American Legion Daily News Clips 4.3.20

Good morning my fellow quarantiners (quarantinians?) today is Friday the 3rd of April 2020 which is allegedly World Party Day, but I don’t think the world go the memo.

Hope everyone saw Jeopardy last night and the $200 question in “This and that”: “this all ‘American’ veterans’ organization was chartered by congress in September of 1919.”

Your inspirational quote for the day…

Lyin’ in a den in Bombay
With a slack jaw, and not much to say
I said to the man, "Are you trying to tempt me
Because I come from the land of plenty?"
And he said, oh

Do you come from a land down under? (Ooh yeah yeah)
Where women glow and men plunder?

OK, so that isn’t really inspirational. In fact, I’m not really good at inspiration. As an infantryman I sort of went with the other thing, you know, yelling, threatening, demeaning….the classics.

Weird facts for today….

Pogonophobia is the fear of beards.

Alaska is the only state whose name is on one row on a keyboard.

Montpelier, Vermont, is the only U.S. capital without a McDonald’s.*

* There is one in Barre, just down the road.

Yesterday I cut my 2 year old twins hair, and the wife wasn’t overly enthusiastic with the mohawk that resulted, so I’ll be here in my office all day hiding and working if anyone has actual inspirational things they want to share for next week’s clips.


Stripes: VFW argues abrupt VA change will ‘erode veterans right to competent representation’ in benefits fights

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 1, 2020

WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs is ending a decades-old practice of allowing veterans service representatives to review benefits decisions for accuracy before those decisions are finalized and sent to veterans.

Veterans of Foreign Wars, which employs about 300 representatives across the country, argues the change will lead to more problems — and paperwork — for veterans. Paul Lawrence, the VA undersecretary of benefits, announced the change at a meeting with veterans groups last week, said Ryan Gallucci, a director at the VFW’s office in Washington. It will take effect at the end of April.

“This is a last-chance quality review,” Gallucci said. “We raised our concerns and said we’d really appreciate the ability to demonstrate why it’s so important, but he basically said his mind was made up. This was happening, whether we agreed or not.”

As outlined in a VA manual, representatives accredited by the VA have 48 hours to review new rating decisions on behalf of their veteran clients. The decisions determine the level of compensation for service-connected injuries and illnesses.

The representatives check for inadvertent errors that could save veterans from having to file appeals or to request VA reviews. VFW representatives find errors in 5% to 7% of claims, Gallucci said.

“The VA is shifting the burden to veterans to discover its errors,” he said.

VFW National Commander William Schmitz argued it was an “inconceivable” change that would erode veterans’ right to competent representation in benefits claims. The group also questioned the timing of the change, which will be implemented as the country — and the Veterans Health Administration — responds to the global coronavirus pandemic.

“The VA has had a difficult history of earning and maintaining the trust of its veterans, service members and families,” Schmitz said in a statement. “Making this change in the midst of a national pandemic is extremely troublesome and is just the latest example of distrust and lack of confidence in our VA to make our veterans its number one priority.”

The VA decided to make the change because its online claims system made the 48-hour review process “obsolete,” said VA Press Secretary Christina Mandreucci.

In 2013, the department turned all paper claims into digital records and transitioned to an all-online claims process. The agency created the Veterans Benefits Management System, an online database.

“Since all veteran records, documents and other materials are now scanned or transmitted electronically, Veterans Service Organizations and other accredited representatives have access to their clients’ records throughout the claims process in real time,” Mandreucci said. “This is a marked improvement over the limited, 48-hour review period under the old system.”

While it’s true that representatives can access their veterans’ files, there no longer will be a process in which they can make changes to the decisions before they’re finalized, Gallucci argued.

“It’s after-the-fact,” he said. “We’ll see the rating decision after it’s finalized, and at that point, we can’t fix the problem without causing further delay for the veteran.”

The 48-hour review is necessary more than ever because of the VA’s efforts to eliminate its backlog of claims, Gallucci said. The backlog, which includes claims more than 125 days old, was down to about 75,000 in March from a high of 611,000 in 2013.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in February the VA was on track to eliminate its appeals inventory by July.

“We check for things missed by human error, especially because the VA is on a time crunch,” Gallucci said.

