours ago

By

Jeremy Redmon, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Two veterans killed themselves at separate Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals in Georgia over the weekend, refocusing attention on what the VA has called its “highest clinical priority.”

The first death happened Friday in a parking garage at the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin, according to U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s office. The second occurred Saturday outside the main entrance to the Atlanta VA Medical Center in Decatur on Clairmont Road. The VA declined to identify the victims or describe the circumstances of their deaths, citing privacy concerns.

An email the VA sent the Georgia Department of Veterans Service Monday about the Atlanta incident said VA clinical staff provided immediate aid to the male victim and called 911. The veteran was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

“This incident remains under investigation and we are working with the local investigating authorities,” the email continued. “The family has been contacted and offered support.”

The victim in Atlanta was 68 years old and shot himself, according to a person familiar with the investigation who was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

More than 6,000 veterans killed themselves each year between 2008 and 2016. In 2016, 202 people died by suicide in Georgia. And between 2015 and 2016, the suicide rate per 100,000 people for veterans ages 18 to 34 increased from 40.4 to 45 nationwide, despite the VA’s efforts to tackle the problem.

In 2013, the VA disclosed that two of its officials had retired, three had been reprimanded and others were facing unspecified “actions” after reports of rampant mismanagement and patient deaths at the VA hospital in Decatur. Federal inspectors issued scathing audits that linked mismanagement to the deaths of three veterans there.

In one case, a man who was trying to see a VA psychiatrist who was unavailable was told by hospital workers to take public transportation to an emergency room. He never did and died by suicide the next day. Another man died of an apparent drug overdose after providers failed to connect him with a psychiatrist. And a third patient died of an overdose of drugs given to him by another patient. The death of a fourth veteran, who killed himself in a hospital bathroom, later came to light.

In 2014, the Atlanta center drew attention again after the murder-suicide of Marine veteran Kisha Holmes. She killed her three children and then herself at the family’s Cobb County apartment. VA officials knew she was in distress and had identified her as a suicide risk.

And in November, the Government Accountability Office released a report saying the Veterans Health Administration had spent only $57,000 of the $6.2 million budgeted for fiscal year 2018 for suicide prevention media outreach because of leadership turnover and reorganization within the agency.

“By not assigning key leadership responsibilities and clear lines of reporting, VHA’s ability to oversee the suicide prevention media outreach activities was hindered and these outreach activities decreased,” the report said.

The VA said Monday it was reviewing its policies and procedures to see if changes are needed, adding all of its facilities provide “same-day urgent primary and mental health care services.” The agency also highlighted its Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and www.veteranscrisisline.net

“Suicide prevention is VA’s highest clinical priority,” the VA said in a prepared statement. “We are working alongside dozens of partners, including [the Department of Defense], to deploy suicide prevention programming that supports all current and former service members — even those who do not come to VA for care.”

Isakson, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, released a statement Monday, saying he was in touch with the VA about its investigations of last weekend’s suicides, calling them “tragedies that we hear about far too often.”

“While we have taken a number of steps to address and prevent veteran suicide, this weekend’s tragic deaths clearly indicate that we must do better,” he said. “We will redouble our efforts on behalf of our veterans and their loved ones, including our efforts to reduce the stigma of seeking treatment for mental health issues.”

Mike Roby, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Veterans Service, said he also is keeping in touch with the VA about what happened.

“I and my senior staff will stay in close contact with both medical directors and their staff as they work with the federal authorities through the investigations,” he said by email. “Our field service officers located at both medical centers remain ready to assist and support veterans and their families.”

Syracuse.com: CNY veterans say VA Caregiver program is broken

Updated Apr 8, 4:00 PM; Posted Apr 8, 3:39 PM

By James T. Mulder | jmulder@syracuse.com

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Some Central New York disabled veterans say they are being unfairly kicked out of and shortchanged by a federal Veterans Affairs program that lets family members and friends care for them at home.

The veterans complained about the VA Caregiver program today at a news conference in Syracuse organized by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY.

