RAO Bulletin 15 January 2016

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Bulletin 160115 (HTML Edition)
Veteran Legislation 160115
Vet State Benefits & Discounts – MS 2016
Military History Anniversaries 0116 thru 013116
Retiree Appreciation Days (RAD) 160114

DOWNLOAD PDF
Bulletin 160115 (PDF Edition)
Veteran Legislation 160115
Vet State Benefits & Discounts – MS 2016
Military History Anniversaries 0116 thru 013116
Retiree Appreciation Days (RAD) 160114

THIS BULLETIN CONTAINS THE FOLLOWING ARTICLES

Pg Article Subject

* DOD * .

04 == RP~China Dispute [14] ——— (US/RP EDCA Ruled Constitutional)

05 == DoD ID Cards ————————— (Obtainment in the Philippines)

06 == Traumatic Brain Injury [48] —————- (DoD New TBI Campaign)

08 == Commissary Funding [25] ———— (Budget Neutral Plan Deadline)

08 == Commissary/Exchange Future ———— (New Store Pricing Models)

09 == Commissary Improvement – (Goal | Stronger, Securer, More Modern)

10 == Commissary Prices ———————– (Pacific Area Price Increases)

11 == AAFES Online Pricing ———————— (Big Glitch on Furniture)

12 == DoD Fraud, Waste, and Abuse ——— (Reported 1 thru 15 Jan 2016)

13 == DoD-VA Pharmacy [02] —- (PTSD/Prescription Monitoring Differs)

14 == POW/MIA Recoveries —————— (Reported 1 thru 15 Dec 2016)

* VA * .

15 == Commission on Care —– (VA Direct Provider Status under Review)

16 == VA Claims Processing [14] — (Lawmakers Balk at $1.3B Price Tag)

17 == VA Aid & Attendance [18] —————– (Eligibility Rule Changes)

18 == VA Facility Safety [01] ——– (Texas Open Carry Gun Law Impact)

18 == Non-VA Facility Care [02] —————— (Over Estimated Budgets)

19 == VA Claims Backlog [151] ———— (Rep Miller’s VBMS Concerns)

20 == VA Privacy Violations ———- (On the Rise at Minnesota Facilities)

21 == VA HIPAA Violations ——– (Confidential Patient Info Disclosures)

22 == VA VistA [07] ——————————- (EHR Enhancement Effort)

23 == Home Based Primary Care —- (Multiple Discipline Team Approach)

24 == VA Pharmacy [06] —————– (Copay Change Proposal for 2017)

25 == VA Health Care Access [28] — (Embattled Phoenix VA Exec Status)

26 == VA Fraud, Waste & Abuse ———— (Reported 1 thru 15 JAN 2016)

26 == VAMC West Haven CT [02] ——- (PTSD Patient Death Questioned)

27 == VAMC Oklahoma City — (Diagnoses/Poor Patient Care Allegations)

29 == VAMC Oklahoma City [01] —— (Conflict of Interest in Care Probe)

31 == VA HCS San Diego ——– (Botched Marine Vet Jeremy Sears’ Care)

33 == VA HCS Phoenix [19] ——– (Alleged Scandal Ringleaders Rehired)

33 == VARO St. Petersburg [02] ————— (Claim Processing Problems)

35 == VARO Oakland [01] ———- (Alleged Unprocessed Claims | 13,184)

* Vets * .

36 == Arlington National Cemetery [54] ——– (WASP Internment Denied)

38 == World War I Memorial [07] ——————- (Final Designs Selected)

39 == Stolen Valor [100] ———————- (Reported 160101 thru 160114)

39 == Vet Jobs [182] ——————————- (Solar Ready Vets Program)

40 == Vet Unemployment [05] ————————— (2015 Ended at 4.8%)

41 == Vet Suicide [08] ———————– (Daily Average of 22 Continues)

43 == Homeless Vets [71] ———————– (Veterans on Patrol | Tucson)

44 == USS Pueblo [03] ————————- (Crew Compensation Pending)

45 == WWII Vets 98 ———————————————— (Boe~O’Neil)

46 == Obit: Katherine McFarland ———————————– (1 Jan 2016)

47 == Retiree Appreciation Days ————————— (As of 14 Jan 2016)

48 == Vet Hiring Fairs —————————— (16 JAN thru 14 Mar 2016)

49 == Vet State Benefits & Discounts ———————– (Mississippi 2016)

* Vet Legislation * .

50 == Tricare: Amend it But Don’t End it! ———————- (Take Action!)

50 == Asbestos Litigation Reform [01] ———— (Lawsuit Double Dipping)

51 == Vet Bills Submitted to 114th Congress ———- (151216 thru 151231)

* MILITARY * .

53 == Burn Pit Toxic Exposure [34] —————— (Pits Still in Use | Iraq)

55 == Military Acquisition Reform — (HASC Hearing | DMSP-F20 Fiasco)

56 == Army Combat Action Badge [04] —— (No Eligibility Rule Change)

56 == Space Available Mail ————————————— (Limitations)

56 == USN/USMC Job Titles – (Review to Remove Any “man” Reference)

58 == Medal of Honor [15] —- (1100 Awards Poised for Upgrade Review)

59 == Confederate Graves Vandalized – (Oakwood Cemetery Raleigh, NC)

59 == Women in Combat [04] —— (225,000 Job Openings under Review)

60 == Combat Awards ———– (Pentagon Changing Recognition Criteria)

62 == DWM [07] ————————- (Replaced by New Remote Device)

63 == Military Enlistment Standards 2015 [10] ——— (Sexual Preference)

63 == Military Enlistment Standards 2015 [11] – (Height/Weight Standards)

64== Medal of Honor Citations ———————– (Hibbs~Robert J | VN)

* MILITARY HISTORY * .

65 == Aviation Art ——————————————— (Roarin’ 20s, The)

66 == CSS Georgia — (16,600 of 30k Recovered Relics Returned to River)

67 == USS Oklahoma [02] ——————————– (5 Sailors Identified)

68 == Military Trivia 117 —————– (‘Don’t Shoot, We’re Republicans!)

71 == Military History ————————– (Korea | The Forgotten War 2)

73 == Military History Anniversaries ————————– (16 thru 31 Jan)

74 == WWII Ads ————- (Kolynos Dental Cream & Gold Medal Flour)

74 == D-Day ———————————————- (Invasion Preparations)

75 == WWII Prewar Events – (1934 Thanksgiving Celebration of the Reich)

75 == WWII PostWar Events ———- (1945 Buchenwald Camp Survivors)

76 == Spanish American War Image 81 — (USS Raleigh in Action in 1898)

76 == WWI in Photos 105 ——- (Ottoman Turk Machine Gun Corps 1917)

77 == Faces of WAR (WWII) ———- (General Douglas MacArthur 1947)

77 == Ghosts of Time ———— (Then & Now’ Photos of WWII Sites (08)

* HEALTH CARE * .

78 == TRICARE Prescription Refills —– (MO, AL, NM, TX until 27 JAN)

78 == Right of First Refusal [01] —— (Saves TRICARE & Patients Money)

79 == PTSD Prescriptions ———————- (Army Monitoring Questioned)

79 == Cold Weather Exercise —————————————- (Guidelines)

80 == TRICARE Nurse Advise Line [03] —————- (Patient Availability)

81 == TRICARE Overseas Program [19] ————– (Secure Claims Portal)

81 == Sleep [02] —————————– (Army Health of the Force Report)

83 == TRICARE Help ——————————————— (Q&A 160115)

* FINANCES * .

84 == Life Insurance [01] ——————————– (Need to Know Terms)

85 == Social Security Outlook [01] —————- (Debt Limit Battle Impact)

86 == IRS Form 1095 ————– (ACA Submission Requirement for 2015)

86 == Saving Money ——————— (Making Stuff Last Longer | 20 Tips)

87 == Government Grant Scam ———————————- (How it Works)

88 == Smartphone for Ransom Scam ————————— (How it Works)

89 == Tax Burden for Arizona Retired Vets —————— (As of Jan 2016)

91 == Tax Burden for Maine Residents ———————— (As of Jan 2016)

92== Thrift Savings Plan 2016 ——————– (Returns as of 13 Jan 2016)

* GENERAL INTEREST .

94 == Notes of Interest ———————————— (1 thru 15 Jan 2016)

94 == USCG Cable Issue ——- (Explosion Potential | 48 Sites in 12 States)

96 == North Korea Nuclear Bomb – (4th Test | 7 Key Questions Answered)

98 == NEO Guide | Korea ———————— (Noncombatant Evacuation)

99 == ROK’s Nuclear Test Response —– (Propaganda Blasts Resumption)

100 == Immigrant Children Housing ——- (Maxwell-Gunter AFB Opposed)

101 == Photos That Say it All —————————– (A Long Day’s Work)

101 == Most Creative Statues —————— (Onesti, Romania | Tree Image)

102 == Interesting Inventions ———————————– (Compact Boots)

102 == Moments of US History —————– (Muhammad Ali’s fists 1963)

102 == Parking ———– (Revenge Tactic #11 against Inconsiderate Parkers)

103 == Brain Teaser ———————-=——————– (Puzzling Prattle 1)

104 == Have You Heard? ——————————– (Engineer Goes to Hell)

104 == Have You Heard? ———————————– (Indian Want Coffee)

104 == Help!!! ————————– (Things that might make you say it (04)

105 == Brain Teaser Answer ——————————— (Puzzling Prattle 1)

Note:

1. The page number on which an article can be found is provided to the left of each article’s title

2. Numbers contained within brackets [ ] indicate the number of articles written on the subject. To obtain previous articles send a request to [email protected].

* ATTACHMENTS * .

Attachment – Veteran Legislation as of 15 Jan 2015

Attachment – Mississippi Vet State Benefits & Discounts JAN 2016

Attachment – Military History Anniversaries 16 thru 31 Jan

Attachment – Retiree Activity\Appreciation Days (RAD) Schedule as of 14 Jan 2016

TO READ and/or DOWNLOAD THE ABOVE ATTACHMENTS

REFER TO:

http://www.nhc-ul.com/rao.html (PDF Edition w/ATTACHMENTS)

http://www.veteransresources.org (PDF & HTML Editions w/ATTACHMENTS)

http://frabr245.org (PDF & HTML Editions in Word format)

http://veteraninformationlinksasa.com/retiree-assistance-office.html (HTML Edition)

* DoD *



RP~China Dispute Update 14 ► US/RP EDCA Ruled Constitutional

The Philippine Supreme Court on 12 JAN declared as constitutional a defense pact that allows American forces, warships and planes to temporarily base in local military camps, in a boost to U.S. efforts to reassert its presence in Asia as China rises to regional dominance. Ten of the 15 members of the high court also ruled that the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which was signed by U.S. and Philippine officials in 2014 and has a 10-year lifespan, is an executive agreement that does not need Senate approval, court spokesman Theodore Te said. “EDCA is not constitutionally infirm as an executive agreement,” Te said at a news conference after the justices’ long-awaited vote.

The ruling will bolster U.S. efforts to reassert its presence in Asia and dovetails with Philippine efforts to harness America’s help in addressing China’s aggressive acts in the disputed South China Sea. Washington immediately welcomed the court’s decision, saying the defense pact is a mutually beneficial accord that will bolster both countries’ ability to respond to disasters and strengthen the Philippines’ military. Left-wing activists said they would consider filing an appeal, adding that U.S. military presence won’t solve the country’s worries over China in the disputed waters. “This is another sad day for Philippine sovereignty,” said left-wing activist Renato Reyes, who was one of those who challenged the legality of the defense accord before the high court. “We maintain that the EDCA is not the solution to the problems of China’s incursions.”

The Foreign Affairs Department said that with the court’s decision, the Philippines and the U.S. can finalize the full implementation of an agreement that is a critical component of efforts to strengthen national security and disaster relief capabilities. “This decision bodes well for deepening our defense cooperation with a key ally,” and will “redound to improving our capability to perform our mandate to protect our people and secure the state,” said armed forces chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri. The Philippines has turned to Washington as it scrambles to strengthen its military, one of the most ill-equipped in Asia, to deal with an increasingly assertive China in the South China Sea. Presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma said the court’s ruling boosts the ongoing military modernization program, and will introduce the armed forces to the “most modern equipment,” which will allow “a generational leap in our abilities.”

The long-simmering disputes involving China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have escalated in recent years. Tensions have been especially high since Beijing transformed seven disputed reefs into islands on which it is now constructing runways and facilities that rival claimants say can be used militarily in an already tense region. Nearly a century of U.S. military presence in the Philippines ended in 1992 when Americans shut their bases, including the largest military facilities outside the U.S. mainland, after Filipino senators voted a year earlier not to renew the lease on the bases amid a tide of nationalism. A resurgent territorial dispute with China in the mid-1990s, however, prompted Manila to reach out to Washington. In 1998, the U.S. and the Philippines signed the Visiting Forces Agreement, allowing large numbers of American forces to return to the country for joint military exercises each year.

The 2014 defense pact allows the Americans to stay in facilities within Philippine military camps, where they can also station warships and fighter jets in a presence that Filipino officials hope will serve as a deterrent against Chinese aggression in disputed territories. At least eight local camps have been designated as harboring areas for the Americans, including some located near the South China Sea and in areas prone to natural disasters, according to the Philippine military. [Source: Associated Press | Teresa Cerojano | January 12, 2016 ++]

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DoD ID Cards ► Obtainment in the Philippines

RENEWALS: Renewals, Disenrollment’s and Full Time Student Extensions will be processed via mail. You may find the procedures by following the link: Steps for processing mail in ID card renewals which can be found at

http://photos.state.gov/libraries/manila/19452/pdfs/STEPS%20FOR%20PROCESSING%20MAIL%20IN%20ID%20CARD%20RENEWALS%20%20030615.pdf. For regulatory guidance refer to Air Force Instruction 36-3026_IP, Para 11-12

NEW ENROLLMENTS: New Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) Enrollments will be processed by appointment only at the U.S. Embassy Manila. This includes enrolling new spouses and children for the first time. For processing go to NOX 1 Window 24, US Embassy Manila JUSMAG, Philippines. Appointments are very limited and given on a first come first served basis. You will NOT be seen without an appointment. Those without an appointment will be turned away.nYou may make appointments by clicking the link below: https://rapids-appointments.dmdc.osd.mil/appointment/building.aspx?BuildingId=185. If you are unable to make an appointment in a timely manner, you may search alternate locations outside the Philippines at: https://rapids-appointments.dmdc.osd.mil/appointment/default.aspx.

PROCEDURES: You must arrive 30 minutes prior to your appointment. You only need one appointment per family. (NOTE: The U.S. Embassy is closed all U.S. and Philippine Holidays. A list of holidays can be viewed at http://manila.usembassy.gov/wwwholidays.html. In addition there is always the possibility of unannounced closures due to mission requirements or system failure. We will contact you via the email address or phone number you listed during appointment scheduling when possible.)

WHAT TO BRING TO THE APPOINTMENT: All Adults Must Have 2 Forms of ID.

  • The first form of ID Must be Picture ID. The following are acceptable: DoD ID Card, Passport Postal Card, Driver’s License, NBI Clearance with picture, Philippine SSS Card with Picture, or Other Government issued ID with Picture
  • 2nd form of ID. The following are acceptable: Birth Certificate, US Social Security card. Or Other government issued ID without picture

FAMILY MEMBERS – DUE TO THE PRIVACY ACT, THE SPONSOR/SERVICE MEMBER MUST BE PRESENT TO AUTHORIZE ALL DEERS/ID CARD ACCESS AND/OR TRANSACTIONS. A REPRESENTATIVE MUST PRESENT A CURRENT GENERAL OR SPECIAL (ID CARD/DEERS) POWER OF ATTORNEY AND A CURRENT PHOTO ID. COPIES OF POWERS OF ATTORNEY WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED. FAMILY MEMBERS MUST BE ENROLLED IN DEERS BEFORE AN ID CARD CAN BE ISSUED. FAMILY MEMBERS ARE NOT REQUIRED TO BE PRESENT FOR ENROLLMENTS.

In order for dependents to receive an ID card the sponsor must be present, if not, the dependent must meet one of the following conditions:

  • The dependent must bring along a DD Form 1172 signed by the sponsor and notarized from a DEERS/RAPIDS workstation validating them as a dependent, along with a valid national ID (such as a Filipina/US passport, driver’s license, NBI report, voter’s card, etc.) – OR –
  • The dependent must bring along a valid Power of Attorney notarized by a U.S. notary which gives her the power to act on the sponsor’s behalf, along with a valid national ID as stated above. – OR –
  • If the sponsor is deceased, the un-remarried spouse or unmarried former spouse may act on their own behalf.

It is advised that they should bring all documentation that verifies their relationship with the sponsor such as marriage certificates, birth certificates, and previous DOD ID cards.

SPOUSE ENROLLMENT: Initial Enrollment/ Issuance: Certified marriage certificate (shows where marriage was registered/recorded/returned and filed). If either sponsor or spouse was previously married, ALL final divorce decrees, annulments and/or death certificates are required. Two forms of identification (at least one being a photo ID).

NEWBORN CHILD ENROLLMENT: You must provide an original document establishing the child’s relationship to the Sponsor. This may be one or more of the following: NSO Birth Certificate or Consular Report of Birth Abroad (FS-240) with Sponsor listed as one parent; Proof of Paternity; Marriage Certificate for Step Children; Adoption Decree; Court order appointing the sponsor as ward for the child.

[Source: U.S. embassy Manila | http://manila.usembassy.gov/dodcardsver2.html | January 2016 ++]

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Traumatic Brain Injury Update 48 ► DoD New TBI Campaign

A new campaign is underway to get service members and veterans with brain injuries to seek help. The new initiative is being launched by the Department of Defense and is being led by the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Centers (DVBIC). Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a significant health issue which affects service members and veterans during times of both peace and war. The Defense Department reports more than 330,000 service members have been diagnosed with TBI since 2000, but they know there are some who still need treatment to deal with lasting impacts from their injury.

Colonel Sidney Hinds, Director of the DVBIC, says whether the TBI is mild or severe, the cause is clearly defined. “A traumatic brain injury is the result of any blow or jolt to the head that causes an alteration in consciousness or an impairment of memory.” said Hinds. Colonel Hinds is a medical doctor, who is board certified in neurology and nuclear medicine. He says one of the biggest myths about TBI among service members is that they mostly occur in combat zones as the result of a blast. He says the truth is that motor vehicle collisions account for the majority of of traumatic brain injuries in the military. ” The vast majority of those head injuries are actually diagnosed, back in garrison, back in home environments…not in the deployed environments and they’re caused by similar events that cause civilian traumatic brain injuries.” Hinds said. Symptoms of a TBI can be physical, cognitive, and emotional.

For veterans and service members, reporting lasting effects of a TBI seems to be a low priority. TBI sufferer Randy Gross says there’s a mentality that the individual can tough it out. ” We’re used to, if you fall off the bike, get back on and you’ll be fine..ya know, when we grew up it was rub some dirt on it, you’ll be fine. Maybe, take an aspirin to it if you’re in football, but that’s not, I mean, we can’t expect people to do that.” Gross said, adding that the message behind the new campaign to get more people like him to get help is needed. ” The problem is that when individuals go so long without actually recognizing the symptoms, you know, the recovery is gonna be that much more difficult.” said Gross. Colonel Hinds says symptoms vary with the severity of the TBI, but in general, lasting effects can be physical, cognitive, and even emotional.

The impacts of TBI are felt within each branch of the service and throughout both the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care systems. In the VA, TBI has become a major focus, second only to recognition of the need for increased resources to provide health care and vocational retraining for individuals with a diagnosis of TBI, as they transition to veteran status. Veterans may sustain TBIs throughout their lifespan, with the largest increase as the veterans enter into their 70s and 80s; these injuries are often caused by falls and result in high levels of disability. Active duty and reserve service members are at increased risk for sustaining a TBI compared to their civilian peers. This is a result of several factors, including the specific demographics of the military; in general, young men between the ages of 18 to 24 are at greatest risk for TBI. Many operational and training activities, which are routine in the military, are physically demanding and even potentially dangerous. Military service members are increasingly deployed to areas where they are at risk for experiencing blast exposures from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), suicide bombers, land mines, mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades. These and other combat related activities put our military service members at increased risk for sustaining a TBI.

Although recent attention has been intensively focused on combat-related TBI, it should be noted that TBI is not uncommon even in garrison and can occur during usual daily activities. Service members enjoy exciting leisure activities: They ride motorcycles, climb mountains and parachute from planes for recreation. In addition, physical training is an integral part of the active duty service member’s everyday life. These activities are expected for our service members and contribute to a positive quality of life; but these activities also can increase risk for TBI.

DVBIC was founded in 1992, largely in response to the first Persian Gulf War, under the name Defense and Veterans Head Injury Program. At that time, its goal was to integrate specialized TBI care, research and education across military and veteran medical care systems. Twenty years later they are a network of 16 centers, operating out of 11 military treatment facilities and five VA polytrauma hospitals. The specific activities vary at each site and include research, helping service members, veterans and their families find and use the right services for their needs, providing education in military and civilian settings, providing direct care to service members, and assessing TBI injury data. [Source: NBC WSAV 3 & http://dvbic.dcoe.mil | Martin Staunton | January 12, 2016 ++]

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Commissary Funding Update 25 ► Budget Neutral Plan Deadline

The new year may bring more clarity to the future of the commissary benefit, following a year in which the system came under perhaps its most intense scrutiny ever. Actions to be completed in the first half of the year are expected to further define how money can be saved in the commissary budget. Proposals from Defense Department officials over the past two years to gradually cut $1 billion from the roughly $1.3 billion annual commissary budget were perceived as being driven by a need for money, rather than the need for reform — and were rejected by lawmakers. Congress recently passed a provision that some say forces the Pentagon’s hand, by requiring defense officials to come up with a comprehensive plan to make the commissary benefit, as well as the military exchanges, “budget neutral.” In other words, the stores would operate with zero taxpayer dollars, while also sustaining their traditional hefty discounts to customers. A plan must be submitted by 1 MAR, with a target implementation date of Oct. 1, 2018. DoD is authorized to conduct pilot programs to test different ideas for achieving the targets — again, while maintaining customer discounts.

Defense officials say the most that can be cut out of the commissary budget by that time is $300 million, a little over 21 percent of the current annual operating budget. The only way to get the additional billion-plus in budget cuts would be to reduce savings, close stores or both, Peter Levine, DoD’s deputy chief management officer, said recently. “My message is that we can’t take that drastic step and expect to maintain the benefit,” he said. Indeed, DoD recently has been moving away from its own more drastic cost-cutting proposals. Now, officials will “look for efficiencies first, and let efficiencies drive the budget rather than the other way around,” Levine said. The Military Retirement and Compensation Modernization Commission and an outside consultant both completed reviews in 2015 that recommended consolidation of the military commissary and exchange systems to some degree. But defense officials continue to believe that is not necessary. [Source: The Associated Press | Susan Haigh | December 27, 2015 ++]

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Commissary/Exchange Future ► New Store Pricing Models

Defense officials have begun charting a new course for the future of commissaries and exchanges, laying out their plans in a fact sheet provided to some military service organizations. But at this point, details are minimal, and military advocates are calling for the process to be fully transparent to commissary and exchange customers. Officials established a new board, the Defense Resale Business Optimization Board, which includes the leaders of the commissary and exchange systems. According to the DoD fact sheet, the board has begun its work. It is unclear whether the separate boards that traditionally have overseen the commissary and exchange systems have disbanded. “The first order of business is to firmly define tangible and intangible benefits across the resale enterprise and establish a current baseline against which optimization results will be evaluated,” states the fact sheet. The goal is to maintain current benefits while finding more efficient ways to operate, in order to achieve “significant savings for the taxpayer.”

These definitions and benchmarks are critical, said Joyce Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association. “How do they define the benefit, so they can measure whether or not they’re reducing it? How will they determine the tangible and intangible benefits? How will they determine the benchmarks?” she said. “And who’s speaking for the people who need the commissaries? It has to be transparent to the customer.” The fact sheet is not clear as to “how much of the current system we’re changing, and to what end,” Raezer said. “We think they’re going to continue to look for ways to chip away at the benefit, and there’s a mood in Congress to let them,” Raezer said. “We don’t see the strong understanding in Congress that the benefit is the savings. That’s why these benchmarks are so important.” Defense officials did not immediately respond to a Military Times request for comment.

This fiscal year, $1.4 billion in taxpayer funds will go to the Defense Commissary Agency to operate stores and allow goods to be sold at cost. A 5 percent surcharge paid at the register by customers covers store construction and renovation. The DoD fact sheet refers to using “at least two pricing pilots” to test various recommendations for reducing the amount of taxpayer dollars needed to operate the commissary system. As part of the fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress gave DoD the flexibility to try such pilot programs. Concurrently, lawmakers showed their support for commissaries by adding $281million back into the system’s budget — in spite of DoD’s request to reduce that funding.

The NDAA requires defense officials to develop a plan to operate the military resale system with no taxpayer dollars by fiscal 2019. That plan would have to be submitted to Congress and evaluated before it is approved. DoD “recognizes that there are significant barriers to meeting the budget neutrality challenge without reducing the patron benefit, closing commissaries, and affecting system synergies, which would likely threaten the viability of the exchanges and [morale, welfare and recreation] programs,” the fact sheet noted.

Defense officials also propose legislative changes for fiscal 2017 that would make permanent this temporary flexibility. “These proposals, if accepted, could also lay the groundwork for converting the defense commissary system to operating within a nonappropriated fund business framework,” the fact sheet says. Raezer said officials may be looking at a regional pricing model, as well as at the possibility of a true commissary private label brand. “We do know savings vary depending on geographic area,” she said. “Do people in higher-cost areas need more savings? Do we settle for 30 percent savings everywhere [compared to local prices], or 15 percent savings everywhere?” As far as a private label program, DoD officials “still don’t get that military families are getting name-brand goods at private label prices,” Raezer said.

The military exchange stores offer a variety of products through their own private label program. Such programs require funding and staff to develop and manage. The idea is that while these private label brands cost less for the customers than comparable national brands, stores could mark up prices on the items and use any profits toward operating costs. But under current law, all items in commissaries must be sold at cost from the manufacturer or distributor. So it does the Defense Commissary Agency no good to offer a private label program under its current pricing system, said Peter Levine, DoD’s deputy chief management officer, in an Oct. 27 speech to the American Logistics Association. Levine also made it clear in that October speech that DoD does not believe a merger of the commissary and exchange systems is necessary in order to achieve savings out of the resale operations.

The DoD fact sheet states that the department does not intend to consolidate the commissary and exchange systems; reduce the resale benefits to meet artificial budget goals; or reduce the portion of exchange system profits that flow into other military MWR programs. The fact sheet noted that the two top defense officials with oversight of the resale system — the undersecretary for personnel and readiness and the deputy chief management officer — “are jointly committed” both to optimizing the system and preserving “benefit levels and quality-of-life programs.” Raezer said it’s critical for personnel officials to be involved in any discussions that may define — or redefine — military resale benefits. “People with ‘personnel’ in their title … we like them to be advocates for personnel,” she said. Defense Department officials are examining ways to reduce the taxpayer funds that support commissaries and exchanges, while maintaining the value of those benefits. [Source: NavyTimes | Karen Jowers | January 11, 2016 ++]

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Commissary Improvement ► Goal | Stronger, More Secure, More Modern

The Chairman of the House panel that oversees the commissary benefit said his message to the military community is that his panel’s goal is to improve the commissary system, not slash the benefit. “The goal is to modernize commissary services that will preserve an important and expected benefit for customers,” said Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV), chairman of the military personnel subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, in an interview 12 JAN. Among the panel’s responsibilities is the oversight of commissaries and other resale activities. “[The Defense Department] is looking to squeeze the budget wherever they can. That’s not our approach,” said Heck, a physician who is a brigadier general in the Army Reserve. “We’re looking to make the system better through modernization and long-term sustainability.”

Republican Congressman Joe Heck Introduces Bill Expanding Grant ...

Rep. Joe Heck

At a hearing scheduled for 13 JAN, the subcommittee will hear feedback from beneficiaries and industry groups about potential changes to commissary operations. If the improvements “result in savings, great. But that’s not my driving force,” said Heck, whose father was in the grocery business. The hearing is one of the efforts by the subcommittee to gather information related to commissary reform and whether to recommend any changes in law. DoD’s plans for changes to the commissary system have not yet been outlined. The fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act required defense officials to come up with a plan by 1 MAR to operate the commissaries without taxpayer dollars by fiscal 2018, while maintaining the customer benefit.

Over the last couple of years, DoD has proposed drastically reducing the amount of taxpayer dollars used to operate commissaries, but Congress has restored the funding, which has been about $1.4 billion per year. Taxpayer funding enables commissaries to sell items at cost, plus a 5 percent surcharge that is used primarily for construction and renovation of stores. While DoD must come up with a plan, Congress must approve it, as well as any pilot programs that will test different approaches. And although the requirement for the plan is in law, Heck said he doesn’t think it’s possible to operate the commissary benefit without any taxpayer dollars. He said he’s waiting to see whether DoD officials think they can get to zero funding without affecting the benefit. He said there could be a decrease in the amount of taxpayer dollars used, but is doubtful DoD could get to zero funds. “The goal should be a stronger, more secure, more modern” benefit, he reiterated.

Some of the ideas that have been floated by defense officials include a “variable pricing” system where there is flexibility in pricing items. Theoretically some items still could be sold at cost, while others are marked up to help pay for operating costs at the commissaries. Still, others might be decreased. Another idea is offering a commissary private brand with items possibly cheaper to customers — a program that would generally be created and managed by commissary officials. But the subcommittee will also be monitoring these pilots, if they are approved, Heck said. “The idea behind a pilot is to prove something can be effective,” he said. “We’ll monitor whether they can achieve X, Y, Z, without decreasing the benefit to the beneficiary.” They’ll also make sure there are safeguards in place and monitor the pilot programs so the programs don’t have adverse effects on other commissaries. The panel will review information from the hearing, from previous briefings and DoD’s plan to brainstorm potential courses of action, Heck said. They’ll determine whether any changes in law are warranted. [Source: MilitaryTimes | Karen Jowers | January 13, 2016 ++]

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Commissary Prices ► Pacific Area Price Increases

A California congressman wants answers from defense officials about the increased prices of fruits and vegetables at some commissaries in the Pacific. The Defense Commissary Agency “has now embarked on a sourcing strategy that will force our military families to pay more for an inferior product,” Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) wrote in a 4 JAN letter to Brad Carson, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. “I am dismayed your office, which is responsible for the health and morale of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and which was aware of these concerns, did not prevent DeCA from implementing this counterproductive strategy,” Hunter wrote. Families in Guam report that produce prices have doubled or tripled since new contracts went into effect 1 NOV. While there have been some trouble spots in Japan and South Korea, the problems have been more pronounced in Guam, sources said.

Hunter has asked for more details about the prices and about the quality of the produce. He asked Carson to review the new policy for sources of produce in Asia and the Pacific, “and consider whether changes are necessary to ensure that our military families have affordable, American-style produce at the commissary.” “Please let me know your determination as soon as it is available so that I can let our military families know when they can expect to see low-cost, high-quality produce back on the shelves at the commissary,” Hunter wrote.

Previously, DeCA used taxpayer dollars to pay for the cost of shipping produce to the Pacific, so that military customers would have access to produce of comparable cost, type and quality as commissary patrons in the U.S. Now, contractors either get produce from local sources in their overseas areas or bear the cost of shipping it from other countries, including the U.S. That cost is passed on to commissary customers in those areas in the form of increased prices. DeCA officials have said that in the long run, they expect the results of the new contracts to be positive, with fresher fruits and vegetables available to customers. Some prices will decrease, while others will increase, they added. The new contractors are MPG West for Japan and South Korea; and International Distributors for Guam. In a list of 20 items DeCA provided to Military Times comparing prices in Guam under the previous contract to prices during the week of 13 DEC, nine items saw price increases ranging from 2 percent to 30 percent, while 11 items saw price drops ranging from 9 percent to 42 percent.

At the beginning of the new contracts, store personnel were selecting the most expensive items, not realizing that a less costly item was available, according to DeCA. The less costly items were delivered by ship, rather than by air. In its bid for the contract, International Distributors proposed that savings would be 40.1 percent compared to the local Guam economy. DeCA’s new benchmarks for savings under these contracts are comparisons with local foreign markets. Before the new contracts went into effect, the DeCA benchmark for produce prices in the Pacific was comparisons with produce prices in commercial stores in California. The previous contractor was Raymond Express International, based in Los Angeles. “We brought in savings, but we also had to pass on the freight [costs] to the customers,” said Shana Guzman, president of International Distributors of Barrigada, Guam, in an interview 16 DEC. The added cost for items that are shipped by ocean is about 25 cents per pound; for items that are airlifted, added costs are about $4 per pound, Guzman said. IDI tries to provide as much local produce as possible, she said, but that’s only about 1 percent of the overall produce provided to the commissaries.