Twitter: @nikkiwentling

NBC News: Navy relieves captain who raised alarm about coronavirus outbreak on aircraft carrier

The Navy relieved the captain who sounded the alarm about an outbreak of COVID-19 aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

April 2, 2020, 4:23 PM EDT / Updated April 2, 2020, 5:32 PM EDT

By Courtney Kube and Mosheh Gains

The Navy announced it has relieved the captain who sounded the alarm about an outbreak of COVID-19 aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Capt. Brett Crozier, who commands the Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier with a crew of nearly 5,000, was relieved of his command Thursday, but he will keep his rank and remain in the Navy.

Crozier raised the alarm this week, sending a strongly worded letter to Navy leadership that detailed his concerns about the spread of the virus on the ship. The letter leaked to the media and generated a series of headlines.

Speaking at a news conference Thursday evening, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said Crozier was removed from his post because he sent the letter over "non-secure unclassified email" to a "broad array of people" rather than up the chain of command.

"I have no doubt in my mind that Captain Crozier did what he thought was in the best interest of the safety and well-being of his crew," Modly said. "Unfortunately, it did the opposite. It unnecessarily raised the alarm of the families of our sailors and Marines with no plans to address those concerns."

Modly insisted the that decision was his alone. He praised Crozier but said he had concluded that the captain "allowed the complexity of the challenge of the COVID breakout on the ship to overwhelm his ability to act professionally."

"The responsibility for this decision rests with me," Modly added. "I expect no congratulations for it. Captain Crozier is an incredible man."

In a statement, a group of top Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee sharply criticized the decision to remove Crozier.

“The dismissal of Captain Crozier at this critical moment, as the sailors aboard the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt are confronted with the COVID-19 pandemic, is a reckless, political move that reeks of undue command influence," read the statement from chairman Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, subcommittee chairs Rep. Joe Courtney of Connecticut, Rep. John Garamendi of California and Rep. Jackie Speier of California.

The ship, which was operating in the Pacific, pulled into port in Guam last week several days after multiple crew members tested positive for the virus. By Wednesday, there were 93 positive test results, and more than 1,000 people were taken off the carrier and placed into isolation on Guam. In total, 2,700 people are expected to disembark the ship this week, with a smaller crew remaining to maintain the carrier.

Navy Times: Coast Guard: Cruise ships must stay at sea with sick onboard

Adriana Gomez Licon and Freida Frisaro

1 day ago

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The U.S. Coast Guard has directed all cruise ships to prepare to treat any sick passengers and crew on board while being sequestered “indefinitely" offshore during the coronavirus pandemic.

The new rules require daily updates on each ship’s coronavirus caseload for vessels in U.S. waters, and come with a stiff warning: Any foreign-flagged vessels “that loiter beyond U.S. territorial seas" should try first to medically evacuate the very sick to those countries instead.

Many of South Florida’s cruise ships are registered in the Bahamas, where hospital capacity is limited and people are still recovering from last year’s Hurricane Dorian.

The rules, which apply to any vessel carrying more than 50 people, were issued in a March 29 safety bulletin signed by Coast Guard Rear Admiral E.C. Jones, whose district includes Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Puerto Rico.

Dozens of cruise ships are either lined up at Port Miami and Port Everglades or waiting offshore due to the coronavirus pandemic. Most have only crew aboard, but the Carnival Corp., which owns nine cruise lines with a total of 105 ships, notified the SEC Tuesday that it has more than 6,000 passengers still at sea.

Federal, state and local officials have been negotiating over whether two Holland America cruise ships, the Zaandam and Rotterdam, would be allowed to dock at Port Everglades this week. But more are on the way, including the Coral Princess, carrying what that ship’s medical center called a higher than normal number of people with flu-like symptoms.

Two of four deaths on the Zaandam were blamed on COVID-19 and nine people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the company said. At least 190 more reported symptoms. More than 300 Americans are on Zaandam and Rotterdam.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday that the state’s healthcare system is stretched too thin to take on the Zaandam’s coronavirus caseload. “Just to drop people off at the place where we’re having the highest number of cases right now just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense," DeSantis said.

President Donald Trump said later that he would speak with his fellow Republican. “They’re dying on the ship,” Trump said. “I’m going to do what’s right. Not only for us, but for humanity.”

