Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Tuesday, January 7, 2020, which is Harlem Globetrotter’s Day, I’m Not Going to Take It Anymore Day, International Programmers’ Day, and National Pass Gas Day.
Today in American Legion History:
- Jan. 7, 1921: The American Legion Weekly magazine announces among the members to serve a one-year term on the new national Americanism Commission is Fiorello H. La Guardia, future governor of New York and eventual mayor of New York City.
- Jan. 7, 1927: Originally sponsored by George L. Giles American Legion Post 87 in Chicago and known as the South Side Giles Team, the all-black basketball stars who would become the Harlem Globetrotters make their debut in a game at Hinckley, Ill. Later sponsored by the Savoy Ballroom and known briefly as the “Savoy Big Five,” the Harlem Globetrotters would go on to entertain more than 144 million fans in 122 countries worldwide.
- Jan. 7, 2014: On a windy, 7-degree morning, future American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad of Virginia presents new Carhartt cold-weather wear to the caisson platoon of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment – the famed “Old Guard” – at Arlington National Cemetery. A former member of the Old Guard himself, Reistad delivers jackets, shirts and underwear donated by Carhartt for soldiers who work with horses around the clock to prepare and train them for funeral services at the national military cemetery.
Today in History:
- Congress sets January 7, 1789 as the date by which states are required to choose electors for the country’s first-ever presidential election. A month later, on February 4, George Washington was elected president by state electors and sworn into office on April 30, 1789.
- Around midday on January 7, 2015, gunmen raid the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people. The attack, a response to the magazine’s criticism of Islam and depiction of Muhammad, demonstrated the danger of homegrown terror in Europe as well as the deep conflicts within French society.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Military 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.
Military Times: In Iraq pullout plan, Esper says DoD has made ‘no decision whatsoever’
By: Shawn Snow and Howard Altman | 15 hours ago
Confusion reigned at the Pentagon Monday amid credible reports from inside the U.S. military that preparations were underway to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq following a U.S. strike that killed a top Iranian commander.
A letter from Marine Brig. Gen. William Seely addressed to the Iraqi military circulated on social media Monday, saying that the U.S. was “repositioning forces” for “onward movement." A U.S. defense official confirmed to Military Times on Monday that the letter from Seely, the commander of Task Force Iraq, was authentic.
A short while later, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper pushed back against the reports, telling reporters at the Pentagon Monday afternoon that the letter was not accurate and that there has been no decision to leave Iraq.
Esper said he didn’t know anything about a letter that appears to suggest preparation for troops to move out of Iraq.
But Esper did confirm that there has been some repositioning of U.S. forces.
“There’s been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq,” the defense secretary said at the Pentagon, adding, “there’s no decision to leave, nor did we issue any plans to leave or prepare to leave.”
Esper said the U.S. remains committed to the campaign to defeat the Islamic State group in Iraq and the region.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, later told reporters the U.S. is “moving forces around” Iraq and neighboring Kuwait. He said a draft letter circulated internally by a U.S. Marine commander was a “poorly written” honest mistake that should never have gotten out.
The draft letter appeared to suggest the U.S. was preparing to pull troops out of Iraq in response to a vote by the Iraqi Parliament over the weekend.
Milley and Esper, however, said the U.S. has been moving troops around Iraq largely due to increased security threats from Iran. The letter was meant to coordinate with the Iraqi military on an increase in U.S. helicopter and troop movements as they shift positions around the country, they said.
Milley acknowledged that some language in the letter “implies withdrawal," but said that ”is not what is happening."
“The long and the short of it is, it’s an honest mistake," he said, adding that he had just gotten off the phone with the U.S. commander in the Middle East, who explained the effort.
Some U.S. troops in Iraq are moving to safer positions, a defense official told Military Times Monday.
The U.S. is “moving some forces around to appropriately place our folks on the ground to be in very good defensive positions. We are keeping our force safe. There is no change in policy as far as a wide-scale exit.”
Army Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell, a Pentagon spokesman, told Military Times there "has been no change in US policy with regard to our force presence in Iraq. We continue to consult with the Iraqi government regarding the defeat-ISIS mission and efforts to support the Iraqi Security Forces. We remain committed to the D-ISIS coalition and ensuring a safe, secure, and prosperous future for the Iraqi people.”