She acknowledged that the quality of produce brought in by ship “won’t match up to airlifted items, but it’s a challenge we face being so far away.” The quality of the produce is good, “just not great,” although it’s absolutely safe to eat, she said. She noted that IDI provides the same produce to commissaries that it provides to four-star hotels and restaurants on Guam. In his letter, Hunter expressed concern about quality, noting that DeCA gave a report to the House Armed Services Committee in October 2014 stating that one reason for the change was to increase the freshness and quality of fresh fruit and vegetable products. Hunter also noted that in November 2014, DeCA director Joseph Jeu wrote: “Incremental price increases will be widely accepted by our customers as they realize the improved quality derived from local purchase and shorter shipping times.” Jeu added that fresh produce is one thing that draws customers to commissaries, regardless of location, and noted that quality is a major factor in their decision to buy. “Even at the time, I thought that DeCA’s optimism sounded too good to be true, and it appears that I was justified in my skepticism,” Hunter wrote in his new letter to Carson. [Source: MilitaryTimes | Karen Jowers | January 5, 2016 ++]

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AAFES Online Pricing ► Big Glitch on Furniture

Army and Air Force Exchange Service officials are trying to resolve a huge pricing glitch after an unknown number of military exchange shoppers ordered furniture from the Exchange website over New Year’s weekend, some of whom thought they were getting savings of upward of 80 percent. “There were some inaccurate prices and we’re working on a solution,” AAFES spokesman Chris Ward said. Some customers have been notified that their orders were canceled. But information was not readily available on how many people ordered the items (subsequently determined to be over 5,000), or whether AAFES will honor the cut-rate prices offered, some of which were picked up by other websites that promote deals for shoppers. Some examples of furniture with incorrect prices:

  • An Ashley Signature Design Darcy two-piece sectional was listed for $199; the regular price is $939.
  • A Hillsdale Monaco five-piece dining set was listed for $149.97; it regularly sells for $899.
  • A Home Styles China Hutch and Buffet was listed for $199.97; it usually goes for $1,099.99, according to the Raining Hot Coupons website.

These customers are being offered a one-time 30 percent discount off their next furniture order, and the offer code is being sent by email, said Julie Mitchell, a spokeswoman for AAFES. The Exchange website carries a disclaimer stating that although AAFES strives to provide accurate information on the site, typographical or omission errors occasionally may occur in pricing, disclaimers, special offers, product information or images. “Such errors are subject to correction at any time,” the disclaimer states. A similar glitch in 2011 on the AAFES websites resulted in some customers ordering laptop computers valued at about $1,000 for only $25. Those orders were canceled, and the purchases were not honored. The Exchange website has had other problems in the past. After the site was quietly relaunched more than 15 months ago in September 2014, customers reported a wide range of issues, including credit cards charged but items not shipped; inability to place orders; and rejection of all forms of payment. Officials reported they have worked out those glitches. [Source: MilitaryTimes | Karen Jowers | January 4, 2016 ++]

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DoD Fraud, Waste, and Abuse Reported 1 thru 15 Jan 2015

Seven soldiers were arrested 6 JANas part of the latest group of service members to face federal charges related to the National Guard’s troubled and now-defunct Recruiting Assistance Program. The soldiers, all members of the New York Army National Guard, are accused of scheming to obtain “fraudulent recruiting bonuses,” Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement. The soldiers arrested are:

  • Staff Sgt. Evette Merced, 45.
  • Sgt. 1st Class Darryl Harrison, 51.
  • Staff Sgt. Siul Celeste, 29.
  • Staff Sgt. Jeanette Arizaga, 41.
  • Sgt. Yesenia Adames, 43.
  • Sgt. Renetta Edwards, 40.
  • Sgt. Jefferson Simbanamuzo, 41.

“Those who join the National Guard nobly serve their fellow citizens, but, as alleged, these defendants used their positions in the National Guard to steal,” Bharara said. The Army cannot discuss specific details of this or any other case associated with potential RAP fraud, Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, an Army spokesman, said in a statement. “This is a criminal matter under investigation,” he said. “The Army is participating in a multi-agency task force to investigate and resolve fraudulent actions associated with the Recruiting Assistance Program and has had a sizable task force investigating other instances of RAP fraud for more than three years.” Wednesday’s arrests come less than three months after 25 current and former soldiers from the Puerto Rico National Guard were charged with similar offenses. Charges in that case included wire fraud, aggravated identify theft and participating in a conspiracy to defraud the United States and the National Guard Bureau of money and property.

The Guard Recruiting Assistance Program, also known as G-RAP, was launched in late 2005 as a way to boost sagging recruiting numbers during the height of the war in Iraq. Program participants, or recruiter assistants (RAs), could earn up to $2,000 for every new soldier they recruited into the Guard. The RA would receive the first $1,000 when the recruit enlisted and the rest of the money once the new soldier shipped to basic training. The program was highly successful, bringing in thousands of new soldiers into the Guard. It later came under scrutiny for widespread fraud and abuse, even drawing a hearing on Capitol Hill. The G-RAP was suspended in January 2012. Then-Army Secretary John McHugh terminated all recruiting assistance programs a month later.

Under the G-RAP, only RAs were eligible to receive referral bonuses for bringing in new recruits. The program required RAs to establish an online account in their name to record their referral and recruitment efforts. The RA would then input personal identifying information for each recruit into that account. Beginning in 2007, Merced and Harrison, who then served as full-time, salaried recruiters for the Army National Guard, “abused their positions … by providing the personal identifying information of potential soldiers” to Celeste, Arizaga, Adames and Edwards “in exchange for thousands of dollars in kickbacks,” according to the U.S. attorney’s office. Celeste, Arizaga, Adames and Edwards then used their respective online RA accounts to falsely claim that they were responsible for referring those soldiers to the New York Guard. The four received bonus payments worth more than $62,000 from the G-RAP and “kicked back a significant portion of those payments to Merced and Harrison,” according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

In a similar but separate scheme, Simbanamuzo, a police officer in the New York Police Department, used his online RA account to falsely claim he was responsible for referring soldiers to the New York Guard. Charges against Merced and Harrison, the two full-time recruiters in the group, include conspiracy to commit bribery, solicitation and receipt of bribes, theft of government funds, and aggravated identity theft. Each charge carries anywhere from two to 10 years in prison. Celeste, Arizaga, Adames and Edwards were each charged with conspiracy to commit bribery, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, and theft of government funds, which carries a maximum of 10 years in prison. Simbanamuzo is charged with theft of government funds, which can bring up to 10 years in prison. [Source: ArmyTimes | Michelle Tan | January 6, 2016 ++]

635814594743397957-handcuffs

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DoD-VA Pharmacy Update 02 ► PTSD/Prescription Monitoring Differs

An effort to align the medications carried in both Defense and Veterans Affairs department pharmacies has exposed differences between the departments’ approaches to monitoring prescriptions and treating post-traumatic stress, a new government report has found. A Government Accountability Office investigation into DoD and VA prescribing practices for post-traumatic stress disorder and mild brain injury found that the VA closely monitors its physicians’ practices in prescribing medications for PTSD, especially drug classes like benzodiazepines and anti-psychotics that are discouraged for use in PTSD patients. But the Defense Department largely relies on the military services to review medication-prescribing practices of their physicians and, while DoD monitors prescriptions, it does not track medication use in relation to PTSD diagnoses.

The Army issued a policy in 2012 requiring military hospitals to review their prescribing practices for atypical anti-psychotics, and according to the service, the percentage prescribed dropped by nearly half, from 19 percent in fiscal 2010 to 10 percent in fiscal 2014. The policy expired in 2014. Army doctors interviewed by GAO at one facility said they continue to monitor these prescriptions because they saw higher-than-expected prescribing rates for these drugs at their facility. Doctors at other Army facilities said, however, that they no longer monitored these prescriptions because they felt the awareness effort had been effective.

GAO Health Care Director Debra Draper said the military should improve its monitoring standards and align them with the VA’s system to ensure that doctors are following recommended treatment guidelines for PTSD and concussions. “Without such monitoring, the Army may be unable to identify and address practices that are inconsistent,” Draper wrote. The fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act required the DoD and VA to carry the same medications to treat mental and sleep disorders and pain. Lawmakers had raised concerns that veterans were suffering because they were unable to get the medicines they had been prescribed by DoD doctors after leaving the service. GAO found that VA largely has processes in place to ensure that transitioning veterans could get their medications at a VA facility, such as specialty request forms and a policy issued in 2015 instructing doctors not to discontinue patients’ DoD-prescribed mental health medications due to formulary differences. A GAO survey of 729 veterans found that 24 of them, or 3 percent, had their medications changed at VA for “non-clinical” reasons.

While VA officials told GAO that cost is a factor in determining which medicine to include in its formulary, it also does not carry some medications out of safety concerns or differences in treatment approaches. For example, VA officials said they did not carry the pain medication piroxicam because it believes its formulary offers safer alternatives. It carries only two sleep medications, VA told GAO, because administrators have concerns about the appropriateness of prescribing some sleep medications to treat insomnia instead of treating the underlying condition for the sleeplessness.

GAO recommended that the DoD and the Army — which it examined for the report because it had the largest number of troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan — implement processes to monitor prescriptions for PTSD. Draper also recommended VA clarify which types of medications are covered by the Veterans Health Administration 2015 policy on medical continuation. Both departments concurred with the GAO recommendations in written responses to the report. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Jonathan Woodson said the military services will continue focusing on education and training their providers, and the Defense Health Agency will monitor pharmacological prescribing practices “when appropriate.” VHA said it plans to publish a list of the medications covered in the 2015 policy. [Source: MilitaryTimes | Patricia Kime | January 5, 2016 ++]

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POW/MIA Recoveries ► Reported 1 thru 15 Jan 2016

“Keeping the Promise”, “Fulfill their Trust” and “No one left behind” are several of many mottos that refer to the efforts of the Department of Defense to recover those who became missing while serving our nation. The number of Americans who remain missing from conflicts in this century are: World War II (73,515) Korean War (7,841), Cold War (126), Vietnam War (1,627), 1991 Gulf War (5), and Libya (1). Over 600 Defense Department men and women — both military and civilian — work in organizations around the world as part of DoD’s personnel recovery and personnel accounting communities. They are all dedicated to the single mission of finding and bringing our missing personnel home. For a listing of all personnel accounted for since 2007 refer to http://www.dpaa.mil/ and click on ‘Our Missing’. If you wish to provide information about an American missing in action from any conflict or have an inquiry about MIAs, contact:

Family members seeking more information about missing loved ones may also call the following Service Casualty Offices: U.S. Air Force (800) 531-5501, U.S. Army (800) 892-2490, U.S. Marine Corps (800) 847-1597, U.S. Navy (800) 443-9298, or U.S. Department of State (202) 647-5470. The remains of the following MIA/POW’s have been recovered, identified, and scheduled for burial since the publication of the last RAO Bulletin:

Vietnam

None

Korea

The Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced 8 JAN that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, missing from the Korean War, have been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors. U.S. Army Pfc. David S. Burke, 18, of Akron, Ohio, will be buried Jan.15, in Rittman, Ohio. On Nov. 25, 1950, Burke was assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, when his unit was attacked by the Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces (CPVF), near the border between China and North Korea. Under pressure, outnumbered and surrounded by CPVF roadblocks, they were unable to escape. After suffering heavy casualties, the unit was forced to surrender to the CPVF, and four officers and 136 enlisted soldiers were taken prisoner, including Burke. Following the attack, the U.S Army declared Burke missing in action.

In September 1953, as part of a prisoner of war exchange known as “Operation Big Switch,” returning American soldiers who had been held as prisoners of war reported that Burke had died between March and May 1951 from malnutrition. A military review board later amended his status to deceased. Between 1990 and 1994, North Korea returned to the United States 208 boxes of commingled human remains, which when combined with remains recovered during joint recovery operations in North Korea, account for the remains of at least 600 U.S. servicemen who fought during the war. North Korean documents included in the repatriation indicated that some of the remains were recovered from the area where Burke and other members of his unit were held at POW Camp 5. To identify Burke’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used circumstantial evidence, three types of DNA analysis, including mitochondrial DNA analysis, Y-chromosome Short Tandem Repeat DNA analysis, as well as autosomal DNA analysis, which matched his brothers, and dental analysis, which matched Burke’s records.

World War II

None

[Source: http://www.dpaa.mil | January 15, 2015 ++]

* VA *

Commission On Care VA Direct Provider Status under Review

Public Law 113-146, the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act (VACAA) of 2014, established a “Commission on Care” to examine the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system and make recommendations for change. The Commission is composed of membership selected coequally by the President and House and Senate leadership. The Commission has completed its fourth meeting and has issue a statutorily required interim report. As a partner organization in the Independent Budget, DAV has been invited to meet with the Commission on Care staff and to submit our views on the future of VA to the Commission. In its public sessions, some members of the Commission have made statements about the advisability of moving VA from its current status as a direct provider of care to that of insurer. Meanwhile, VA has released its plan to consolidate all community care programs into one plan for referral and payment. These existing seven programs, including the “choice” provisions from the VACAA, operate using different rules and procedures related to both eligibility and utilization. In order to consolidate these programs, VA will need authorizing legislation. Congress is considering VA’s proposal at this time DAV is closely monitoring these events to ensure that the rights and benefits of wounded, injured and ill veterans are protected. [Source: DAV National Cdr | Moses A. McIntosh | December 30, 2015 ++]

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VA Claims Processing Update 14 ► Lawmakers Balk at $1.3B Price Tag

The Department of Veterans Affairs may finally have good news to share, but lawmakers are balking at the price tag. Total costs for a digital system used to process veterans’ disability claims that officials say has been key to slashing a massive VA backlog are nearly double the initial estimates. And VA, which has continued to make upgrades to the system under an “agile” software development methodology, still can’t say how much the system will end up costing, according to auditors. VA has spent more than $1 billion developing and maintaining the Veterans Benefits Management System, or VBMS, since 2009. The agency has requested an additional $290 million this year for continued tweaks to the system, which was initially projected to cost $579 million.

At a House VA committee hearing 12 JAN, the agency’s deputy inspector general, Brent Arronte, warned lawmakers the agency cannot ensure it’s getting a return on its billion-dollar investment and that costs “will continue to spiral upward.” First, the good news: The Web-based application replaced a largely paper-based process used to track veterans’ disability benefits. The longstanding backlog of disability claims at the agency is down from a high of 600,000 in 2013 to about 80,000 currently, the lowest in VA’s history. And in contrast to other big-budget IT projects that fail upon launch or get canceled after wasting millions before ever getting off the ground, VA’s initial system launched ahead of schedule in June 2013 — albeit with some early glitches.

Initially, the system was designed to act simply as an electronic claims repository. “We didn’t stop there,” said Beth McCoy, VA’s deputy undersecretary for field operations. “We went on to add in automation, because that made sense and that was the right thing to do for veterans and for our employees.” Following the agile method, VA has been rolling out new features and functionality every three months, McCoy told Congress, delivering 17 major software releases and 56 more minor updates over the past four years. But watchdogs — including the IG and the Government Accountability Office — say VA lacks clear goals for further development of the system. VA has yet to produce a plan that identifies when VBMS will be completed, testified Valerie Melvin, director of information management at GAO. “Thus, the department lacks an effective means to hold management accountable for meeting a timeframe and demonstrating progress on completing the system,” Melvin testified.

Republican lawmakers, who have fiercely criticized VA management in recent years, are impatient with VA’s approach to improving the system. “You’re going to go through the appropriations process this year and say, ‘We want more money, but we don’t know when this will end and what the final cost will be for a very specific project?’” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS). That’s the nature of agile development, VA officials said. “VBMS is different because we use what we refer to as agile,” said Dawn Bontempo, director of the Veterans Benefits Management System program management office. “And that means that we can release software every three months and bring high-value functionality to the field as quickly as possible to serve our veterans.”

Traditionally, the federal government has used a “waterfall” approach when developing and implementing large IT projects. Agency planners exhaustively gather system requirements upfront. Those are then turned over to the IT development shop, which builds the system. And years later, the agency may have a functioning system. “We did not go down that path,” Bontempo said. “We used something called agile, which allowed us to take and build requirements as we were going along.” However, GAO, which has identified incremental development as a best practice that could help agencies stay on top of failure-prone IT projects, also agrees VA needs reliable cost estimates for completing the system or risks flying blind. “Without such an estimate, management and stakeholders have a limited view of the system’s future resource needs and the program risks not having sufficient funding to complete the system,” Melvin testified. [Source: Nextgov.com | Jack Moore | January 12, 2016 ++]

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VA Aid & Attendance Update 18 ► Proposed Eligibility Rule Changes

Proposed changes to the eligibility rules regarding Aid & Attendance Pension benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs will take effect in early 2016, probably February or March. The proposed changes impact the following:

  • Net Worth: For the first time, a definitive limit on the countable net worth an applicant can have and still qualify for benefits is given. The proposed limit is $119,220 (equal to the current maximum community spouse resource allowance for Medicaid purposes); The net worth limitation would increase each year with the Social Security cost-of-living increase; and The net worth limitation will apply regardless of whether the applicant is single or married (or has other qualifying dependents), and without consideration of any excess care costs the applicant may have.
  • Countable Assets for Net Worth Purposes: Assets are defined as “fair market value of all property that an individual owns, including all real and personal property, unless considered an excluded asset, less the amount of mortgages or other encumbrances specific to the mortgaged or encumbered property.” The primary residence (“Homestead”) of the applicant is still excluded from the asset calculation, whether the applicant resides there or not, as long as it remains a residence (e.g. sale or lease of the premises can be problematic); but the “reasonable lot area” that the residence sits on will now be limited to 2 acres (previously, there was no such limitation.) Annual income will be considered an asset for net worth purposes. For example: if the applicant has Social Security of $1,500 per month, this would correspond to $18,000 in assets (which could result in the applicant being over the net worth limit described above).
  • Transfers of Assets and Penalties: Assets that would otherwise be countable for eligibility purposes which are transferred within the “lookback period” will result in a period of ineligibility. Penalty periods may also be assessed for the purchase of an annuity or transfer of assets to a trust (revocable or irrevocable). The ineligibility period is limited to 10 years, regardless of the size of the transfer; In order to “cure” the transfer by returning the funds to the applicant, the return of funds must be done within 30 days of submission of the VA Pension application; The “lookback period” will be the 36 months immediately preceding the date of application for benefits; and The only exception to the presumption of a penalized transfer is evidence that the transfer was a result of “fraud, misrepresentation or other bad act in the marketing or sale of a financial product”.

The VA has not stated whether the new rules will apply retroactively, however, the potential application of the proposed regulations underscores the importance of consulting a qualified Elder Law attorney before submitting an application. Additionally, despite the promulgation of regulations that restrict the ability of many to receive VA Pension benefits, there are options available for restructuring of finances to allow qualification without first having to spend all of your heard-earned savings. If you have questions, do not hesitate to contact a qualified Elder Law attorney. Do not let the newly restrictive regulations or the worries or opinions of others keep you from exploring your options. There may still be strategies available to achieve eligibility, and VA Pension benefits may allow you to receive care in your own home instead of a facility. [Source: Florida Today | Stephen Lacey | January 12, 2016 ++]

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VA Facility Safety Texas Open Carry Gun Law Impact

Open carry is now the law of the land in the Lone Star State, but the federal government is reminding Texan veterans that guns still are not allowed on VA property. In a reminder posted to the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System website, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs made clear that firearms will remain prohibited at all of the federal agency’s sites. “Texas concealed and open carry handgun laws DO NOT apply to VA property,” the alert stated. “No firearms or weapons are allowed on our VA controlled property. Any confiscated firearms will be destroyed and offender will appear before Federal Court. Only certified police officers in the commission of his or her duties may bring a firearm onto VA property.”

Central Texas VA spokesperson Deborah Meyer said the prohibition on firearms extends to all federally-controlled property in the state, not just the VA, but said the posting was simply a reminder to Texans. There was no incident that led to the alert, she confirmed. The VA operates several dozen hospitals, clinics and centers in Texas. “We wanted to remind everybody that it still remains the same. Concealed carry is the same as open carry, there’s still no firearms on federal property,” Meyer said. The new open carry law allows Texans with a license to carry to openly tote handguns in shoulder or hip holsters. Certain areas, such as public schools, courthouses and polling places, remain off-limits to all weapons, including knives, clubs and brass knuckles. Open carry of long arms — rifles and shotguns — is legal in Texas and does not require an owner to have a license to carry. [Source: Houston Chronicle | Lauren McGaughy | January 12, 2016 ++]

The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, Texas. Photo: U.S. Department Of Veterans Affairs

The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, Texas

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Non-VA Facility Care Update 02 ► Over Estimated Budgets

An audit of the Veterans Health Administration’s private health care program books finds the department failed to spend $1.9 billion – or 40 percent – of the $4.8 billion designated for non-VA care in fiscal 2013. Also, from Oct. 1, 2013, through March 31, 2015, medical center administrators overestimated the funds they needed to pay for outside care for veterans by $543 million, leaving that amount unavailable for patient care, according to a new Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General report. The finding follows numerous reports that VA has mishandled disciplinary actions against administrators involved in scandals, a slow rollout of its $10 billion to provide care in the private sector through the Veterans Choice program and a nationwide problem involving long waits for medical care.

The VA IG said the failure occurred because VA administrators have not provided medical directors with the tools they need to estimate costs and that medical center staff were not required to adjust estimated costs routinely to reflect actual costs. “We recommended that the Under Secretary for Health improve cost estimation tools, update system software to ensure unused funds can be ‘deobligated,’ require facilities to adjust cost estimates … and monitor VA medical facility obligation estimates,” wrote Gary Abe, acting assistant general for audits and evaluations. VA Secretary Robert McDonald asked Congress last year to allow the department to shift money from the Veterans Choice program to other VA programs, saying administrators needed flexibility in spending money on VA and private or community health care. Congress agreed to allow VA to use about $3.3 billion in Choice program funds to cover other account shortfalls.

Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee said the audit indicates that the department has a management problem, not a money problem. “If VA’s job was mismanaging money, it would have a near-perfect record of achievement,” Miller said. “Yet despite this and other high-profile budgetary failures, all too often the department’s knee-jerk response to challenges is to ask taxpayers for more money.” A veterans advocacy group that has been pressing for a complete overhaul of the VA health system, including partial privatization, said 12 JAN that the IG audit ‘shows the department is not truly invested in giving veterans more options.’ “This report makes clear that in addition to relying on faulty budget projections, the VA failed to provide oversight for the program, to the likely detriment of nearly 80,000 veterans,” Concerned Veterans for America press secretary John Cooper said.

In a response to the audit, Under Secretary for Health Dr. David Shulkin said he concurred with the recommendations made by the auditors, and he attached a plan of action. Veterans issues have been a focus of the administration — transitions from military service, employment and homelessness. On 13 JAN, McDonald will travel to Boston to highlight several notable VA research efforts and collaboration on VA mental health. McDonald will visit the Million Veteran Program, an initiative designed to study service-related conditions, the VA Brain Bank and the Jamaica Plain VA Medical Center, where he’ll present an award to VA National Center for PTSD behavioral science director Terence Keane for his work in the field of traumatic stress. [Source: MilitaryTimes| Patricia Kime | January 12, 2016 ++]

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VA Claims Backlog Update 151Rep Miller’s VBMS Concerns

The Department of Veterans Affairs is scaling up an IT system to help benefits administrators reduce a backlog of veteran claims. But the VA’s top watchdog in the House of Representatives is worried that the system is over budget, behind schedule and not working as advertised. The Veterans Benefits Management System was developed to overcome the massive backlog of disability claims by digitizing claims forms and expediting claims decisions. According to Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, VBMS is making a dent in the claims backlog, but could be doing a lot better. The agency’s own internal watchdog thinks that VA could be manipulating data to make their performance seem better on paper than it is in fact. By the VA’s accounting, VBMS has greatly reduced the backlog, although the agency did not meet its self-imposed goal of eliminating backlogged claims completely by the end of 2015.

According to Beth McCoy, the VA’s deputy undersecretary for field operations, who testified at a 12 JAN hearing of the House panel, backlogged claims (defined as claims older than 125 days) have dropped from a peak of over 611,000 in March 2013 to about 80,000 today. McCoy credited the reduction of nearly 90 percent in part to department’s work on the electronic system. However, Brent Arronte, the VA’s deputy assistant inspector general for audits and investigations, questioned the integrity of the VA’s numbers, saying the data had been manipulated. “We don’t believe all the [backlog] numbers are reliable,” Arronte said. “We want to see how they count their numbers.” He added, “There may be a systemic issue across the nation, so we’re going to test their data reliability,”

The exact impact of the VBMS has also attracted the attention of the Government Accountability Office. In a Sept. 2015 report, the GAO expressed concern that the system wasn’t completed, and that the agency hadn’t put in place a way to collect user feedback to generate improvements. Miller recognized the ‘department’s progress, but made clear that he felt not enough has been done. “As of Jan. 1, 2016, there were over 360,000 disability claims pending, over 75,000 of which were [backlogged],” he said. “This is despite Congress devoting substantial taxpayer resources — including significantly increasing VBA’s workforce by approximately 7,300 full-time employees between 2007 and 2014.” Miller said that “The projected cost of the program has jumped to $1.3 billion, and there is no guarantee that VA will not need more money for VBMS in the future.”

Legislators were visibly displeased by those vagaries. But the moment that most frustrated committee members was when they were presented a picture from a January GAO report of a VA storage facility with boxes containing about 41,000 un-scanned claims; all claims are supposed to be scanned and uploaded to the VBMS within five days of receipt. “If veterans saw that [picture], they would be livid,” said Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN). “That looks worse than my garage.” McCoy told lawmakers that she believed the claims backlog could be eliminated in fiscal year 2018. [Source: Federal computer Week | Chase Gunter | January 12, 2016 ++]

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VA Privacy ViolationsOn the Rise at Minnesota Facilities

Since 2011, there have been 240 cases of reported privacy violations at VA facilities in St. Paul, Minneapolis, St. Cloud and various clinics around the state. From 2011 to 2015, the number of violations has more than doubled. The violations include one veteran receiving a photo in the mail of another veteran’s colonoscopy, one provider discussing a patient’s diagnosis with the patient’s real estate agent, VA workers snooping into the records of patients whose names have appeared in the news, and some widows receiving discharge papers and awards belonging to unrelated vets.

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The disclosures are contained in a database built by the investigative journalism organization ProPublica and shared with the Star Tribune. Working with data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, ProPublica’s national investigation found that employees and contractors at VA medical centers, clinics, pharmacies and benefit centers commit thousands of privacy violations each year and have racked up more than 10,000 since 2011. The VA said the challenges it faces in keeping patient information secure are similar to those experienced by others in the private and public sectors. It said it takes its patients’ privacy seriously and its policies and guidelines go beyond what is required by law. “Inappropriate access of patient health records, either during or post treatment, is absolutely unacceptable and in violation of privacy laws and regulations, VA policies and procedures, and our principles,” the VA said in a prepared statement.

But the disclosures indicate the VA’s handling of its cases differs from those of other health care providers. The VA remains embroiled in scandals over manipulated appointment wait times and from revelations that the medical information of whistleblowers sometimes has been accessed by the VA in an apparent attempt to discredit them. Last year, the head of the office that investigates VA whistleblower complaints told a Senate committee that “systematic changes” were needed in how the VA keeps records. “It is too easy right now for a mischief-minded employee to enter the medical record system and access information on his or her co-workers,” Carolyn Lerner said in written testimony. The Minnesota cases run the gamut, from simple clerical errors to outright maliciousness:

  • In 2013, one veteran opened his mail to discover a picture of the inside of another veteran’s colon, taken during the veteran’s colonoscopy at the St. Cloud VA. A nurse did not clear the camera to set up for the next patient and when the system printed the photos it included the veteran’s name, birth date, Social Security number and date of the procedure, along with the provider’s name.
  • In 2014, a former VA supervisor in Minneapolis called a retired VA employee and claimed she knew about his health problems from another VA supervisor.
  • In 2011, an employee of the Minneapolis VA snooped in the chart of a vet who had been in the news, even though it wasn’t part of the employee’s official duties. The worker admitted looking in the chart out of curiosity and was written up for disciplinary action. The following year, a research contract worker accessed the chart of another high-profile patient who was in the news.
  • In another 2011 case in Minneapolis, clerks in a clinic were overheard by a patient and his daughter discussing a veteran enrolled at the clinic who had been identified in the local news media after being charged with a crime.

The 2011 to 2015 data provided to ProPublica for their investigation included the outcome of the breaches but does not indicate whether any employee was disciplined. Asked whether workers were disciplined in the Minnesota cases, officials from Minnesota VA facilities referred all questions to a VA spokesman in Washington and provided a fact sheet on the VA’s response to protect the privacy of its patients. The VA spokesman in Washington did not respond to a request for information. While the VA has indicated it will pursue discipline, it said in its fact sheet that it relies heavily on workers admitting their own mistakes. “Self-reporting is more consistent when punishment is de-emphasized over training and clear incident response,” the VA said. When an individual’s medical record is accessed, it generates a report, which shows who has accessed the information and when. Additional audit records for the electronic health record are reviewed for signs of any inappropriate or suspicious activity or suspected violations.

The VA requires annual privacy and information security training of all employees and contractors. An Incident Response Team assesses any reported risk and arranges credit monitoring for the individual whose information is involved. While HIPAA violations can carry economic penalties, it’s virtually impossible to sue the VA over other privacy breaches because a prospective plaintiff would need to prove real economic damage, Krause said. “They don’t have the same kind of fear of God like some normal Joe Schmo, where they are held personally accountable,” Krause said of the VA. “These individuals in the federal government are above the law, and it’s the taxpayer that has to foot the bill every time there is a mistake.” [Source: Star Tribune | Mark Brunswick | January 12, 2016 ++]

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VA HIPAA Violations Confidential Patient Information Disclosures

Every time you turn around there is another scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs. They just keep coming one after another. This time it is the revelation that the VA is disclosing confidential patient information that it is supposed to keep private. That is a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the federal patient privacy law enacted to protect Americans from having their medical records made public. The incidents at the VA include the disclosure of veterans’ Social Security Numbers, addresses and telephone numbers, as well as their medical history, and prescription medications. VA medical facilities are not the only hospitals that have been caught disclosing private patient information. However, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, the agency responsible for enforcing HIPPA, has cited the Department of Veterans Affairs for HIPPA violations more frequently than any other health provider in the entire country.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the mission of the VA is to fulfill President Lincoln’s promise “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s Veterans. It doesn’t seem that the VA is fulfilling that mission. “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan,” as noted in Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. Some of the incidents at VA hospitals were accidental, the result of sloppy work by VA employees. But other incidents were deliberate attempts by VA employees to punish co-workers who had reported some of the terrible conditions at VA hospitals to Congress or the media. The story was published simultaneously by National Public Radio (NPR) and ProPublica, an independent, non-profit news service that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.

Sloppy work by VA employees has led to the private medical data about deceased veterans being sent to the wrong widows. There are many cases where one veteran received medications meant for another veteran, or where one veteran received another veteran’s refill slip at the pharmacy window. In some cases the veteran’s address was changed incorrectly, which resulted in medications being mailed to the wrong address. There are also cases where one veteran received a package from the VA that contained the medication that the veteran used, but the label on the medication bottle contained personal information about another veteran who took the same medicine. Veterans also reported that they had received copies of their confidential medical records in the mail in an unsealed envelope. One VA employee mistakenly mailed documentation that contained a veteran’s personally identifiable information to an outside organization.

But some of the incidents are much more serious. VA employees have snooped on the records of patients who have committed suicide, and whistleblowers within the VA told NPR and ProPublica that their own medical privacy has been violated. The whistleblowers are veterans, who are also VA employees, and they reported that other VA employees had accessed protected health information (PHI) in their veteran medical record without authorization and then disclosed that protected health information to another VA employee without authorization.