Under normal conditions, when a passenger or crew member become too ill for the ship’s medical team to care for, they call the Coast Guard to provide a medical evacuation to an onshore hospital. Under the new rules, sick passengers would be sequestered indefinitely on board.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

“This is necessary as shore-side medical facilities may reach full capacity and lose the ability to accept and effectively treat additional critically-ill patients," the memo said. “A potential evacuee has better access to comfortable surroundings and the medical staff on board the foreign passenger vessel where care is already being provided.”

The document requires all ships in U.S. waters to report their numbers of sick and dead on board each day or face civil penalties or criminal prosecution. The Coast Guard will decide if a transfer is absolutely necessary, but the cruise line would be responsible for arranging on-shore transportation and hospital beds.

ABC News: Feds: Man intentionally derailed LA train near hospital ship

Authorities say a train engineer intentionally drove a speeding locomotive off a track at the Port of Los Angeles because he was suspicious about the presence of a Navy hospital ship docked there amid the coronovirus crisis



April 1, 2020, 10:33 PM

3 min read

LOS ANGELES — A train engineer intentionally drove a speeding locomotive off a track at the Port of Los Angeles because he was suspicious about the presence of a Navy hospital ship docked there to help during the coronovirus crisis, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

The locomotive crashed through a series of barriers and fences before coming to rest more than 250 yards (230 meters) from the U.S. Navy Hospital Ship Mercy on Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a release.

Nobody was hurt.

Eduardo Moreno, 44, was charged with one count of train wrecking, prosecutors said. It wasn’t immediately known if he has an attorney.

Moreno acknowledged in two separate interviews with law enforcement that he intentionally derailed and crashed the train near the Mercy, according to the criminal complaint.

“You only get this chance once. The whole world is watching. I had to," Moreno told investigators, according to the complaint. "People don’t know what’s going on here. Now they will.”

Moreno said he was suspicious of the Mercy and believed it had an alternate purpose related to COVID-19 or a government takeover, an affidavit states. Moreno stated that he acted alone and had not pre-planned the attempted attack.

In an interview with FBI agents, Moreno stated that “he did it out of the desire to ‘wake people up,’” according to an affidavit.

“Moreno stated that he thought that the USNS Mercy was suspicious and did not believe ‘the ship is what they say it’s for,’" the complaint said.

The Mercy arrived in port this week to provide a thousand hospital beds for non-coronavirus cases to take the load of regional medical centers expecting a surge of COVID-19 patients.

Cell phone video showed the locomotive upright in a patch of dirt. It apparently smashed through a concrete barrier at the end of the track, slid across pavement and gravel, and hit a chain-link fence before coming to a rest.

Phillip Sanfield, spokesman for the Port of Los Angeles, said the locomotive never came close to the Mercy.

“It would have had to have gone several hundred yards through a parking lot and cross a water channel to reach the ship,” Sanfield said. “ The tracks are nowhere near the Mercy.”

The engineer wasn’t a port employee but apparently was working for Pacific Harbor Line Inc., a train company that handles cargo in the port and connects to major railroad lines, Sanfield said. The company didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

A small fuel leak was quickly controlled and port operations weren’t seriously affected, Sanfield said.

Moreno was arrested by a California Highway Patrol officer who witnessed the crash and captured him as he fled the scene. The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Port of Los Angeles Police are now leading the investigation.

The CHP officer reported seeing “the train smash into a concrete barrier at the end of the track, smash into a steel barrier, smash into a chain-link fence, slide through a parking lot, slide across another lot filled with gravel, and smash into a second chain-link fence,” according to an affadavit.

Stripes: Nearly 2,000 VA patients, 500 staff have tested positive for coronavirus

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 2, 2020

Stars and Stripes is making stories on the coronavirus pandemic available free of charge. See other free reports here. Sign up for our daily coronavirus newsletter here. Please support our journalism with a subscription.

WASHINGTON – Nearly 2,000 veterans and more than 500 Department of Veterans Affairs employees have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to data released by the department Thursday.

The agency also reported 68 veteran deaths across the VA health care system — an increase from six deaths one week ago. The veterans ranged in age from their 50s to their 90s.

Nationwide, more than 213,000 people in the United States were known to be infected in the global pandemic Thursday, and the death toll had climbed to 5,700. New York has been the most affected in terms of number of cases and deaths.

