American Legion Daily News Clips 11.15.19

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Friday, November 15, 2019 which is American Enterprise Day, Day of the Imprisoned Writer Day, Little Red Wagon Day and National Philanthropy Day.

Sunday in Legion History:

· Nov. 17, 1933: Through a National Executive Committee resolution, The American Legion formally opposes diplomatic recognition of the communist Soviet Union as the legal government of the people of Russia.

This Day in History:

· On November 15, 1867, the first stock ticker is unveiled in New York City. The advent of the ticker ultimately revolutionized the stock market by making up-to-the-minute prices available to investors around the country. Prior to this development, information from the New York Stock Exchange, which has been around since 1792, traveled by mail or messenger.

· 1777: After 16 months of debate, the Continental Congress, sitting in its temporary capital of York, Pennsylvania, agrees to adopt the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union on November 15, 1777. Not until March 1, 1781, would the last of the 13 states, Maryland, ratify the agreement.

· On November 15, 1864, Union General William T. Sherman begins his expedition across Georgia by torching the industrial section of Atlanta and pulling away from his supply lines. For the next six weeks, Sherman’s army destroyed most of the state before capturing the Confederate seaport of Savannah, Georgia.


Military Times: Here’s how veterans stack up financially, compared to their non-veteran peers The Latest Backlog at the VA: Whistleblower Complaints

Military Times: Senators ramp up pressure on proposed Agent Orange presumptive conditions

WaPo: White House and Pentagon prepare for Trump to issue pardons in war-crimes cases, officials say

McClatchy: VA to study whether military toxic exposures are tied to veterans cancers, illnesses

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Military Times: Here’s how veterans stack up financially, compared to their non-veteran peers

By: Karen Jowers   16 hours ago

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The financial well-being of veterans has improved over the last three years, as veterans have less difficulty covering expenses and bills, are less likely to have a drop in income, and more likely to have emergency funds and retirement savings in addition to employer plans, according to new research.

And veterans’ financial capability is improving at a faster rate than Americans in general, according to the research, conducted by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, based on the foundation’s National Financial Capability Study survey of more than 3,000 veterans and 20,000 non-veterans.

The research compared the well-being of veterans in 2018 compared to the same survey in 2015; and also compared them to the population of non-veterans. Active-duty members aren’t included in the research.

Compared to non-veterans in 2018, veterans overall have 6 percent less financial anxiety; 4 percent higher scores in financial well-being, and a 4 percent higher level of confidence in their financial abilities. In addition, veterans were 12 percent more likely to use financial technology for planning.

There’s been little research on the financial well-being of veterans, the study’s authors noted.

“We’re fortunate in that our study relies on the most comprehensive collection of data chronicling veterans’ financial well-being over time, comparative data with civilians and detailed evidence on key differences within important veteran subgroups,” said study co-author Dr. William Skimmyhorn, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who is an assistant professor of economics and finance at the College of William & Mary. While the findings don’t allow conclusions as whether an individual’s military service is the cause of the differences, he noted, they do document how veterans are doing in some important areas.

"We hope our research will draw and maintain public attention to the financial well-being of our nation’s veterans, so that we might serve them as they have so ably served us," he said, in an announcement of the results.

While some of the findings mirror national results, some don’t. For example, researchers found that black veterans have somewhat higher financial well-being than white veterans, which runs counter to recent studies that examined race-based differences in financial well-being in the general population. One possible explanation, researchers noted, is that the military serves as a socioeconomic equalizer across race and ethnicity.

“In any event, understanding why black veterans have somewhat higher financial well-being than white veterans might inform our understanding of why black Americans, in general have lower levels of financial well-being than white Americans,” the authors wrote.

The 2018 survey used some new measures, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Financial Well-Being Scale. Black veterans have 3 percent higher scores on that CFPB scale than white veterans, and have a 5 percent higher score regarding their perception of their own financial capabilities. Veterans with “other” race or ethnicity have 3 percent lower scores than whites on the CFPB Financial Well-Being Scale.

The research indicates that some groups of veterans may warrant more attention. Generally those who are female, who are younger, who are married, divorced or separated or have financial dependents fare worse than their veteran peers.

Similar to the general population, female veterans have higher levels of financial stress and anxiety than male veterans. Female veterans had 25 percent higher financial stress and 16 percent higher financial anxiety.