And the violations are not confined to one or two VA hospitals. They are happening at VA hospitals across the country. For example, a six-month long investigation by WREG in Memphis found hundreds of privacy violations by employees at the Memphis VA Medical Center. In April of 2014, WREG filed a Freedom of Information (FOIL) request with the Department of Veterans Affairs. They wanted to know how the Memphis VA Medical Center was investigating and resolving privacy complaints. In September 2014, after months of wrangling with the VA, WREG obtained a report about privacy violations at the Memphis VA hospital. The report covered a three-year period and documented more than 200 complaints, reports, and investigations into privacy breaches at the Memphis VA Medical Center. There are similar stories at other VA hospitals. In the two year period 2013 – 2015, there were 21 reported violations of patient privacy at the Canandaigua VA Medical Center, near Rochester, New York, including incidents at the VA Outpatient Clinic on Westfall Road in Rochester. [Source: Rochester Independent Examiner | Thomas Mangan | December 30, 2016 ++]

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VA VistA Update 07 EHR Enhancement Effort

Congress has provided $233 million in its final fiscal year 2016 omnibus bill for continued modernization of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ VistA electronic health record system. However, the appropriation—signed into law by President Obama—comes with restrictions. The EHR enhancement effort, called the VistA Evolution program, calls for the addition of an Enterprise Health Management Platform (eHMP)—a set of new modular-based components—to replace the Computerized Patient Record System, which is the existing user interface that clinicians use while delivering care. Among other capabilities, the new eHMP platform will enable the VA to meet many of the 2014 Edition Meaningful Use certification criteria for HIT components.

However, legislative language restricts the use of congressional funding until VA demonstrates functional improvements in the interoperability of the system to seamlessly exchange veterans’ medical data among the VA, Department of Defense and the private sector. Not more than 25 percent of the funds can be obligated or spent until the VA Secretary submits a report to both House and Senate appropriations committees providing specifics on the scope and functionality of projects within the VistA Evolution program, including proposed changes to the program as well as the milestones and timeline associated with achieving interoperability. Lawmakers are particularly interested in the definition being used for interoperability between DoD and VA EHR systems, the metrics to measure the extent of interoperability, and the progress toward developing and implementing all components and levels of interoperability including semantic interoperability.

Although DoD and VA have committed to achieving interoperability between their separate EHR systems, the two departments continue to miss important deadlines and have yet to establish outcome-oriented goals and metrics for measuring their progress toward interoperable EHRs, according to an August 2015 audit by the Government Accountability Office. According to GAO, DoD and VA missed an Oct. 1, 2014, deadline established by Congress in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2014 to certify that all healthcare data in their systems complied with national standards and were computable in real time. Auditors also revealed that a number of key activities in the departments’ system modernization plans will be implemented beyond Dec. 31, 2016, the deadline established in the NDAA for DoD and VA to deploy modernized EHR software to support clinicians while ensuring full standards-based interoperability. [Source: Health Data Management | Greg Slabodkin | January 4, 2016 ++]

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Home Based Primary Care Multiple Discipline Team Approach

In Connecticut, there are 209,882 veterans, according to the most-recent U.S. census data, and 29.4 percent are over the age of 75. This group forms the core of veterans with chronic medical issues who are targeted by a VA program to treat them in their own homes. Most of the patients in the VA’s Home Based Primary Care (HBPC) program are like US Army veteran Bob Swirsky, who is bed-bound and not able to easily get to the West Haven VA Hospital. He enrolled in the HBPC program in August. Swirsky’s daughter, Mindy Hart, said, “It is tremendously tiring for him to get into a car, or even just to move around.”

Nurse Jeanette Hutchinson checks U.S. Army veteran Bob SwriskyâÄôs vital signs, during a home care visit. Photo: Derek Torrellas / Contributed Photo / Connecticut Post Contributed

U.S. Army veteran Bob Swirsky’s face lights up when home health care nurse Jeanette Hutchinson enters his room to check his blood pressure and attend to his body to prevent bedsores. “It’s going to be 120 over 60,” Swirsky says, as Hutchinson inflates the cuff on the meter on his left arm. “Close,” she said, “124 over 60.”

Home Based Primary Care, “is a team approach in which we have multiple disciplines that come out to the house and visit our veterans who typically have a difficult time getting into the hospital to see their provider on a regular basis,” Hutchinson said. The team comprises the program director, physicians, psychiatrists, nurses, social workers, registered dieticians, physical therapists, clinical pharmacists, and program support staff. Prospective patients are veterans who are already registered in the VA health care system. Veterans are referred to HBPC by the hospital, or their doctors, or sometimes veterans request the service themselves, said Aileen O’Connell, HBPC program director. A registered nurse assesses referrals. Swirsky, 96, lives just a few miles from the West Haven VA and falls within the territory HBPC covers. Across the state, the general guideline is 30 miles or 30 minutes from the VA facilities in West Haven or Newington, or from one of the community-based outpatient clinics, located in New London, Winsted and Waterbury.

August Palmer, of Stratford, was recommended to the program after receiving an implanted defibrillator. “I’m 93,” he said, “I can hardly walk.” Staying at home to obtain care has put less of a burden on Palmer’s children. “My son David takes me — or my daughter Mary — and so they don’t work and everything,” he said. “That’s not fair.” Pawcatuck resident and Army veteran Donald MacLean, 67, has been an HBPC patient for about four years, after he suffered a fall while being treated for tumors, and he was transferred to a nursing home. He still needed care when he was released to his house, MacLean’s wife, Leslie, explained over the phone. The problem was, she couldn’t provide it. “When they first started coming, I had nothing,” she said. “Cindy (Anderson, MacLean’s HBPC nurse) walked in the door and immediately she ordered a hospital bed, she ordered stuff for the showers. She got everything I needed that I had no idea how to get, or that I even could get.”

The nurse visits her husband once a month to check on him and review all his medication, ordering more if needed. Maclean said she was under a great deal of stress around the time her husband began receiving care at home. When Anderson noticed, she asked permission to bring one of the team’s social workers to meet her. “I think that the other side of home-based care is the social worker,” MacLean said. She’s grateful for the social worker’s personal assistance, she said, especially when needing help completing any paperwork relating to the VA or insurance. It costs the VA about $16,000 to take care of a veteran at home, not including other non-HBPC expenses incurred by the VA and Medicare for these patients. The program has resulted in a 36 percent reduction in the number of days veterans spend in a hospital once they begin receiving home care. This decrease leads to an about 12 percent reduction in combined VA and Medicare annual cost per patient, according to the VA.

In fiscal 2015, a daily average of 444 patients were enrolled in Home Based Primary Care in the state; the number has remained steady the past several years. Nationally, the average daily total is 35,982 patients, an increase from 27,102 in fiscal year 2011, according to the VA. In November, Stars and Stripes reported on an increasing number of veterans on waiting lists for home care. Five facilities — Los Angeles, White City, Ore.; Puget Sound, Wash.; Richmond, Va.; and Beckley, W.Va. — accounted for more than half of the 2,566 waiting veterans. In Connecticut, there is no waiting list, according to the care team. Referrals are immediately addressed and sent to the nurse that covers the patient’s geographic area.

For Swirsky, the benefits are numerous. “You let us have our dignity,” he said to Hutchinson. “It’s being in your own bed, being in your own environment, and people who you know come in and visit you. That’s important.”

[Source: Connecticut Post | Derek Torrellas | January 4, 2015 ++]

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VA Pharmacy Update 06 ► Copay Change Proposal for 2017

The U.S. Veterans Affairs Department on 34 JAN announced new proposed guidelines (PDF) meant to lower the copay for veterans buying prescription drugs. The VA estimates about 80% of eligible veterans would save between $1 and $5 per month’s supply of a prescription under the new guidelines and 6% would see an increase. The proposed rule comes at a time of intense discussion concerning prescription drug prices. Polls have shown rising costs as a chief concern for Americans and 2016 presidential candidates have stumped on the issue. The proposed guidelines would eliminate the current procedure, which charges $8 or $9 for a 30-day supply of a drug. That price increases based on the Medical Consumer Price Index, although the VA has frozen copays every year since 2009. It would be replaced with a system involving three tiers. Generic medications would fall under tier one, with a copay of $5, and tier two, with a copay of $8. Third tier medications would include brand name drugs still under patent protection and would have a copay of $11.

The VA predicts that at least half of all medications requiring a copay would fall in the first tier. The prices would not increase automatically and could be changed only by further rulemaking. The new guidelines, which would go into effect in January 2017, would also create an annual copayment cap of $700. The current cap is $960 and increases along with the copayments. The VA estimates the new limit will increase the number of veterans saving money with the cap from less than 3% to about 9%. It says the copayment amounts would increase three times over six years if the current regulations are left unchanged.

Roscoe Butler, deputy director for veterans’ affairs at the American Legion, said he hadn’t seen enough data yet to judge how the change might affect veterans. He said he didn’t know of any outreach to advocacy groups on how to change the guidelines. “It doesn’t give us enough information to say whether this will help or not,” he said. The issue should be discussed at the next meeting with veteran service organizations, he said. The proposed copay rule has been declared economically significant and therefore will be reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget to determine cost savings or increase for the VA. [Source: Modern Healthcare | Shannon Muchmore | January 4, 2016 ++]

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VA Health Care Access Update 28 Embattled Phoenix VA Exec Status

A Veterans Affairs executive on administrative leave over the patient wait time scandal says that if he done anything wrong, the VA would have fired him by now. The statement from Lance Robinson, associate director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, submitted in written testimony through attorneys on 28 DEC to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, contradicts VA’s stated reason for not yet terminating Robinson. Robinson has been on administrative leave for almost two years. In the statement, attorneys from Shaw Bransford & Roth dispute the testimony of VA Under Secretary for Health, Dr. David Shulkin, who testified before the committee on 14 DEC that the agency had not yet terminated Robinson because the U.S. Attorney’s Office had not cleared witnesses the VA wished to interview related to the case while a criminal investigation was ongoing.

Attorneys for Robinson contend that those statements are wrong and that the executive testified multiple times for VA officials on the issue of patient wait times and accusations of whistleblower reprisal made against him. “The fact that the VA has not actually terminated Mr. Robinson is its own admission that he did nothing wrong,” said Julia Perkins, Robinson’s attorney, in a statement. “The VA has spent the last year and a half squandering taxpayer dollars on repeated internal investigations into the same unfounded allegations in an attempt to substantiate a baseless removal action. All this while, Mr. Robinson has been patiently waiting for the truth to come out. But after hearing yet another VA official give inaccurate and misleading information to Congress and to the public about him, Mr. Robinson couldn’t stay quiet any longer.” VA officials were unavailable for comment at the time of publication.

Robinson was among several Phoenix VA officials suspended due to an ongoing scandal related to delayed health care for veterans at the Arizona hospital. He, along with two other Phoenix VA executives, was placed on administrative leave in May 2014 while the agency conducted an investigation into any wrongdoing related to the scandal. VA Deputy Chief of Staff Hughes Turner later issued a proposal to fire Robinson on May 30, 2014. As part of U.S. statutes, Robinson was given 30 days prior notice to any firing, during which he could submit written responses to the VA. Robinson submitted responses on June 13, 2014, giving the agency the legal right to remove him no earlier than July 11, 2014. Instead, the VA has kept Robinson on paid administrative leave ever since. Robinson’s attorneys said Department of Justice officials informed him on 33 APR that they would decline to prosecute him. Officials from the VA’s inspector general’s office then interviewed Robinson on 9 JUN and 21 OCT.

Perkins said that VA officials have had ample time and testimony from her client to render a decision, and unless it can justify firing Robinson, the agency should allow him to return to work. “The VA’s inaction indicates that it has determined it cannot sustain a charge of misconduct against Mr. Robinson for wait list issues at the Phoenix VA before an independent adjudicator,” she said in the letter. A VA spokesperson said in a statement that the agency will continue to examine the case thoroughly, with the rights of all parties in mind. “Where issues require additional review and accountability actions, VA will act as necessary and pursue them and afford all concerned appropriate due process. Caring for our nation’s Veterans is the highest honor and privilege for the men and women who serve them at VA. Our mission is to provide timely access to earned health care and benefits for millions of Veterans. That is a responsibility that we do not take lightly.” Robinson and Health Administration Services Chief Brad Curry remain on paid administrative leave. [Source: FederalTimes | Carten Cordell | January 6, 2016 ++]

May 2, 2014

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VA Fraud, Waste & Abuse ► Reported 1 thru 15 JAN 2016

Natchez, Miss. – United States Attorney Stephanie A. Finley announced today that a former Concordia Parish couple were each sentenced to 12 months in prison for their roles in a scheme to steal Veterans Affairs benefits over a 10-year period. Alfred Lewis Jr., 67, of Ferriday, La., and Rose M. Lewis, 64, of Natchez, Miss., were sentenced by U.S. District Judge Dee D. Drell. Alfred Lewis was sentenced on one count of theft of government property or funds, and Rose Lewis was sentenced on one count of conspiracy to commit theft of government property or funds. They were also sentenced to two years of supervised release and ordered to pay $197,784 restitution. According to evidence presented at the August 21, 2015 guilty plea, from July of 2003 until November of 2013, the defendants conspired to steal $197,784 in Veterans Affairs benefits. Alfred Lewis served in the U.S. Air Force and applied for veterans benefits in July of 2003. He and Rose Lewis did not disclose to Veterans Affairs that Rose Lewis had been working while living with Alfred Lewis during the 10-year period he received benefits. In written statements of their income sent to Veterans Affairs, they denied they were working when in fact Rose Lewis was earning more than $50,000 a year in Mississippi. [Source: CBS KNOE-8 | News Staff | January 7, 2016 ++]

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VAMC West Haven CT Update 02 ► PTSD Patient Death Questioned

Sen. Richard Blumenthal is demanding a probe into a fatal overdose at a Veterans’ Affairs center in his state, saying “reprehensible conduct” at the center may have caused the death. “I am shocked and deeply saddened by the recent death of Zachary Greenough at the West Haven Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) Medical Center,” the Connecticut Democrat wrote in a 24 DEC letter to VA deputy inspector general Linda Holiday. “My staff has received allegations of reprehensible misconduct at West Haven that may have led to Mr. Greenough’s tragic death. I ask that you take immediate steps to investigate this death, and work with criminal authorities in their inquiries as well.”

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Sen. Richard Blumenthal

Greenough, believed to be 29, died in late December after being checked in at the Connecticut VA facility for a post-traumatic stress disorder treatment program, the New Haven Register reported Saturday. His body was found with unspecified illegal drugs, according to a friend and fellow veteran quoted by the newspaper. A spokeswoman from the hospital confirmed a patient in the PTSD program was found dead in a hospital bathroom and said it was “currently under investigation,” according to the report. The state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said the cause of death is pending and will release a report following further investigation.

Blumenthal, the top Democrat on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said his staff received information indicating that Greenough obtained illegal drugs while staying at the West Haven campus. “A full and immediate investigation is essential concerning the specifics of this incident as well as systemic issues regarding staffing and security,” wrote Blumenthal. “In addition, there should be a review by your office and mental health experts as to whether this type of residential inpatient facility was appropriate treatment under these circumstances.” “The very egregious factual allegations concerning this tragic death, while as yet unconfirmed, raise serious questions about access to drugs and other broader issues that may implicate policies and procedures at the VA,” added Blumenthal. “Any misuse or abuse of drugs, especially causing death to a veteran, is inexcusable. I am sure you share my outrage and that your investigation will reflect the urgency of this issue. My staff can provide additional information, and I would appreciate your briefing them on the steps that you will take in response to this horrible tragedy.”

Blumenthal did not include in his letter the specific allegations that drew his attention. The VA has faced intense criticism in recent years as veterans have had to endure long wait times to receive medical benefits. Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned in 2014 amid political fallout over an alleged cover up at a facility at an Arizona VA hospital. In September, the VA Office of the Inspector General found that 307,000 veterans thought to be seeking benefits died before becoming eligible. [Source: Washington Examiner | Daniel Chaitin | January 2, 2016 ++]

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VAMC Oklahoma City ► Missed Diagnoses & Poor Patient Care Allegations

The Veterans Health Administration’s Office of the Medical Inspector has launched a federal inquiry into allegations that missed diagnoses and poor patient care at the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center have resulted in life-altering consequences for a number of veterans. Stacy Rine, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma City VA Health Care System, confirmed the investigation in response to questions about a recent USA Today article that detailed allegations of poor patient care provided to five veterans who sought treatment there. Preliminary findings of that investigation appear to confirm VA shortcomings in three of the five cases, she told The Oklahoman. “While these were complex cases to review, investigation confirmed that there was a delay in diagnosis in two of the cases and a delay in arranging treatment in another case,” Rine said. “In the remaining two cases, care was found to be appropriate.” “We are working to immediately address this,” Rine said of the shortcomings that were confirmed.

The Veterans Administration Medical Center is pictured in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, June 10, 2014. AP File Photo

The Oklahoma City Veterans Administration Medical Center

USA Today cited one case in which George Purifoy, a 65-year-old Oklahoma Vietnam veteran, went to the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center complaining of severe pain after radiation therapy damaged the bone under his nose. “VA clinicians in Muskogee and Tulsa … thought it was a dental problem and sent him for root canals and other procedures,” USA Today reported. “Now, he has no nose, no front teeth, and he’s still in debilitating pain.” Also cited was the case of Oklahoma World War II veteran Charles Hand, 90, who visited the Oklahoma City VA’s emergency room in September 2014 following a fall. “A mass in his jaw was clearly visible on a CT scan taken at the time,” the newspaper reported. “But he was told everything was fine — there were no fractures. It was actually cancer. It has now spread to his liver and lungs.” Purifoy and his attorney declined comment to The Oklahoman and the other veterans cited could not be reached. Following are brief summaries of the other three cases of alleged poor patient care reported by USA Today:

  • Kevin Davis, a 51-year-old Gulf War veteran, had all his teeth extracted and developed a persistent infection. The infection “went undiagnosed for three years, despite being visible on an X-ray taken at the Oklahoma City VA four months after the extractions.” By the time the infection was diagnosed, it had progressed so far that a large portion of his right lower jaw had to be removed and replaced with a plate.
  • Stanley Christian Jr., a 70-year-old Vietnam veteran helicopter gunship pilot, went to the VA in 2010 complaining that something was wrong with his upper right jaw. He was told he had chronic gum disease and should brush and floss better. Four years later, the VA discovered the likely cause of the problem following a private sector scan — an aggressive cyst that had grown to encompass large areas of bone by that time. “Surgeries to remove it created a hole between his sinus and mouth that he is still suffering from. Every time he drinks, the liquid comes out of his nose, and he is in danger of contracting an infection that could spread to his brain.”
  • William Benthin, a 76-year-old Vietnam veteran, went to the VA complaining that he had been experiencing excruciating pain in his left jaw for months, a side effect from medication. For months the Oklahoma City VA denied him surgery that could ease his pain and told him that if he wanted a second opinion, he could go to a facility six hours away in Shreveport, La. It was only after USA Today inquired about his case that he was told he could see someone else, at a non-VA hospital across the street, the newspaper reported.

Rine, the Oklahoma City VA spokeswoman, said she didn’t know which three of the five veterans had delays in diagnosis or treatment allegations confirmed in the preliminary findings of the Office of the Medical Inspector. Rine said she couldn’t reveal that information, even if she did know it, because of patient confidentiality laws. “We take the allegations raised seriously and we are actively working with each of these veterans and their caregivers to ensure their medical needs are met,” she said. Although it’s not required, Rine said the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center is taking the additional step of submitting all five cases to a third party for peer review to “evaluate whether we met accepted standards of care in rendering medical services to our veterans.” “VA is committed to providing quality care to the veterans who sacrificed for our nation and to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude,” Rine said. “We want our veterans in Oklahoma and across the nation to know that we are committed to both fully investigating the facts and to providing the quality care they deserve.”

USA Today reported that the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center has been plagued by high staff turnover and ranks poorly in patient care. “The Oklahoma City VA Medical Center has had five directors in three years and is awaiting the appointment of a sixth,” the paper reported. “By the VA’s own statistics, the facility has consistently ranked among the lowest performing in the country — one out of five stars. Measures of patient safety — the rates of in-hospital complications and adverse events following surgeries and procedures — are among the highest of VA facilities across the country, as are mortality rates for patients suffering from pneumonia or congestive heart failure. The Oklahoma City VA also has among the highest turnover rates for registered nurses.” Rine said she could not release the quality of care report referenced by USA Today because it is “confidential and privileged.”

Oklahoma’s two U.S. senators both voiced frustration at the new allegations, which come on the heels of previous stories that criticized VA medical centers nationally for long wait times and other problems. “The stories of problems at our Oklahoma City VA Center is unacceptable,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Tulsa). “I have already been in touch personally with the facility, the VA director who oversees all Oklahoma VA operations, and the VA headquarters regarding the specific cases recently brought to light by the press.” Inhofe said this year alone, his office has “worked hundreds of cases for Oklahoma’s veterans that are facing inadequate care or blocked access to their earned benefits.” “This past fall I personally brought the VA’s chief of staff to Oklahoma to see firsthand the progress that needs to be made toward improving health care for our veterans,” Inhofe said. “Following his visit, I also initiated a full review by the VA’s office of inspector general of Oklahoma’s VA facilities. This is an epidemic not only at the Oklahoma City VA Center, but across the state.”

Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma City) said progress in improving this nation’s medical centers for veterans has been too slow. “Our veterans have sacrificed to keep us safe and protect the freedoms we enjoy every day,” Lankford said. “I remain continually frustrated by the issues happening at both the Department of Veterans Affairs and in our Veterans Affairs Medical Centers, the front line where we need to honor the promises to treat service-related medical needs of our veterans.” Lankford noted that Congress passed legislation earlier this year to give veterans more choice in where they can obtain medical care, both within the VA and through private sector facilities. “I am working with the regional Veterans Integrated Service Network-19 leadership to get a director in place at the Oklahoma City and Muskogee veterans facilities, and I will closely monitor the VA’s progress,” he said. “Our veterans deserve better, and I will fight to ensure they receive the care they have earned.” [Source: NewsOK.com | Randy Ellis | January 3, 2016 ++]

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VAMC Oklahoma City Update 01Conflict of Interest in Care Probe

The Department of Veterans Affairs launched an investigation last month of poor patient care at the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center, but a top deputy in the office in charge of the probe may have a conflict of interest — his younger brother is the medical center’s chief of staff. Dr. Edward Huycke, deputy of national assessments at the VA Office of the Medical Inspector in Washington, is the older brother of chief of staff Dr. Mark Huycke, who is accused of overseeing the failed care and ignoring earlier reports about it. The VA launched the probe after a USA TODAY investigation found at least five veterans suffering from life-altering consequences of failures in care at the facility, including terminal cancer, bone decay and other painful conditions. A doctor said she reported the cases to Mark Huycke last spring.

The VA has declined to respond to questions about what Mark Huycke knew and when, and said in a statement 7 JAN that his older brother recused himself from the investigation. “The team lead for the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center investigation does not answer to, report to or coordinate with (Edward Huycke),” said the statement issued by VA spokeswoman Walinda West. She added that he and others on the team are in a different division. But House VA Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) believes the entire office should have been recused because those employees, whatever their position, are essentially investigating care overseen by the brother of a high-ranking official in their office. The VA Office of Medical Inspector bills itself as an “objective and independent” office responsible for investigating health care provided by the agency.

Miller sent a letter to Secretary Bob McDonald 6 JAN asking about potential family ties and demanding answers to a litany of other problems raised in USA TODAY’s investigation. He wants to know why the Oklahoma City VA has cycled through five directors in three years and what is being done to improve patient safety at the facility, which has continuously ranked among the worst in the country in recent years. He also asked why the facility is forcing veterans like George Washington Purifoy to drive six hours for treatment to a VA facility in Louisiana, an apparent violation of the Choice Act. Congress last year passed the law requiring the VA to allow veterans to get care in the private sector if their local VA could not meet their needs. “Please explain why Purifoy was not offered non-VA care at a closer location, and … please identify by name who has been disciplined for this failure,” Miller wrote.

George Purifoy served in Vietnam. He had his nose removed

Vietnam veteran George Purifoy shares his story

George Purifoy served in Vietnam. He had his nose removed in 2013 after a bout with nasal cancer

As of Wednesday, Purifoy was still being forced to drive to Louisiana for treatment. The 65-year-old Vietnam veteran suffered radiation damage to the bone underneath his nose in 2013, but VA medical professionals misdiagnosed it as a tooth ailment and sent him for root canals and other procedures. Now, he has no nose, no front teeth and is in debilitating pain. He needs surgery to repair his bone and surrounding tissue and hopes to get a prosthetic nose. At the VA in Shreveport., La, Thursday, Purifoy said, providers told him the VA has now authorized funding for him to be seen closer to his home. By a provider in Dallas. “At least the drive time is about 45 minutes less,” he said.

Meeting minutes obtained by USA TODAY provide a possible clue why officials at the Oklahoma City VA may be reticent to send him and others to get treatment locally in the private sector. Mark Huycke, the facility’s chief of staff, warned department heads at the Dec. 21 meeting that sending veterans outside the VA has “potential long-term ramifications.” “Specifically, if the patient does not get his/her treatment within the VAMC the hospital will lose potential funding,” Huycke told attendees, according to the minutes. In the statement Thursday, VA officials said he told attendees that providing care at the VA facility should be a “priority” over sending them to the private sector, which the center does “when it is deemed necessary and appropriate.” “We believe the interpretation of the minutes may have been misunderstood,” the statement said. The agency said the investigation of patient care at the facility is ongoing and that, in the meantime, the VA is “actively working with each of these veterans and their caregivers to ensure their medical needs are met.”

WWII veteran Charles Hand shares his story

WWII veteran Charles Hand

Mark Huycke has personally apologized to some of the veterans profiled by USA TODAY. He met with Charles Hand, a 90-year-old World War II veteran who had a cancerous tumor on his jaw that was visible on a scan in 2014 but went undetected and undiagnosed for nine months. By that time, the cancer had spread to his liver and lungs. “He was admitting how the VA had really messed up,” Hand’s son Mike recalled about the meeting with Huycke on Dec. 23. “’We’re sorry, we made a mistake.’” Charles Hand was admitted to the hospice wing of the Oklahoma City VA on 4 JAN.

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Stanley Christian

Mark Huycke also apologized to another patient who received poor care, visiting 70-year-old Vietnam veteran Stanley Christian Thursday. Christian has endured months of delays and at least one failed surgery to repair a hole between his mouth and sinus that leaves him vulnerable to an infection that could spread to his brain. Christian said Huycke told him the VA now is prepared to send him for private sector care. “I said, ‘You could have done that a long time ago,’” Christian recalled after the meeting. “He said, ‘Well, you know, communication was very bad and things just got out of hand.’” [Source: USA Today | Donovan Slack | January 7, 2016 ++]

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VA HCS San Diego ► Botched Marine Vet Jeremy Sears’ Care

An internal investigation by the U.S. Veterans Affairs department has found that the San Diego VA system botched its care of former Camp Pendleton Marine Jeremy Sears, who killed himself at an Oceanside gun range in October 2014. After Sears’ suicide at age 35, his family, friends and some veterans advocates have questioned how the VA handled his case. The combat veteran waited 16 months to hear that he would receive no disability pay after serving multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and being diagnosed with a brain injury. Critics said the VA’s medical and benefits divisions let Sears fall through the cracks and more could have been done to save his life. The investigation, by the VA’s own inspector general, provides an official measure of confirmation. It’s another black mark against the VA, a sprawling agency that has been under fire in recent years for a massive national claims backlog followed by whistleblowers exposing that administrators concealed long waits for medical care, mainly to pocket performance bonuses.

Sears’ story has attracted attention at the highest levels. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, along with VA Secretary Bob McDonald, requested a review after her office learned of the suicide from coverage in The San Diego Union-Tribune. Her office plans to highlight the report in a public statement 10 JAN. The investigation’s conclusions show the VA is “still too often falling short in its mission,” said Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. The report reveals that San Diego VA doctors continued to prescribe a narcotic painkiller — hydrocodone, commonly known as Vicodin — for 22 months without any oversight, even though studies warn that chronic pain elevates risk of suicide attempts. And, high suicide risk makes use of hydrocodone less appropriate.

jeremy sears

A March, 2012 photo shows Sgt. Jeremy P. Sears, a range coach at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, giving advice to a Marine during a live-fire training exercise

During Sears’ use of hydrocodone for knee pain, he didn’t get a suicide risk assessment. VA guidelines call for one to be completed when starting pain therapy and during regular installments afterward. Also, Sears told VA screeners about being near two roadside bombs when they detonated — and once losing consciousness — but physicians never gave him a follow-up plan for treatment of traumatic brain injury, or TBI. Research has drawn a link between TBI and suicide. “If the patient had regular follow-up with his [primary care physician], the provider may have identified signs and symptoms of [post-traumatic stress disorder] and depression, and the need for follow-up of TBI and post-traumatic headaches,” the investigation said. Additionally, Sears emailed his VA doctor in the months before his death to say he wanted to “wean off” hydrocodone, an opium-based drug that can be habit-forming. According to the investigation, his physician never followed up with him — even though patients on this medication are told not to stop on their own for fear of withdrawal symptoms. Overall, the VA inspector general’s analysis said the San Diego VA erred in several ways during the nearly two years Sears was under its care. That office issued five recommendations in response to those mistakes, including two designed to have impact at the national level.

Sears’ widow, Tami Sears, said the report feels like vindication of her sense that the VA fumbled her husband’s care. “I do feel they are admitting it, and I hope in the future they change some of their policies and procedures like they are saying,” said Tami Sears, who returned to the Chicago area after her husband’s suicide. “I just hope so many more veterans are going to be affected by this in a positive way,” she said. Jeff Gering, director of the VA’s San Diego health care system while Sears was a patient there, said he had “significant concerns” about the investigation’s conclusions. He noted, among other points, that Sears canceled seven medical appointments — during which his primary care doctor could have taken the steps indicated in the report. Last week, a spokeswoman for the La Jolla VA hospital said the staff is “very saddened” by Sears’ death.

In a statement to the Union-Tribune, Cindy Butler also said: “The data, findings and actions resulting from internal investigations are confidential and protected.” She declined to specify whether any doctors involved in the case have been disciplined. “However, whenever a significant health care event occurs, we conduct a thorough review of systems and processes and take appropriate actions,” Butler said. Miller, the committee chairman, said the investigation shows the VA “putting expediency before excellence” despite the lessons of the 2014 national wait time scandal that led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. “Sadly, this report documents a host of failures, from medical inattention [to] inconsistent continuity of care,” Miller said in a statement to the Union-Tribune. “The question VA leaders must now answer is: Who will be held accountable for these failures?”

Sears served eight years in the Marine Corps infantry, including five combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, before being discharged as a sergeant in October 2012. He almost immediately filed a disability claim for a dozen physical conditions. The VA was wrestling with a national claims backlog at the time. When it did finally respond, the agency acknowledged that Sears had traumatic brain injury, “post-traumatic headaches” and hearing loss. But it said the conditions weren’t disabling enough to merit compensation. Friends said Sears went into a tailspin afterward. Finances were tight as he struggled to find and keep a job. His wife said he was hiding emotional trauma that, in the days before his suicide, he started calling “survivor’s guilt.” She suspected he was using the Vicodin to dull his feelings.

The VA inspector general found fault with the compensation screening for Sears as well. The San Diego VA benefits worker who processed Sears’ claims didn’t gather all of the veteran’s military records before denying him compensation. But the investigation also said the missing information wouldn’t have changed that determination.

No disciplinary action was taken against the worker because the inspector general found that the claim decision was ultimately correct, according to local VA officials. The report urged the San Diego VA benefits director to review the worker’s record to see if the error happened in other cases. It’s unclear what the outcome was. In his response to the inspector general, the regional director, Patrick Prieb, said it was “more appropriate” to give extra training to the entire staff. He also appeared to argue that VA guidelines don’t explicitly direct rating specialists to do what the inspector general’s office cited. In a statement to the Union-Tribune, Prieb said his office “is dedicated to adjudicating veterans’ claims with high quality and in a timely fashion.”

Other recommendations from the investigation:

  • National impact: Doctors who examine veterans for disability ratings should document that they counseled patients on the need for follow-up care when making new diagnoses.
  • National impact: The VA should make sure all relevant communications are documented in a patient’s electronic medical record. Sears emailed his doctor monthly to ask for pain medication refills, but only one of those requests was archived in his record.
  • Local impact: The San Diego health care director should create a process to ensure that physicians follow the VA guideline on using opium-based drugs for chronic pain. The guideline calls for a doctor’s evaluation at least every six months. Sears got 22 months of hydrocodone refills without a face-to-face visit with his physician.