The letter said the move to get troops out of Iraq was “in due deference to the sovereignty of Iraq and as requested by the Iraqi Parliament and the Prime Minister."
“In order to conduct this task, Coalition Forces are required to take certain measures to ensure that the movement out of Iraq is conducted in a safe and efficient manner,” the letter reads.
“During this time there will be an increase in helicopter in and around the International Zone (IZ) of Baghdad. This increased traffic will include CH-47, UH-60, and AH-64 security escort helicopters,” the letter reads.
The letter also detailed that U.S. forces would conduct these operations at night “to help alleviate any perception” that the U.S. is increasing force “into the IZ.”
Military Times has reached out to Operation Inherent Resolve, the command overseeing the U.S. mission in Iraq, and has not yet received a response.
The Iraqi parliament, upset over the death of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, voted in a non-binding referendum Sunday to end the agreement that allowed U.S. troops to assist Iraqi forces in their fight against Islamic State militants.
On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dismissed the Iraqi Parliament’s vote on Sunday that called for U.S. troops to leave their country.
“We are confident that the Iraqi people want the United States to continue to be there to fight the counterterror campaign. And we’ll continue to do all the things we need to do to keep America safe," Pompeo said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Wall Street Journal reported that President Donald Trump threatened sanctions and a repayment of billions if Iraq expelled U.S. troops from the country.
“We have a very extraordinarily expensive air base that’s there. It cost billions of dollars to build,” Trump said on Air Force One Sunday, according to the Wall Street Journal. “We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it.”
Army Times: Soldier killed in Kenya attack identified by family
By Kyle Rempfer | 20 hours ago
The Pentagon has identified the U.S. soldier killed in an al-Shabab attack in Kenya on Sunday.
Army Spc. Henry "Mitch" Mayfield Jr., 23, died while supporting Operation Octave Shield, the name for the mission focused on targeting militant groups in Somalia, the Pentagon said.
He was killed during an attack that included mortars and small arms fire, breached the base’s perimeter and damaged six aircraft. There was no immediate information released regarding how Mayfield was killed during the attack.
Mayfield was assigned to 1st Battalion, 58th Aviation Regiment, 164th Theater Airfield Operations Group, out of Fort Rucker, Alabama. His battalion provides expeditionary air traffic control and airfield management.
Mayfield and two DoD contractors died after the attack on Manda Bay Airfield, which is roughly 150 miles south of the Kenya-Somalia border. Two other Defense Department members were also injured in the attack, but remain in stable condition, according to U.S. Africa Command.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Specialist Henry ‘Mitch’ Mayfield’s family, friends and loved ones," said Col. William Garber, commander of the fallen soldier’s unit. "Mayfield was a dynamic soldier who inspired those he served with to excel both on and off duty. The 164th Theater Airfield Operations Group will miss his leadership and camaraderie.”
Mayfield is a native of the Chicago, Illinois suburb Hazel Crest. He enlisted into the Army in August 2017. His mother, Carmoneta, said that she last spoke with her son during the New Year’s holiday.
“We discussed him not having to go to Somalia and he told me everything was good and safe at his base,” Carmoneta told NBC 5 in Chicago. “He told me everything would be okay. Those were his last words to me.”
The attack was carried out by al-Shabab, a regional al-Qaida franchise that the United States and East African partners have been battling in Somalia.
The attack on the compound and airstrip at Manda Bay was repelled by U.S. and Kenyan forces only after the militants caused severe damage to aircraft on the base, which included planes configured for intelligence gathering.
“Reports indicate that six contractor-operated civilian aircraft were damaged to some degree,” the AFRICOM statement reads. “Manda Bay Airfield is utilized by U.S. forces whose missions include providing training to our African partners, responding to crises, and protecting U.S. interests in this strategically important area.”
AFRICOM spokesman Air Force Col. Christopher Karns said the attack was not linked to tensions between the U.S. and Iran. Gen. Stephen Townsend, AFRICOM commander, offered condolences to the fallen soldier’s family in a statement following the attack.
“As we honour their sacrifice, let’s also harden our resolve," Townsend said in a statement. "Alongside our African and international partners, we will pursue those responsible for this attack and al-Shabab, who seeks to harm Americans and US interests.”
The incident is the first known al-Shabab attack against U.S. forces inside Kenya, however the militant group has skirmished with U.S. troops before. Army Staff Sgt. Alexander Conrad was killed by al-Shabab mortar fire in June 2018 in Jubaland, about 220 miles southwest of Mogadishu, Somalia.
