9 July, 2019 06:39

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Tuesday, July 9, 2019 which is Call of the Horizon Day, Cow Appreciation Day, National Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Omelet Day, and National No Bra Day.
This Day in Legion History:

  • July 9, 1954: The American Legion Child Welfare Foundation, Inc., is established as a separate non-profit corporation to benefit young people with physical, mental or environmental challenges.

This Day in History:

  • 1947: In a ceremony held at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, General Dwight D. Eisenhower appoints Florence Blanchfield to be a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, making her the first woman in U.S. history to hold permanent military rank.
  • 1971: Four miles south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), about 500 U.S. troops of the 1st Brigade, 5th Mechanized Division turn over Fire Base Charlie 2 to Saigon troops, completing the transfer of defense responsibilities for the border area. On the previous day, nearby Fire Base Alpha 4 had been turned over to the South Vietnamese. This was part of President Richard Nixon’s Vietnamization policy, which had been announced at a June 1969 conference at Midway Island. Under this program, the United States initiated a comprehensive effort to increase the combat capabilities of the South Vietnamese armed forces. As the South Vietnamese became more capable, responsibility for the fighting was gradually transferred from U.S. forces. Concurrent with this effort, there was a gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces.
  • On this day in 1850, after only 16 months in office, President Zachary Taylor dies after a brief illness. The exact cause of his death is still disputed by some historians.


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VA: VA MISSION Act: Answers to the top five questions about urgent care

Posted on Wednesday, July 3, 2019 8:00 am

Urgent care is one of the new benefits offered as part of the VA MISSION Act that gives Veterans greater choice in their health care. The benefit is offered in addition to the opportunity to receive care from a VA provider, as VA also offers same-day services. We are working to ensure Veterans understand how to use the new urgent care benefit as part of VA’s comprehensive benefits package. In this article, we answer some common questions about the new urgent care benefit.

  1. What is urgent care? Urgent care is a type of walk-in health care for situations where you need help but don’t have an emergency, such as colds, ear infections, minor injuries, pink eye, skin infections, and strep throat.
  2. Why are there different urgent care locations? There are two types of urgent care network locations: Retail and Urgent.
  • Retail locations such as CVS or Walgreens are places where you can get care for minor ailments like a sore throat or earache.
  • Urgent locations provide more comprehensive walk-in care for illnesses or injuries that are not life-threatening, like splinting, casting, lacerations, or wound treatment.

Both retail and urgent locations are staffed with healthcare professionals who are licensed and credentialed.

  1. Are there urgent care providers near me? VA launched the urgent care benefit on June 6, 2019, and we are working to expand our network of urgent care providers, adding more every week. Urgent care providers are vetted and must meet strict standards of care and other requirements before they are added to VA’s network. To find a location, use the VA facility locator at https://www.va.gov/find-locations/. Select the link entitled “Find VA approved urgent care locations and pharmacies near you”. If you arrive at an urgent care network location and have difficulty receiving care, call 866-620-2071for assistance. More information.
  2. How do I get prescription medication with the urgent care benefit? You can get up to a 14-day supply of prescription medication through VA, a VA-contracted pharmacy, or a non-contracted pharmacy. If you choose to fill an urgent care prescription at a non-contracted pharmacy, you will be required to pay for the prescription when you pick it up and then file a claim for reimbursement at your local VA medical facility. Prescription medication for longer than a 14-day supply must be filled by a VA pharmacy. More information.
  3. Do I have to make copayments for urgent care? Copayments for urgent care depend on your assigned priority group and the number of times you visit any urgent care provider in a calendar year. Urgent care copayments are not charged when you receive care from an urgent care provider, but are billed separately by VA. More information.

