Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans’ advocates, it’s Monday, September 21, 2020, which is International Day of Peace, Miniature Golf Day, National Farm Safety Day for Kids, World Alzheimer’s Day, and World Gratitude Day.
Today in American Legion history:
- Sept. 21, 1937: The American Legion National Convention Parade in New York City draws national media coverage and lasts nearly 18 hours. More than 250,000 marchers and spectators line up for the event.
And today in history:
- On September 21, 1780, during the American Revolution, American General Benedict Arnold meets with British Major John Andre to discuss handing over West Point to the British, in return for the promise of a large sum of money and a high position in the British army. The plot was foiled and Arnold, a former American hero, became synonymous with the word “traitor.”
- 1938: Without warning, a powerful Category 3 hurricane slams into Long Island and southern New England, causing 600 deaths and devastating coastal cities and towns. Also called the Long Island Express, the Great New England Hurricane of 1938 was the most destructive storm to strike the region in the 20th century.
- On September 21, 1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appears before Congress and asks that the Neutrality Acts, a series of laws passed earlier in the decade, be amended. Roosevelt hoped to lift an embargo against sending military aid to countries in Europe facing the onslaught of Nazi aggression during World War II.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Associated Press: mseavey with “Remove” in the subject line. If you have received this from someone who forwarded it and would like to be added, email mseavey.
Associated Press: Iran vows ‘hit’ on all involved in US killing of top general
The Associated Press | 10 hours ago
TEHRAN, Iran — The chief of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard threatened Saturday to go after everyone who had a role in a top general’s January killing during a U.S. drone strike in Iraq.
The guard’s website quoted Gen. Hossein Salami as saying, “Mr. Trump! Our revenge for martyrdom of our great general is obvious, serious and real.”
U.S. President Donald Trump warned this week that Washington would harshly respond to any Iranian attempts to take revenge for the death of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, tweeting that “if they hit us in any way, any form, written instructions already done we’re going to hit them 1000 times harder.”
The president’s warning came in response to a report that Iran was plotting to assassinate the U.S. ambassador to South Africa in retaliation for Soleimani’s killing at Baghdad’s airport at the beginning of the year.
“We took out the world’s number one terrorist and the mass murderer of American troops and many, many troops and many people all over the world,” Trump said. “Qasem Soleimani is dead. He’s dead. Bad guy. Bad guy. Very bad guy.”
Salami rejected the report of an Iranian plot to assassinate Ambassador Lana Marks, but made clear that Iran intends to avenge the general’s death.
"Do you think we hit a female ambassador in return to our martyred brother?’ the general said. “We will hit those who had direct and indirect roles. You should know that everybody who had role in the event will be hit, and this is a serious message. We do prove everything in practice.”
In January, Iran launched a ballistic missile attack targeting U.S. troops in Iraq in response to the fatal drone strike.
Trump has stepped up economic pressure on Iran with sanctions since he pulled the United States out of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018.
Tehran has continued to expand its stockpile of enriched uranium and pressured other nations to offset the harm of U.S. sanctions, while insisting it does not want to develop a nuclear weapon.
Associated Press: Bergdahl lawyers say military judge’s job application posed conflict
Sarah Blake Morgan, The Associated Press | 5 hours ago
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A new motion filed in the case of former U.S Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is asking the highest appeals court for the U.S. military to overturn his conviction, citing an alleged conflict of interest involving the judge who originally presided over his sentencing.
The motion filed Friday seeks to have the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces re-examine the impartiality of retired Army Col. Jeffrey Nance, the military judge who sentenced Bergdahl. The motion says Nance was working to secure a job with the Department of Justice at the time of his ruling in the Bergdahl case.
In 2017, Bergdahl pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. Bergdahl was a 23-year-old private first class in June 2009 when, after five months in Afghanistan, he disappeared from his remote infantry post near the Pakistan border, triggering a massive search operation.
Videos emerged soon after Bergdahl’s disappearance showing him in captivity by the Taliban. For years, the U.S. kept tabs on Bergdahl with spies and satellites as behind-the-scenes negotiations played out sporadically. Then in May 2014, he was handed over to U.S. Special Forces in a swap for five Taliban detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison, fueling an emotional U.S. debate about whether Bergdahl was a hero or a deserter.
The appellate judges upheld Bergdahl’s conviction earlier this year in a narrow 3-2 decision when they held that disparaging comments made about Bergdahl by the late Sen. John McCain and President Donald Trump in the White House Rose Garden back in October 2017 did not invalidate his prosecution.