Last week, Feinstein called Sears’ story “deeply troubling” and a “powerful reminder” of the care doctors must take in prescribing opium-based medications. In a letter to McDonald, she also said, “I recognize the department has taken important steps to improve its oversight of opioids and coordination of mental health care and that it has responded positively to the recommendations made by the deputy inspector general.” Feinstein suggested additional steps for California’s VA medical centers. One is to create an automated computer alert when patients request opium-based drug refills without the related, broader check-ups. The senator acknowledged that providing mental health care to veterans can be tricky. Like Sears, vets commonly dodge scrutiny by canceling appointments or avoid the topic entirely by remaining mum about their symptoms. “One of the challenges of diagnosing and treating veterans who are at risk of suicide is that illnesses like PTSD and depression can impair the ability of veterans to actively seek medical care,” she wrote. “I realize that clinicians have limits to how much they can do to ensure patients make and keep appointments, but I believe we owe it to our veterans to continually figure out how to do more.”

Bill Rider, co-founder of American Combat Veterans of War in Oceanside, was one of the first people to voice concerns about Sears’ case after his suicide. He called the inspector general’s report a good step. “I think [VA health care providers] are all overworked,” said Rider, a Vietnam War veteran. “And at some point if a warrior doesn’t show complete obeyance and doesn’t take care of what he’s got to do, they give up on him.” It’s not uncommon for the VA to scrutinize individual cases, though observers said the inspector general’s office has become more aggressive with investigations since the 2014 wait time scandal. The inspector general looked into 62 health care complaints in the 2015 fiscal year, it said in a report to Congress. [Source: The San Diego Union-Tribune | Jeanette Steele | January 10, 2016 ++]

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VA HCS Phoenix Update 19 ► Alleged Scandal Ringleaders Rehired

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman slammed the Phoenix VA Health Care System for reinstating two administrators who had been put on paid leave during a lengthy investigation into allegations made in April 2014 that they manipulated backlog data to ensure personal annual performance bonuses. “The fact that the department took 19 months to reach the conclusion that employees collecting paychecks should be required to work is simply mind boggling. Right now, VA leaders owe the public an explanation for why they wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars paying these employees to sit at home while apparently taking almost no action to investigate the allegations against them,” Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) wrote in a statement released 8 JAN. Lance Robinson, previously the associate director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, and Brad Curry, formerly the system’s chief of Health Administration Services, will return to work with the VA on 11 JAN. Robinson has been assigned as a planner at the Gilbert, Ariz., office. Curry will work as a data analyst. The year and a half probe into both men recently hit a dry patch when the U.S. Attorney’s Office denied the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee interviews with key witnesses. Robinson’s attorney, Julia Perkins, claimed the investigation has slowed down because VA officials could not make a case against her client. [Source: Washington Examiner | Anna Giaritelli | January 8, 2016 ++]

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VARO St. Petersburg Update 02 ► Claim Processing Problems

Veterans who filed benefits claims at the St. Petersburg Regional Office waited longer in 2014 because claims materials weren’t prepared properly, a Department of Veterans Affairs report says. Inspectors also found that personal information was inadequately stored at a contractor scanning center, posing a risk of identity theft, according to the report by the VA Office of Inspector General. Because of the problems, the average wait time at the St. Petersburg office increased from 152 days in June 2014 to 179 days the following December, the report says. Investigators found a backlog of nearly 1,600 boxes and 42,000 packages sent by mail, with each package containing an unspecified number of individual claims, the report says. This “significant backlog of unpressed veteran material” was the result of “inefficient preparation and handling of veteran-provided documentation” at a Noonan, Georgia, contractor center operated by CACI International, the report says.

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Screen capture of IG photo from CACI scanning facility’s rear storage area Newman, GA, January 2015

The problem was in part the result of poor handling of the veterans’ materials by the St. Petersburg office, the report says. Inspectors, acting on a tip from employees, checked a sample of 20 unprocessed claims and found it was taking an average of 30 days to process them — far longer than the five days called for in CACI’s contract. Some were more than 30 days old, the report says. The scanning is part of an effort by the VA’s Veterans Benefits Administration to make the claims process more efficient by eliminating paper and storing all records digitally. One reason for the problem, according to inspectors, is that paper claims from the St. Pete office and other offices were disorganized and not ready for scanning when they reached the contractor, the report says. Inside boxes, inspectors found “commingled loose papers with sensitive information for multiple veterans along with other unrelated VA hardcopy documents, such as blank forms, that were not considered claims evidence.” The boxes needed to be returned to the St. Pete office, the report says. The report includes an image of a poorly packed box, noting that it violates standards.

Another problem was a large increase of veterans’ claims shipped from the St. Petersburg office to the CACI scanning center as the office began the transition to the paperless system, the report says. There was an increase of nearly tenfold in unprocessed veteran claims materials shipped from St. Petersburg to the CACI center between November 2014 and January 2015, when 1,600 boxes were received. In an email statement to the Tribune, the VA said it “is committed to providing all eligible Veterans, Servicemembers, and Survivors with their earned care and benefits. “The Under Secretary for Benefits concurred with the two recommendations presented in the OIG report, and marked improvements have been made in the processing of mail since the 2014 time period defined in the report.” Officials from CACI International were not immediately available for comment. CACI, with headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, and operations in Tampa and around the world, is an information and services company that contracts with the federal government.

In addition, inspectors observed “a significant amount” of paper claims material, including personal and health information, improperly stored at the CACI scanning center, the report says. The report says, “Despite VA’s information security requirements, in the contractor facility’s rear storage areas, we observed a large amount of hard copy sensitive veteran information haphazardly commingled with contractor company documentation, excess office furniture, and empty computer boxes that appeared to be trash.” The report blames inadequate VA oversight, saying the claims are “potentially vulnerable to loss, theft, and misuse to include identity theft or fraud.” The OIG recommended the undersecretary for benefits ensure that the St. Petersburg office is consistent in organizing and mailing veterans’ material and that the office director is held accountable for compliance. The inspector general also recommends onsite reviews of the CACI center.

Officials with the Veterans Benefit Administration agreed with the findings and recommendations but rejected the finding that poor preparation and handling of the boxes contributed to the backlog. he administration did not provide specific reasons for the backlog, according to the report, but did say that 40 percent of the storage boxes at the scanning site were already scanned and awaiting shipment to off-site storage. Officials also agreed that the contractor improperly stored veteran materials at the scanning center but disagreed with the finding that materials were not secure, the report says. As a result of the inspection, the Veterans Benefit Administration took several steps. It increased the number of site visits, provided more detailed instructions for site audits, and authorized an onsite government staff member for each contractor scanning site, according to the report. Officials added that they have set up new detailed shipping instructions for all regional offices. Those changes “should reduce mail backlog further without the need to divert claims processing staff to mail management,” the Veterans Benefit Administration said, according to the report. [Source: The Tampa Tribune | Howard Altman | January 6, 2016 ++]

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VARO Oakland Update 02 Alleged Unprocessed Claims | 13,184

The watchdog for the Veterans Affairs Department could not prove that the Oakland, Calif., regional office sat on more than 13,000 informal claims for benefits, delaying payments — an allegation that emerged during an April 2015 congressional hearing. While the inspector general didn’t find evidence to substantiate an allegation that such a list existed, the watchdog in a new review found errors in other informal claims processing that led to $26,325 in improper payments to vets – mostly overpayments – as well as some significant delays in getting benefits to veterans. One veteran who filed a claim for post-traumatic stress in 2006 waited nearly eight years to receive proper compensation. IG staff looked at 60 informal claims out of 1,308 claims, finding problems with six of them.

House lawmakers had asked the inspector general during an April 2015 congressional hearing to look into an allegation claiming management at the Oakland facility maintained a list of 13,184 unprocessed informal claims for benefits. That hearing featured disturbing stories from whistleblowers at VA’s Oakland regional office and its Philadelphia facility, ranging from abusive work environments to some employees’ constant fears of being fired for not processing claims fast enough. A February 2015 IG report found that Oakland staff had not processed thousands of informal requests for benefits dating back years, and had improperly stored formal claims. Vets can file what are known as informal claims, which before March 2015 could be as simple as a handwritten note indicating their intent to formally apply for benefits. The idea behind the informal claims process is to allow vets to receive benefits backdated to when they first indicate a desire to seek compensation. VA however last year announced it was going to tighten up the informal claims process and require standard documentation. Vets’ groups have sued the department saying the change burdens veterans, particularly older vets.

The IG’s latest report, like its February 2015 investigation, blamed poor training and a lack of management oversight for informal claims processing mistakes and delays. “Staff stated, and we confirmed, that completing the processing of the informal claims was not a priority and the review was conducted sporadically, with staff dividing their time to address other higher priority workloads,” the January 2016 report said. Staff told the watchdog there was confusion over what constituted an acceptable informal claim when documentation came from a service organization on behalf of the veteran. VA staff’s incomplete record-keeping might have contributed to the IG’s inability to find any evidence of the alleged list of more than 13,000 informal claims. “The individuals we interviewed stated that they were not aware of, nor could they substantiate, the existence of a complete list of all the informal claims found in 2012,” the watchdog said. “VARO [VA Regional Office] staff who were involved in the special informal claim review project in 2012 told us they were not recording or reporting their reviews by claim numbers; rather, they were only documenting the number of reviews completed.”

Also in the course of the IG’s investigation, the watchdog “obtained an additional list of 690 claim numbers from VBA’s [Veterans Benefits Administration] Corporate Database that appear to be informal claims that VARO management discovered on a cart while the VARO was undergoing construction from April through May 2014,” the report said. The IG recommended the VA do a complete review of the 690 claims, which the department has done. VA plans to review the remaining 1,248 informal claims (from the original 1,308) by 31 MAY 2016. [Source: GovExec.com | Kellie Lunney | January 11, 2016 ++]

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Arlington National Cemetery Update 54 ► WASP Internment Denied

Elaine Harmon and her comrades flew Army planes across the country. They helped train pilots on how to operate aircraft and instruments. They towed targets behind them while soldiers below fired live ammunition during training. Harmon was aware that her service could cost her life: For 38 other women, it did. But few people in 1944 wanted Harmon or women like her to be part of the military. Not Harmon’s mother, who believed that Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) “were all just awful, just probably loose women” and was ashamed that her daughter would be one of them. Not civilian male pilots, who felt threatened by the female recruits. And not Congress, which voted down a bill that would have granted the female pilots military status for fiscal and political reasons. As World War II drew to a close, the program was disbanded and largely forgotten. It wasn’t until the Air Force began accepting women for pilot training in 1970 that anyone remembered women had flown for the military previously, and it was not until 1977 that the female pilots were finally granted veteran status.

This Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), provided by the family, taken in the 1940s, shows Elaine Harmon. The ashes of World War II veteran Harmon are sitting in a closet in her daughter’s home, where they will remain until they can go where her family says is her rightful resting place: Arlington National Cemetery. Harmon was a pilot in World War II under a special program, Women Airforce Service Pilots, that flew noncombat missions to free up male pilots for combat. They were granted veteran status in 1977 and have been eligible for placement at Arlington Cemetery since 2002. But earlier this year, then-Army Secretary John McHugh reversed course and ruled WASPs ineligible.

Elaine Harmon

Harmon, who helped campaign for WASPs to get that status, was at the first full veteran’s funeral for a WASP in 2002. It was a world apart from the brief affairs she had attended before, when urns containing a woman’s ashes were unceremoniously placed inside an outdoor structure at Arlington National Cemetery. It made Harmon proud to know that she also would be afforded full military honors when her time came. It did in April of last year. Which is why Terry Harmon, Elaine’s 69-year-old daughter, was angered when Secretary of the Army John McHugh reversed the old rule and said that ashes of WASPs can no longer be inurned at Arlington Cemetery. “These women have been fighting this battle, off and on, for over 50 years now,” Terry Harmon told the Associated Press. Now Harmon’s relatives are working to overturn McHugh’s decision. A https://www.change.org petition to incoming Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning asking him to make WASPs and other “active duty designees” eligible for inurnment at Arlington Cemetery has garnered more than 28,000 signatures as of 7 JAN. Terry Harmon also hopes that Congress will bring the issue up at Fanning’s confirmation hearing.

The WASPs were formed midway into World War II, when the huge numbers of service members being sent overseas meant the military was in need of pilots who could ferry planes across the country, test-fly repaired aircraft and help with combat pilot training. According to the AP, General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, who commanded the Army Air Forces in World War II, created the WASPs intending for the women pilots to gain full military status, but Congress never approved it. Harmon, a 25-year-old from Maryland with a husband overseas, joined up in 1944. The civilian pilot’s training program needed to qualify for the WASPs required a parent’s permission, which Harmon knew her disapproving mother would never grant. So she quietly sent the permission forms to her father’s office, she said in a 2006 interview, and he signed them instead. “Back in those days, women weren’t expected do things like this, and so many people were against the idea of women flying, endangering their lives,” she said.

During training in Sweetwater, Tex., Harmon and the other women in the roughly 1,000-person paramilitary program lived according to military standards. They slept in concrete barracks without insulation and dressed in the closest approximation of a uniform they could find. (The WASPs weren’t issued uniforms by the Army until well into the program.) “We fully expected — we’d been told we’d be taken into the military eventually,” she said in 2006. “We took the same oath of office that the men took. We drilled. … We went to bed at night with taps, and we got up in the morning with reveille.” But the female pilots were not considered true members of the military. They earned less, for one. They weren’t given insurance to fly. They got no G.I. benefits. During training, they paid for their own food, room and board. Harmon recalled how, when a woman in the program got into an accident and was killed, the other WASPs passed a hat around to collect money to send her body home — the Army wouldn’t pay for it.

Throughout the summer of 1944, Congress was considering a bill that would have militarized the WASPs. But it seemed unlikely to pass. “There was a lot of negativeness about taking us into the military because at that point there was a lot of politics, for one thing,” Harmon explained in 2006. “We were told [to] keep our mouths shut, don’t do anything. We were good little girls, and we did that.” “Today,” she continued, “we wouldn’t have done that.” By the time Harmon graduated from training in November 1944 and flew out to her station at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, it was clear that her days as a pilot were numbered. She was among the penultimate class of WASPs before the program was disbanded the following month. Records of the WASP program were classified for 35 years after the end of the war, according to the Baltimore Sun. “She said the reason the program was kept secret was because the government was afraid if enemy nations found out the USA was ‘so desperate’ to allow women to fly planes, it would be seen as a weakness,” Harmon’s granddaughter, Erin Miller of Silver Spring, Md., told the Sun last year.

Whether that suspicion was correct, recognition was a long time coming for the WASPs after the war. They were not recognized as veterans until 1977. But in 2009, about 200 still-living WASPs were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal — the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress.

She looked forward to being interred at Arlington Cemetery, among the women she served with, her family said. But Army spokesman Paul Prince told the Associated Press that WASPs are only eligible for burial at cemeteries run by the Department of Veterans Affairs; Arlington Cemetery is run by the Army, and its superintendent had no authority to allow WASPs’ remains into the cemetery, he said. Arlington Cemetery, which is running out of room, faces increasing pressure over eligibility requirements for internment, according to the AP, and strict rules govern whose ashes can be laid to rest there. The rule that bars WASPs from inurnment also covers tens of thousands of others who served in paramilitary or other capacities. In fact, the most-affected group is the Merchant Marine, which had nearly 250,000 members serve during WWII. But Harmon’s family says the WASPs are just asking for what they’ve earned, and that the small number of WASPs remaining seems unlikely to strain the cemetery’s capacity. The WASPs “are a distinct group of women with the surviving 100-or-so women all in their 90s,” Texas Woman’s University history professor Kate Landdeck told the AP, “It is just mean-spirited for the secretary of the Army to question their value to their country. Again.”

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Members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (left) on a runway in Laredo Texas, in 1944 and Elaine Harmon at the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony on Capitol Hill in 2010.

On 6 JAN Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) introduced The WASP Arlington Inurnment Restoration Act which would allow the cremated remains of women who flew non-combat missions during World War II to be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. [Source: Washington Post | Sarah Kaplan | January 6, 2016 ++]

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World War I Memorial Update 07 ► Final Designs Selected

World War I is one of the few major conflicts of the 20th century that does not have a dedicated memorial in the nation’s capitol. That is about to change. In 2014, Congress designated Pershing Park in the District of Columbia, along with the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, as national World War I memorials. They also authorized the World War I Centennial Commission to redevelop Pershing Park to honor the Veterans of World War I. The goal of the World War I Centennial Commission is to create a dynamic urban space and timeless memorial to honor those who fought in “The Great War”, while inspiring younger generations of Americans to better understand the profound effects it had on our nation’s history. In search for the perfect design, the commission created a two-stage international competition.

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Stage I was an open call for designs to be submitted. After receiving more than 350 entries, judges narrowed it down to five finalists who were invited to participate in phase two. Judges on the design oversight committee include representatives from organizations involved in the final design approval, including the National Park Service, National Capital Planning Commission, Commission of Fine Arts, General Services Administration and the American Battle Monuments Commission. During stage two, finalists met with the design oversight committee to provide additional their input and advice regarding their submissions. “The designs have to do three major things. First of all, it has to be a great park. Second, it has to have a very strong memorial message of some sort. And the third is, because of this location on Pennsylvania Ave., it has a very urban responsibility to respond to the context of that particular place and add to the Pennsylvania Ave., experience, as well as the experience of the memorials around the area,” said Don Stastny, the competition manager.

After further refinement and development, the finalists showcased their revised designs on 6 JAN. The jury will select a winning design team to recommend to the World War I Centennial Commission. The winner will be announced on 25 JAN at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. To view the final designs and explore the concepts go to http://www.worldwar1centennial.org/index.php/stage-ii-design-development.html. [Source: Vantage Point Blog | January 13, 2015 ++]

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Stolen Valor Update 100 ► Reported 160101 thru 160114

A federal appeals court on 11 JAN tossed out a veteran’s conviction for wearing military medals he didn’t earn, saying it was a form of free speech protected by the Constitution. A specially convened 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the First Amendment allows people to wear unearned military honors. Elven Joe Swisher of Idaho was convicted in 2007 of violating the Stolen Valor Act, which made it a misdemeanor to falsely claim military accomplishments. President George W. Bush signed it into law in 2006, but the U.S. Supreme Court struck it down in 2012 as a violation of free speech protections. Investigators looked into Swisher’s military claims after he testified at the 2005 trial of a man charged with soliciting the murder of a federal judge. Swisher wore a Purple Heart on the witness stand. Swisher testified that David Roland Hinkson offered him $10,000 to kill the federal judge presiding over Hinkson’s tax-evasion case. Swisher said Hinkson was impressed after Swisher boasted that he killed “many men” during the Korean War.

Prosecutors say Swisher enlisted in the Marine Corps a year after the Korean War ended but was never wounded in the line of duty. Swisher was honorably discharged in 1957, and discharge documents indicate that he didn’t receive any medals, according to the 9th Circuit ruling. During his 2007 trial, prosecutors showed the jury a photograph of Swisher wearing several military medals and awards, including the Silver Star, Navy and Marine Corps Ribbon, Purple Heart, and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a Bronze “V.” Swisher’s attorney Joseph Horras of Boise, Idaho, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Monday. After the Stolen Valor Act was struck down, Congress passed a new law making it a crime to profit financially by lying about military service. President Barack Obama signed it in 2013. After Swisher’s conviction, Congress removed a provision making it illegal to wear unearned medals. [Source: Associated Press | Paul Elias | January 11, 2016 ++]

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Vet Jobs Update 182 ► Solar Ready Vets Program

If you’re a military veteran looking for a career change, a program starting next month at Hill Air Force Base might pique your interest. The U.S. Department of Energy’s “Solar Ready Vets” program will begin 1 FEB at Hill AFB. Under the program, which was announced by President Barack Obama during a visit to Hill in April, about 75,000 people will be trained to enter the solar workforce by 2020. A large portion of that workforce will include military veterans transitioning out of active-duty service.

According to Deputy Secretary of Energy Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, more than 150 veterans have already been trained to enter the solar industry through first few months of the program. “I’m pleased to report that every single one received a job offer upon graduating,” Sherwood-Randall said in a statement on the DOE website. Those veterans, who include members from every branch of the military, trained at Camp Pendleton in California, Fort Carson in Colorado, and at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, according to the DOE. Under the program, service members learn skills like how to size and install solar panels, connect electricity to the grid and understand local building codes. Program officials say the training will lead to installer, sales representative, system inspector and other solar-related jobs. The program will be expanded in 2016 to include Hill AFB and Fort Drum in New York.

Solar arrays shown at Hill Air force Base during an April 3, 2015 speech by President Barack Obama.

Solar arrays shown at Hill Air force Base during an April 3, 2015 speech by President Barack Obama

Capt. Joshua Tate, deputy director of 75th Force Support Squadron, said it’s too early to tell what the overall participation will be at Hill, but base officials are counting on only a small fraction of the program’s total. Tate said Hill currently has one class scheduled with an enrollment goal of 24 students. Tate said an initial recruitment bulletin went out to a “target(ed) population” on 11 DEC. “Since then we have eight (students) currently registered with more airmen expressing interest every day,” he said. “Many are currently working through the application process.” The DOE partnered with Salt Lake Community College, who worked with Utah’s solar energy community to find instructors for training, Tate said. The school will also seek employer connections for the graduates. Hill will provide classroom and hands-on lab space, but base employees will not be teaching the course.

The course will be a combination of online and classroom training provided by SLCC and paid for by the DOE during the first phase of the program. Future funding will come from individual service members’ GI Bill benefits. Active-duty service members or veterans of any branch located near Hill who would like to participate should contact Rebecca Delgado at 801-586-5451 or Tate at 801-777-7333. [Source: Standard Examiner | Mitch Shaw | January 9, 2016 ++]

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Vet Unemployment Update 05 ► 2015 Ended at 4.8%

Veterans unemployment measures jumped by more than a full percentage point in December, government data show, but even these higher numbers put the jobless rate at levels that would have been stunningly low just a couple of years ago. The December blip aside, 2015 was a year of employment success for veterans of all generations not seen since the boom days before the recession, Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicate. And for the youngest generation of veterans, 2015 was the best year ever for employment — by far. The nation as a whole added 292,000 jobs in December, with unemployment holding steady at 5 percent. The unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans increased to 5.7 percent in December, up from November’s mark of 4.2 percent, an all-time low for that metric, for which data go back to September 2008.

Vet unemployment sees record year despite December jump

Over the past year, an all-time low in that measure was set three times. And six of the eight monthly unemployment reports from May to the end of the year were either the lowest or the second-lowest vets’ unemployment rates ever recorded at the time they came out. Averaged together, the unemployment rate for all 12 months for post-9/11 vets was 5.8 percent — down significantly from 2014’s 7.2 percent number, which was itself the lowest annual average recorded until now. For veterans of all generations, unemployment jumped to 4.8 percent in December from November’s 3.6 percent. No monthly unemployment rate lower than November’s had been charted since late 2007. The overall veterans unemployment rates for the 12 months of 2015 average out to 4.6 percent. The last year with an average that low was 2008. [Source: MilitaryTimes | George Altman | January 8, 2016 ++]

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Vet Suicide Update 08 ► Daily Average of 22 Continues

The most oft-cited and contested figure in the grim field of veteran suicide research: 22. That’s what some researchers say is the average number of U.S. service veterans who take their lives every single day, and it’s a statistic that’s fueling efforts by the Obama administration and lawmakers on Capitol Hill to address the plight of struggling veterans. Cited frequently by President Obama and lamented by veterans organizations, the death toll estimate spurred Congress to pass the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act earlier this year, designed to stem what lawmakers saw as an epidemic of suicides among veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The number itself, taken from a 2012 Department of Veterans Affairs study, is debated by researchers, and within that number are a number of populations who, other than sharing a background of service as members of the armed forces, are trickier to generalize. “While that’s a single number that represents a single population, it’s a complex population that’s dynamic,” said Dr. Robert Bossarte, director of the VA’s epidemiology program and co-author of the 2012 study. “Any time you talk about a national number like that, there’s a tremendous amount of activity and change going on behind the scenes.”

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (at microphones) has continued to speak of the need to head off veteran suicides. (Associated Press)

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (at microphones) has continued to speak of the need to head off veteran suicides.

Indeed, the study found that suicide rates were highest not among newer recruits but among older veterans — two-thirds of those covered by the research committed suicide after reaching 50 years of age. But suicide rates among younger veterans shot up from 2009 to 2011, according to a 2014 update to the 2012 study. Men commit suicide at higher rates than women, although the rates for women veterans have gone up in the past two years. Veterans overall are still far more likely to commit suicide than those who did not serve in the military. The actual count from the 2012 study found that 18 to 22 veterans take their lives every day, out of a total population of about 22 million. The rate held steady in the 2014 update report — though questions persist. The figure of 22 daily suicides was extrapolated from death certificate information in 21 states that contribute to the national violent-death database. Veterans were tracked from 2001 to 2009, but without data from some of the states with the largest veteran populations, the number is an educated estimate.

There are even some psychiatrists who think that 22 might be a conservative number. “Many of us think the rate is higher than 22,” said Dr. Craig Bryan, executive director of the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah. “We don’t want to blow things out of proportion and say it’s much worse, but, at the same time, we don’t want to pretend it’s not a problem. So 22 seems a reasonable estimate to provide based on the evidence.” The way to get at the full picture of veteran suicide is to get better data that are not based on partial information from state data and extrapolations. The solution: a labor-intensive study between the VA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to put together a national death index to get a real head count of all veteran deaths since 1979, including suicides. The report should be released sometime in 2016, Dr. Bossarte said, and researchers are divided on whether the rates would go up or down. “I’m expecting there will be little change in the number but a change behind the scenes,” Dr. Bossarte said. “That number is reflective of rates of every demographic of veterans. It’s a complex portrait.”

The complexities beneath the number also leave some doctors wary of using it so bluntly. “We don’t think it’s the best way to talk about it,” said Dr. Caitlin Thompson, VA’s deputy director of suicide prevention. “It’s an easy thing for people to grab onto. At least it’s getting awareness out there that it’s a significant issue and one we’re all working really, really hard on, but there’s certainly other ways it should be done.” Still, putting a finite tally on the problem has galvanized action, said Dr. Bryan. “Suicide is the third-biggest cause of death among teenagers and young adults,” he noted, but many medical conditions that are responsible for far fewer deaths than suicide receive more funding than suicide research. “That would be tragic if people became numb to the statistic at a place where we’re actually starting to know what works, starting to publish papers and implement life-saving actions, about to cross the finish line, and we’ve collapsed.”

Dr. Bryan said he is expecting the veteran suicide rate to rise in the next major update. “I don’t know that we as a society have yet really fully committed ourselves to doing what needs to be done to end this purge,” he said. While there are predictors of suicidal tendencies, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and alcohol abuse, the trends can be confounding. Analysts can’t say why there has been an increase in younger veterans and women taking their lives. “That’s the $10 million question for military and veteran mental health,” said Dr. Bruce Capehart, medical director for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans at the VA in Durham, North Carolina. The research has produced data that upset the conventional wisdom, including the finding that veterans who served in combat zones are at a lower risk for suicide than their comrades who did not. One study found that suicide rates for servicemen and -women deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan were lower than for veterans who had not gone to war.

The federal government has taken steps to combat the problem and has concluded that providing mental health services does work: Fewer than 25 percent of veterans who committed suicide in the 2012 report had sought mental health care at the VA. [Source: The Washington Times | Anjali Shastry | December 31, 2015 ++]

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Homeless Vets Update 71 Veterans on Patrol | Tucson

Ten days after the group Veterans on Patrol set up a camp in Sierra Vista, police showed up and told them they had two weeks to vacate the premises. This is the third camp the group has set up in Arizona. The group has faced resistance in Phoenix and Tucson as well, but they were not prepared for this encounter. The group of volunteers is dedicated to finding homeless veterans who have slipped through the cracks, and face chronic homelessness. Many of them are not even enrolled in the Veterans Administration program to get benefits. Volunteers provide them with food, shelter, clothing as well as help them sign up for these benefits. In some cases, they have been able to help homeless veterans find housing through government programs as well.

(Source: Tucson News Now)

Lewis Arthur, the founder of Veterans on Patrol, said winning the trust of these veterans was the biggest challenge they have faced. They use other homeless veterans as scouts, and they take their time to show the homeless veterans that there are no strings attached to get help. “Sometimes it’s taken me a month and half just to win the trust of one veteran,” Arthur said. The group operates with the help of volunteers and support from the community. They moved on to state land located behind Walmart on Highway 90 in Sierra Vista in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve. In the last 10 days, Arthur said they found 14 veterans camped out in the desert. Most of them were Vietnam war veterans. Arthur said they have been trying to fill in the gaps that government agencies and other non-profit groups are failing at, which is getting help to the most vulnerable veterans in the community.

Dennis Beck, an Air Force veteran who is a community organizer in Sierra Vista, said he did not realize the homeless problem they had in their community. The group had been anticipating a meeting with the Mayor and Chief of Police in Sierra Vista, but they were caught off guard when several police officers showed up at their camp on Monday morning. “The meeting was a bunch of police officers, and I’m not speaking bad about the police officers, they were outstanding, but it was them having to come up into this camp and scare everybody,” Arthur said. The group was then told to vacate the property within two weeks. “I told them they’re not going to shut me down,” Arthur said.

A group of volunteers rounded up signs and flags, marched to city hall and demanded a meeting with Mayor Rick Mueller. Mueller, who is a veteran himself, and serves on the veteran’s council, agreed to meet with the group, and seemed to like what they were doing, according to Arthur. “He said he would be writing a letter to the state to request more time for us,” Arthur said. He added support from the Sierra Vista community has been overwhelming. Donations are pouring into the camp, day and night. They actually had to ask the community to stop bringing in donations, all they needed was firewood. Tucson News Now was unable to get a hold of the Mueller for a comment on Monday night. [Source: Tucson News Now Fox 10 | Tucson News Now | January 4, 2015 ++]

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USS Pueblo Update 03 ► Crew Compensation Pending

The memory of 11 gruesome months of captivity in North Korea came flooding back to Tom Massie when he heard that the American hostages held in Iran for 444 days more than three decades ago will finally be compensated for their ordeal. Good for them, he thought. But for Massie and his 81 fellow crew members on the USS Pueblo, a Navy spy ship that North Korea seized in international waters in 1968, financial recompense remains elusive. Now in their 60s and 70s, many disabled and struggling on fixed incomes, the men of the Pueblo have received almost nothing in damages. The government once paid them about $800 for food they didn’t eat, calculated at the World War II rate of $2.25 a day. That’s far less than the $4.4 million to which each Iran hostage is entitled under a law passed by Congress last month — $10,000 for every day of captivity in Tehran, coming from a fund established in part with penalties paid by sanctions-busting banks. The contrast strikes many of the Pueblo crew members as another slap in the face from a government that has sometimes regarded them as an embarrassment.

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An official North Korean photo shows crew members of the USS Pueblo being taken into custody on Jan. 23, 1968. Their spy ship was seized by North Korea in international waters.

“I’m glad they’re getting something,” said Massie, 67, a retired heating and air-conditioning vendor who lives in Roscoe, Ill., and still suffers the physical and emotional effects of torture. “But I really don’t think it’s fair, if there’s a law passed where somebody gets compensated and everybody don’t get the same treatment,” he said. “They were POWs, we were POWs. We were held for 11 months and beaten every day, humiliated, starved, just about anything you could think of.”

The $1.1 billion fund to pay the Iranian hostages, and potentially the victims of terrorist attacks at U.S. embassies in Beirut and East Africa, has reopened old wounds for victims of similar international incidents. The crew members of the Pueblo are particularly angry. More than 60 are still alive. Since learning that the Iran hostages can make claims, they have been furiously emailing one another, writing their representatives in Congress and calling lawyers to see if they can get a share of the money, too. “We’ve always thought we ought to be compensated,” said Alvin Plucker, director of the USS Pueblo Veterans Association. “Now, we’re lighting the flames out there. We’re communicating back and forth. Some of the emails are in favor of doing something. And some say, ‘Show me the money.’ In other words, they don’t believe it’s ever going to happen.”

As the 48th anniversary of their capture approaches, several crew members said one potential obstacle is that many Americans are too young to remember the Pueblo incident. An environmental research vessel outfitted as a spy ship, the Pueblo was on an intelligence-gathering mission in the Sea of Japan on Jan. 23, 1968, when it came under attack by North Korean submarine chasers, torpedo boats and MiG fighter jets. One crew member died during the assault. The crew burned many of its records and surrendered. In North Korea, the crew members were imprisoned under harsh conditions and tortured in an attempt to get them to confess to espionage and violating North Korean waters. They posed for propaganda photos, often extending their middle fingers to convey their true feelings about their captors, who were clueless about the acts. Public response to their sly defiance helped persuade Washington to officially apologize to North Korea to end the incident, and the crew returned home on Christmas Eve. The Navy held a board of inquiry that recommended that Cmdr. Lloyd M. Bucher be court-martialed for abandoning the ship, but the Navy secretary closed the case, reasoning that the crew had “suffered enough.”