For additional information about the VA MISSION Act, visit https://missionact.va.gov/
Defense News: Congress returns to budget stalemate
By:Joe Gould   12 hours ago
WASHINGTON ― Lawmakers returning to Washington, D.C., this week are in a race against the clock to reach a budget deal to ease statutory spending caps and avoid a government shutdown starting Oct. 1.
While the Democratic-led House has passed 10 of its 12 appropriations bills, Senate appropriators have not yet scheduled a markup on any of theirs. Meanwhile, White House officials have floated the idea of a one-year stopgap funding bill, which would freeze the 2020 federal budget at the 2019 level.
Both chambers of Congress are only in session three more weeks before the August recess.
Talks have dragged on between congressional leaders and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and acting Budget Director Russ Vought. Vought has reportedly indicated the White House is leaning toward a continuing resolution instead of a broader deal.
But that’s a no-go with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who told reporters before the July 4 recess it would be “unacceptable … from a defense point of view,” as would the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration.
The president’s request was for $750 billion for national defense, and the House-passed bill contained $733 billion. However, a “clean” CR would provide $716 billion. However, since the budget cap for defense is $576 billion for 2020, the CR would violate the budget caps by approximately $71 billion and trigger a sequester of that amount in January 2020.
Amid divisions within the Democratic caucus, House leaders did not take up spending bills for the legislative branch and for Homeland Security, which was at the heart of last year’s 35-day government shutdown.
Following opposition from left-leaning Democrats turned off by military spending increases, House Democrats scuttled a non-binding budget resolution in April that would have supported increasing military and domestic spending by more than $350 billion over the next two years. They instead “deemed” the House’s budget numbers.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., had floated a similar move for the GOP-controlled Senate, but McConnell shot that down last month, telling reporters the goal should be an agreement between the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to find the top-line numbers.
Asked Monday whether there had been progress, Shelby said, "I thought we were close two weeks ago … but there hasn’t been any movement yet.
“This is high time for a serious conversation, the sooner the better, between the [House] speaker and the secretary of the Treasury,” Shelby said, adding: “I’ve said I thought we could deem the numbers. [McConnell] wants to do something that’s more certain. That’s what I’d prefer to do.”
Beyond McConnell, defense hawks are making their voices heard in opposition to the idea of a long-term CR. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe and SASC Seapower Subcommittee Chairman David Perdue, R-Ga., along with 14 other Senate Republicans, wrote to White House budget negotiators in opposition.
"Simply put, our adversaries do not handcuff their militaries with funding gimmicks like continuing resolutions—nor should we,” the letter reads, adding a yearlong CR would create “draconian conditions” for the military.
The lawmakers said a year-long CR would derail implementation of the National Defense Strategy, derail a pay raise for troops and erode both readiness and lethality.
“Military training and equipment would all be significantly reduced, resulting in a less lethal fighting force,” the letter reads. “Additionally, our military depots would be prevented from hiring and retaining the highly trained workforce necessary to maintain our existing vehicles, tanks, ships, and aircraft.”
On Monday, Perdue said he would like to see Shelby and his counterpart, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., quickly find agreement bills for the Pentagon and the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services, which would demonstrate bipartisan support for 70 percent of the overall budget. (Arriving back in town after the recess, he may not have known McConnell had rejected that plan.)
“If we get agreement on the dollar amounts between Labor-HHS and defense ― and we’re right there according to Leahy and Shelby ― I think that shows we can get bipartisan support to get this done, if you cut out the partisan politics,” Perdue said. “I think we can get those bill done, and if we don’t get them done, I don’t know how we go home in August.”
Pentagon leaders have spent months saying the best outcome would be a budget deal that avoids both sequestration and a year-long CR.
At a hearing in May, former Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said sequestration would force cuts to military end-strength and modernization ― particularly in emerging areas like artificial intelligence and hypersonic weapons.
“A continuing resolution would hamstring the department. Under a CR we cannot start new initiatives including increased investments and cyber, space, nuclear modernization and missile defense,” Shanahan said. “Second, our funding will be in the wrong accounts and third, we would lose buying power."
At a hearing in April, then-Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said the service would take a $29 billion cut she presented in terms of cuts to aviation platforms.
“That would be no F-35s, cut all of the KC-46s, stop the B-21 program, no ground-based strategic deterrent, no research, development, test and evaluation for any space system, most of the fourth- and fifth-generation [fighter jet] modifications, and all of science and technology,” she said.
“Or, $29 billion means all of weapons systems sustainment, all flying hours, all base operations and airfield support, and all munitions, together, make $29 billion.”