The VA caregiver provides monthly stipends, ranging from $660 to $2,600, and other assistance to family members and friends who provide home care for veterans seriously injured since Sept. 11, 2001 so they don’t have to be institutionalized.

Tricia Smith, an Army veteran from Mexico, N.Y., who injured her back in Iraq in 2006, has been in the caregiver program three years. She said the VA arbitrarily reduced her caregiver’s monthly stipend from $2,000 to $700 in late 2017. As a result Smith said she and her caregiver, Kathleen Dehring, are struggling to make their mortgage payments and may lose their home.

Schumer said the program, launched in 2011, has been riddled with problems since VA medical centers nationwide began dropping veterans from the program and cutting stipends two years ago without explanation.

In response to complaints from veterans, the VA imposed a moratorium in December on caregiver program discharges.

Schumer called on the VA to fix the program. “The federal government has a sacred responsibility to the American veterans who sacrificed so much for our country,” he said.

The annual cost of the program is more than $900 million. VA officials have said that is less than what the federal agency would spend if veterans were cared for in hospitals and nursing homes.

By Oct. 1 the VA is supposed to expand the program to include all veterans seriously injured since World War II. The expansion is expected to double the number of caregiver participants to more than 41,000.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie recently told Senators the VA may miss the Oct. 1 deadline because of information technology problems. A recent Government Accountability Office report blamed those problems in part on frequent management turnover at the VA.

Defense News: Do border deployments hurt readiness or not? Key Senate Democrats demand answers from DoD

By: Joe Gould  17 hours ago

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WASHINGTON — A group of Senate Democrats want acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan to reconcile official statements that troop deployments to the southern border are not hurting military readiness following a recent warning from the commandant of the Marine Corps that the deployments are causing problems.

“These discrepancies require an explanation, and to the extent the southern border deployment is causing readiness concerns, they must be addressed immediately,” the senators wrote to Shanahan in a letter obtained by Defense News ahead of Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

The letter — led by 2020 presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. — was co-signed by Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack Reed, D-R.I.; 2020 presidential candidate Kristen Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.; Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. All are members of the committee.

They cited congressional interactions with Under Secretary of Defense John Rood and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security Kenneth Rapuano in which the officials said the Pentagon would minimize the impacts of border deployments on military readiness. Army Secretary Mark Esper told lawmakers on March 26 that border deployments’ and funding transfers’ “impacts on readiness, if there are any, are negligible.”

Four days after Rapuano sent a letter to Warren, Neller wrote in a memo, made public in mid-March, that nine unplanned factors were causing budget shortfalls and readiness problems. Deployments to the U.S.-Mexico border were among them.

Neller wrote that the “unplanned/unbudgeted Southwest Border Operations” and “Border security funding transfers,” along with the other factors, were “imposing unacceptable risk to Marine Corps combat readiness and solvency.” As a result, joint military exercises with allies would be canceled “at a time when we are attempting to double down on strengthening alliances and attracting new partners,” the commandant wrote.

One of the other key factors was hurricane damage, and Neller said last week through Twitter that Congress will approve a request to reprogram $400 million to address that. The Marine Corps says it sustained about $3.5 billion in damage at Camp Lejeune as well as surrounding facilities in North Carolina from hurricanes Michael and Florence.

The calls for emergency funding come amid debate between the Trump administration and Congress over the White House’s proposal, enabled by the president’s emergency declaration, to repurpose billions of dollars in military construction money to help extend a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

President Donald Trump has praised troops for their help at the border, calling their presence “necessary” and saying that “if we had a wall, we wouldn’t need the military."

While Democrats generally have questioned the U.S. military presence along the southern border, some Republican lawmakers and Pentagon officials have said the deployments are not improper or even unusual, noting that past presidential administrations have sent troops to assist border patrol agents.

The Pentagon has acknowledged more than 5,000 military personnel have been deployed to the southern border. The Pentagon spent $235 million on the troops there in fiscal 2018, and it estimates it will spend $448 million in fiscal 2019.

Under pointed questioning from lawmakers in February, the top U.S. general for homeland defense said he sees no military threat coming from the southern border with Mexico, but his focus is on “very real” threats from China and Russia.

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