Many of the crew members have had difficulty getting over their experience. Several said they have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and have taken disability payments. In the one serious attempt to get compensation from North Korea, Massie, two other crew members and Bucher’s widow filed a lawsuit. Other crew members didn’t take part — for most, because they couldn’t afford the lawyer’s fee of $5,000. In 2008, the four plaintiffs won a $65 million default judgment in a federal court in Washington. But they never were able to identify any of North Korea’s assets to collect. They may now be the only four connected to the Pueblo who are potentially eligible to make a claim on the fund just established by Congress, since the law requires a legal ruling that is not collectable. An exception was made for the Iran hostages because they were banned from suing as a condition of their release.

The fund has nonetheless resurrected long-buried hopes among crew members. “Why can’t we be in on something like that?” said Rick Rogala, 68, of Sarasota, Fla., a seaman apprentice on cooking duty when the Pueblo was seized. “The money is out there for that kind of situation. We seem to be the forgotten ones.” But others are skeptical. “I’ve tried to distance myself to some degree,” said John Mitchell, 68, of Kneeland, Calif., an engineering yeoman on the ship. “I don’t want to make my life about the Pueblo. Hey, if somebody wants to give me $3 or $4 million, I’ll take it. But I doubt we’re going to get anything.” Ralph McClintock, secretary of the USS Pueblo Veterans Association, said he still feels the way he did in 2008, when South Korean television came to the group’s 40th reunion and asked him about the lawsuit he refused to join. “I don’t want their money,” he said of North Korea’s secretive first family. “I want them, the Kims, gone. I want the Korean People’s Army disbanded. I want whatever I may be entitled to passed to the Korean people. They’ve been through hell.” [Source: Washington Post | Carol Morello | January 4, 2016 ++]

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WWII Vets 98 ► Boe~O’Neil

O’Neil Boe remembers meeting Gen. Dwight Eisenhower on June 5, 1944, when the allied commander rallied paratroopers hours before launching the D-Day invasion. “Eisenhower said, ‘Where are you from, soldier?’ recalled Boe, who appears in the middle of the iconic photograph of the general and the troops. “I said, ‘I am from Louisiana.’ He said, ‘Frog country.’ ” Boe said that Eisenhower asked another soldier if he was scared. “He said, ‘No, sir.’ And Eisenhower said, “Well, I’m scared. Many of you boys ain’t coming back.” The general was correct. Boe said that his 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment Company B started with 300 people but only 52 survived Normandy. “I was so scared, they dropped me in the dark, bullets were flying everywhere,” said Boe, a member of American Legion Post 383 in Reserve, La. “After daylight, on June 6, I told one of my buddies, ‘I don’t think we’re going to see home no more.’ A minute later, he fell dead (from a sniper’s bullet). That left quite an impression on me ever since. I still get nightmares.”

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World War II paratrooper recalls Eisenhower meeting

The paratroopers were charged with securing bridges and roads for troops moving inward after storming the beaches. Boe, who landed near railroad tracks, remembered looking back and seeing the bodies “of the boys floating in the water.” Boe, a radio operator, received a Silver Star for re-capturing a radio from the Germans who had taken it from another unit. “I had to get the radio. I killed about 11 Germans getting it back.” Boe jumped twice more, in Belgium and Bastogne, “which was a real battle. We were almost prisoners. We were surrounded by Germans. It was cold. Snowbanks were eight foot tall. I told the guys that if I ever got home, I would never be cold again. Now, I can’t even watch movies with snow. I’ll freeze.”

Like many members of his generation, Boe says he wanted to join the military after Pearl Harbor, originally hoping to be a pilot, but he failed a vision test. However, he was invited to join a new division called paratroopers. The training was rigorous, but he says he loved it. “I would always sneak in next in line to get another turn (jumping out),” said Boe, who proudly says he has never landed in an airplane. “The sergeant would say, ‘Boy, you gonna be a good soldier.’ “After he left the Army, Boe raised a family with his late wife and worked as a barber for 50 years. Now, Boe spends his days tending his gardens, which are full of tomatoes and leafy vegetables. Reflecting back to the historic Eisenhower meeting and his paratrooper comrades, Boe pauses. “You are looking at a miracle. I’m still here.” [Source: The American Legion | Honor & Remembrance | August 2015 ++]

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Obit: Katherine McFarland ► 1 JAN 2016

The widow of one of Waterloo’s five Sullivan brothers killed during World War II has died. Katherine McFarland, 93, the widow of Albert Sullivan, youngest of the five brothers and the only one who married, died New Year’s Day at the Western Home Communities in Cedar Falls, where she had been staying the past several months, said her granddaughter, Kelly Sullivan, a Cedar Falls elementary school teacher. Sullivan said her grandmother passed peacefully, fulfilling her granddaughter’s wish to see in the New Year with her. “She was my best buddy,” Sullivan said. McFarland was popular at the Western Home cottage where she stayed, sang karaoke and was referred to as “Kate the Great” by staff.

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sullivan brothers

Katherine McFarland (left & center) – widow of Albert Sullivan (center right), the youngest of the five Sullivan brothers killed during WWII.

That’s also what Albert “Al” Sullivan thought too, on May, 11, 1940, when he married McFarland, then Katherine Rooff, the daughter of Bulgarian and Irish immigrants, known as “Keena” to family. However, Al Sullivan passed out cold at the altar at their wedding Mass, at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. “No kidding. Balk! Down he went. He was so nervous,” Katherine recalled with a laugh in a 2012 interview. Albert was standing next to his best man, Leo Rooff, Katherine’s cousin, who 30 years later would become mayor of Waterloo. Albert’s sister, Genevieve Sullivan, was maid of honor. “We just looked at him, What could we do?” she said. But Albert came to and the ceremony went on without incident from that point.

Albert, or Al as he was known to friends, and Katherine had wed after about a year’s courtship. They had met during outings at a park in the Riverview area off what is now La Porte Road and East Mitchell Avenue. “It really was nice at that time. It was nice and clean years ago. That was really a nice place to live,” McFarland recalled. The sand pits there, now part of the Riverview Recreation Area, were a popular area for recreation and swimming. She went for bike rides there. Katherine went to West High School; Albert attended crosstown East High. The school rivalry did not impede their courtship. “I don’t know, we just got acquainted,” she said, adding modestly. “You know how things go.” She paused a moment before breaking out laughing. They both worked at The Rath Packing Co. in different areas of what was then Waterloo’s largest employer. “I worked in the lard room,” she said. “That was a mess.” Albert also worked for a time in the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal-era jobs program, doing construction work at Backbone State Park.

“They were a real close family,” Katherine said of the household of Thomas and Alleta Sullivan, the boys’ parents. “Every Sunday around Sunday dinner, everyone was there, just a lot of fun. They were really a happy-go-lucky family.” One Sunday dinner in late 1941 was different. “We had the radio on Dec. 7,” Katherine recalled, and the family heard of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Some mention was made of Bill Ball, a friend of the brothers from Fredericksburg, who was on the battleship USS Arizona. It was later learned he died in the attack. “My goodness sakes, that was something. It wasn’t too long after that that they enlisted in the Navy,” Katherine said. Katherine and Albert hadn’t yet been married two years when Albert and his brothers enlisted, and they now had their son, Jim. Albert, with a young family and older brothers enlisting, had the option of not going. Katherine encouraged him to go.

“They really wanted to go, those boys. They wanted to be together. He wouldn’t have been happy at all with his brothers gone in the service. You don’t think anything is going to happen to them,” Katherine said. “That’s the sad part of it. Being young you don’t know what it means to be in war. You think, ‘Oh they’re going to be back.’ And all of a sudden, they’re not back.” Katherine recalled the day a military officer notified the family the brothers were missing. “They came to the house,” she said. That was January 1943. “It wasn’t too long after we got the news that they were gone, dead.” George, Francis, Joseph, Madison and Albert Sullivan died Nov. 13, 1942 when their ship, the USS Juneau, was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and sunk while returning with other battle-damaged American ships from the naval Battle of Guadalcanal. All but 13 of the Juneau’s crew of 700 perished. The surviving Sullivans never got over the loss. Katherine carried on. “When you’re young, you say, ‘what the hell,’ ” she said.”I went on with my life. Gotta go on.”

For years McFarland remained in the background during various events honoring the five brothers, because she had a full life after their passing. She raised her and Albert’s son, Jim, now retired and living in Waterloo. And she enjoyed a nearly 40-year marriage to Dean McFarland, a World War II veteran and United Auto Workers Local 838 president, who died in 1986. However, Kelly Sullivan said she brought crew members of the USS The Sullivans, the second of two Navy destroyers named for the brothers, to visit McFarland earlier this year, as she had in previous years. She also participated in the dedication of the Grout Museum District’s Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum in 2008. During a 2012 interview, McFarland was critical of the 1940s-era Hollywood movie about the brothers, “The Fighting Sullivans.” She indicated it was overly dramatic. She also said, only half-jokingly, that the actress who played her wasn’t pretty enough. “She was a looker,” Kelly Sullivan said of her grandmother. [Source: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier | Pat Kinney | January 2, 2016 ++]

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Retiree Appreciation Days ► As of 14 Jan 2016

Retiree Appreciation Days (RADs) are designed with you in mind. They’re a great source of the latest information for retirees and Family members in your area. RADs vary from installation to installation, but, in general, they provide an opportunity to renew acquaintances, listen to guest speakers, renew ID Cards, get medical checkups, and various other services. Some RADs include special events such as dinners or golf tournaments. Due to budget constraints, some RADs may be cancelled or rescheduled. Also, scheduled appearances of DFAS representatives may not be possible. If you plan to travel long distances to attend a RAD, before traveling, you should call the sponsoring RSO to ensure the RAD will held as scheduled and, if applicable, whether or not DFAS reps will be available. The current schedule is provided in the attachment to this Bulletin titled, “Retiree Activity\Appreciation Days (RAD) Schedule”. Note that this schedule has been expanded to include dates for retiree\veterans related events such as town hall meetings, resource fairs, stand downs, etc. For more information call the phone numbers of the Retirement Services Officer (RSO) sponsoring the RAD as indicated in the attachment. An up-to-date list of Retiree Appreciation Days can always be accessed online at:

[Source: RAD List Manager | Milton Bell | January 14, 2015 ++]

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Vet Hiring Fairs ► 16 JAN thru 14 Mar 2016

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s (USCC) Hiring Our Heroes program employment workshops are available in conjunction with hundreds of their hiring fairs. These workshops are designed to help veterans and military spouses and include resume writing, interview skills, and one-on-one mentoring. For details of each you should click on the city next to the date in the below list. To participate, sign up for the workshop in addition to registering (if indicated) for the hiring fairs which are shown below for the next month. For more information about the USCC Hiring Our Heroes Program, Military Spouse Program, Transition Assistance, GE Employment Workshops, Resume Engine, etc. visit the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s website at http://www.hiringourheroes.org/hiringourheroes/events .

Fort Campbell, KYFort Campbell Military Spouse 2-Day Event Details Register

January 20 – 6:00 pm to January 21 – 1:00 pm

Cleveland, OHCleveland Hiring Expo with Cleveland Cavaliers Details Register

January 25 – 9:00 am to 2:00 pm

Fort Stewart, GAFort Stewart Transition Summit Details Register

January 26 – 2:30 pm to January 27 – 4:00 pm

Austin, TXAustin Hiring Fair Details Register

January 27 – 8:30 am to 1:30 pm

San Antonio, TXSan Antonio Military Spouse Networking Reception Details Register

February 2 – 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm

San Antonio, TXSan Antonio Hiring Expo with San Antonio Spurs Details Register

February 3 – 9:30 am to 2:00 pm

St. Paul, MNMinneapolis/St. Paul Hiring Expo with Minnesota Wild Details Register

February 9 – 9:30 am to 2:00 pm

McChord AFB, WAJoint Base Lewis-McChord Military Spouse 2-Day Event Details Register

February 9 – 7:00 pm to February 10 – 1:00 pm

Camp Pendleton, CACamp Pendleton Military Spouse 2-Day Event Details Register

February 17 – 7:00 pm to February 18 – 1:00 pm

Tampa, FLTampa Wounded Veteran & Caregiver Employment Conference Details Register

February 23 – 8:30 am to 2:30 pm

Denver, CODenver Hiring Expo with Denver Nuggets Details Register

February 29 – 9:30 am to 2:00 pm

Houston, TXHouston Hiring Expo with Houston Rockets Details Register

March 2 – 9:30 am to 2:00 pm

Detroit, MIDetroit Hiring Fair Details Register

March 5 – 8:30 am to 1:30 pm

Germany, AEGermany Transition Summits Details Register

March 7 – 2:00 pm to March 11 – 2:30 pm

Dayton, OHWright-Patterson Air Force Base Military Spouse 2-Day Event Details Register

March 9 – 7:00 pm to March 10 – 1:00 pm

[Source: U.S. Chamber of Commerce Assn January 14, 2016 ++]

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State Veteran’s Benefits & Discounts ► Mississippi | 2016

The state of Missouri provides several benefits to veterans as indicated below. To obtain information on these, refer to the attachment to this Bulletin titled, “Veteran State Benefits –MS” for an overview of those benefits. Benefits are available to veterans who are residents of the state. For a more detailed explanation of each refer to

http://www.vab.ms.gov & http://militaryandveteransdiscounts.com/location/mississippi.html:

  • Housing Benefits
  • Financial Assistance Benefits
  • Employment Benefits
  • Education Benefits
  • Other State Veteran Benefits
  • Discounts

[Source: http://www.military.com/benefits/veteran-state-benefits/mississippi-state-veterans-benefits.html Jan 2016 ++]

* Vet Legislation *

Tricare: Amend it But Don’t End it!Take Action!

The House and Senate Armed Services Committees want to replace the current TRICARE program with an entirely new system, and plan to craft legislation this year to achieve this objective. The starting point will be the health care recommendations from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) that suggests that TRICARE be replaced with a plan similar to the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program (FEHBP). The MCRMC proposal recommends that “Non-Medicare eligible retirees should continue to have full access to the military health benefit program at cost contributions that gradually increase over many years…” These beneficiaries would eventually be required to pay 20 percent of all health care costs, and premiums would be increased every year to ensure that beneficiaries keep paying 20 percent. Like FEHBP beneficiaries, this new program would allow beneficiaries to choose from a selection of commercial insurance plans.

FRA believes that a military retiree’s health care premium, is at least in part, paid for with 20 or more years of arduous military service. FRA advocates that military beneficiaries incur distinctive and extraordinary physical and mental stresses that are completely different to the service conditions of federal civilian employees, and their health benefits should be significantly better than civilian programs. Further the Association does not believe that TRICARE cannot be fixed. If you concur use the FRA Action Center to ask your legislators to amend TRICARE but don’t end it! Go to http://www.capwiz.com/fra/issues/alert/?alertid=69207626 and use their editable email/letter service to forward your concerns to your legislators. [Source: FRA | Making Waves | January 6, 2016 ++]

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Asbestos Litigation Reform Update 01 Lawsuit Double Dipping

Asbestos poisoning is personal for Garry Hall, a retired admiral and national executive director of the Association of the United States Navy. Hall’s father-in-law, who was a sailor in the 1950s, died this week due to lung cancer that the family believes was connected to asbestos exposure. Hall said his father-in-law signed onto a class-action lawsuit against a manufacturer of the material while lying in his hospital bed. “If somebody is in their 60s or 70s and in asbestos litigation, the clock is ticking and asbestos big industry can run the clock out,” he said. Hall and other critics say H.R.526 moving through the House this week would hand the asbestos industry a key legal advantage when fighting the claims of terminally ill veterans. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) changes how information on billions of dollars in asbestos-poisoning settlements – much of it from sailors exposed decades ago – is handled. Republican sponsors claim it will root out fraud, in part by publishing claimants’ names, medical histories and partial social security numbers on the Internet.

http://www.stripes.com/polopoly_fs/1.387402.1452104358!/image/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_804/image.jpg

Veterans comprise the largest segment of the more than three million asbestos-poisoning claims paid out since the 1980s when the federal government began regulating the flame-retardant material and the military stopped using it. Companies that produced asbestos and worked to hide its dangers set up special trusts to pay victims, whose numbers surged in the past decade due to the long delay between asbestos exposure and the development of lung cancer. “I think it is going to be both a good-government piece of legislation and it is going to preserve the assets of these trusts for veterans, who are the biggest percentage of these claims, and the general public,” said Farenthold, who is the latest Republican lawmaker to float the legislation. A vote on the House floor was expected either 6 or 7 JAN. A companion bill was recently filed in the Senate by Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona.

Farenthold said unscrupulous attorneys are “double-dipping” by filing multiple awards for victims and that fraud is threatening to empty the asbestos trusts. About 60 different trusts established across the United States and have paid out more than $17 billion, according to the Government Accountability Office. The bill requires trusts to disclose confidential settlements with veterans to industry defense attorneys who request it and send claimants’ personal information to bankruptcy courts, where it would be published on a docket and be available for download on a nationwide filing system. Defense attorneys could use the information to check veterans’ trust settlements for fraud and “ensure there is more money there in the future,” Farenthold said. Some trusts reduced payments to veterans and others in recent years due to dwindling money in the accounts funded by asbestos companies. The GAO reported trusts have paid out $17.5 billion of the total $37 billion that they originally contained. The average trust payout for a claimant with malignant cancer was $34,000, according to a study by the Rand Corporation in 2008.

The GAO also found in 2011 that the possibility of defrauding trusts exists. However, the instances of fraud among the 3.3 million claims might be small, according to a Wall Street Journal investigation in 2013 that found about 3,000 cases of potential fraud among 850,000 settlements it reviewed – a rate of .3 percent. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents business interests, has pushed Farenthold’s proposal for years. GAO found that releasing settlement information “may decrease the asbestos-related litigation burden” on asbestos companies facing lawsuits from veterans and others who were exposed. It would be damaging to veterans who have sued after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer that kills victims on average within one to two years, said Jason Johns, the national judge advocate for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, a veteran organization.

A dense paragraph of legal language in the bill requires trusts to turn over veterans’ settlement information — now widely considered beyond the reach of the courts – and could enable industry attorneys to delay cases with demands for more information until veterans die, Johns said. “It definitely provides an advantage for the defendants … the longer you can delay the case, the less likely that that veteran is going to be able to appear in court themselves,” he said. The military is immune from asbestos litigation and the Department of Veterans Affairs occasionally awards service-connected health benefits for lung cancer and mesothelioma but the bar for documentation is high, according to Johns. Many asbestos claims now focus on suing manufacturing companies directly or tapping the trusts. Meanwhile, Hall said the Farenthold bill also could cause additional hardship for veterans suffering from lung cancer – make them prey to online identity thieves.

The AUSN and other opponents contend publishing the medical and work histories as well as the last four digits of Social Security numbers in publicly accessible electronic court system would be a bonanza for the criminals. “There are people out there who will take every opportunity to manipulate that data in ways beyond our wildest dreams,” Hall said. The Republican majority in the House passed a bill 8 JAN. The White House said it will veto the bill and at least 16 national veterans groups came out strongly against it prior to the vote, warning it would allow companies to delay the claims of terminally ill veterans while exposing their sensitive personal information to identity theft. House Democrats unanimously opposed the bill and tried unsuccessfully to sink it with nine amendments. [Source: Stars and Stripes | Travis T. Tritten | January 6 & 8, 2016 ++]

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Vet Bills Submitted to 114th Congress ► 160101 thru 160115

Refer to this Bulletin’s “House & Senate Veteran Legislation” attachment for a listing of Congressional bills of interest to the veteran community introduced in the 114th Congress. The list contains the bill’s number and name, what it is intended to do, it’s sponsor, any related bills, and the committees it has been assigned to. Support of these bills through cosponsorship by other legislators is critical if they are ever going to move through the legislative process for a floor vote to become law. A good indication of that likelihood is the number of cosponsors who have signed onto the bill. Any number of members may cosponsor a bill in the House or Senate. At https://beta.congress.gov you can review a copy of each bill’s content, determine its current status, the committee it has been assigned to, and if your legislator is a sponsor or cosponsor of it by entering the bill number in the site’s search engine. To determine what bills, amendments your representative/senator has sponsored, cosponsored, or dropped sponsorship on go to:

https://beta.congress.gov/search?q=%7B%22source%22%3A%5B%22legislation%22%5D%7D, Select the ‘Sponsor’ tab, and click on your congress person’s name. You can also go to http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.php.

Grassroots lobbying is the most effective way to let your Congressional representatives know your wants and dislikes. If you are not sure who is your Congressman go to https://beta.congress.gov/members. Members of Congress are receptive and open to suggestions from their constituents. The key to increasing cosponsorship support on veteran related bills and subsequent passage into law is letting legislators know of veteran’s feelings on issues. You can reach their Washington office via the Capital Operator direct at (866) 272-6622, (800) 828-0498, or (866) 340-9281 to express your views. Otherwise, you can locate their phone number, mailing address, or email/website to communicate with a message or letter of your own making at either:

http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

http://www.house.gov/representatives

FOLLOWING IS A SUMMARY OF VETERAN RELATED LEGISLATION INTRODUCED IN THE HOUSE SINCE THE LAST BULLETIN WAS PUBLISHED

  • H.R.4334 : Fiscal Year 2016 Department of Veterans Affairs Seismic Safety and Construction Authorization Act. A bill to authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to carry out certain major medical facility projects for which appropriations are being made for fiscal year 2016.
  • H.R.4336 : Women Airforce Service Pilot Arlington Inurnment Restoration Act. A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to provide for the burial of the cremated remains of persons who served as Women’s Air Forces Service Pilots in Arlington National Cemetery.
  • H.R.4351 : Veterans Care Financial Protection Act of 2016. A bill to protect individuals who are eligible for increased pension under laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on the basis of need of regular aid and attendance from dishonest, predatory, or otherwise unlawful practices, and for other purposes.
  • H.R.4352 : Faster Care for Veterans Act of 2016. A bill to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to carry out a pilot program establishing a patient self-scheduling appointment system, and for other purposes.
  • H.R.4384 : Veterans Administration Bonus Elimination Act of 2016. A bill to amend the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 to preclude certain senior employees of the Veterans Health Administration from receiving bonuses when any employee of such Administration has not met certain wait-time goals.

FOLLOWING IS A SUMMARY OF VETERAN RELATED LEGISLATION INTRODUCED IN THE SENATE SINCE THE LAST BULLETIN WAS PUBLISHED

  • S.2437 : Authorize WAVES Burial in Arlington. A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to provide for the burial of the cremated remains of persons who served as Women’s Air Forces Service Pilots in Arlington National Cemetery, and for other purposes.

[Source: https://beta.congress.gov & http: //www.govtrack.us/congress/bills January 15, 2016 ++]

* Military *

http://ts2.mm.bing.net/th?id=H.4724091579336357&pid=15.1

Burn Pit Toxic Exposure Update 34 ► Pits Still in Use | Iraq

The U.S. military still relies on burn pits to dispose of waste in Iraq despite concerns that toxic smoke and fumes released by fires can cause serious illnesses to troops. During the bulk of wartime operations in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001, the military relied on hundreds of large, open-air pits to burn solid waste, exposing personnel working the pits and others living nearby to toxic smoke. In 2009, the Department of Defense limited the times when burn pits could be used in response to Congress and growing health concerns. DOD regulations require an incinerator to be used at any base where there are more than 100 personnel and base commanders to come up with contingency plans for the disposal of solid waste, noting burn pits should be a short-term solution only. Now “there are no burn pits operated at any U.S. base in Afghanistan,” said Col. Michael Lawhorn, spokesman for Operation Resolute Support. However, some pits are in limited use in Iraq, according to DOD officials.

http://www.stripes.com/polopoly_fs/1.177940.1394144366!/image/4052867163.JPG_gen/derivatives/landscape_804/4052867163.JPG

In this file photo from Iraq, smoke billows in from all sides as a soldier pushes the bulldozer deep into a burn pit to keep waste items constantly ablaze.

When U.S. forces returned to Iraq in late 2014 and summer 2015 to assist the Iraqis in rebuilding their army and security forces, burn pits were put back in use, said Army Capt. Traun Moore, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve. “Coalition forces at Al Asad Air Base and al-Taqaddum Air Base disposed of garbage by using burn pits, in accordance with Central Command environmental guidelines. The burn pit at Al Asad has been replaced by an incinerator and is no longer in use,” Moore said. “Regular garbage at (al-Taqadum) is disposed of by a local contractor. However, a registered medical waste burn pit is still in use. An incinerator has been shipped to (al-Taqadum) and is in the process of being put into operation.” In 2010, the Government Accountability Office found the DOD was not following its own regulations for safe burn-pit operations, and earlier pits were used regularly to dispose of prohibited plastics, paints, batteries, aerosols, aluminum and other items that could produce harmful emissions when burned. KBR, Inc., under the military’s logistical support contract, operated many of the pits. On Jan. 21, a federal court in Maryland will consider a lawsuit alleging soldiers’ exposure to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan led to serious respiratory illnesses and deaths.

Image_53295075.jpg

Army Sergeant First Class Fred Slape, center, died of lung cancer and two brain tumors on Oct. 22, 2015

Sgt. 1st Class Fred Slape, who served two tours in Afghanistan between 2008 and 2011, died just eight weeks after doctors diagnosed him with advanced lung cancer. He was 42. “Fred was the motor sergeant who ran the motor pools, which included the living areas of most mechanic personnel. These areas were always far in the rear of the [forward operating base], which was only 25 feet from these burn pits,” his widow, Diane Slape, told Stars and Stripes. Slape served with the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division. During his tours, Slape was assigned to Forward Operating Base Ramrod in Kandahar and Forward Operating Base Andar to the north and east of Kandahar.

Diane Slape said her husband would tell her how he was having trouble breathing and that the pits “burned anything and everything from food waste, medical waste, motor oil, tires, track rubber, bloody uniforms (some flame retardant), amputated body parts, and many other items that shouldn’t be burned, much less burned together, all set on fire and kept burning with gasoline or jet fuel.” “My husband complained of these burn pits immediately” and the smoke that would linger in their living facilities, she said. But her husband told her that he was instructed to “stop being so dramatic.” Fred Slape was also a lifetime cigarette smoker but did not experience health concerns, including distorted vision and severe headaches, until he came back from deployment, Diane Slape said. Tests found two brain tumors and advanced lung cancer and Slape passed away Oct. 22, 2015. Diane Slape is not party to the lawsuit against KBR because the contractor did not operate the burn pits at the bases where her husband was stationed.

After his death, Diane Slape has become active in Burn Pits 360, a nonprofit advocacy group pushing veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan to get tested for respiratory disease and register with the national database that the Department of Veterans Affairs has established to track how many veterans could face health issues due to the pits. “I promised him whether he lived or died,” Diane Slape said of her efforts to help other soldiers. On 21 JAN, a federal district court in Greenbelt, Md. will hear arguments to determine the scope of the case, which was filed in 2010 and could include more than 53 former or current bases in Iraq, including al Taqadum Air Base and Taji, where some of the 3,550 U.S. soldiers sent back to Iraq are deployed to train Iraqi security forces. Nine locations in Afghanistan and another eight bases supporting Iraq and Afghanistan operations, such as Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, also could be included in the lawsuit.

Since 2010, dozens of similar lawsuits by servicemembers have been consolidated under this case, which is being presided over by Judge Robert W. Titus at the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Greenbelt Division. The lawsuit is just one of several fronts in which veterans groups and the DOD are attempting to weigh what effect burn-pit exposure has had on servicemembers. In 2015, Congress added burn-pit exposure to a list of peer-reviewed medical issues to be studied by the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program at Fort Detrick, Md. That study is not yet underway, said Gail Whitehead, a spokesman for the program. Research funding for the congressional program starts at two years, and typically produces a report within three years, Whitehead said. Burn-pit exposure was not included in the 2016 list of topics. In addition, the VA opened a burn-pit registry in 2014 for the estimated 2.3 million veterans who served in Operation Desert Storm in the 1990s or supported the more recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The VA did so to record what ailments they were experiencing, where and when they served and whether they were exposed to burn pits. As of Nov. 30, 53,255 veterans had registered, said Rosie Torres, executive director of Burn Pits 360.

The VA has released two studies based on information collected from the registry. The data shows that personnel who worked at burn pits were more likely to report a chronic respiratory disease, and the department has said “veterans who were closer to burn pit smoke may be at greater risk.” However, the VA said: “At this time, research does not show evidence of long-term health problems from exposure to burn pits.” The VA will be expected to report to Congress later this year on its findings from the registry based on language inserted by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., into the 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill. [Source: Stars & Stripes | Tara Coop & Heath Druzin | January 4, 2016 ++]

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Military Acquisition Reform HASC Hearing | DMSP-F20 Fiasco

A top U.S. lawmaker slammed the Air Force’s handling of its weather satellite program 7 JAN, saying it would have been easier for the government to simply set the money on fire. “We could have saved the Air Force and the Congress a lot of aggravation if we had 18 years ago put a half a billion dollars in a parking lot in a pile and just burned it,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, held to discuss military acquisition reform. “In all, the Air Force spent well over a half-billion dollars on this satellite — $518 million to be specific,” he said. The congressman criticized the Air Force’s handling of the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, or DMSP, a string of satellites that have been providing weather data for the military since 1962.

<b>DMSP-20</b> is a twin of DMSP-19 (above), which was launched earlier this ...

In 1997, the service built the next satellite to be launched, dubbed DMSP-F20. But it was never — and still has not been — sent into space. “They promptly put it in a storage facility for so long that the Air Force ultimately had to pay industry to upgrade it because it was antiquated,” Rogers said. He grilled Richard Lombardi, acting assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, arguing that the service had spent millions of dollars just to keep the satellite in storage. “We spent $500 million that could have been used to support national security. Instead, it’s going in the trash. I presume it’s going to be made into razor blades,” Rogers said of the satellite.

Lombardi admitted that the satellite was mishandled, but said it was a rare mistake from the service. “The DMSP-20, the example you pointed out, is an unfortunate one, in which — you’re absolutely correct — is that we have at a point we are not going to be able to execute that satellite,” he told the committee. The Air Force, however, “has a tremendous understanding of the entire space business and we are dedicated to continue to being able to provide that capability for our nation,” Lombardi said. But Rogers said the armed services committee had little confidence to believe the Air Force could handle space acquisition programs, and said instances like the satellite make it more difficult to secure funding for the Pentagon in a time of fiscal austerity. “This committee fights with the full Congress constantly trying to get adequate defense spending,” he said. “This kind of example kills us. This is just an inexcusable waste.” [Source: AirForceTimes | Phillip Swarts | January 11, 2016 ++]

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Army Combat Action Badge Update 04 No Eligibility Rule Change

A wide-ranging Defense Department review of military decorations recommended leaving eligibility rules for the Combat Action Badge as they stand — a blow to one lawmaker’s push to award the medal to soldiers who served before 2001. The CAB, created by the Army in 2005, recognizes soldiers who engage the enemy but do not qualify for the Combat Infantry Badge or Combat Medical Badge. It can only be awarded to soldiers who served in qualifying conflicts, beginning with Operation Enduring Freedom. Rep. Richard Nugent, a Florida Republican, has twice proposed legislation that would expand eligibility to include conflicts dating back to World War II. His predecessor in Florida’s 11th district, Ginny Brown-Waite, introduced similar CAB legislation as far back as 2007. Nugent said he was “disappointed” in the review’s findings, calling expanded eligibility “a simple but meaningful gesture that recognizes the valor of those who served in combat before 2001.”