New York-area VA hospitals had seen some of the most cases of all medical facilities across the department. The VA operates 172 medical centers and is responsible for treating more than 9 million veterans. As of Thursday, it had tracked 1,921 cases of coronavirus among VA patients.

The Bronx VA Medical Center had 89 cases, Brooklyn had 103 and Northport, N.Y., had 44. The VA Hudson Valley Health Care System in Castle Point, N.Y., and Montrose, N.Y., had 47 veterans who tested positive. The East Orange, N.J., hospital, near Manhattan, had 54 cases. Of the New York-area cases, 109 VA patients had been hospitalized.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie took steps to help non-veterans in the New York area. In accordance with the VA’s “fourth mission” to serve as backup for America’s medical system, Wilkie opened 50 beds last week in Manhattan and Brooklyn to civilian, non-coronavirus patients.

On Wednesday, Wilkie announced he opened 15 beds at the East Orange VA Medical Center in New Jersey to civilian patients who tested positive for coronavirus. The patients who were transferred had critical and non-critical cases, the VA said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency asked the VA for help after the state of New Jersey requested federal assistance. Wilkie said it would not affect veteran care.

“VA is proud to assist the state of New Jersey in the fight against this pandemic while continuing its primary mission of caring for our nation’s Veterans,” Wilkie said in a statement.

The New Orleans VA Medical Center has the most cases out of any department-run medical facility. On Thursday, New Orleans reported 324 cases, and 35 of those veterans had been hospitalized. Sixteen veterans have died there in the past week.

VA staff has also been affected. According to department data, 532 employees across 79 VA medical facilities have tested positive for the virus. VA Press Secretary Christina Mandreucci said additional information, such as their job titles, could not be publicly shared because of privacy concerns.

“In accordance with CDC guidelines and the employees’ clinical status, the employees are all in isolation, mitigating further risk of transmission to other patients and staff,” Mandreucci said in an email.

Together, New Orleans and Indianapolis accounted for more than one-fourth of the 532 cases among employees. Indianapolis had the most, with 64, and New Orleans had 63.

Other locations with 10 or more cases among employees were Jamaica Plain, Mass.; Washington, D.C.; Orlando, Fla.; Detroit; Chicago’s West Side; Kansas City, Mo.; Houston; Aurora, Colo.; Seattle; Las Vegas; and San Diego.

It’s uncertain how many of the employees are doctors, nurses or other medical staff.

VA employees, along with other medical staff across the country, have expressed alarm over the lack of personal protective equipment they’ve been given when treating coronavirus patients. On Thursday, the National Federation of Federal Employees, a union representing VA workers, criticized the department for shortages of masks, gloves and sanitation stations at the East Orange VA Medical Center.

“Our nurses, pharmacists, and other medical professionals at the East Orange VA Hospital are united in their concern over the lack of personal protective equipment,” the union’s local executive board wrote.

The board also criticized the department for not reassigning high-risk employees, such as those over age 60 or those who are immuno-compromised, to areas where they would not encounter coronavirus patients.

The VA Office of Inspector General surveyed leaders of VA hospitals across the country in March. Many of them said they needed larger supplies of sanitizer, masks, gloves and gowns. The Indianapolis VA cited shortages of gowns and personal protective equipment.

The department was given nearly $20 billion in a sweeping $2 trillion measure Congress passed last week. Some of the money was directed toward buying more personal protective equipment for medical staff.

In its coronavirus response plan shared publicly last week, the VA estimated the coronavirus outbreak could last 18 months or longer and include multiple waves of illness. During that time, VA leaders guess about 30% of its employees will be unable to work because they or a family member will become sick.

Twitter: @nikkiwentling

Military Times: Trump says VA won’t collect debts, will extend benefits deadlines amid coronavirus outbreak

Leo Shane III

7 hours ago

President Donald Trump said he will direct the Department of Veterans Affairs to postpone all debt collections and extend deadlines for benefits applications where possible in an effort to lessen the financial impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic on veterans and their families.

The pledge came at his daily press conference Thursday about the ongoing federal response to the fast-spreading illness, which has already infected at least 240,000 Americans and killed more than 6,000 others.