Trump had described the ex-soldier as a “dirty rotten traitor,” called for the execution of Bergdahl by firing squad and joked in campaign appearances last election cycle that Bergdahl should be thrown from a plane without a parachute.
On Oct. 16, the same day Nance accepted Bergdahl’s guilty plea, court documents show he applied for a position as a federal immigration judge.
Following Trump’s comments, Bergdahl’s attorney asked Nance to dismiss the case because of Trump’s comments “vilifying” Bergdahl.
According to court documents, Nance assured Bergdahl’s counsel that Trump’s comments would have no impact on his decision saying, “I have no hope or ambition beyond my current rank … I am completely unaffected by any opinions President Trump may have about Sgt. Bergdahl.”
But according to the motion, Nance highlighted his role as the judge presiding over Bergdahl’s case while applying to work in the Justice Department and even included as a writing sample a ruling rejecting Bergdahl’s unlawful command influence arguments.
Court documents state Nance never disclosed he was applying for a position as an immigration judge. But a press release announced his appointment to the position, by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in September 2018.
Public affairs staff at the Justice Department who handle communications for the Georgia immigration court that currently lists Nance as a judge didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
The motion was first reported on the CAAFlog website, which covers military legal affairs. Bergdahl’s attorney, Eugene Fidell, confirmed that the motion posted on the blog was accurate but declined further comment in an email.
In November 2017, Nance spared Bergdahl prison time in a sentence that included a dishonorable discharge, a reduction in rank and the forfeiture of some pay. Prosecutors had sought a stiffer penalty of more than a decade in prison because of wounds suffered by service members who searched for Bergdahl after he disappeared in 2009. Trump quickly called the sentence a “disgrace” at the time.
Before the sentencing, Nance rejected defense motions that charges should be dismissed or punishment limited because Trump was exerting unlawful command influence. While he declined to rule in the defense’s favor, he said at the time he had concerns about Trump’s comments affecting public perception of the military justice system. He said then that he would consider Trump’s comments a factor promoting leniency.
Honolulu Star-Advertiser: VA issues critical assessment of Hilo veterans home
By MINDY PENNYBACKER | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: September 20, 2020
HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — A team of health care professionals from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs issued a detailed and sometimes-scathing assessment of the sanitary conditions and procedures at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo, which has seen at least 18 residents die of COVID-19, the most of any nursing home in the state.
The 16-page report was based on a four-hour visit by the team Sept. 11, three weeks after the outbreak began at the veterans home, which is operated by Avalon Health Care Group, based in Salt Lake City, Utah. The VA assessment was provided to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Friday by Avalon along with the company’s written responses.
“There was very little evidence of proactive preparation/planning for COVID,” the report stated. “A basic understanding of segregation and work flow seemed to be lacking even approximately three weeks after the first positive case.”
While some best practices were observed, such as touchless door entry in many areas, effective screening at entry points with clean masks provided before entering, hand-washing sinks at both entrances and reuse of sterilized face shields, many of these “seemed as if they were a result of recent changes,” and not having them in place “from the pandemic onset” was “a major contributing factor towards the rapid spread,” the assessment added.
Some of the VA’s criticisms and its perception of the timing of improvements were disputed by Allison Griffiths, spokesperson for Avalon Health Care, which also manages Avalon Care Center Honolulu in Kalihi and Hale Nani Rehabilitation and Nursing Center on Wilhelmina Rise. Hale Nani is the largest nursing home in the state, with 288 beds; the Yukio Okutsu home has 96 beds.
“The Yukio Okutsu facility had implemented about 60% of the recommendations at the time the VA team came in initially,” Griffiths told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in a phone interview Saturday.
Since the “early days of the pandemic,” she added, the facility consistently had followed the guidance of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the state Department of Health, keeping pace with changing rules and recommendations. “But much of the remainder of the VA report, including its recommendations, is an entirely new playbook for nursing homes, going above and beyond the regulations and guidance that nursing homes nationwide and in Hawaii have been relying on.”
Griffiths noted that 40% of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. had occurred at nursing homes.
That said, “We’re thankful for the support and collaboration of the VA, and are committed to working side by side with the department,” she added, noting that 19 clinical and administrative personnel, including housekeeping and food service staff, from the VA began arriving at the home Thursday and are expected to help on site for up to six weeks.