Nugent pledged to “push this issue” in the coming months in a statement provided Friday to Army Times, but did not offer specifics regarding legislation. Nugent has announced he will not seek re-election this November. The idea of expanded eligibility has been endorsed by the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. Nugent’s proposals have been constructed in a cost-neutral manner that would require awardees to purchase the badge themselves, but allows the measure to exist outside the ongoing military budget debate. That doesn’t mean the award would come without a cost: The Army would have to create a way to process the award applications that could be filed by tens of thousands of veterans, many of whom likely would lack proper documentation from service that could date back 50 or more years. [Source: ArmyTimes | Kevin Lilley | January 11, 2016 ++]

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Space Available Mail ► Limitations

Space Available Mail (SAM) refers to parcels mailed to APO/FPO addresses at parcel post rates first transported domestically by surface, then to overseas destinations by air on a space available basis. The maximum weight and size limits are 15 pounds and 60 inches in length and girth combined. From overseas locations, items mailed at Standard Post rates are sent to CONUS by air on a space available basis. The maximum weight and size limits are 70 pounds and 130 inches in length and girth combined. All classes of mail addressed to FPO addresses must contain the New Navy Standardized Address format, which includes ship or mobile unit number, (or PSC number for ashore FPOs), virtual mail box number, and five-digit ZIP code to ensure delivery. For more information, contact your local civilian or military post office. [Source: NAUS Weekly Update | January 8, 2016 ++]

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USN/USMC Job Titles ► Review to Remove Any “man” Reference

It could spell the end of time-honored Navy titles like fireman and seaman. The Navy secretary has ordered the service to review all job titles and consider removing any reference to “man” in them, a move that could force name-changes to nearly two dozen specialties, from airman to yeoman. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus ordered the scrub as the force prepares to open the last remaining billets to women sailors in Marine ground combat elements and the Navy SEALs. “Lastly, as we achieve full integration of the force … this is an opportunity to update the position titles and descriptions themselves to demonstrate through this language that women are included in these positions,” Mabus wrote, according to sources who quoted directly from the letter. “Ensure they are gender-integrated as well, removing “man” from their titles, and provide a report to me as soon as is practicable and no later than April 1, 2016.” Mabus sent the directive to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson. A similar memo and mandate was sent to the Marine Corps commandant, asking for the same job title review.

Some hallowed titles like seaman could be tough to replace, but others could be swapped with gender neutral descriptors as the service has done before. In 2005, for example, officials changed personnelman, a rating where many women had served, to personnel specialist. There are at least 20 job titles that include the word “man.” Aviation has the most to review, with five of their 12 enlisted rating descriptions ending with “man.” Surface engineering includes eight. Those don’t include the traditional entry-level designations for non-rated sailors as well as designated strikers. How the Navy finds gender neutral titles for airman, seaman and fireman is likely to prove challenging, as well as for the Seabee and medical titles of constructionman and hospitalman for non-rated sailors.

Mabus hasn’t mandated that any titles go away, according to a source familiar with the memo. He simply wants to see options for making titles as gender neutral, as part of persuading more women to make the Navy a career. “This isn’t a draconian edict to get rid of all references to the word ‘man,’ ” said the official, who asked not to be identified publicly while internal deliberations continue. “But it is an opportunity to look at position descriptions and change them where it makes sense.” Nearly all of the Navy’s jobs with “man” in the title have been opened to women for decades, and without interruption since the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act was enacted in 1948. Women were allowed on active duty briefly during and after World War I as “yeomanettes” and again in a greater number of enlisted ratings as Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) during World War II. But since the 1948 change in law, women have served permanently in the armed forces, and have been serving in nearly all enlisted ratings ever since.

The job of coming up with these options — or justifications to keep things unchanged — will likely fall to Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Bill Moran and the enlisted community managers he oversees. He’ll most likely delegate the job to his enlisted community managers. “We are in the beginning stages of this review and are working to comply with the Secretary’s direction,” said Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, spokesman for CNP told Navy Times on Jan. 7. As the Navy has merged or created new ratings, it has opted for gender neutral titles. In 1999, the radioman rating was merged into information systems technician. Take fire controlman. This surface fleet specialty could be renamed to match their counterparts in the submarine force, the fire control technicians. Barring unforeseen technical reasons, adopting the sub designation Navy-wide could be an easy solution, sources say. “Simply removing ‘man’ and replacing it with technician or specialist works in many cases,” said the source familiar with the memo.

But the toughest to alter will be long-standing titles like seaman and airman, both practically and culturally, according to senior enlisted leaders familiar with the review. Fireman could be easily changed to engineer, the sources say, which is technically a better description today anyway with fires less common than before. The Navy has 21 rating designations that could get changed as a result of Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’ mandated review of job descriptions. The job titles include “man” in the title and could be removed:

  • Apprentice, non-rate designations – Airman, Constructionman, Fireman, Hospitalman & Seaman
  • General and compression Ratings:
  • Administration – Yeoma & Legalman
  • Aviation – Aircrew Survival Equipmentman, Aviation Ordnanceman, Aviation Support Equipmentman, Aviation Maintenance Administrationman & Master Chief Constructionman
  • Surface Engineering – Damage Controlman, Engineman & Machinery Repairman
  • Seabees – Utilitiesman & Master/Senior Chief Constructionman
  • Surface Warfare/Ops – Fire Controlman & Mineman
  • Medical – Hospital Corpsman
  • Supply – Ships Serviceman

[ Source: NavyTimes | Mark D. Faram | January 7, 2016 ++]

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Medal of Honor Update 15 ► 1100 Awards Poised for Upgrade Review

The Pentagon is poised to order the military services to review more than 1,100 medals issued since the 9/11 terror attacks for possible upgrade to the Medal of Honor, the country’s highest award issued for valor in combat, according to documents obtained by USA TODAY. If approved by Defense Secretary Ash Carter, the sweeping review would represent one of the most significant steps in decades to honor troops who have displayed extraordinary courage in combat. The review stems from a study of military decorations and awards that was ordered in March 2014 by then Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel “to ensure that after 13 years of combat the awards system appropriately recognizes the service, sacrifices and action of our service members.”

medals

Top three U.S. military medals of valor

Should even a fraction of the medals under review be upgraded, it’s possible that dozens more troops would receive the Medal of Honor for their bravery in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon had no immediate comment on the documents. Among the other recommendations forwarded for Carter’s approval:

  • A new award for troops who have directed drones over battlefields in the Middle East and Afghanistan. The “R” device would be awarded to “recognize remote impacts on combat operations.”
  • Establishing a standard definition for meritorious service that limits combat awards to those exposed to hostile action or at “significant risk” of exposure.
  • Setting goals and guidelines to ensure Medal of Honor and other awards are made in a timely way.

The proposal for potential upgrades to Medal of Honor has the potential to be the most controversial. Of the 37 recommendations, it was the only one not reached by consensus, records show. It would require the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy to re-examine each of the Service Cross and Silver Star nominations they have awarded since Sept. 11, 2001. The Army alone awarded 718 Silver Stars. The Army and Air Force plan to review the Service Crosses and Silver Stars each branch has awarded. But the Navy and Marine Corps oppose such a review, according to a briefing paper, because top officials there “believe reviewing prior decisions undermines the integrity of commanders’ decisions.” The Marine Corps is a department of the Navy. A memo from Navy Secretary Ray Mabus added that such a review “may have long-term detrimental impact on our service culture and our awards program.” Mabus’ memo goes on to note that the Pentagon certified in 2010 that the services’ Medal of Honor processes and standards were sound. “Much of the prestige of our valor decorations stems from confidence in the process before awarding them,” the memo says. “Reconsidering all previous valor award decisions without an evidentiary basis would reverse the longstanding policy that protects the integrity of the process by which we award our highest decorations.”

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Part of the rationale for the recommendation to review the Service Crosses and Silver Stars, according to another briefing paper, is that prior from 2001 to 2010, all the Medals of Honor were bestowed posthumously. After this Pentagon guidance was issued, “there is no requirement to meet the ‘risk of life’ portion of the (Medal of Honor) award criteria all recipients have been living.” In addition, the paper notes, “Combat experience of commanders differed early in the conflict and this lack of combat experience may have led to an initial reluctance to recommend members for the (Medal of Honor).” The review included input from more than 1,000 combat-experienced troops at 13 posts, according to another paper. The most recent recipient of the Medal of Honor was Army Capt. Florent Groberg. He was serving on a personal-protection detail on Aug. 8, 2012 when his patrol was ambushed by two suicide bombers. Groberg grabbed the first bomber and pushed him away, triggering an explosion that severely wounded him but saved several lives. [Source: USA TODAY | Tom Vanden Brook | January 6, 2016++]

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Confederate Graves Vandalized ► Oakwood Cemetery Raleigh, N.C.

Vandals spray-painted graffiti on nine monuments inside a section of Raleigh’s Historic Oakwood Cemetery where numerous Confederate Army officers are buried, officials said. The vandals mostly damaged the graves of high-ranking Confederate officers, multiple news outlets report. They also defaced the stone of Charles Aycock, a past governor whose racial views in the early 1900s have prompted criticism. Cemetery Executive Director Robin Simonton said in a news release that the vandals caused roughly $20,000 in damage the night of 31 DEC by spray-painting words such as “slavery” and “white supremacist” on the markers. The bronze plaque and granite marker dedicated to the crew of the CSS H.L. Hunley, a Confederate submarine sunk off Charleston had the words “not heroes” painted across its back.

Confederate

Oakwood Cemetery Executive Director Robin Simonton points out where vandals recently spray-painted graffiti

“Cowardly acts like this, under cover of darkness, late at night, aren’t perpetrated by decent and thoughtful citizens,” Simonton said. He said tarps are now covering the damaged headstones. The vandalism comes in the wake of similar incidents involving Civil War monuments elsewhere. In 2014 and 2015, vandals repeatedly defaced the “Silent Sam” monument at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The monument was erected to honor alumni who fought and died for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Though private, Oakwood Cemetery is open to the public and can be accessed by pedestrians even when the front gate is locked. The Confederate section on a hill along Oakwood Avenue includes hundreds of foot soldiers’ graves, including 137 transported from the battlefield at Gettysburg in 1871. [Source: Associated Press | January 5, 2015 ++]

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Women in Combat Update 04 ► 225,000 Job Openings Under Review

Pentagon leaders are examining plans proposed by each military service to open about 225,000 previously male-only jobs to female troops in the coming months. Implementation plans were due to Defense Secretary Ash Carter on 4 JAN, about one month after he announced women would no longer be barred from serving in any position in the military for which they are qualified. Officials from each service confirmed their implementation plans had been submitted. The plans, which outline how each service intends to incorporate women into the newly opened jobs and units, will be reviewed by the Pentagon’s implementation working group, tasked with overseeing the short-term execution of Carter’s decision and “ensure there are no unintended consequences on the joint force,” the defense secretary said 3 DEC. The working group, co-chaired by Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work and Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was directed by Carter to work with the services to open all positions by 1 APR.

female Marine AP

U.S. Special Operations Command was granted a “short extension” to submit its own implementation plan, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said 5 JAN. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, SOCOM’s commander, requested the extension to allow time to “collaborate thoroughly with the services” because many special operations units also report to the individual services, Cook said. Carter’s decision followed years of studies on the impact that integrating women into the traditionally all-male jobs and units would have on the military. Mandated by Congress in 2011, the Defense Department reviewed its policies restricting women from roles primarily in the infantry, armor and special operations fields. The Army, Air Force and Navy secretaries and the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command supported Carter’s decision, while the Marine Corps commandant asked for exceptions for several jobs. “There will be no exceptions,” Carter said during his announcement. “This means that as long as they qualify and meet the standards, women will now be able to contribute to our mission in ways they could not before. They’ll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead infantry soldiers into combat.”

The services conducted more than 30 comprehensive studies and developed gender-neutral physical standards for individual occupations. Despite years of planning, Pentagon officials have said some problems are expected to occur as women are integrating into the new fields. “Implementation won’t happen overnight, and while at the end of the day, this will make us a better and stronger force, there still will be problems to fix and challenges to overcome,” Carter said. He stressed the services’ implementation plans must not compromise unit effectiveness or weaken existing job standards. Additionally, Carter said equal opportunity would not mean there would be quotas for female troops in certain positions or units. “Mission effectiveness is most important,” Carter said. “Defending this country is our primary responsibility, and it cannot be compromised. That means everyone who serves in uniform – men and women alike – has to be able to meet the high standards for whatever job they’re in.”

Since 2013, more than 110,000 formerly male-only positions have opened to female troops, primarily in the Army, Navy and Air Force. Carter’s decision opened the remaining 19 Army, 22 Marine Corps, five Navy and six Air Force male-only occupations to women. Nearly all of those jobs were in the infantry, armor, field artillery or special operations branches. [Source: Stars and Stripes | Corey Dickstein | January 5, 2016 ++]

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Combat Awards ► Pentagon Changing Recognition Criteria

The Pentagon is fundamentally changing the way it recognizes service in a combat zone by tightening the criteria for awarding the Bronze Star and creating a new “C” device that can be pinned to other traditionally noncombat awards. The changes stem from a two-year internal Pentagon review aimed at modernizing the military medals and awards system; the final report includes 37 recommended changes made public 6 JAN. “Recognizing valor should be the pre-eminent thing that we do in the Department of Defense … and we weren’t doing that,” said one defense official familiar with the review who spoke on condition of anonymity. Changes include:

  • The Defense Department will create a “C” device to denote an award was earned in a combat setting. It will be the same size and design of the current “V” device denoting valor and may be affixed to noncombat performance awards such as commendation or achievement medals.
  • Under the new rules, all “V” devices will be recognition for a specific act of valor in a specific situation, while the “C” will denote that other awards were received for high performance over time in a combat environment.
  • The Pentagon also will create a forcewide definition of “meritorious service in combat,” which will apply to both the “C” device for combat distinction and also affect the criteria for a Bronze Star, which by definition is a combat medal. “We’re ensuring that the Bronze Star goes out to those who are incurring the risk of combat or actually have a significant risk of hostile action,” the defense official said.

Bronze Star Medal

Bronze Star

Medal policy on the Bronze Star has been criticized for years as ambiguous. In some cases, the medal is affixed with a “V” for valor and reflects courageous and potentially life-saving acts of bravery under fire. Yet in other cases, it is awarded for “meritorious service” that could be, essentially, a desk job in a deployed setting. In the 1990s, some service members with peripheral duties related to operations in Kosovo received Bronze Stars without ever leaving the U.S. The policy change announced this week requires that all future Bronze Stars meet the new and tighter definition of combat. The final wording on the policy has not been finalized, and when it is, its interpretation will remain up to the individual services. “If people were complaining that Bronze Stars are given out for things that aren’t necessarily worthy of it because they’re not in combat, I think we are addressing that by applying a decision that says the Bronze Star will only be awarded under combat conditions,” the defense official said.

For example, meritorious service in a deployed environment that might have previously warranted a Bronze Star might instead earn a Meritorious Service Medal if commanders determine that the individual faced few risks of actual combat, an official said. The standard for combat will be the same for Bronze Stars as well as for the “C” combat distinguishing device, which means there will be no circumstances under which a service member would receive a Bronze Star with a “C.” Exceptional valor will continue to be recognized by the existing “V” device, the criteria for which also will be clarified under the new policy.

For years, the services have had slightly different definitions for the Bronze Star and the “V” device. “In the Army, the ‘V’ meant valor — so the ‘V’ device was only conferred if a person had done something valorous in combat,” the defense official said. “And the perception when someone looks at that is that the member did something valorous in combat, but that was not always the case for the Department of the Navy.” In the Navy and Marine Corps, the “V” was defined as a combat distinguishing device, so in addition to being awarded for valorous acts, it also could be conferred for meritorious service considered above and beyond in direct combat, but not necessarily of a “valorous” nature. The official said that has led to the ambiguity in the Navy-Marine Corps definition of what that “V” stood for. [Source: MilitaryTimes | Andrew Tilghman | January 7, 2016 ++]

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Distinguished Warfare Medal Update 07 ► Replaced by New Remote Device

The Pentagon has firmly rejected the idea of giving drone pilots and cyber warriors their own medal, and instead will offer a new “R” device to pin on existing noncombat medals. After a two-year review of the once-controversial issue, defense officials decided that creating such a device that may be affixed to noncombat performance awards is sufficient to “specifically recognize remote but direct impact on combat operations,” according to a memo obtained by Military Times. The memo added that a common definition of “direct impact on combat operations” should be devised. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is expected to sign the memo later this week. The small pin — a quarter-inch “R,” denoting “remote,” that will be stylistically similar to the existing “V,” denoting valor — could be affixed to an array of non-combat medals, for example the Meritorious Service Medal.

The pin device is a successor to the short-lived Distinguished Warfare Medal, derisively known as the “Nintendo medal,” that was fraught with controversy and Pentagon politics from its inception. It was first unveiled as a way to honor troops who are directly involved in combat operations, but are not physically in theater and facing the physical risks that warfare historically entails. Combat veterans were outraged by the new medal’s rank in the official “Order of Precedence” above the Bronze Star, which honors ground troops for specific acts of heroism performed under fire.

A student pilot and sensor operator man the controls

A student pilot and sensor operator man the controls of an MQ-9 Reaper in a ground-based cockpit during a training mission flown from Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, Syracuse, N.Y.

The DWM was created in February 2013 by former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, a former CIA chief and strong advocate of early drone programs, who said it “recognizes the reality of the kind of technological warfare we are engaged in the 21st century.” That decision was overturned and the medal eliminated just a few weeks later by newly appointed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran who was awarded two Purple Hearts. Hagel later launched the internal review that led to the new remote device.

While the discussion of the drone medal and the “R” device often focuses on remotely piloted vehicles or cyber operations, the criteria are not restricted to any particular fields. “It could be others that we don’t even know about in the future,” a defense official said. “We can’t right now determine how technology is going to evolve or how we are going to be operating in the future.” The key criterion is that the device reflect a specific action that has a direct and immediate impact on the battlefield. “It has to have a hands-on direct impact on the combat operation right then and there,” the official said. “So we’re not talking about two steps or three steps back. We’re not talking about the intel briefer.” The short-lived DSM was the first new forcewide award recognizing combat achievement since the Bronze Star was created in 1944. Its creation was strongly supported by the Air Force, which has struggled to retain drone pilots to meet today’s high demand. [Source: MilitaryTimes | Andrew Tilghman | January 6, 2016 ++]

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Military Enlistment Standards 2015 Update 10 ► Sexual Preference

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law was repealed on September 20, 2011. Currently (November 2011), there are no prohibitions against homosexuals openly serving in the Military.

[Source: About.com Newsletter | Rod Powers | June 02, 2015 ++]

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Military Enlistment Standards 2015 Update 11 ► Height/Weight Standards

Height – The military only accepts candidates who fall into a specific height range. This is primarily because the military doesn’t have the time or money to order custom-made uniforms and equipment for those who fall outside of the standard ranges. The cause for rejection for Armed Forces male applicants is height less than 60 inches or more than 80 inches. The cause for rejection for Armed Forces female applicants is height less than 58 inches or more than 80 inches. The Marines are more restrictive. For the Marines, height standards for male applicants range from 58 to 78 inches. Height standards for female applicants range from 58 to 72 inches.

Weight – The services don’t really have “weight standards.” What they have are “body fat standards.” However, it takes extra time and effort to measure body fat, so the services use weight charts to do an initial screening. Individuals who weigh more than the limits on the chart are measured to ensure they fall within the service’s body-fat standards. There are no waivers for exceeding required body fat limits. Following are the standard locations:

Body Fat – If the applicant exceeds the weight shown on the above charts, they are measured for body fat. Body-fat standards for each of the services are:

Army: (Accession standards)

  • Male 17-30 – 24%
  • Male 21-27 – 26%
  • Male 28-39 – 28%
  • Male 40+ – 30%
  • Female 17-30 – 30%
  • Female 21-27 – 32%
  • Female 28-39 – 34%
  • Female 40 + – 36%

Air Force: (Accession Standards)

  • Male 17-29 – 20% | Male 30 + – 24%
  • Female 17-29 – 28% | Female 30 + – 32%

Navy: (Accession Standards)

  • Male – 23%
  • Female – 34%

Marine Corps: (Accession and Regular Standards)

  • Male – 18%
  • Females – 26%

[Source: About.com Newsletter | Rod Powers | June 02, 2015 ++]

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Medal of Honor Citations ► Hibbs~Robert J | VN

The President of the United States in the name of The Congress

takes pleasure in presenting the

Medal of Honor Posthumously

To

Robert John Hibbs

Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army, Company B, 2d Battalion, 28th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division

Place and date: Don Dien Lo Ke, Republic of Vietnam, 5 March 1966

Entered service at: Des Moines, Iowa Aug 1964,

Born: Omaha, Nebraska April 21, 1943

Citation

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. 2d Lt. Hibbs was in command of a 15-man ambush patrol of the 2d Battalion, when his unit observed a company of Viet Cong advancing along the road toward the 2d Battalion’s position. Informing his command post by radio of the impending attack, he prepared his men for the oncoming Viet Cong, emplaced 2 mines in their path and, when the insurgents were within 20 feet of the patrol’s position, he fired the 2 antipersonnel mines, wounding or killing half of the enemy company. Then, to cover the withdrawal of his patrol, he threw hand grenades, stepped onto the open road, and opened fire on the remainder of the Viet Cong force of approximately 50 men. Having rejoined his men, he was leading them toward the battalion perimeter when the patrol encountered the rear elements of another Viet Cong company deployed to attack the battalion. With the advantage of surprise, he directed a charge against the Viet Cong, which carried the patrol through the insurgent force, completely disrupting its attack. Learning that a wounded patrol member was wandering in the area between the 2 opposing forces and although moments from safety and wounded in the leg himself, he and a sergeant went back to the battlefield to recover the stricken man. After they maneuvered through the withering fire of 2 Viet Cong machine guns, the sergeant grabbed the dazed soldier and dragged him back toward the friendly lines while 2d Lt. Hibbs remained behind to provide covering fire. Armed with only an M-16 rifle and a pistol, but determined to destroy the enemy positions, he then charged the 2 machine gun emplacements and was struck down. Before succumbing to his mortal wounds, he destroyed the starlight telescopic sight attached to his rifle to prevent its capture and use by the Viet Cong. 2d Lt. Hibb’s profound concern for his fellow soldiers, and his intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.

Hibbs - Grave Marker

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Hibbs grave and flagpole Memorial

Hibbs had earned his commission from the ROTC program at the University of Northern Iowa He was age 22 at his death and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Cedar Falls, Iowa. 2LT Hibbs was honored by having a section of the UNI campus renamed in his honor, and a flagpole and monument erected with his name on it, just east of the West Gym.

[Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_John_Hibbs and http://www.history.army.mil/html/moh/vietnam-a-l.html#Hibbs Jan 2016 ++]

* Military History *


Aviation Art 100 ► The Roarin’ 20s

The Roarin' 20s by Jack Fellows (A-20 Havoc)

The Roarin’ 20s

by Jack Fellows

A-20s of the 312th Bomb Group are part of the largest group of A-20s from various 5th USAAF bomb groups ever assembled for a mission in the various Pacific theaters of operations during WWII. The mission was executed on 14 July, 1944 against the Japanese-held Dutch oil facilities at Boela, on the island of Ceram, Netherlands East Indies.

[Source: http://www.aviationarthangar.com/avartharo20s.html Jan 2016 ++]

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CSS Georgia ► 16,600 of 30,000 Recovered Relics Returned to River

Leather boots, the hilts of swords — even a stray earring — were among the nearly 30,000 artifacts recovered this fall from the wreckage of the sunken ironclad Confederate gunship CSS Georgia. More than half of the haul retrieved during the $14 million government project, however, was of a much more mundane nature: nuts, bolts, washers, bent iron rails and other material that did not shed any new light on the lives of sailors serving aboard the vessel. Altogether, 16,697 artifacts weighing a total of 135 tons were returned to a watery grave at the bottom of the Savannah River, said Jim Jobling, project manager for the Conservation Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University, which is tasked with cataloging, cleaning and preserving artifacts from the Civil War shipwreck. “Anything I considered to be unique, I would say, ‘I want this, I want this,'” Jobling said. “I picked through everything. No unique stuff went back in the river.”

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Aug. 14, 2015 file photo. Archeologists assigned to the CSS Georgia project, examine a piece of casemate, made of railroad ties and timber, which served as the outer layer of armor for CSS Georgia, in Savannah, Ga.

The CSS Georgia was scuttled by its own crew to prevent Gen. William T. Sherman from capturing the massive gunship when his Union troops took Savannah in December 1864. Remains from the Confederate ironclad were salvaged during the summer and fall as part of a $703 million deepening of the Savannah harbor for cargo ships. Based on sonar images of the murky riverbed, researchers knew they would fine big chunks of the ship’s armor, several cannons and large pieces of its engine. What they hadn’t expected were the loads of small artifacts their cranes scooped up: Small buttons, hilts of knives and swords, an intact glass bottle, leather boots, and an earring among them. “You would think, ‘Oh, we’ve got four cannons, some large pieces of machinery,'” said Julie Morgan, the Army Corps of Engineers archaeologist overseeing the project. “But those were just the things we were able to ID on the sonar. That whole site was just covered.”

Returning artifacts deemed redundant or damaged to the Savannah River was part of the plan all along, Morgan said. That still left a sizable amount to study: More than 13,000 pieces weighing a total of 142 tons were sent to the lab at Texas A&M. Jobling, who went in prepared to spend two or three years on the CSS Georgia project, said the final haul could keep the lab’s staff busy for a decade. The more than 16,600 relics they decided not to hang onto were placed in 10 storage containers, buried underwater, and covered with mud. The containers were moved to a part of the river outside Savannah’s busy shipping channel. The relics and their location were documented so they can be retrieved in the future if needed. Storing them in water will help preserve them, Morgan said, while exposing them to dry air would accelerate their deterioration.

Morgan said she is not concerned that private treasure hunters will go after any of the artifacts. Experienced Navy divers who helped raised the wreckage struggled with extremely low visibility as well as powerful tides that limited diving time to about three hours each day, she noted. “What we reburied, we made sure it was completely covered and sunk down in the mud,” Morgan said. “Somebody would have to work pretty hard to get in there.” [Source: AP |

Russ Bynum | January 1, 2016 ++]

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USS Oklahoma Update 02 ► 5 Sailors Identified

Almost 75 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the remains of five U.S. sailors who perished when their battleship was sunk there have been identified, the Pentagon said 11 JAN. The five men, who were exhumed last year from their graves in Hawaii and examined in special military laboratories, were among 429 sailors and Marines killed when the USS Oklahoma was torpedoed and capsized. They had been buried as “unknowns.” The battleship’s loss of life at Pearl Harbor was second only to the 1,100 lost on the USS Arizona, whose wreck remains a hallowed Pearl Harbor historic site. The men identified were Chief Petty Officer Albert E. Hayden, 44, of Mechanicsville, Md., in St. Mary’s County; Ensign Lewis S. Stockdale, 27, of Anaconda, Mont.; Seaman 2nd Class Dale F. Pearce, 21, of Labette County, Kan.; Petty Officer 1st Class Vernon T. Luke, 43, of Green Bay, Wis.; and Chief Petty Officer Duff Gordon, 52, of Hudson, Wis.

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The USS Oklahoma was sunk by several bombs and torpedoes during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. A total of 429 crew died when the ship capsized. The Oklahoma had a complement of about 1,300, including 77 Marines.

Hayden was a World War I veteran. He had been in the Navy since 1917 and had served on the battleship USS Texas in the North Sea, according to a 1942 newspaper account. Gordon, at 52, was probably among the oldest sailors on the Oklahoma, and Pearce, at 21, one of the youngest. A destroyer escort was named for Stockdale later in World War II and christened by his mother and grandmother, niece Trudy Ritz said. Ritz, 71, of Tualatin, Ore., said she was born after her uncle died, but said he was her grandmother’s only son. She said she is grateful for the memories of her uncle that were shared through family.

The identifications came about through advances in forensic science and genealogical help from family members, Air Force Lt. Col. Holly Slaughter, spokeswoman for the Pentagon’s Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), said in an email. They are the first to come from a project that began last April when the Defense Department announced plans to exhume an estimated 388 of the Oklahoma’s unknowns. The effort was sparked after researcher and Pearl Harbor survivor Ray Emory, in 2003, used National Archives files to get officials to dig up a casket thought to contain an Oklahoma sailor’s remains. That sailor was duly identified, and in 2007 a second casket was unearthed and the remains within were also identified as an Oklahoma sailor. The remains were returned to their families.

The latest identifications were made by comparing prewar dental records with the teeth of the exhumed sailors, Slaughter said. During the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which plunged the U.S. into World War II, many Oklahoma sailors jumped from the ship as it rolled over in about 50 feet of water. But hundreds were trapped below decks and died. In the months, and years, after the attack, the handling of the crew’s remains was plagued by error and poor record-keeping. Most of the dead were found in the wreckage during the operation to salvage the Oklahoma, according to a memo by DPAA historian Heather Harris. By then, the remains were skeletal. By 1944, the jumbled skeletons, saturated with fuel oil from the ship, had been buried as unknowns in two Hawaiian cemeteries, Harris’s report said. Three years later, they were dug up and taken to a military laboratory near Pearl Harbor for attempted identification.

The chief tool then also was the comparison of the dental records with the teeth of the deceased. And 27 tentative identifications were made. But they were rejected as incomplete by authorities. Gordon, Hayden, Luke, and Stockdale were among those 27, Slaughter said in an email. In 1949, all the remains were formally declared unidentifiable. And by 1950, they had been reburied in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, often called the Punchbowl, in Hono­lulu. They rested there until last year. “That’s the sad part,” said Ritz, Stockdale’s niece. Had those identifications been approved in 1949, her family might have had her uncle’s remains, a proper grave and some closure. “But that didn’t happen.”

The first exhumations took place 8 JUN, and the last four caskets were dug up 9 NOV. Sixty-one rusty caskets, still with their carrying handles, were retrieved from 45 graves. The caskets were heavily corroded and had to be forced open. After the remains were removed, they were cleaned and photographed, and most of them were flown to the DPAA lab in Nebraska for further analysis. Skulls were retained in a DPAA lab in Hawaii, where forensic dentists are based. The Pentagon said it wants to return as many remains as it can to the families. They “have been waiting over 74 years,” Slaughter said. [Source: Washington Post | Michael E. Ruane | January 11, 2016 ++]

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Military Trivia 117 ► Don’t Shoot, We’re Republicans!

USS William D. Porter (DD-579), a Fletcher-class destroyer, was a ship of the United States Navy named for Commodore William D. Porter (1808–1864). From November 1943, until her demise in June 1945, the American destroyer ‘William Porter’ was often hailed – whenever she entered port or joined other Naval ships – with the greetings: ‘Don’t shoot, we’re Republicans!’ For a half a century, the US Navy kept a lid on the details of the incident that prompted this salutation. A Miami news reporter made the first public disclosure in 1958 after he stumbled upon the truth while covering a reunion of the destroyer’s crew. The Pentagon reluctantly and tersely confirmed his story, but only a mattering of newspapers took notice. Fifty years ago, the Willie D as the Porter was nicknamed, accidentally fired a live torpedo at the battleship Iowa during a practice exercise. As if this weren’t bad enough, the Iowa was carrying President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the time, along with Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, and all of the country’s W.W.II military brass. They were headed for the Big Three Conference in Tehran, where Roosevelt was to meet Stalin and Churchill. Had the Porter’s torpedo struck the Iowa at the aiming point, the last 50 years of world history might have been quite different.

http://www.navsource.org/archives/05/pix2/0557916.jpg

The USS William D Porter (DD-579) was one of hundreds of assembly line destroyers built during the war. They mounted several heavy and light guns, but their main armament consisted of 10 fast-running and accurate torpedoes that carried 500-pound warheads. This destroyer was placed in commission on July 1943 under the command of Wilfred Walker, a man on the Navy’s fast career track. In the months before she was detailed to accompany the Iowa across the Atlantic in November 1943, the Porter and her crew learned their trade, experiencing the normal problems that always beset a new ship and a novice crew. The mishaps grew more serious when she became an escort for the pride of the fleet, the big new battleship Iowa. The night before they left Norfolk, bound for North Africa, the Porter accidentally damaged a nearby sister ship when she backed down along the other ship’s side and her anchor tore down her railings, life rafts, ship’s boat and various other formerly valuable pieces of equipment. The Willie D merely had a scraped anchor, but her career of mayhem and mishaps had begun.

Just twenty four hours later, the four-ship convoy consisting of Iowa and her secret passengers and two other destroyers was under strict instructions to maintain complete radio silence. As they were going through a known U-boat feeding ground, speed and silence were the best defense. Suddenly, a tremendous explosion rocked the convoy. All of the ships commenced anti-submarine maneuvers. This continued until the Porter sheepishly admitted that one of her depth charges had fallen off her stern and exploded. The ‘safety’ had not been set as instructed. Captain Walker was watching his fast track career become side-tracked. Shortly thereafter, a freak wave inundated the ship, stripping away everything that wasn’t lashed down. A man was washed overboard and never found. Next, the fire room lost power in one of its boilers. The Captain, by this point, was making reports almost hourly to the Iowa on the Willie D’s difficulties. It would have been merciful if the force commander had detached the hard luck ship and sent her back to Norfolk. But, no, she sailed on.