The U.S. mission in Somalia primarily involves targeting militants through airstrikes and training an elite partner force known as Danab. The number of U.S. airstrikes in Somalia have increased during President Donald Trump’s administration.
Military Times: Study results on new Agent Orange diseases not expected until ‘late 2020’ says VA secretary
By: Patricia Kime | 13 hours ago
The day President Donald Trump signed a funding bill including a provision ordering VA to announce its plans to add four conditions to the list of Agent Orange-linked diseases within 30 days, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the decision wasn’t likely to come until at least “late 2020.”
In a letter to Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, dated Dec. 20 and obtained by Military Times, Wilkie said he would not make a decision until the results of two long-awaited studies are submitted to or published in scientific journals.
In March, VA officials told members of Congress that the decision would be announced within 90 days.
Then Wilkie said he was just awaiting the results of the studies — the Vietnam Era Health Retrospective Observational Study, or VE-HEROES, and the Vietnam Era Mortality Study — expected in 2019.
But the requirement that the results be analyzed, peer-reviewed and in the publication pipeline could add months to the process. VE-HEROES results are currently “being analyzed,” while data from the mortality study is “expected to be available for peer review and publication in late 2020,” Wilkie wrote in the letter.
It’s unclear whether VA plans to comply with the new law that requires it to announce its plans on a decision within the 30-day requirement.
For the 83,000 veterans with one of three conditions under consideration, including bladder cancer, Parkinson’s-like symptoms or hypothyroidism, as well as an unknown number of Vietnam veterans with high blood pressure, the wait continues.
“Since we first spoke in 2016, I have been diagnosed with bladder cancer … I also have hypothyroidism,” retired Army Sgt. Maj. John Mennitto told Military Times. “My greatest concern for me and my fellow veterans who have debilitating diseases caused by exposure to Agent Orange is that our family members will be left with nothing.”
Just how many Vietnam veterans have one or more of the four proposed presumptive conditions is unknown; VA did not have the data readily available by press time.
What is known is that some veterans will die waiting. While the 10-year survival rate for bladder cancer is high — 77 percent — the mortality rate for in the U.S. bladder cancer is 4.2 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the National Cancer Institute.
“William F. Brown. DECEASED. 10/31/2019. Can a claim be filed since he is now DECEASED?” recently widowed Debra Brown asked in an email to Military Times.
Senate Democrats stepped up pressure on the Trump administration to issue a decision after documents surfaced that showed Office of Management and Budget Director and Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was personally involved in blocking an announcement of the decision on three of the diseases planned in 2017 by former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin.
Mulvaney and other OMB officials said VA must provide more “compelling evidence” to prove the link between the proposed diseases and exposure.
Lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, and Rep. Josh Harder, a California Democrat who previously introduced a House resolution urging President Donald Trump to add the diseases to the presumptive medical conditions list, have said “VA needs to get its act together.”
“We have the science. We have the backing of our veterans. We even have bipartisan agreement in Congress. It’s time for the VA to catch up,” Harder said.
Military Times: VA drops its star ratings system for hospitals
By: Patricia Kime | 4 days ago
The Department of Veterans Affairs will no longer issue star ratings for its 146 medical centers.
VA officials announced last month that individual VA hospitals will instead post measures such as wait times, patient satisfaction ratings, medical services and quality assessments on their individual websites.
The change, VA leaders said, will allow veterans to compare VA facilities with nearby public and private medical centers.
“Star ratings were developed as an internal tool meant to compare one VA facility to another,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement. “These ratings do not provide insight as to how our hospitals stack up against nearby non-VA facilities and are therefore of little value in helping veterans make informed health care decisions."
VA leaders say the move to abandon the system, first made public in a series of articles in USA Today, will improve transparency.
The ratings were often “misinterpreted,” the release stated, as they compare VA facilities by ranking them across the department’s health care system, rather than by “geography, population characteristics or unique care offerings” of neighboring non-VA facilities.
“It was found that the VA hospital star ratings were unfortunately perceived as equivalent to hotel, Amazon, or Yelp ratings,” explained Thomas Wisnieski, director of the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System, in a note to veterans.
While the ratings did not allow veterans to compare VA facilities with local medical centers, they did give patients an idea of how their VA hospital stacked up against the others and whether it was on the upswing or declining.