The assessment’s findings included:
- a lack of readily accessible hand sanitizers throughout the facility,
- staff uncertainty over exactly what surfaces were expected to be disinfected or how often,
- uncertainty over how often curtains were cleaned,
- scrubs worn home by staff after work,
- the same gowns and personal protective equipment (except gloves) sometimes worn while staff moved between different areas,
- staff “floating” among two or more residence halls rather than consistently caring for residents in one hall only,
- patient doors left open while fire doors between nursing stations and residence hallways were closed,
- some residents wandering into other hallways and not wearing masks consistently,
- residents not cohorted based on COVID status,
- and the sharing of recirculated air pumped through the HVAC system by residents in dual-occupancy rooms.
Avalon responded that staff were not crossing between wings wearing the same PPE in the non-COVID areas of the facility, but in the three wings of the COVID unit, which takes up the home’s downstairs, and “this practice was in accord with CDC guidelines.”
Avalon also specified there was no floating of staff between COVID and non-COVID units.
But in compliance with the VA’s recommendation, the COVID unit has been separated into three subunits with dedicated staffing, the company said.
Doors of patients’ rooms, which had been left open because closure could have implied imposition of restraints on residents, are now kept closed.
Because many of the ambulatory veterans have dementia or post-traumatic stress disorder, Griffiths said, they don’t always understand or comply with masking, social distancing and requirements to stay in their rooms, but the social worker and staff are providing diversional activities.
Other corrective actions have included ramping up cleaning, getting fresh gowns in a rotation with Hilo Health Care Center, clarifying disinfection routines, and ordering ultraviolet light sterilizers and hospital-grade HVAC filters.
The assessment reported a social worker’s complaint of exhaustion from extended hours helping with maintenance and feeding due to a shortage of staff members, some of whom were out because they’d tested positive for COVID-19, while others had quit, adding that “the leadership did not appear to share the same feeling of a staff shortage or need for additional staffing.”
It recommended getting more skilled and helping hands on board, including a request that the state immediately provide a “tiger team” of 19 medical and administrative staff.
Also pending are assessments from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency and the state Department of Health Office of Health Care Assurance.
“DOH is completing the inspection report from our Office of Health Care Assurance unannounced inspection conducted on Sept. 9-10 and 14, and will share the inspection report early next week,” DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo wrote in an email Saturday.
The VA and state Incident Command Medical Support Team assessments are being prepared for release to the public “within the next day or two,” said Cindy McMillan, spokeswoman for Gov. David Ige, in an email.
The Hilo nursing home, named after a decorated World War II veteran in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, has had seven health citations during the past three years and an overall “below average” rating from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which cited the facility for failing to provide and implement an infection prevention and control program even before the pandemic.
By LARA SELIGMAN | 09/18/2020 12:52 PM EDT | Updated: 09/18/2020 04:41 PM EDT
The Pentagon is in the early stages of rewriting its pandemic playbook after an internal review found failings in the department’s initial response to Covid-19, according to defense officials and documents viewed by POLITICO.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff is revising the plans, last updated by U.S. Northern Command in 2013, and is building on “lessons learned” from the Covid-19 response, said spokesperson Cmdr. Hayley Sims.
“The U.S. military is always planning for the future to ensure our military remains capable of protecting Americans as well as our allies and partners around the globe,” Sims said. “The plan will improve the Joint Force’s response to future disease outbreaks of any kind while simultaneously implementing the National Defense Strategy."
The new plan will draw on findings from the Joint Staff’s “in-stride” review of the Covid-19 response, completed a few weeks ago and viewed by POLITICO, which detailed some of the military’s shortcomings in responding to the pandemic and recommendations for future crises. The results of the study have not been previously reported.
In confronting Covid-19, the Pentagon failed to initially account for the “global nature” of a modern pandemic — how far and fast the virus would spread — and had difficulty distributing key medical supplies, the Joint Staff found.
The military has relied on Northern Command’s 2013 playbook, officially titled the “global campaign plan for pandemic influenza and infectious disease,” to guide its response to the coronavirus outbreak. The 2013 plan updated previous guidelines developed during the 2009 swine flu epidemic. The plan is separate from the National Security Council’s 2016 guidelines, which POLITICO first reported in early March.
But the 2013 playbook left much to be desired. “The pandemic response was a globally integrated operation,” according to the internal review. The existing plans "did not address the global" scope of the pandemic, or the responsibilities of the various military entities, including the Joint Chiefs, the combatant commands and the services, in carrying out the U.S. domestic response.
The document recommended the Joint Staff redo the plan “to incorporate global integration insights and lessons learned on the military response to Covid-19."
Since the pandemic broke out across the nation this spring, the Pentagon has taken on responsibility for several aspects of the response, including vaccine research, setting up temporary hospitals in virus hot spots, and deploying the National Guard to help local authorities with managing test centers and other logistical tasks. But according to the Joint Staff’s review, a major problem was that the roles for these missions across DoD’s bureaucracy were not well-defined.