The morning of 14 November 1943 dawned with a moderate sea and pleasant weather. The Iowa and her escorts were just east of Bermuda, and the president and his guests wanted to see how the big ship could defend herself against an air attack. So, Iowa launched a number of weather balloons to use as anti-aircraft targets. It was exciting to see more than 100 guns shooting at the balloons, and the President was proud of his Navy. Just as proud was Admiral Ernest J King, the Chief of Naval Operations; large in size and by demeanor, a true monarch of the sea. Disagreeing with him meant the end of a naval career. Up to this time, no one knew what firing a torpedo at him would mean. Over on the Willie D, Captain Walker watched the fireworks display with admiration and envy. Thinking about career redemption and breaking the hard luck spell, the Captain sent his impatient crew to battle stations. They began to shoot down the balloons the Iowa had missed as they drifted into the Porter’s vicinity.

Down on the torpedo mounts, the crew watched, waiting to take some practice shots of their own on the big battleship, which, even though 6,000 yards away, seemed to blot out the horizon. Lawton Dawson and Tony Fazio were among those responsible for the torpedoes. Part of their job involved ensuring that the primers were installed during actual combat and removed during practice. Once a primer was installed, on a command to fire, it would explode shooting the torpedo out of its tube. Dawson, on this particular morning, unfortunately had forgotten to remove the primer from torpedo tube #3. Up on the bridge, a new torpedo officer, unaware of the danger, ordered a simulated firing. “Fire 1, Fire 2,” and finally, “Fire 3.” There was no fire 4 as the sequence was interrupted by an unmistakable whooooooshhhhing sound made by a successfully launched and armed torpedo. Lt H. Steward Lewis, who witnessed the entire event, later described the next few minutes as what hell would look like if it ever broke loose.

Just after he saw the torpedo hit water on its way to the Iowa and some of the most prominent figures in world history, Lewis innocently asked the Captain, ‘Did you give permission to fire a torpedo?’ Captain Walker’s reply will not ring down through naval history… although words to the effect of Farragut’s immortal ‘Damn the torpedoes’ figured centrally within. Initially there was some reluctance to admit what had happened, or even to warn the Iowa. As the awful reality sunk in, people began racing around, shouting conflicting instructions and attempting to warn the flagship of imminent danger. First, there was a flashing light warning about the torpedo which unfortunately indicated it was headed in another direction. Next, the Porter signaled that it was going reverse at full speed! Finally, they decided to break the strictly enforced radio silence. The radio operator on the destroyer transmitted “‘Lion (code for the Iowa), Lion, come right.” The Iowa operator, more concerned about radio procedure, requested that the offending station identify itself first. Finally, the message was received and the Iowa began turning to avoid the speeding torpedo.

Meanwhile, on the Iowa’s bridge, word of the torpedo firing had reached FDR, who asked that his wheelchair be moved to the railing so he could see better what was coming his way. His loyal Secret Service guard immediately drew his pistol as if he was going to shoot the torpedo. As the Iowa began evasive maneuvers, all of her guns were trained on the William D Porter. There was now some thought that the Porter was part of an assassination plot. Within moments of the warning, there was a tremendous explosion just behind the battleship. The torpedo had been detonated by the wash kicked up by the battleship’s increased speed.

The crisis was over and so was Captain Walker’s career. His final utterance to the Iowa, in response to a question about the origin of the torpedo, was a weak, “We did it.” Shortly thereafter, the brand new destroyer, her Captain and the entire crew were placed under arrest and sent to Bermuda for trial. It was the first time that a complete ship’s company had been arrested in the history of the US Navy. The ship was surrounded by Marines when it docked in Bermuda, and held there several days as the closed session inquiry attempted to determine what had happened. Torpedoman Dawson eventually confessed to having inadvertently left the primer in the torpedo tube, which caused the launching. Dawson had thrown the used primer over the side to conceal his mistake. The whole incident was chalked up to an unfortunate set of circumstances and placed under a cloak of secrecy.

Someone had to be punished. Captain Walker and several other Porter officers and sailors eventually found themselves in obscure shore assignments. Dawson was sentenced to 14 years hard labor. President Roosevelt intervened; however, asking that no punishment be meted out for what was clearly an accident. The destroyer was banished to the upper Aleutians. It was probably thought this was as safe a place as any for the ship and anyone who came near her. She remained in the frozen north for almost a year, until late 1944, when she was re-assigned to the Western Pacific.

Before leaving the Aleutians, she accidentally left her calling card in the form of a five-inch shell fired into the front yard of the American base commandant, thus rearranging his flower garden. In December, 1944, she joined the Philippine invasion forces and acquitted herself quite well. She distinguished herself by shooting down a number of attacking Japanese aircraft. Regrettably, after the war, it was reported that she also shot down three American planes. This was a common event on ships, as many gunners, fearful of kamikazes, had nervous trigger fingers. In April, 1945, the destroyer was assigned to support the invasion of Okinawa. By this time, the greeting “Don’t Shoot, We’re Republicans” was commonplace and the crew of the Willie D had become used to the ribbing. But the crew of her sister ship, the USS Luce, was not so polite in its salutations after the Porter accidentally riddled her side and superstructure with gunfire.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/20/USS_William_D._Porter_%28DD-579%29_sinking.jpg/220px-USS_William_D._Porter_%28DD-579%29_sinking.jpg

Damaged William D. Porter listing heavily. Landing Craft Support ships LCS(L)(3)-86 and LCS(L)(3)-122 (behind) are assisting.

On 10 June 1945, William D. Porter fell victim to a unique — though fatal — kamikaze attack. At 08:15 that morning, an obsolete Aichi D3A “Val” dive bomber dropped unheralded out of the clouds and made straight for the warship. The destroyer managed to evade the suicide plane, and it splashed down nearby her. Somehow, the explosive-laden plane ended up directly beneath Porter before it exploded. Suddenly, the warship was lifted out of the water and then dropped back again, likely caused by the force of the underwater blast. She lost power and suffered broken steam lines. A number of fires also broke out. For three hours, her crew struggled to put out the fires, repair the damage, and keep the ship afloat. The crew’s efforts were in vain; and, 12 minutes after the order to abandon ship went out, William D. Porter heeled over to starboard and sank by the stern. Miraculously, her crew suffered no fatal injuries. After everything else that happened, it was almost as if the ship decided to let her crew off at the end. The 2050 ton Fletcher class destroyer’s name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 11 July 1945. [Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_William_D._Porter_%28DD-579%29 | JAN 2016 ++]

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Military History ► Korea | The Forgotten War 2

Calling the war in Korea the “forgotten war” has been part of the American lexicon since 1951. However, why it was called that in the first place is not completely understood. To understand how the words and, more importantly, how its meaning became part of our national mentality, one must first appreciate the history of what was occurring on the Korean peninsula before, during and following the war.

Korea was ruled by Japan from 1910 until the closing days of World War II in 1945 when the Allies split the former Japanese colony along the 38th parallel, with the north administered by the Soviet Union and the South by the United States. Over the next few years the Soviets and the Americans gradually withdrew their forces, and the two Koreas were all but “forgotten” as the world focused on Germany, Eastern Europe, and China’s civil war and revolution.

That all changed the early morning hours on June 25, 1950, when North Korean troops stormed across the 38th parallel and invaded South Korea, catching the greatly outnumbered and ill-equipped South Korea’s forces off guard and throwing them into a hasty southern retreat. American and other Allied troops still located in Korea also withdrew to the south, setting up blocking and delaying positions until they reached the southern tip of the Korean peninsula. The most famous of these blocking stances was Task Force Smith on July 27, 1950 at the Battle of Osan, approximately 20 miles south of Seoul. North Korean troops and tanks eventually overwhelmed American positions and the remnants of the Task Force retreated in disorder to the south.

The United Nations quickly condemned the invasion and demanded an immediate cessation of hostilities and for North Korea to withdraw its armed forces back above the 38th parallel. When the North Koreans failed to comply, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution on June 27, 1950 recommending that its members provide military assistance to South Korea. Although he did not want to find the United States embroiled in another war, President Harry Truman soon agreed to send American forces into action, and on July 7, 1950, the U.N. Security Council recommended that all U.N. forces sent to South Korea be put under U.S. command. The next day, General Douglas MacArthur was named Supreme Commander of all U.N. Forces in Korea.

By early August, 1950 the weakened Allies had been pushed all the way back to the Pusan Perimeter, a defensive line around an area in the southeastern corner of the Korean peninsula. Throughout August and into September, the Americans and their counterparts fought off attack after attack from the North Koreans, barely preventing them from advancing any further. The first reinforcement to arrive by ship in the Pusan Harbor where the Army First Cavalry Division and U.S. Marines stationed in Japan. Other U.N. troops arrived as well, allowing the Allies to take the offensive. Wanting to crush North Korean forces not only near Pusan but elsewhere in South Korea, MacArthur devised an audacious plan to land troops behind the enemy lines at Inchon – about 100 miles south of the 38th parallel and 25 miles northwest from Seoul. In that way his forces could attack the North Koreans from both directions.

Initially MacArthur’s proposal met with resistance when other senior American military leaders – mostly Navy officers – criticized the plan as too risky, pointing to a variety of challenges associated with landing at Inchon, including the narrow port channel and extreme tidal changes. MacArthur argued that these factors would mean the North Koreans wouldn’t expect the Allies to attempt an amphibious landing at the poorly defended Inchon. MacArthur received the official go-ahead for the Inchon landing and beginning on September 15, 1950, American-led U.N. forces converged on the North Korean army from the north and the south, killing or capturing thousands North Korean soldiers and disrupting their supply lines. All along the Korean peninsula, the now disorganized units of the North Korean army were trying to hold on while others quickly retreated back over the 38th parallel. General Douglas MacArthur ordered troops to pursue the retreating North Koreans further into North Korea while sending other U.N. force southeast and to recapture Seoul, which they succeeded to do by September 26, 1950 following bitter, deadly house-to-house fighting.

By early October 1950, American and South Korean forces advanced deep into North Korea, destroying North Koreans units and sending them further into retreat toward to the Yalu River, which separates North Korea from Communist China. On October 19, the North Korean capital of Pyongyang was captured. McArthur then pushed American troops further north toward the Yalu River. Chinese leaders threatened to intervene in the conflict if U.N. forces continued north or crossed the border into China. McArthur felt confident the Chinese were bluffing and would never enter the war. It was a miscalculation that ultimately helped get him fired by Truman. In late November, as record subzero temperatures blown in by cold northern winds, a massive force of 300,000 Chinese troops crossed into North Korea undetected and joined the demoralized North Korean forces.

In brutal freezing cold-weather fighting, the outnumbered U.N. forces, surrounded by North Koreans and Chinese, began withdrawing from the Chosin Reservoir and other footholds along the further stretches of North Korea. The complete breakout from the Chosin Reservoir took a few weeks before some U.N. forces reached Hungnam’s port facilities and evacuated by ships. Other badly depleted U.N. forces rapidly retreated towards the 38th parallel. In early January 1951, the Communists recaptured Seoul, only to have the Allies reoccupy it again in March. By May 1951, the communists were pushed back to the 38th parallel, and the battle line remained in that vicinity for the rest of the war as US and North Korean armistice negotiators, neither willing to surrender an inch of bloody worthless frozen ground, took their own sweet time dawdling in the comfort of a heated “peace tent” at the abandoned village of Panmunjom.

On July 27, 1953, after two years of bitter back and forth negotiation and three years of war that killed about 600,000 soldiers on both sides and as many as 2 million civilians, military leaders from China, North Korea and the United Nations signed an armistice that ended the fighting and established a 2.5-mile-wide demilitarized zone to serve as a buffer between the two Koreas. Korea remains divided along the 38th parallel with North and South Korea still making threats against each other, raising nuclear-tipped spears, conducting “training exercises” and firing “stray rounds.” Every day, communist and anticommunist forces – including Americans – stare each other down across no man’s land and conduct reconnaissance and security patrols along the most heavily fortified space in the world. Nearly every day the media reminds us about the tensions between the two Koreas, which are perhaps worse today than when the U.N. sent troops there 62 years ago.

Isolated North Korea continues to be ruled by a one-family dictatorship currently led by its erratic and immature Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un who and in the tradition of his father and grandfather, uses the nations meager resources on military might while his enslaved people continue to starve to death. South Korea, however, has grown into the eight wealthiest nation in the world and Seoul’s quality of life in 2013 was found to be higher than that of New York City, London, or Melbourne but slightly lower than Tokyo and Paris.

So why is the Korean War Korea still referred to as a “police action,” “the Korean conflict” and “the forgotten war,” when in fact it was inescapably a real, hard slugging, miserable war where millions died and many more suffered from the hostilities? And why in spite of it significance of being the first shooting war of the Cold War, pitting democracy to communism? Here are some of the reasons given for why it gained the label “the forgotten war” and continues to be referred to in that manner by many.

  • Nestled snugly between the storied glory of the last “good war” – Second World War and that twelve year nightmare known as Vietnam – the Korean War is mostly forgotten because very little was accomplished according to some. They point out the neither side won nor did they lose it since they never signed a permanent peace treaty, so both sides are technically still at war.
  • Another theory goes something like this: it was fought in a remote, backward country of no vital, strategic interest, and it ended in a deadlock “the kiss of death for national pride and war memory. What contradicts that idea, however, is the Korean War Veterans Memorial dedicated to the spirit, sacrifice, and commitment of the men and women who served during the Korean War.
  • Perhaps the one theory that makes some sense on how the forgotten war idea came into being was put forth by Melinda Pash in her book “In the Shadow of the Greatest Generation: The Americans Who Fought the Korean War,” which examines this significant but neglected war. She wrote Korea has been called a “Forgotten War” since at least October 1951 when U.S. News & World Report gave it that moniker. In reality, Americans did not so much forget the Korean War as never having thought about it at all. When the war first broke out, people worried that American involvement would usher in the same type of rationing and full mobilization that had characterized World War II. That failed to occur and within a few months, most Americans turned back to their own lives, ignoring the conflict raging half a world away. Newspapers continued to report on the war, but with the entrance of the Chinese in late fall 1950 and the resulting stalemate in late 1951, few Americans wanted to read or think about Korea despite the nearly two million American serving in Korea.

No doubt, many of our citizens – mostly because it is so well entrenched in our psyche – will continue to “forget” or ignore the Korean War and its veterans. Yet on so many levels this shows general disrespect for those American patriots who bravely fought in a bitter Vietnam war where 54,246 died and another 103,254 were injured. Then of course there are the 7,140 POWs and the 8,117 U.S. troops still officially missing in action. Families of those who died deserve the honor of knowing their loved one died in a real war and not a forgotten one? [Source: Together We Served | Dispatches | April 2015 ++]

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Military History Anniversaries ► 16 thru 31 Jan

Significant events in U.S. Military History over the next 15 days are listed in the attachment to this Bulletin titled, “Military History Anniversaries 16 thru 31 Jan”.

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WWII Advertising Kolynos Dental Cream & Gold Medal Flour

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D-Day Invasion Preparations

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The landing is preceded by a large gathering of troops, weapons and ships in England.

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WWII Prewar Events ► 1934 Thanksgiving Celebration of the Reich

This is the Reichserntedankfest rally of 1934 in Buckeberg. That year, 700,000 people participated.

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WWII PostWar Events ► 1945 Buchenwald Concentration Camp Survivors

Jewish survivors of the Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp, some still in their camp clothing, stand on the deck of the refugee immigration ship Mataroa, on July 15, 1945 at Haifa port, during the British Mandate of Palestine, in what would later become the State of Israel. During World War II, millions of Jews were fleeing Germany and its occupied territories, many attempting to enter the British Mandate of Palestine, despite tight restrictions on Jewish immigration established by the British in 1939. Many of these would-be immigrants were caught and rounded up into detention camps. In 1947, Britain announced plans to withdraw from the territory, and the United Nations approved the Partition Plan for Palestine, establishing a Jewish and a Palestinian state in the country. On May 14, 1948, Israel declared independence and was immediately attacked by neighboring Arab states, beginning the Arab-Israeli conflict which continues to this day.

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Spanish American War Images 81 ► USS Raleigh in Action in 1898.

The USS Raleigh in action in 1898. 
The cruiser took part in the Battle of Manila Bay/Cavite on May 1, 1898

The cruiser took part in the Battle of Manila Bay/Cavite on May 1, 1898

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WWI in Photos 135 ► Ottoman Turk Machine Gun Corps 1917


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Ottoman Turk Machine Gun Corps at Tel esh Sheria Gaza Line, in 1917, part of the Sinai and Palestine Campaign. British troops were battling the the Ottoman Empire (supported by Germany), for control of the Suez Canal, Sinai Peninsula, and Palestine.

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Faces of WAR (WWII) ► Douglas MacArthur

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Gen. Douglas MacArthur, posing in a serious manor for his portrait. March 1947

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Ghosts of Time ► Then & Now’ Photos of WWII SITES (08)

23

* Health Care *




TRICARE Prescription RefillsProcedures MO, AL, NM, TX Until 27 JAN

The governors of Georgia, Louisiana, Illinois, and Mississippi have also declared States of Emergency for all four states (the entire states) due to Storm Goliath. In these states, emergency prescription refill procedures are in place from December 30, 2015 through January 29, 2016.

Emergency Refills – To get an emergency refill, take your prescription bottle to any TRICARE retail network pharmacy. To find a network pharmacy:

  • Call Express Scripts at 1-877-363-1303
  • Search the network pharmacy locator
  • If you use a retail chain, you can fill your prescription at another store in that chain.
  • If your provider is available, he or she may call in a new prescription to any network pharmacy.
  • You can request assistance at another pharmacy, but it’s at that pharmacy’s discretion to help

[Source: TRICARE Communications | January 5, 2015 ++]

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Right of First Refusal Update 01Saves TRICARE & Patients Money

Military hospitals and clinics have the right of first refusal (ROFR) in providing specialty care to TRICARE Prime beneficiaries. This means that when you are referred for specialty care or treatment, your local military hospital or clinic must first be considered if the services are available there. If the military hospital or clinic has the capability to provide your specialty care, you will get treatment at the military hospital or clinic and not from a civilian provider. ROFR is cost-effective for both you and TRICARE. By using military hospitals or clinics, there is no added cost of

involving civilian providers and you may avoid a copayment.

ROFR applies to TRICARE Prime beneficiaries who are referred for specialty care. You must be offered an appointment with a specialist within 28 calendar days, or sooner, and within a one-hour travel time from your home.

How does ROFR work? Your regional contractor will send a referral request for specialty care to your local military hospital or clinic. If the military hospital or clinic can accommodate your specialty care need, it will notify your regional contractor of acceptance. If not, your regional contractor will give you a referral to a civilian network provider.

Your military hospital or clinic may call you to schedule an appointment. Your regional contractor will notify you

of your military hospital or clinic’s acceptance and give instructions for making an appointment. If you have any

questions, call your regional contractor. [Source: HimanaMilitary.com | TRICARE Health Matters | Issue 1: 2016 ++]

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PTSD PrescriptionsArmy Monitoring Questioned

The Army needs to do a better job of monitoring prescriptions to treat post-traumatic stress disorder to ensure soldiers are receiving the proper medications, a government report says. The Government Accountability Office advises that the Defense Department, along with the Army, should more closely track and review prescriptions for PTSD, in line with recommended treatment guidelines it shares with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Without ongoing monitoring, “the Army may be unable to identify and address prescribing practices that are inconsistent with the guidelines it shares with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Without ongoing monitoring, “the Army may be unable to identify and address prescribing practices that are inconsistent with the guideline and do not have clinical justification,” GAO Health Care Director Debra Draper wrote in the report, which was published Tuesday.

http://www.stripes.com/polopoly_fs/1.387368.1452099849!/image/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_804/image.jpg

A Government Accountability Office report published Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, says the Army needs to do a better job of monitoring prescriptions to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

Draper’s recommendation comes from a GAO audit of how the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments prescribed drugs for PTSD and mild brain injury. The investigation was based on a provision in the fiscal 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, which directed the GAO to assess continuation of care, particularly for servicemembers with PTSD or mild brain injuries who were making the transition to VA health care. The VA and Defense departments have developed joint guidelines for treating PTSD and mild brain injury, which discourage the use of benzodiazepines — a class of sedatives — and antipsychotic drugs.

Both classes of these drugs were once widely prescribed for PTSD, but studies have found that the potential for serious side effects outweighs their effectiveness. The GAO report found that the VA closely tracks prescriptions for PTSD, especially for benzodiazepines and antipsychotics, and is actively working to reduce the numbers of prescriptions for both classes of drugs. At one VA medical clinic, for example, an electronic medical record reminder is activated when a prescription for certain antispsychotics is written for a veteran with PTSD who does not have a diagnosis of severe mental illness. The provider must justify why the medication is needed. The clinic decreased the percentage of veterans with PTSD who had been prescribed antipsychotics by almost half, from 21.8 percent in 2013 to 11.5 percent in 2015.

The Army, where the largest number of troops has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, stopped requiring military hospitals to review their prescribing practices for atypical antipsychotics when that policy requirement expired in 2014. But providers and pharmacists interviewed at one Army medical facility said they were continuing these reviews because they identified “higher-than-expected prescription rates” for the medications, the report said. DOD and VA officials say they plan to issue an updated version of the mild brain injury guideline by no later than early 2016. As of November, the Food and Drug Administration had not approved a medication to treat mild brain injury. Both agencies are working toward stocking the same medications to treat mental and sleep disorders and pain, as directed by recent legislation. [Source: Stars and Stripes | Jennifer H. Svan | January 6, 2016 ++]

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Cold Weather Exercise Guidelines

People who like to exercise outdoors can become very discouraged during the winter months as freezing temperatures, snow and ice challenge a fitness regimen. “The main thing you want to remember, if you’re going to exercise outdoors, is to stay dry and wear loose layers,” said Army Capt. Jon Umlauf, assistant chief of physical therapy at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. “Avoid wearing cotton-blend clothing against your skin, which will trap moisture close to your body. You want to wear something that wicks moisture away from your body. Fabrics that are made using polypropylene, capilene and some synthetic wool blends help to transport moisture away from your body. In addition, wear clothing that’s loose and layered, to help trap warm air.”

Family running outside in cold weather

With the Washington Monument, Washington Channel and the Hains Point cherry blossoms as a backdrop, runners keep up with their fitness goals even in the cold weather.

Umlauf also suggests that if you’re going to do any kind of high-intensity training in the cold weather, be sure to stretch and warm up properly. “It may be beneficial to warm up indoors before going outside,” he said. “This can help ensure the flexibility of your muscles and joints. And before heading out, check the forecast for the time you’ll be outside. Temperature, wind and humidity, along with the length of time that you’ll be outside, are key considerations in planning a safe cold-weather workout.” The combination of air temperature and wind speed make up the wind chill index, which is commonly included in winter weather forecasts. Wind chill extremes can make exercising outdoors unsafe even if you dress warmly. The wind can penetrate your clothes and remove the insulating layer of warm air that surrounds your body, and any exposed skin is vulnerable to frostbite. Thinking about having a cup of coffee before your workout? Umlauf says caffeine consumption before a workout may enhance your performance, but that doesn’t mean more is better. “Moderation is always a factor when you intake anything, and this is no exception,” he said.

When it comes to footwear, Umlauf suggests whatever you wear, make sure it provides good traction. “If you’re going to go out for a run, you want to have footwear that will prevent slips and falls,” he said. “With the likelihood of snow and ice patches, you want shoes that can give you grip and stability. And when you’re done, make sure to remove your socks so you can allow your feet to warm up. If you’re going to be running in the snow, your feet are going to get wet, making you susceptible to cold weather injuries, such as frostbite.” Lastly, Umlauf advises that you check with your physician if beginning a new workout routine. You should also eat healthy foods and keep yourself hydrated as part of an overall fitness plan. “Keeping yourself motivated, and maintaining consistency with your efforts, will help you attain your fitness goals,” he said. “Staying fit can have a positive impact in your personal and professional life.” [Source: Health.mil | January 4, 2016 ++]

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TRICARE Nurse Advise Line Update 03 ► Patient Availability

The Nurse Advice Line (NAL) is a great evaluation tool for those seeking care or who have medical questions. The telephone hotline provides instant access to a team of registered nurses who can answer urgent and acute healthcare questions. The NAL provides TRICARE beneficiaries an assessment of their symptoms and what next steps they should take. In order to give beneficiaries the highest level of care, the NAL needs to speak to the patient directly, or have the patient present during the call. Legally, the NAL cannot provide advice to a third party without the patient being in the room with the caller. If the patient is underage, this does not mean the nurse has to speak to the child, the nurse may need to hear the child’s cough or ask a question that the parent may not know offhand. If the patient is over age 13, the nurse may ask to speak to the child directly. Feel free to stay on another line or use a speakerphone option if that makes you more comfortable.

You wouldn’t go to a doctor’s office, emergency room or urgent care center without the patient. The NAL is in the same category. Without speaking to, or having the patient present, our RN’s cannot give an accurate assessment or advice on the patient’s condition. In order to provide you and your family the best quality care please ensure that the patient is present. Sometimes it’s hard to know when to seek medical help for urgent health problems. Having access to a trusted medical professional at a moment’s notice is invaluable.  Call the NAL, toll-free and 24/7 for your urgent medical needs at 1-800-TRICARE (874-2273) Option# (1). Beneficiaries can still call their PCM or clinic for medical advice and appointments. Refer to http://www.tricare.mil/FindDoctor/Appointments.aspx for more detailed info on obtaining appointments. Visit http://www.tricare.mil/ContactUs/CallUs/NAL.aspx to learn more about the NAL. [Source: TICARE Communications | January 8, 2016 ++]

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TRICARE Overseas Program Update 19 Secure Claims Portal Relaunched

International SOS and WPS Military and Veterans Health, the overseas claims processor, have re-launched the secure claims portal for overseas beneficiaries. The enhanced, secure claims portal makes it easier and faster to access TRICARE Overseas Program claims and other information. For tutorials on how to use the Portal refer to https://portal.tricare-overseas.com/wps/portal. Some enhancements include a mobile friendly home page. The home page now features news, video tutorials, and a frequently asked questions section. There is also an “I Want To” link that provides quick links to the most used content and functions on the website. Manage your claims quickly and independently with the enhanced claim activity section. You can see the status of all of your claims without doing a search, but if you do search, you can view claim details or an explanation of benefits simply by clicking on the “view details” button. You can also submit your claims via the secure message in-box and receive confirmation, including the new claim number. The family profile section allows you to: update your address, add other health insurance, change your password, and enroll in direct deposit. The portal works best on the Internet Explorer 11 or Google Chrome Web browsers. For more info about TRICARE Overseas programs, visit www.TRICARE.mil/overseas. [Source: TRICARE Beneficiary Bulletin #334 | January 8, 2015 ++]

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Sleep Update 02 ► Army Health of the Force Report

One in 20 active-duty Soldiers are on sleep medications, according to the Army Office of the Surgeon General, or OTSG, “Health of the Force” report released this month. “These Soldiers are less likely to be medically ready to deploy,” the report cautions. Army Lt. Col. Jacob Collen, a sleep-medicine physician, who also specializes in pulmonary issues on Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, said physicians usually prescribe Ambien to Soldiers suffering from insomnia. Ambien – a commonly prescribed brand of zolpidem – is a sedative and it’s also known as a hypnotic, said Army Lt. Col. Ingrid Lim, sleep lead for Performance Triad, OTSG. While it does work in getting Soldiers to fall asleep, zolpidem “may impair your thinking or reactions,” she said. It’s something “you don’t want to over prescribe.”

Soldiers from the 824th Quarter Master Company find a convenient place to rest while waiting for transportation to their deployment.

Soldiers from the 824th Quarter Master Company find a convenient place to rest while waiting for transportation to their deployment.

Collen said that since there are only 24 sleep specialists in the Army, serving some 1 million troops, the attending physician may not realize that besides Ambien, there are non-prescriptive treatments that are effective for sleep issues. Currently, the most effective treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, or CBTi, he said. In addition, BBTi, or brief behavioral therapy for insomnia, is not only effective with sleeping problems, but can also be used with patients who have medical and psychiatric conditions and it can be delivered in a primary care setting, Lim said. CBTi treatments last several weeks and BBTi less, she said. Both involve encouraging change to thought patterns and behaviors that are the underlying causes contributing to poor sleep.

While CBTi and BBTi are evidence based and clinically proven to be effective, there are, unfortunately, “watered-down versions” of those therapies that are out there, Collen said. These pseudo-versions cherry-pick from the manual rather than using the full approach. “We want Soldiers to get the rigorous, evidence-based version,” he said. “It would be better to have no treatment at all than to get the wrong one. “There are a lot of dissatisfied people who’ve taken the watered-down version,” he continued. “When they find it doesn’t work, they tell others about their experience and they quit going to the MTF,” or medical treatment facility. The solution, Collen said, is to provide more physicians – not just the 24 sleep specialists – training in CBTi and BBTi. Mobile training teams could be used to educate health care providers, including integrated behavioral health consultants.

Lim said that besides insomnia, the second sleep-related issue Soldiers have is obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea occurs when breathing stops and then starts in cycles. She said the treatment for that is a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, or CPAP device, which pumps oxygen into the nasal passage to restore normal breathing. Lim said the third sleep-related issue Soldiers have is inadequate sleep, meaning less than seven or eight hours. The Health of the Force report notes that one-third of Soldiers get five hours or less of sleep per night and 62 percent of Soldiers get less than seven. The report lists the following possible effects of inadequate sleep:

  • Increased musculoskeletal injuries.
  • Risk of behavioral health disorders.
  • Greater susceptibility to illnesses.
  • Likelihood of developing symptoms of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress

The Health of the Force report posted some dire warnings concerning poor sleep. It notes that “individuals who routinely get five to six hours of sleep perform much like a person with a blood alcohol content of 0.08.””In training and on the battlefield, inadequate sleep impairs essential abilities such as reaction times, the ability to detect and engage the enemy, and squad tactic coordination.” The report goes on to note that “despite mission degradation resulting from sleepiness, a culture of suboptimal sleep and a perception that lack of sleep is “the Army way” prevails in the force.” Finally, Lim said “sleep needs to be a Soldier’s resource like ammo. Are you going to go across the line without adequate fuel for your vehicle, ammo and food? Why are we going to cross the [line of departure] without sleep?”

PROACTIVE MEASURES

Lim said that besides getting medical help, there are steps Soldiers can take themselves. Researchers who study sleep, activity and nutrition – the three prongs of what the Army calls Performance Triad – have found that all three interact with each other, meaning that a weakness in one negatively impacts the others, she said. Limiting junk food and not taking caffeinated beverages before going to sleep are two examples of how to positively impact sleep, she said. If Soldiers are not eating right or exercising, sleep quality suffers, so they might want to change what they’re doing, she said. Lim then offered another suggestion: ArmyFit. There are a lot of good health and fitness apps out there, but a good starting place is ArmyFit, a free resource offered by the Army that can be accessed after taking the Global Assessment Tool 2.0, she said. Army civilians and their Families can also access it. The website at http://csf2.army.mil/armyfit1.html directs Soldiers to helpful resources within the physical, spiritual, emotional, Family and social resilience categories, as well as Performance Triad, said Army Capt. Kristin Saboe, who oversees the site’s content. [Source: Health.mil | David Vergun | January 8, 2016 ++]

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TRICARE Help ► Q&A 160115

Have a question on how TRICARE applies to your personal situation? Write to Tricare Help, Times News Service, 6883 Commercial Drive, Springfield, VA 22159; or [email protected]. In e-mail, include the word “Tricare” in the subject line and do not attach files. Information on all Tricare options, to include links to Handbooks for the various options, can be found on the official Tricare website, at this web address: http://www.tricare.mil/Plans/HealthPlans.aspx or you can your regional contractor. Following are some of the issues addressed in recent weeks by these sources:

(Q) I am 10 weeks pregnant and was wondering whether Tricare will cover a DNA test before the baby is born? One of the two possible fathers is in the military and is heading out on a short-term deployment soon, and both of us want to know if he is, in fact, the father by the time he returns.

A. Tricare does not cover paternity tests, mainly because while such tests may be legally necessary in some scenarios, they are not medically necessary.

-o-o-O-o-o-

(Q) I leave for National Guard basic training soon and am wondering if I can get Tricare insurance cards for my family for when I’m away. Where do I go, and who do I see for that?

A. There’s no such thing as a “Tricare insurance card.” The only identification needed to use Tricare benefits is a military ID card. You must register as your family’s military sponsor in the Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System, and then you must register your spouse and/or children in DEERS under your sponsorship, in order for all of you to receive military ID cards. You can engage DEERS by contacting the ID Card/ DEERS office at your nearest military installation, or by calling the main DEERS support office at 800-538-9552. While you are on active duty in basic training — and thereafter, whenever you are mobilized for active duty during your Guard career — you and your family are entitled to full Tricare coverage and will merely need to show your military ID cards when accessing health care. While in drilling status, however, the only Tricare option available to you and your family will be a program called Tricare Reserve Select, which requires enrollment and payment of monthly premiums. You can get more information on TRS here: www.tricare.mil/Plans/HealthPlans/TRS.aspx.