Overall, veterans are improving financially, but there were some areas where veterans are doing worse than in 2015. In 2018, veterans were:

· 11 percent more likely to report high-cost credit card behaviors such as late fees, over-the-limit fees, using the card for cash advances, or paying only the minimum due.;

· 11 percent more likely to report having foregone medical treatment. This is potentially troubling, researchers stated. “Gaining a better understanding of what could be driving this increase might help improve both the financial and health outcomes of veterans,”

· 28 percent less likely to be attending a four-year college or university (among those attending schools). This decline might be driven by concerns about student loan debt, an improving economy, or “simply a change in veteran demand for higher education,” the researchers stated. “In any event, the repercussions of a less educated veteran population could be significant.”

The good news was that researchers found that compared to 2015, veterans in 2018 were:

· 23 percent less likely to be underwater on their home (among those who owned a home);

· 15 percent less likely to have difficulty covering bills and expenses;

· 15 percent less likely to have experienced a drop in income in the previous 12 months;

· 5 percent more likely to have an emergency fund;

· 7 percent more likely to have retirement savings outside an employer plan; and

· 5 percent more likely to have savings in non-retirement accounts

Among those in this survey, more education doesn’t necessarily equate to more financial peace of mind. Compared to veterans with a high school degree, those with some college, a college degree, or more than a college degree had more financial anxiety, ranging from 19 percent higher, to 31 percent higher for those with more than a college degree. The Latest Backlog at the VA: Whistleblower Complaints

14 Nov 2019 | By Dorothy Mills-Gregg

Members of Congress expressed concern and curiosity about the reason for a "significant" backlog in resolving the Department of Veteran’s Affairs’ whistleblower complaints.

The VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection has 572 investigative cases that are more than 120 days old, with "many" that have been open for one or two years, Assistant Secretary Dr. Tamara Bonzanto testified in a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing Thursday.

She said she plans to eliminate the backlog by the end of 2020 by hiring ten more investigators.

But for some representatives, like Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, the issue is more than just the backlog, but what’s causing so many VA staff to file complaints with the office in the first place.

"The whistleblower is a symptom of a larger problem," Hurd said. "So my question is, what is the larger problem that’s not being addressed that’s driving so many whistleblowers?"

Bonzanto said since she began in the OAWP earlier this year, the biggest obstacle has been changing VA employees’ fears that their concerns won’t be taken seriously or they will be punished for reporting.

"Since then, we’ve been working to improve the culture where employees feel comfortable raising concerns through their supervisory chain," she said. "Are we there yet? No. Change takes time. Changing a culture in a large organization takes time."

Bonzanto also said OAWP’s new case management system will eventually enable the office to spot similarities in the whistleblower complaints so they can identify system-wide problems. What they know so far, she said, is most complaints have come from the Veterans Health Administration staff, but that could be attributed to the fact it’s the VA’s largest work force.

VA Office of Inspector General staffer Michael Missal agreed about the culture of mistrust, saying he’s noticed "a number of employees" in the three and a half years he’s been there who believe they can’t raise issues to their supervisors.

"That’s why I feel so strongly that all VA staff should have training on ways they can bring their concerns forward without retaliation," he said.

Missal added the OIG has developed a training program that shows where VA staff can go if they have a concern and he hopes the VA will have it available for every employee.

"We think things like that, education, communication can help people feel empowered to come forward," he said.

Related: Scathing IG Report Details VA’s Whistleblower Protection Office Failures

Meanwhile, lawmakers also discussed some of the issues raised in an OIG report released in October that found the office had not adequately protected whistleblowers’ identities or saved them from retaliation.

Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, called the matter "incredibly disturbing."

"We’ve been trying for years to help – to ensure that the VA gets its act together," she said before listing past VA issues like wait times for health care appointments, "and now you have not just a broken OAWP process but one that appeared to have been intentionally broken by the senior leadership."

The VA said the OIG findings are from the previous leadership and the office is training its investigators, contacting whistleblowers more frequently and will have a standard operating procedure by the end of the year.

Military Times: Senators ramp up pressure on proposed Agent Orange presumptive conditions

By: Patricia Kime  20 hours ago

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Senate Democrats are pressing the Trump administration to announce its decision on whether to add several diseases to the list of conditions that automatically qualify for veterans benefits because they are linked to Agent Orange.

Schumer took to Twitter Wednesday urging the White House to act, following a failed attempt earlier in the day by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, to introduce a resolution encouraging President Donald Trump to expand the list of health conditions related to Agent Orange to include bladder cancer, Parkinson’s like symptoms, hypothyroidism and hypertension.

The resolution was blocked by Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who said the decision must not be made until the science can justify spending taxpayer dollars.

“It’s time to make sure every that every benefit we promise the veteran we have the money to do it.” Isakson said.