One challenge was finding and delivering medical supplies, according to defense officials and the documents. In the early days of the pandemic in March, DoD provided health officials with millions of masks and several thousand ventilators. The Defense Health Agency was initially tasked with coordinating the movement and allocation of these resources, the bulk of which belong to the Army.
But frictions soon emerged between DHA and the services, the review found. In response, the Joint Staff’s “J4” logistics directorate stood up a task force to bridge that gap, though the unit does not normally track these movements.
“Prioritization of materiel requirements was a significant challenge,” according to the documents.
Officials concluded that in future crises, the Joint Staff should take the lead in documenting the roles of medical and logistics communities for “managing, monitoring and reporting on specific medical supplies/equipment within an operations-centric viewpoint and lead.”
In other findings, the review concluded that the Pentagon also missed opportunities for improvement by failing to initiate a formal “in-stride” review process until late in the crisis. It urged the department to “take a deliberate breath” moving into future crises to assess and better understand the existing plans in place to help guide the response, and to provide for a joint “battle team” to provide accurate, relevant information to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
“From day one of the federal response to COVID, [Defense Secretary Mark] Esper directed the tracking and compilation of lessons learned," said Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell. "Those observations are currently in their initial stages, and will be reviewed by offices throughout the department for thoroughness and accuracy before being briefed to leadership. Once it is finalized, we look forward to sharing the results.”
The internal review also said coordination was further impaired by new social distance and work-from-home policies necessitated by the pandemic, according to the report, which recommended expanding access to telework.
The review also urged the Joint Staff not to lose sight of other global threats, including actions by China, Russia and Iran, during future pandemics in order to avoid being “surprised by tomorrow.”
Leo Shane III | 9 hours ago
In what could be the final week of legislative work before the November elections, lawmakers are expected to pass a budget extension in coming days to prevent a partial government shutdown and lock in defense spending levels for months to come.
Senate and House leaders are still debating whether to extend federal spending at fiscal 2020 levels until this December or February 2021. Defense officials and industry leaders have said they would prefer a shorter continuing resolution, because they cannot start new programs or increase spending on existing priorities under the restrictions from previous fiscal year funding.
But House Democratic leaders have argued that pushing the final funding decisions until next February makes more sense, given the looming presidential election and changes in the White House staffing regardless which party wins.
Amid that discussion, several congressional committees will hold hearings on defense and veterans issues this week in anticipation of the coming break. The Coast Guard commandant is scheduled to testify before senators on Tuesday, while the Navy secretary and top Marine Corps officials are scheduled to appear on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
Tuesday, Sept. 22
House Foreign Affairs — 10 a.m. — 2172 Rayburn
Outside experts will testify on human rights issues in Asian countries.
Senate Foreign Relations — 10:30 a.m. — 106 Dirksen
The committee will consider several nominations, including William Todd to be U.S. ambassador to Pakistan.
House Oversight and Reform — 11 a.m. — 2154 Rayburn
The committee will continue its examination of the administration’s national security strategy in Afghanistan.
House Armed Services — 1 p.m. — 2118 Rayburn
Army officials will testify on modernization of the conventional ammunition production industrial base.
House Foreign Affairs — 2 p.m. — 2172 Rayburn
State Department Diversity
State Department officials will testify on efforts to promote diversity among the ranks of department employees.
Senate Commerce — 2:30 p.m. — 253 Russell
Coast Guard Arctic Operations
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Charles Ray will testify on his services operations in the Arctic and needs to continue the work.
Wednesday, Sept. 23
Senate Armed Services — 9:15 a.m. — 562 Dirksen
Navy/Marine Corps Readiness
Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite, Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William Lescher, and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger will testify on force readiness issues.
Senate Homeland Security — 10 a.m. — 342 Dirksen
The committee will consider the nomination of Chad Wolf to be secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
House Veterans’ Affairs — 10 a.m. — online hearing
The committee will discuss veteran toxic exposure issues, with a focus on past military operations in southwest Asia.
House Armed Services — 12 p.m. — online hearing
Outside experts will testify on the importance of international allies.
Thursday, Sept. 24
Senate Foreign Relations — 9 a.m. — G-50 Dirksen
U.S. Policy in the Middle East
State Department officials will testify on changes to U.S. national security policy in the Middle East.
Senate Homeland Security — 10 a.m. — 342 Dirksen
National security threats
FBI Director Christopher Wray and other intelligence experts will testify on current threats facing the U.S. homeland.