Stripes: Lecturer at US-aided Afghan university arrested, accused of recruiting for ISIS
KABUL, Afghanistan — A lecturer at a partially U.S.-funded university in Afghanistan’s capital was arrested on suspicion of recruiting students to join Islamic State, the country’s top intelligence agency said Monday.
Three of his suspected recruits, who were accused by authorities of organizing several deadly ISIS attacks in Kabul, also were arrested, the National Directorate of Security said in a statement.
Two of the suspected recruits were students at the university. The third was related to one of the students.
U.S. and Afghan forces have been unable to eliminate ISIS’s local affiliate, known as Islamic State-Khorasan Province, which first emerged in 2014 and says it aspires to carry out attacks on U.S. soil.
Known as ISIS-K, the militant group has recruited fighters actively from among Afghan university students, for whom obtaining visas to travel abroad is thought to be easier.
ISIS-K has recruited “many students” from Kabul University and sent them to its stronghold in eastern Nangarhar province for training, said one of the students who was arrested, Ahmad Farouq, in a recorded confession released by the NDS.
Farouq named the professor who was arrested as Mubasher Muslimyar, an Islamic studies lecturer. He said Muslimyar attempted to convert students to Salafism, a fundamentalist branch of Sunni Islam, before encouraging them to join ISIS-K.
The U.S. government and public universities have aided multiple projects at Kabul University over the years. In 2011, a renewable energy laboratory paid for by the U.S. Agency for International Development opened on campus.
The head of U.S. Central Command, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, has described ISIS-K as a “very worrisome” threat to the U.S. and said counterterrorism efforts against the group must continue.
“ISIS in Afghanistan certainly has aspiration to attack the United States,” McKenzie said in June, according to The Associated Press. “It is our clear judgment that as long as we maintain pressure on them, it will be hard for them to do that.”
U.S. negotiators who are holding peace talks with the Taliban have said one of their key goals is to get a commitment from the Taliban that it will not let groups like ISIS-K use Afghanistan to launch attacks against the U.S. and its allies. Meanwhile, the Taliban wants the U.S. to spell out a time frame for withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan.
While the Taliban opposes ISIS-K, some experts say U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the country must continue if the ISIS affiliate is to be prevented from growing.
U.S. Forces-Afghanistan recently put the number of ISIS-K fighters in Afghanistan at fewer than 2,000, while earlier this year, the United Nations said the number could be as many as 4,000.

Military.com: Pentagon Delays Big Changes to Post-9/11 GI Bill Transfer Rules

8 Jul 2019
Military.com | By Patricia Kime
The Pentagon is delaying implementation of a new restriction that limits which service members can transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to their spouses or children, according to a letter from the Pentagon to a member of Congress.
The change, which was set to go into effect Friday, will discontinue the transfer benefit for troops who have served more than 16 years. But that has been delayed until Jan. 12, 2020, giving service members with more than 16 years six more months to start the transfer process.
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Connecticut, has pressed the Pentagon to drop the change altogether. Last month, he introduced an amendment to the House defense policy bill that, if it becomes law, would prevent the Secretary of Defense from implementing the change.
With that bill under still under consideration, Courtney sent a letter to Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper June 25 asking him for a delay in implementing the policy. The Pentagon responded on Wednesday, saying the department has put the change off until next year.
Courtney said he believes his letter "sent a strong message" that DoD give Congress time to decide the outcome of the bill.
"This is a welcome decision by the department to slow down implementation of a policy that will unfairly affect some of our most seasoned service members," Courtney said July 5 in a release.
Currently, troops who serve a minimum of six years and commit to serving another four years can transfer their education benefits to dependents.
Those who agree to four additional years but who are unable to complete them because of injury or a medical discharge, or receive a waiver, can also keep their transfer benefits.
The new policy is designed to bolster retention, Pentagon officials said when it was announced in 2018.
They have maintained that the transfer benefit is a retention tool, not an automatic benefit.
"Transferability is neither an entitlement nor a transition or readjustment benefit," notes the policy. "The military departments will not automatically approve a service member’s request to elect to transfer benefits."
"This change continues to allow career service members that earned this benefit to share it with their family members while they continue to serve," said Stephanie Miller, director of accessions policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, at the time of the announcement.
Whether Courtney’s proposed amendment to completely abolish the pending regulation will make it into law remains to be seen. The House of Representatives is set to vote on its version of the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act this week. The bill will then need to be reconciled with the Senate’s version before it can become law.
Military Times: ‘Blue water’ veterans’ claims delayed until next year
By:Leo Shane III   22 hours ago
Thousands of veterans already waiting for years for their disability benefits will have to wait a few months longer after Veterans Affairs officials announced they won’t start processing “blue water” Vietnam veterans claims until next year.
In an announcement late last week, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the delay is designed to “ensure that we have the proper resources in place to meet the needs of our Blue Water Veteran community and minimize the impact on all veterans filing for disability compensation.”
But some advocates call the move another disappointing delay for aging, infirm veterans who have already waited decades for the benefits they believe they deserve.
“Time is of the essence in this matter. Blue Water Navy Veterans are dying every day,” John Wells, retired Navy commander and the executive director of Military-Veterans Advocacy, wrote in a letter to Wilkie Monday morning. “These veterans have waited long enough.”
At issue is a new law signed by President Donald Trump last month (and passed without objection by the House and Senate) which awarded presumptive benefits status to Navy veterans who served in the waters off Vietnam during the war there five decades ago. Trump touted the bill in a call with veterans last month as a major victory for the veterans community and the country.
Under previous VA rules, service members who were stationed on the ground or on ships near the coast were presumed to have had exposure to Agent Orange and other carcinogenic herbicides, and given simplified filing status for their disability claims later in life.
But because of scientific disputes over the level of exposure to those toxic chemicals in the seas around Vietnam, the so-called “blue water” veterans were not granted the same preferential status by VA, and were required to provide specific proof that their illnesses later in life were related to their military service.
Many veterans said that created an impossible standard, since little water monitoring was done at the time. The different standards meant that Vietnam veterans with identical illnesses linked to Agent Orange exposure — ailments like prostate cancer, Parkinson’s disease and serious respiratory illnesses — could receive starkly different disability benefits.
In January, a federal appeals court ruled against VA, saying the department had interpreted the existing statue incorrectly and must start awarding the presumptive benefits status to the “blue water” veterans.
Lawmakers responded by codifying the decision in legislation that also awarded certain presumptive benefits to troops who served in the Korean Demilitarized Zone and to children of herbicide-exposed Thailand veterans born with spina bifida.
But the legislation contained language allowing the department to delay payouts until next January, even though officials have begun processing some in the wake of the court decision. House and Senate officials said they are reviewing the VA decision last week to ensure the move isn’t designed to delay payouts unnecessarily.
VA officials have insisted as many as 560,000 veterans could qualify for the benefits, and the cost in benefits and processing work could total nearly $6 billion over the next decade.
But advocates, including Wells, have disputed that number, accusing the department of inflating numbers to make the issue appear overwhelming. They estimate the real total is closer to 90,000 individuals, at a cost of about $1 billion over the next 10 years.
Wells, whose organization brought the lawsuit that forced the “blue water” benefits changes earlier this year, said he is considering additional legislation to force VA to move quicker on the awards.
But in a statement, VA officials said they are “complying with the law that Congress wrote and passed.”
Veterans who served in the seas around Vietnam and were previously denied claims related to Agent Orange exposure (and eligible survivors of those veterans) can file new claims under the rules change. VA officials said veterans over age 85 or with life-threatening illnesses will have priority in claims processing.
The department has set up an information web site for veterans and family members to explain the changes and provide information on how to apply.