Last month, internal documents obtained by Military Times from a veteran showed that two years ago, VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin agreed to add three of the health conditions — bladder cancer, Parkinson’s like symptoms, hypothyroidism — to the list but White House officials, including Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, challenged his authority and blocked the announcement.

The report of the interference riled lawmakers who have worked for years to help affected constituents.

In introducing his resolution, Brown said “time is running out” for 83,000 veterans who are sick and waiting for an announcement of the decision, which was promised by VA officials earlier this year.

"Some might accuse this body that we are waiting for them to die, as hard as it is to say that,” Brown said on the Senate floor. "Veterans shouldn’t have to fight this one at a time … we did this to them. The American government decided to spray Agent Orange. We knew it was harmful.”

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., on Wednesday urged Wilkie and Trump to “do the right thing if you claim to be an advocate for veterans.”

“No more excuses. End the wait for these veterans and their families,” Tester said.

Department of Veterans Affairs officials told Congress in March they would announce the decision “within 90 days,” but in never happened.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said last week that no changes would be made until next year.

“I’m committed, particularly on herbicides, on the Agent Orange issue, to present (changes) to the Congress next year. The decisions will be based on the science coming out of that institution, so that we get it right,” Wilkie said.

While the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has found there is limited or suggestive evidence linking bladder cancer and hypothyroidism to Agent Orange exposure and suggestive evidence linking hypertension, or high blood pressure, to the group of herbicides used as defoliants during the Vietnam War, VA is waiting for the results of two studies — the results of which were expected this year — before making any announcement, VA officials have said.

In the documents obtained by Army veteran Jeff O’Malley, OMB officials insisted that VA provide more “compelling evidence” to prove the link between the proposed diseases and exposure.

Schumer, D-N.Y., said the failure to pass a resolution and Mulvaney’s objections were “incomprehensibly cruel” and “obviously hypocritical.”

“President Trump goes around and talks about how he loves our veterans and then he doesn’t allow those who suffer some of the most to get the help they need,” Schumer said.

The debate over the proposed presumptive conditions coincided with efforts to extend Agent Orange benefits to sailors and Marines who served on Navy ships off the coast of Vietnam — the “blue water” veterans.

Trump signed legislation in June extending benefits to those veterans who are sick with one of the 14 conditions linked to Agent Orange exposure. VA announced it would begin processing these veterans’ claims beginning Jan. 1.

But Brown said Wednesday that already, 12 “blue water” veterans have died and the VA should act to help those affected with the proposed presumptive conditions as well.

“I understand as well as anybody how important it is to protect taxpayers … we can’t come up with a few billion dollars to help veterans who are dying from these four illnesses?” Brown said.

WaPo: White House and Pentagon prepare for Trump to issue pardons in war-crimes cases, officials say

November 14, 2019 at 9:12 p.m. EST

President Trump is expected to intervene in three military justice cases involving service members charged with war crimes any day, issuing pardons or otherwise clearing them of wrongdoing and preventing the U.S. military from bringing the same charges again, three U.S. officials said Thursday.

White House and Pentagon officials have been working out the details for days, said the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. The details were not all clear but are expected to involve executive clemency, in which Trump can pardon someone or shorten a prison sentence through commutation.

The actions have been anticipated by U.S. officials and advocates for the service members for weeks, and decried by some military justice experts for what they see as a subversion of the legal process. But those experts also acknowledge that, as commander in chief, Trump has broad authority in the cases to act as he sees fit.

Some observers thought that Trump might announce his decision during a “Keep America Great” rally in Louisiana on Thursday night, but that did not occur. U.S. officials said they will be watching his Twitter account for an announcement on Friday, but added that he could publicize them later, or one at a time.

A Pentagon official, asked about the case, referred comment to recent remarks made by Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper. Esper acknowledged last week speaking with the president about the issue but declined to share his personal opinion.

“I do have full confidence in the military justice system and we’ll let things play out as they play out,” Esper said. “I offered ― as I do in all matters ― the facts, the options, my advice, the recommendations and we’ll see how things play out."

The cases include that of Army Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn, a former Special Forces officer who faces a murder trial in the 2010 death of a suspected Taliban bombmaker; former Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who recently was acquitted of murder but convicted of posing with an Islamic State corpse; and former Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who was convicted of second-degree murder in 2013 and is serving a 19-year prison sentence for ordering his soldiers to open fire on three men in Afghanistan.

Golsteyn faces a court-martial that is scheduled for February. He first came under investigation in 2011 after he applied for a job with the CIA and disclosed during a polygraph test that he had killed someone on deployment and burned the body, according to Army documents and a Washington Post interview with Golsteyn in February.