“We’re making every effort to provide relief to our great veterans,” Trump said. “We take very good care of our veterans.”

Trump said he has instructed VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to use “any authority at his disposal” to deal with the benefits and collections issues. VA officials did not provide any immediate comment on the White House decision.

Numerous lawmakers have been pushing for the move for days, calling it a necessary step to protect already anxious and suffering veterans. On Tuesday, Senate Veteran’s Affairs Committee Chairman Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and ranking member Jon Tester, D-Mont., petitioned Wilkie to grant waivers for a host of benefits filing deadlines.

“The Department of Veterans Affairs has broad authority to waive many required deadlines under the law and we believe the current crisis warrants liberal provision of such waivers,” the pair wrote in a letter to the secretary.

Under current VA rules, veterans or veterans service organizations typically face tight deadlines for disability benefits applications to protest decisions or appeal rulings.

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Tester and Moran have pushed for a suspension of all such deadlines for 180 days, and for all new benefits filings to have an effective date of March 31, 2020, so veterans aren’t penalized for unforeseen delays in processing appropriate forms.

“We hope we can continue working together ensuring veterans are not faced with an unfair choice: risking their health or receiving their benefits,” they wrote.

On Thursday night, veterans advocates offered cautious praise for Trump’s announcement.

“We must lighten the financial burden of veterans by suspending VA debt collections in the same way (the government) did for U.S. Treasury and U.S. Department of Education (debts),” officials from Veterans Education Success wrote in a Twitter post.

“While we’re hopeful, there are many outstanding questions. What does this exactly mean? When and how will this be implemented? How will veterans be notified?”

Trump said the veterans announcement was part of a broad array of moves to protect “Americans who remain the most vulnerable” amid economic and medical uncertainty.

According to VA data, 68 veterans in department health care have died from coronavirus-related complications in the last month.

Military Times: 24-hour child care would be available at some military bases under new congressional proposal

Leo Shane III

16 hours ago

A pair of key Republican lawmakers want the Defense Department to start offering 24-hour child care services at military bases where alternate-shift workers are concentrated as part of an overall re-assessment of the military’s family support programs. “There is a direct connection between the status of a military family and that servicemember’s ability or readiness to serve the country,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee. “And I don’t think that the military has kept up with those challenges.”

On Thursday, Thornberry and Rep. Trent Kelly, R-Miss. and the senior Republican on the committee’s personnel panel, introduced new legislation dubbed the Military Family Readiness Act, which calls for the military leaders to “establish a common definition of family readiness to ensure standardization of services and assistance.”

The measure, expected to be included in the annual defense authorization bill debate later this spring, would also require Defense Department leaders develop more frequent reports on family services and create a pilot program with the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency to recruit military spouses. Thornberry said he does not have a specific vision of what the new family readiness metrics will look like, but said it is important for military leaders to find ways to better track families’ needs and measure their ability to provide those services.

“You’ve got to pay attention to it just like you do other forms of readiness,” he said. “While you can have some variation among the services, basically everybody needs to pay attention to this.”

He said the services’ child care issues are a good example of the need for better assessment. In recent years, outside advocates have noted the long wait times for military child care at some locations, and the varied needs of families depending on their assignments.

“There are some places that we are convinced need 24-hour childcare,” he said. “And it’s really a problem where that is not available. But that may not be true at every base.

“What you need (to find out) is whether childcare is available 24 hours a day for the people who need it. That’s an example of how you’ve got to dig down a little deeper to find out if we’re meeting the needs of families.”

Typically, members of the armed services committee offer stand-alone military bills in advance of discussions of the annual defense authorization measure, which includes hundreds of budget and policy measures. Those items then serve as the basis for debate for inclusion in the larger bill, which has passed Congress for more than 50 consecutive years.

This year, debate on that authorization measure has been unsettled by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Committee leaders earlier this week postponed the scheduled full-committee mark-up scheduled for later this month, and are working for ways to complete the work in a new, remote setting.

Thornberry, the former chairman of the armed services committee, said lawmakers’ focus at the moment is on the military response to coronavirus, but the family readiness issues deserve attention too.

“I’m not pretending that (this bill) can fix the challenges and stresses caused by COVID-19,” he said. “But if we can put some ideas out there … then that’s a that’s a good thing for getting a better bill.”