When the ratings were first published in 2016, 10 medical facilities had a 1-star rating, while 90 had shown “significant improvement” over a set of baseline measures.
By fiscal 2019, the number of medical facilities that received a 1-star rating was nine, including three that had resided on the list since 2016: El Paso, Texas; Memphis, Tenn., and Phoenix.
When the secretive ratings were published, officials downplayed their importance, saying the system gave VA officials a snapshot on how facilities were doing but had little public utility.
Former VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin told USA Today that the ratings weren’t published because VA didn’t want veterans to assume that if their hospital received one star, they wouldn’t get quality care and would stop going.
While Shulkin had concerns about publishing the measures, by 2018, Secretary Robert Wilkie lauded the results when they were published. That year, the system showed improvements at 66 percent of VA medical centers and nine facilities had a one-star rating.
“With closer monitoring and increased medical center leadership and support, we have seen solid improvements at most of our facilities,” Wilkie said at the time. “Even our highest performing facilities are getting better, and that is driving up our quality standards across the country.”
In December, however, Wilkie said the new facility-based websites will “make it easier for veterans to choose the best possible care close to home, when and where they need it.”
The websites provide information on wait times, patient satisfaction, quality of care and provider access data for an individual VA and all major nearby hospital systems.
In lieu of the star system, VA will continue to publish its Strategic Analytics for Improvement and Learning, or SAIL data, that gives an in-depth look of 14 metrics quality of care measures at all VA medical centers.
Veterans who click through the system can still find which hospitals have the highest and lowest marks in categories such as death rates, surgical complications, safety, in-hospital infection rates and more.
In defending their decision to drop the star rating system, VA officials added that focus groups showed that veterans didn’t actually look at the ratings when making a decision about their health provider.
Roll Call: Tennessee’s Phil Roe won’t run for reelection in 2020
Posted Jan 3, 2020 11:18 AM | Simone Pathé
Tennessee Rep. Phil Roe, the ranking Republican on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, will not run for reelection in 2020, opening up a solidly Republican seat.
“As someone who practiced medicine for over 30 years, I said I would serve five or six terms because I never intended this job to be a second career,” Roe said in a statement Friday morning. “After prayerful consideration, I have decided to retire at the end of the 116th Congress.”
Roe, 74, was first elected to Tennessee’s 1st District in 2008, unseating freshman GOP Rep. David Davis in the Republican primary. During that campaign, Roe said members of the House shouldn’t serve more than 10 years.
The former Johnson City mayor and retired OB-GYN was diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer in 2017 and flirted with retirement ahead of the 2018 midterms, but ultimately decided to run for a sixth term, citing his role as Veterans Affairs Committee chairman as a reason to stick around. Roe won reelection by 56 points that fall, but he lost his chairmanship when Republicans lost control of the House.
As an Army veteran who served in South Korea, Roe fought for legislation that extends VA benefits for Agent Orange exposure to veterans who served off the coast of Vietnam during the war. He also shepherded a bipartisan effort that allowed veterans to seek health care outside of facilities run by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Roe’s announcement makes him the 22nd House Republican to retire this cycle, while six House Democrats are also retiring. The total number of retirements so far has already exceeded the average number of 23 retirements in recent election cycles.
President Donald Trump carried Roe’s east Tennessee district by 57 points in 2016. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Republican.
An open seat here will generate lots of interest from ambitious Republicans. GOP operatives in the state have mentioned at least a dozen potential candidates, including Roe’s district director Bill Darden. It’s not yet clear who Roe’s choice would be. Darden’s brother, former Johnson City Mayor Steve Darden, could also run.
Other potential candidates include Kingsport Mayor John Clark, former Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge and Douglas Jenkins, a chancery court judge and son of former Rep. Bill Jenkins, who represented the 1st District until 2007.
Legislators who could run include state Sen. Jon Lundberg and state Reps. James “Micah” Van Huss, Jeremy Faison, who’s the chair of the state House Republican caucus, Timothy Hill and David Hawk.
Tennessee Air National Guard Lt. Col. Ashley Nickloes, who ran for the open 2nd District in 2018, lives in Knoxville, which isn’t far from the 1st District, and just returned from her ninth deployment. The only woman in a seven-way primary, she finished third. Having backed Trump by about 35 points, though, the 2nd District is less conservative than the 1st.