Golsteyn said he killed the suspected bombmaker in an ambush after he had been detained and crossed paths on base with a tribal elder working with U.S. forces. U.S. troops were required to set the detainee free, he said, prompting fears that he would kill the elder. Golsteyn contends the ambush of the man, who was unarmed at the time, was legal.

Gallagher was tried by the Navy in a case over the summer that fell apart after another SEAL in his unit testified in court that he had actually killed a wounded Islamic State detainee in Iraq at the center of the case. Gallagher was convicted instead of taking a photograph with an Islamic State member’s corpse and demoted one rank to petty officer first class. He has sought his old rank reinstated as he retires, said his attorney, Tim Parlatore.

Lorance was convicted of second-degree murder in 2013 after nine members of his unit testified against him, and has been imprisoned for the past six years at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. Lorance’s supporters have argued that Army prosecutors in his case hid details, including that biometrics showed the men were affiliated with the Taliban. The U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals found in 2017 that the information would not have been permitted at a new trial.

Trump has raised questions about the prosecution of the Golsteyn and Gallagher cases previously, and all three service members have received extensive media coverage, especially in the conservative media.

In October, Trump tweeted that the case of Golsteyn was “under review” at the White House. Golsteyn, who earned a Silver Star for valor in Afghanistan that was later revoked by the Army, is “a highly decorated Green Beret who is being tried for killing a Taliban bombmaker,” Trump said.

“We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!” he tweeted.

In March, Trump ordered the Navy to remove Gallagher from pretrial confinement in prison, and celebrated when he was acquitted of murder in July.

“Congratulations to Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher, his wonderful wife Andrea, and his entire family,” Trump tweeted. “You have been through much together. Glad I could help!”

Trump also directed the Navy to rescind Navy Achievement Medals that Navy prosecutors received in the Gallagher prosecution, tweeting that “not only did they lose the case,” they had offered immunity to Gallagher’s fellow SEALs in “totally incompetent fashion.”

The action follows Trump pardoning another veteran, former 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, in May in the 2008 murder of an Iraqi prisoner suspected of being a member of al-Qaeda.

Behenna was convicted of unpremeditated murder and sentenced to 25 years after stripping a detainee naked, interrogating him without authorization and shooting him twice. Behenna said he was acting in self-defense and that the detainee made a move for the officer’s pistol.

McClatchy: VA to study whether military toxic exposures are tied to veterans cancers, illnesses


NOVEMBER 13, 2019 05:45 PM

The Department of Veterans Affairs will launch a major study into military exposure to toxic environments to get a better understanding of whether there is a connection to cancers and other diseases afflicting service members, the agency’s chief research officer said Wednesday.

Rachel Ramoni, the chief research and development officer for the VA, said despite generations of men and women returning home from serving in wars overseas to face cancer diagnoses at home, the agency has not yet devoted resources to discoverthe root causes.

“I’ve been speaking a lot with [Vietnam veterans] in particular, and they, I think, for good reason, have been irritated with us as an organization because we have not done a lot of work, especially clinical work on military exposures,” she said.

Ramoni said that as a result of conversations with hundreds of veterans to help shape the study, the agency will also be looking at the impact on veterans’ kids, and whether toxic exposure while serving is connected to birth defects in their children.

“It’s very hard to hear stories from veterans who bear the feeling of guilt that their daughter, and this is one veteran I spoke to, their daughter had a hysterectomy at age three and wondering if it was because of his service,” she said.

Ramoni said that she has apologized to the Vietnam veterans groups for the lack of previous research. “I have committed that in [fiscal year] 2021 we’re going to make major investments in toxic exposure. We are in the planning phases for that now, but in FY 2021 we will start to roll that out. That’s something that will cut across all our research.”

Last month in an exclusive investigation, McClatchy reported that the rates of treatment at VA health care centers for many types of cancers rose sharply over the last two decades of war. Treatment rates for urinary cancers — which include bladder, ureter and kidney cancers — have jumped 61 percent from fiscal year 2000 to 2018. Prostate cancer treatment rates have risen 23 percent.

Veterans groups and their families question whether the various toxic exposures that service members encountered while in the military are to blame. Some of those exposures include massive trash burning pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, where everything from ammunition, tires, computer parts and human waste was burned. They have also expressed concerns about cancer-linked firefighting foam the military used and possible exposure to radiation in the cockpits of the aircraft they flew.

But little research has been done to date on whether the cancers veterans are facing now are tied to those exposures.

Specifically for prostate cancer, “we don’t have a clear answer why,” Ramoni said. “I think it’s clear that Agent Orange alone can’t be the explanation because that affects one era of service. But in general, cancer is more common in VA across the board than it is in the U.S. general population.”



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