Stripes: Department of Veterans Affairs facilities to be smoke-free by October
By NIKKI WENTLING | Stars and Stripes | Published: July 8, 2019

WASHINGTON — A smoking ban is set to go into effect at Department of Veterans Affairs health care facilities across the country starting Oct. 1 — more than 25 years after such bans became the norm at other American hospitals.
The smoke-free policy applies to patients, visitors, volunteers, contractors and vendors at VA facilities, and it prohibits cigarettes, cigars, pipes, vape pens and e-cigarettes. The VA announced the change earlier in the summer citing “growing evidence” that smoking, as well as secondhand and thirdhand smoke, is a medical and safety risk.
Anyone caught violating the policy could be subject to a $50 fine.
“This policy change coincides with additional… efforts to help us become the provider of choice for veterans and the reason why veterans will choose VA,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement.
Smoking has remained permissible at VA facilities because of the Veterans Health Care Act of 1992, a federal mandate requiring the VA to establish designated smoking areas. When other hospitals began implementing smoking bans in the early 1990s – and when other federal facilities shuttered their designated smoking areas in 2009 – the Veterans Health Care Act was cited as a reason the VA couldn’t do the same.
A study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2013 contends the tobacco industry manipulated veterans organizations and Congress to create the Veterans Health Care Act of 1992 after the first VA secretary, Ed Derwinski, announced in 1990 his intentions to prohibit smoking inside VA facilities.
Numerous VA officials have attempted for years to rally congressional support against the policy outlined in the Veterans Health Care Act.
The most recent effort came in 2017, when Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, led a failed attempt to pass legislation that would immediately ban smoking inside VA facilities and gradually eliminate outdoor smoking areas. The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs unanimously agreed to advance the bill, but it never went for a vote on the House floor.
The authority for Wilkie to change the policy without an act of Congress comes from the agency’s “core health mission,” according to the VA. In a directive about the new smoke-free policy, Richard Stone, executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, notes a federal law that states the basic purpose of the VA hospital system is to “provide a complete medical and hospital service for the medical care and treatment of veterans."
The new policy calls for all designated smoking areas to be dismantled. At the latest count, there were nearly 1,000 outdoor smoking areas at VA hospitals, clinics and nursing homes nationwide, as well as 15 indoor smoking areas.
In 2017, when lawmakers discussed Wenstrup’s bill, The American Legion said the measure could be government overreach – a way to “legislate personal choices.”
At the time, the Veterans of Foreign Wars argued veterans might not seek treatment at VA facilities if they couldn’t smoke there. The VFW and other veterans groups also warned of unintended consequences, such as forcing a lifestyle change and eliminating a form of stress relief and social interaction for veteran patients.
Wilkie’s decision to prohibit smoking hasn’t elicited the same kind of pushback.
On Monday, VFW spokesman Joe Davis said: “Any decision that promotes the health and wellbeing of all veterans is a good decision.”

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