-o-o-O-o-o-

(Q) I’m a military retiree with Medicare Parts A and B, as well as Tricare for Life. I’m also retired from a major bank with whom I have commercial health care coverage. Soon, I will be dropped from the company plan and am being offered various individual supplemental plans to consider at my expense. Since I have both Medicare and Tricare for me and my spouse, do we need any other coverage?

A. The combination of Medicare Parts A and B and Tricare Standard, which comprises Tricare for Life, should cover 100 percent of your medical costs on the vast majority of your medical claims. But there are a few quirks in TFL coverage. One is that neither Medicare nor Tricare covers routine annual vision or hearing exams, or hearing aids or eyeglasses. For that reason, if nothing else, you may want to consider one of the supplemental plans being offered through your former employer

-o-o-O-o-o-

Have a question for the TRICARE Help column. Send it to [email protected] and include the word “Tricare” in the subject line. Do not attach files. [Source: MilitaryTimes | 1 thru 15 Jan 2016 ++]

* Finances *

Life Insurance Update 01 ► Need to Know Terms

Life insurance can be a complex, confusing subject, and some of the terminology can seem as foreign as a scientific paper in Russian. If exploring life insurance options, Kenny Sutton, USAA director of life insurance product management, suggests learning and understanding these five terms:

Beneficiary/contingent beneficiary: Most people know the beneficiary is the individual designated to receive the insurance benefit in the event of the insured’s death. A contingent beneficiary is someone designated to be the next in line for the benefit if the insured and beneficiary both die at the same time. This could happen if a family member is the beneficiary and is killed, in a car wreck perhaps, along with the insured. If no contingent beneficiary had been established, the benefit might be tied up in probate courts, delaying and diminishing the payout.

Term life insurance: A more affordable alternative to whole life or universal life insurance policies. While whole or universal policies cover a person during their lifetime, term insurance only covers him for a specified period. If there is no death during that time, there is no payment or intrinsic value.

Collateral assignment: A life insurance policy taken out to cover a loan so the lender won’t be left high and dry. The lender is the beneficiary in this type of policy.

Exclusions: Things not covered under the terms of the policy, such as death by suicide. Typically, these are found in the fine print of a policy. If buying a policy and it costs much less than other policies, check for exclusions. Be aware that some group life policies may have an exclusion for death caused by war.

Underwriting: The process insurance companies use to assess different types of risk and decide whether they will accept them. As part of the underwriting process, insurers also set the rates for their coverage. Age, gender and health are typically the largest factors considered during the underwriting process. Other factors can include occupation, income and potentially risky hobbies, such as skydiving.

[Source: The American Legion Online Update | USAA | January 7, 2016 ++]

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Social Security Outlook Update 01 Debt Limit Battle Impact

The recent battle in Congress over lifting the debt limit contained mostly good news and some not so good news, for disabled and retired Americans. The legislation rolled back an unprecedented 52% spike in Medicare Part B premiums due to affect about 15.6 million Medicare recipients, and it prevented a 19% cut in Social Security Disability Insurance benefits due to occur later this year. But the legislation contained no Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) relief for 2016, and closed off one of the few claiming strategies that some Americans have to boost their Social Security payouts.

While about 70% of Medicare beneficiaries will see no Medicare Part B increase in premiums this year, the legislation reduced monthly Part B premiums for the 30% of beneficiaries who faced the jump of 52%. That group, who are not protected by the Social Security “hold harmless” provision, will pay a base premium of $121.80 per month instead of an estimated $159 this year. Higher income beneficiaries who are not protected by hold harmless pay an additional surcharge on the base premium amount. The legislation also reduced an increase in the Part B deductible from a projected $223 to $166.

The hold harmless provision protects people who have their Medicare Part B premiums automatically deducted from their Social Security payments. If the Medicare Part B premium increase is greater than the amount of the COLA increase, then the Part B premium will be frozen to prevent a reduction in Social Security payments. The provision does not apply to new enrollees in 2016, people who pay their Medicare Part B premiums by check, low-income beneficiaries who have their Medicare premiums paid for by state Medicaid programs and high income people who pay premium surcharges. The legislation prevents a 19% Social Security disability benefit cut by a short-term reallocation of payroll tax revenue in 2016 through 2018. This would be sufficient to pay benefits until 2022 and would not affect the 2034 depletion date of the Social Security retirement trust fund, according to Social Security’s Chief Actuary.

While the legislation made some changes to Social Security and did not cut benefits of any current retirees, it did end a complicated benefit claiming strategy known as “file and suspend” for people very close to retirement. Although the legislation closes an unintended “loophole,” the strategy was one of the few means married couples had to maximize their payouts. A similar provision was contained in Obama’s 2015 fiscal year budget and was estimated to cut Social Security costs by as much as $9.5 billion annually. “While most of the provisions were supported by The Senior Citizen League (TSCL), we in no way support using Social Security and Medicare benefits as hostages in exchange for lifting the debt limit,” says TSCL Chairman Ed Cates. [Source: TSCL | January 6, 2015 ++]

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IRS Form 1095 ACA Submission Requirement for 2015

It won’t be long until tax time. For tax year 2015 your tax responsibilities have changed. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), all Americans including all military members (active duty, re-tired, Selected Reserve, or Retired Reserve) and their eligible family members must have health care coverage that meets a minimum standard called minimum essential coverage or pay a fee. Your TRICARE coverage meets the minimum essential cover-age requirement under the ACA. “The term “active duty” means full-time duty in the active service of a uniformed service for more than 30 consecutive days”.

Beginning in January 2016, DFAS will be providing IRS Form 1095-C to all U.S. military members, and IRS Form 1095-B to all Retirees, Annuitants, former spouses and all other individuals having TRICARE coverage during all or any portion of tax year 2015. An IRS Form 1095 documents you (and your family members, if applicable) have the minimum essential coverage. More information will be forthcoming about the delivery method of these forms. These forms will document the information that DFAS will provide to the IRS on yourself and your authorized family members. The forms will be required to be reported with your 2015 federal tax return. DFAS will provide you with IRS Form 1095 series forms no later than Jan. 31, 2016

You can find more information about the impact of the Affordable Care Act on your federal income tax at: http://www.irs.gov/Affordable-Care-Act or http://www.dfas.mil/taxes/aca.html. You can act now to make sure your forms remain secure once they are available using myPay (https://mypay.dfas.mil/mypay.aspx). Just look for the link to “Turn On/Off Hard Copy of IRS Form 1095” in your account and select Electronic Delivery Only. Your information will remain safe until you need it. [Source: DFAS | January 2016 ++]

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Saving Money ► Making Stuff Last Longer | 20 Tips

There are all sorts of ways to save money today. You can find deals on food, buy generic items or negotiate a better price on a new car. All those are great ways to stretch your dollars. But what if you reduced your trips to the grocery store and minimized your Amazon pantry purchases? How about squeezing a couple more years out of your car? Sometimes, the best way to save money is to simply to buy less. We can help you do that with the following 20 tips for making the stuff you already own last longer.

5 hacks for the kitchen – You can reduce how much you spend on food by practicing proper storage, thus eliminating the need to chuck rotten food in the trash. Here are five tips to get you started.

  • After opening items packaged in jars or cartons — such as salsa, spaghetti sauce and cottage cheese — store them upside down to keep mold at bay and your items fresh longer.
  • Wrap your salad greens in a paper towel to keep them from becoming slimy and inedible.
  • Keep the wrapper on blocks of cheese when you cut. Touching the cheese directly can transfer bacteria from your hands and encourage mold growth.
  • It’s an old wives’ tale that leaving the avocado pit in half an avocado or guacamole will keep it from browning. What does work is to lightly press plastic wrap on to it to minimize its contact with air.
  • Store your flour in the freezer to keep it fresh and avoid any icky bug infestations.

5 ways to stretch cleaning supplies – Reduce the cost of cleaning supplies by switching to homemade cleaners, buying generics and following these tips:

  • Cut sponges in half to make them last twice as long.
  • Slice your dryer sheets in half, too. Depending on your climate and the size of your laundry loads, you may even be able to get away with using one-third or one-quarter of a sheet.
  • Try using less laundry detergent. Unless your laundry is heavily soiled, a little soap can go a long way.
  • Take bar soap out of its packaging and let it sit out for a couple of weeks to dry before you use it. Dry soap lasts longer. Get a soap dish that lets water drain away between uses.
  • Spraying cleaning solutions directly onto windows and countertops is a surefire way to use too much. Instead, spritz the solution on your cleaning cloth or paper towel.

5 ways to make personal care items last – Being beautiful on the outside isn’t particularly cheap. Regardless of whether you buy the drugstore brands or splurge on luxury items, make the most of your purchases by following these tips:

  • Drying your razor will extend its life. Rub it on a piece of old denim to dry it and keep it sharp.
  • Use up the last of the toothpaste by cutting open the tube.
  • Q-tips are perfect for digging out and using up the last of your lipstick.
  • If your bronzer is running low, mix in a little moisturizer to make it last longer.
  • Store shampoo and conditioner bottles upside down. When you reach the end of a bottle, add a little water and shake to get out every last bit.

5 tips for other items you have around the house – Finally, there are plenty of other items in your home that you may want to last longer. We have hacks and advice for those, too:

  • Skip the high heat of the dryer and air dry your clothes to make them last longer. Try washing in cold water.
  • Freeze candles the day before you plan to use them to extend their burn time.
  • While you probably don’t want to put your alkaline or lithium batteries in the freezer, storing rechargeable batteries there can help them keep their charge longer. Just make sure they reach room temperature before using.
  • Practice proper appliance maintenance, such as changing furnace filters, cleaning refrigerator coils and descaling your coffee maker. All will extend the life of these home essentials.
  • Regular oil changes can go a long way to extending the life of your car.

[Source: MoneyTalksNews | Jim Gold | June 10, 2015 ++]

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Government Grant Scam ► How it Works

“Because you pay your income taxes on time, you have been awarded a free $12,500 government grant! To get your grant, simply give us your checking account information, and we will direct-deposit the grant into your bank account!”

How the Scam Works:

  • Sometimes, it’s an ad that claims you will qualify to receive a “free grant” to pay for education costs, home repairs, home business expenses, or unpaid bills. Other times, it’s a phone call supposedly from a “government” agency or some other organization with an official sounding name. In either case, the claim is the same: your application for a grant is guaranteed to be accepted, and you’ll never have to pay the money back.
  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, says that “money for nothing” grant offers usually are scams, whether you see them in your local paper or a national magazine, or hear about them on the phone.
  • Some scam artists advertise “free grants” in the classifieds, inviting readers to call a toll-free number for more information. Others are more bold: they call you out of the blue. They lie about where they’re calling from, or they claim legitimacy using an official-sounding name like the “Federal Grants Administration.” They may ask you some basic questions to determine if you “qualify” to receive a grant. FTC attorneys say calls and come-ons for free money invariably are rip offs.
  • Grant scammers generally follow a script: they congratulate you on your eligibility, then ask for your checking account information so they can “deposit your grant directly into your account,” or cover a one-time “processing fee.” The caller may even reassure you that you can get a refund if you’re not satisfied. In fact, you’ll never see the grant they promise; they will disappear with your money.

How to Protect Yourself. The FTC says following a few basic rules can keep consumers from losing money to these “government grant” scams:

  • Don’t give out your bank account information to anyone you don’t know. Scammers pressure people to divulge their bank account information so that they can steal the money in the account. Always keep your bank account information confidential. Don’t share it unless you are
  • Don’t pay any money for a “free” government grant. If you have to pay money to claim a “free” government grant, it isn’t really free. A real government agency won’t ask you to pay a processing fee for a grant that you have already been awarded — or to pay for a list of grant-making institutions. The names of agencies and foundations that award grants are available for free at any public library or on the Internet. The only official access point for all federal grant-making agencies is www.grants.gov.
  • Look-alikes aren’t the real thing. Just because the caller says he’s from the “Federal Grants Administration” doesn’t mean that he is. There is no such government agency. Take a moment to check the blue pages in your telephone directory to bear out your hunch — or not.
  • Phone numbers can deceive. Some con artists use Internet technology to disguise their area code in caller ID systems. Although it may look like they’re calling from Washington, DC, they could be calling from anywhere in the world.
  • Take control of the calls you receive. If you want to reduce the number of telemarketing calls you receive, place your telephone number on the National Do Not Call Registry. To register online, visit donotcall.gov. To register by phone, call 1-888-382-1222 (TTY: 1-866-290-4236) from the phone number you wish to register.
  • File a complaint with the FTC. If you think you may have been a victim of a government grant scam, file a complaint with the FTC online, or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

[Source: BBB Trusted Scout | FTC | Nov 2015 ++]

BBB Scam Alert

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Smartphone for Ransom Scam ► How it Works

Many people think that viruses only affect computers, but scammers are increasingly targeting smartphones with malware scams. Watch out for a con that uses malware to lock victims’ phones and asks them to pay to fix it. Currently, this particular scam seems limited to iPhones and iPad users on Safari, but all smartphones users can be targeted.

How the Scam Works:

  • You are using the Internet on your smartphone, and suddenly the browser freezes. A pop up appears saying: “Warning IOS – Crash Report. Due to a third party application your phone iOS crashed.” The pop-up instructs you to call a “customer support” number immediately to fix this issue.
  • If you call, “tech support” staff will offer to fix your phone… for a fee. Victims report that scammers charge about $60. This type of malware is known as ransomware. These viruses freeze the device and prompt the victim to pay to unlock it.

Protect Your Mobile Phone from Ransomware – The National Cyber Security Alliance offers these suggestions for keeping your mobile device clean of viruses and malware:

  • Protect all devices connected to the Internet. Computers, smartphones, gaming systems, tablets and other web-enabled devices all need protection from viruses and malware.
  • Keep your mobile devices up-to-date. Download operating system, app and security upgrades as so as they are available (you should receive a notification on your device).
  • Be cautious. Secure your phone and other devices with a password.
  • Protect your privacy. Review privacy policies before you download a new app, and make sure you understand what the app can access on your phone (contacts, photos, social media, location, etc.).
  • Be savvy about Wi-Fi. When you are on-line through an unsecured or unprotected network, be cautious about the sites you visit and the information you release. Limit the business you conduct at hotspots (wait to do your banking from a secure network).
  • When in doubt, don’t respond. Scammers may reach out by email, text, voicemail, even social media posts. Be very cautious giving out personal information and never share account numbers.

To learn more about protecting your mobile devices To https://www.staysafeonline.org/stay-safe-online/mobile-and-on-the-go/mobile-devices quickly clear pop-up “warnings” from your iPhone, follow these steps from the technology news site ZDNet www.zdnet.com/article/how-to-get-rid-of-ios-crash-warnings-scam-popups. To find out more about other scams, check out BBB Scam Stopper (www.bbb.org/scam). To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker (www.bbb.org/scamtracker). [Source: BBB Scam Alert | November 6, 2015 ++]

BBB Scam Alert

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Tax Burden for Arizona Retired Vets ► As of Jan 2016

Many people planning to retire use the presence or absence of a state income tax as a litmus test for a retirement destination. This is a serious miscalculation since higher sales and property taxes can more than offset the lack of a state income tax. The lack of a state income tax doesn’t necessarily ensure a low total tax burden. States raise revenue in many ways including sales taxes, excise taxes, license taxes, income taxes, intangible taxes, property taxes, estate taxes and inheritance taxes. Depending on where you live, you may end up paying all of them or just a few. Following are the taxes you can expect to pay if you retire in Arizona.

Sales Taxes

State Sales Tax: Arizona Transaction Privilege Tax (sales) and Use tax rates generally are 5.6%.  Currently, all fifteen counties levy a tax.  County rates range from .5% to 1.125%.  The state rate on transient lodging (hotel/motel) is 5.5%.  The state of Arizona does not levy a state tax on food for home consumption or on drugs prescribed by a licensed physician or dentist.  However, some cities in Arizona do levy a tax on food for home consumption.  City rates range from 1% to 4.25%.  The combined sales tax rates for some localities exceeds 13.7%.

Gasoline Tax: 37.4 cents/gallon (Includes all taxes)

Diesel Fuel Tax: 51.4 cents/gallon (Includes all taxes)

Cigarette Tax: $2.00/pack of 20

Water Use Tax: 65 cents per 1,000 gallons of water used.

Personal Income Taxes

Tax Rate Range: Low – 2.59%; High – 4.54%

Income Brackets: Five. Lowest – $10,000; Highest – $150,001. For joint returns, the taxes are twice the tax imposed on half the income.

Personal Exemptions: Single – $2,100; Married – $4,200 with no

dependents, $6,300 with one dependent; Dependents – $2,300; 65 years or older – $2,100

Standard Deduction Single: – $4,945; Married filing jointly – $9,941

Medical/Dental Deduction: Allows deductions for all qualified medical and dental expenses.

Federal Income Tax Deduction: None

Retirement Income Taxes: Social Security and Railroad Retirement benefits are exempt.  Up to $2,500 total of military, civil service, and Arizona state/local government pensions are also exempt.  All out-of-state government pensions are fully taxed.  Go to https://www.azdor.gov/About/FAQs/Individual.aspx for frequently asked tax questions.

Retired Military Pay: Up to $2,500 of retired pay and/or survivor benefits excluded.  For information on veteran’s services, go to https://dvs.az.gov.

Military Disability Retired Pay: Retirees who entered the military before Sept. 24, 1975, and members receiving disability retirements based on combat injuries or who could receive disability payments from the VA are covered by laws giving disability broad exemption from federal income tax. Most military retired pay based on service-related disabilities also is free from federal income tax, but there is no guarantee of total protection.

VA Disability Dependency and Indemnity Compensation: VA benefits are not taxable because they generally are for disabilities and are not subject to federal or state taxes.

Military SBP/SSBP/RCSBP/RSFPP: Generally subject to state taxes for those states with income tax. Check with state department of revenue office.

Property Taxes

The state does not collect taxes on personal property such as boats and computers.   Each city and county may levy its own millage rate.  Go to http://www.revenue.alabama.gov/advalorem/exemptions/exemptions.cfm for information on all ad valorem tax exemptions,

Homeowners 65 and older are exempt from all state property taxes.  Some cities also assess separate property taxes.  A homestead exemption up to $5,000 of assessed value is granted by the state on real property taxes. A larger exemption is available to persons over 65. Visit state’s property tax division web site at http://revenue.alabama.gov/advalorem/index.cfm To view the state’s homestead summary chart, go to http://revenue.alabama.gov/advalorem/homesteads.cfm.

Taxpayers are allowed to take a deduction on their individual returns for amounts contributed to a catastrophic (hurricanes, floods and storms) savings account.  If the qualified deductible is $1,000 or less, the maximum contribution is $2,000.  If the qualified deductible is more than $1,000, the maximum contribution is the smaller of (a) $15,000 or (b) twice the qualified deductible.

Inheritance and Estate Taxes

Alabama does not impose a separate state estate or inheritance tax.  It has what is known as a “pickup” or “sponge” tax, which means the state collects the maximum credit allowed on the federal estate tax return for “state death taxes.”

For further information, visit the Alabama Department of Revenue site http://revenue.alabama.gov/index.cfm or call 334-242-1512 or 256-837-2319. If you are thinking about retiring to Alabama, check out the Retirement Safe Haven site out http://www.ador.state.al.us/taxpayerassist/retire.pdf

[Source: http://www.retirementliving.com/taxes-arizonia-iowa Jan 2016 ++]

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Tax Burden for Maine Residents ► As Jan 2016

Maine’s tax system has three income brackets, with tax rates

Personal income tax

  • Maine collects income taxes from its residents utilizing three tax brackets ranging from zero percent to 7.95 percent. For single taxpayers, they are:
  • No tax on first $5,199 of taxable income.
  • 6.5 percent on taxable income between $5,200 and $20,899.
  • 7.95 percent on taxable income of $20,900 and more.

For married taxpayers filing joint returns, they are:

  • No tax on first $10,449 of taxable income.
  • 6.5 percent on taxable income between $10,450 and $41,849.
  • 7.95 percent on taxable income of $41,850 and more.
  • Beginning with tax year 2016, the rate schedules will be adjusted for inflation based on the chained consumer price index.
  • Residents of Maine must file Form 1040ME by April 15, or the next business day if that date falls on a weekend or holiday.
  • Downloadable Maine tax forms are available on the Maine Revenue Services website http://www.state.me.us/revenue/forms/homepage.html

Sales taxes

  • Maine’s general sales tax rate is 5.5 percent.
  • The state also levies charges of 8 percent on prepared food and 10 percent on short-term auto rentals.
  • The general sales tax rate is scheduled to return to 5 percent (the rate prior to Oct. 1, 2013) on July 1, 2015. Similarly, the 8 percent rate will drop back to 7 percent in July. The 10 percent rate will remain in effect.
  • The state offers specific exemptions for a number of different kinds of organizations and institutions, such as hospitals, schools, churches and libraries. You can find a list of organizations for which there may be a Maine Sales Tax exemption on the state’s Revenue website http://www.maine.gov/revenue/salesuse/exemptions/exemptions.html

Personal and real property taxes

  • All real and tangible personal property located in the state of Maine is taxable unless specifically exempted by statute.
  • While property taxes in Maine are assessed at the local level, municipal assessors are governed by state statutes that are administered by the Property Tax Division of Maine Revenue Services.
  • The Division consists of two sections: Municipal Services and Unorganized Territory.
  • The administration of property taxes is handled by the local assessor in incorporated cities and towns. Property tax bills are issued by the municipality where the property is located on either an annual, semiannual or quarterly basis. Due dates vary based upon the issue date of the bill.
  • Eligible Maine residents who have owned homestead property in Maine for at least a year and make the property they occupy on April 1 their permanent residence can receive an exemption of $10,000. Information on other property tax exemptions can be found on the state’s revenue website.

Inheritance and estate taxes

  • Maine imposes a tax on estates valued at $2 million or more for all decedents with property taxable to Maine. Effective since the 2013 tax year, the number of estate tax rates has been reduced to three (8 percent on value from $2 million to $5 million; 10 percent on value from $5 million to $8 million; and 12 percent on estates valued at more than $8 million.)
  • The Maine estate tax is applied even if there is no federal estate tax.
  • Maine does not collect an inheritance tax.

Other Maryland Tax Facts

  • Commercial sellers of blueberries, a Maine staple, must keep records of their transactions and pay the state 1.5 cents per pound ($1.50 per 100 pounds) of the fruit sold each season. The blueberry tax, along with a report of all the sales and purchases of the commodity, the dates, names of those involved, and the number of pounds of blueberries purchased, must be filed with Maine Revenue Services on or before Nov. 1 each year.
  • Maine taxpayers can check the status of their state refunds online.
  • Maine does not levy an intangible personal property tax.

[Source: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/taxes/state-taxes-maine.aspx Jan 2016 ++]

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Thrift Savings Plan 2016 ► Returns as of 13 Jan 2016

There are currently 10 investment funds in the Thrift Savings Plan. Five are individual stock and bond funds, and the other five are target retirement date funds. The table below summarizes the historical performance and risk characteristics of the five primary TSP Investment Funds. Click on any link in the table header to see performance charts and other details for that fund.

TSP Investment Funds
8/31/1990 – 1/13/2016
TSP
G Fund
TSP
F Fund
TSP
C Fund
TSP
S Fund
TSP
I Fund
Last Price (1/13/2016) 14.9272 17.1164 25.5099 31.5979 22.4580
Change (1-Day) 0.01% 0.06% -2.48% -3.09% -1.03%
YTD Return 0.08% 0.95% -7.45% -10.32% -6.79%
1-Year Return 2.05% 0.70% -4.49% -11.63% -5.90%
3-Year Return 2.09% 2.31% 11.07% 7.65% 1.55%
5-Year Return 2.03% 3.71% 10.43% 7.76% 1.91%
10-Year Return 2.94% 4.78% 6.20% 6.39% 2.00%
Annual Return Since 8/31/1990 4.8% 6.4% 9.5% 10.2% 5.2%
Annualized Standard Deviation [2] 0.3% 3.9% 18.1% 19.9% 17.9%
Maximum Drawdown [3] -6.6% -55.2% -57.4% -60.9%
Sharpe Ratio [4] 0.41 0.33 0.35 0.11
Value of $1,000 invested on 8/31/1990 $3,320 $4,859 $10,016 $11,812 $3,625

Notes

  1. Standard deviation, also known as historical volatility, is used by investors as a gauge for the amount of expected volatility. Volatile TSP funds like the C, S, and I fund have a high standard deviation, while the deviation of the G and F funds is lower. When comparing investments, a low standard deviation is preferable.
  2. Drawdown: the peak-to-trough decline in the TSP fund value, measured as a percentage between the peak and the trough. Perhaps best expressed in the historical drawdown charts for each fund, which show the magnitude and duration of each periodic decline. A good investment strategy aims to minimize drawdowns.
  3. The Sharpe Ratio measures risk-adjusted performance. It’s calculated by subtracting the risk-free interest rate from the rate of return for a specific fund, and dividing the result by the standard deviation of the fund returns. Since we only track TSP funds on this website, we use the G fund returns as our risk-free investment. When comparing investments, a high Sharpe Ratio is preferable.

The Thrift Savings Plan also offers five Lifecycle Funds. The table below shows their historical performance since they became available for investment on 8/1/2005:

TSP Lifecycle Funds
8/1/2005 – 1/13/2016
TSP
L Income
Fund
TSP
L 2020
Fund
TSP
L 2030
Fund
TSP
L 2040
Fund
TSP
L 2050
Fund
Last Price (1/13/2016) 17.5173 22.3752 23.8293 25.0474 14.0426
Change (1-Day) -0.42% -1.00% -1.37% -1.60% -1.82%
YTD Return -1.44% -3.59% -4.92% -5.74% -6.55%
1-Year Return 0.57% -1.60% -3.04% -4.00% -4.91%
3-Year Return 3.44% 5.40% 6.11% 6.64% 7.02%
5-Year Return 3.49% 5.45% 6.17% 6.69%
Annual Return Since 8/1/2005 4.0% 5.1% 5.5% 5.7% 7.1%
Annualized Standard Deviation 4.1% 12.0% 14.6% 16.7% 14.1%
Maximum Drawdown -11.0% -36.9% -43.3% -48.4% -19.8%
Sharpe Ratio 0.26 0.23 0.24 0.24 0.42
Value of $1,000 invested on 8/1/2005 $1,509 $1,689 $1,747 $1,785 $1,404

TSP Lifecycle Funds

The five TSP Lifecycle Funds are target retirement date funds, invested in a professionally designed mix of domestic and international stocks, bonds and government securities. Each L Fund is invested in the five individual TSP funds (G, F, C, S, and I Fund). TSP investors choose a fund based on when they expect to retire and start making withdrawals:

• The TSP L 2050 Fund is for participants who will need their money in the year 2045 or later.

• The TSP L 2040 Fund is for participants who will need their money between 2035 and 2044.

• The TSP L 2030 Fund is for participants who will need their money between 2025 and 2034.

• The TSP L 2020 Fund is for participants who will need their money between 2015 and 2024.

• The TSP L Income Fund is for participants who are already withdrawing their accounts in monthly payments, or who plan to need their money between now and 2014.

[Source: http://www.tspfolio.com/tspfunds January 13, 2016 ++]

* General Interest *

Notes of Interest ► 1 thru 15 Jan 2016

  • VA Handbook 2016. Go to http://www.va.gov/opa/publications/benefits_book.asp to access the 2016 Edition of the VA Handbook.
  • Legion of Honor. To download the form for submission of a Legion of Honor application go to http://www.consulfrance-miami.org/IMG/pdf/proposal_memory_-_updated.pdf
  • TYA Premiums 2016. The TRICARE Young Adult Program monthly Prime and Standard Premiums for 2016 are $306 and $228.
  • Major Expenses. There’s nearly a 50/50 chance you lack the funds to cover a major expense. Overall, 48 percent of Americans say they don’t have enough money on hand to “make a major purchase, such as a car, appliance or furniture, or pay for a significant home repair,” according to Gallup.
  • AAFES AD Warning. An individual or individuals using the “Exchange Inc.” name to handle vehicle purchases has once again been placing advertisements in auto magazines and commercial newspapers, leading Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) shoppers to believe they are purchasing a vehicle through the AAFES. Military exchanges do not have the authority to sell vehicles or represent private sellers. Also, the Exchange does not advertise in civilian outlets such as metropolitan newspapers or automobile sales magazines.
  • Dueling Pianos. Check out http://www.gottaseethisvideo.com/dueling-pianos for some great 60’s Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino entertainment.
  • February. This coming February-2016 cannot come in your life time again. Because This year February has: 4 Sundays, 4 Mondays, 4 Tuesdays, 4 Wednesdays,4 Thursdays, 4 Fridays & 4 Saturdays. This happens once every 823 years.
  • State of the Union Speech. To view President Obama’s eighth and last State of the Union address refer to https://www.whitehouse.gov/sotu?utm_source=email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=email552-image1&utm_campaign=sotu

[Source: Various | January 14, 2016 ++]

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USCG Cable Issue ► Explosion Potential | 48 Sites in 12 States

The Coast Guard Lighthouse cable that caused an explosion at a crowded Rhode Island beach last summer, injuring a woman, may have counterparts lying under beaches, harbors and waterways at dozens of sites nationwide. There are 48 sites in 12 states where Coast Guard lights — in lighthouses, buoys or other beacons — were converted to solar power, but sub-cables that used to power them are still in the service’s database, according to a list the Coast Guard provided to The Associated Press in response to a records request. The cables’ presence in the database indicates they are probably still there, though there’s no way of knowing for sure without digging. The Coast Guard couldn’t immediately say specifically where the cables are or whether they run beneath or near a beach.

The 11 JUL explosion at Salty Brine Beach in Narragansett, Rhode Island, was probably caused by hydrogen that built up around a corroded Coast Guard cable, scientists said. They took core samples of the beach sand where the incident occurred and the sand at the site of the incident had unusually high levels of hydrogen. The blast hurled Kathleen Danise, 60, of Waterbury, Connecticut, from her beach chair and threw her against a rock jetty 10 feet away, fracturing two ribs. Scientists were initially stumped.

Michigan has the most potential sites, with 21, according to the list. Wisconsin has eight, Illinois five, Indiana and Ohio three each, and Minnesota two. Rhode Island, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and New York have one each. In Two Harbors, Minnesota, a Coast Guard cable runs underneath a sidewalk, next to a rocky beach and out to the breakwall, said Stuart Anderson, lead lineman for the city’s electrical department. Anderson said he doesn’t know whether the cable, which is on the list, is a cause for concern. “We don’t mess with their stuff,” he said. “You would think they would be on top of it more if they had a problem.” Ed Golder, a spokesman for Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources, said he didn’t know about the cables and that he would contact the Coast Guard. Environmental officials in states with multiple sites referred questions to the Coast Guard and elsewhere or said they’re evaluating their next steps.

Cable involved in beach blast has cousins nationwide

ri-beach-blast-site-620.jpg

Blast site (left) and Police at Salty Brine Beach in Narragansett, RI, where the mysterious

explosion injured two people July 11, 2015

Michigan has the most potential sites, with 21, according to the list. Wisconsin has eight, Illinois five, Indiana and Ohio three each, and Minnesota two. Rhode Island, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and New York have one each. In Two Harbors, Minnesota, a Coast Guard cable runs underneath a sidewalk, next to a rocky beach and out to the breakwall, said Stuart Anderson, lead lineman for the city’s electrical department. Anderson said he doesn’t know whether the cable, which is on the list, is a cause for concern. “We don’t mess with their stuff,” he said. “You would think they would be on top of it more if they had a problem.” Ed Golder, a spokesman for Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources, said he didn’t know about the cables and that he would contact the Coast Guard. Environmental officials in states with multiple sites referred questions to the Coast Guard and elsewhere or said they’re evaluating their next steps.

Coast Guard officials don’t believe the other sites pose a risk because there have been no other reported or related incidents and because environmental factors at the sites, such as sand and water, differ, said Lt. Sarah Janaro, a spokeswoman. But there’s clearly a problem that needs to be addressed, said Chris Reddy, who has closely followed the investigation in Rhode Island as a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and an expert in marine chemistry and geochemistry. Reddy cautioned, though, against a “knee-jerk reaction” to dig up all the cables. The Coast Guard should thoroughly analyze the risks versus rewards of removing them, Reddy said. For instance, a worker could get hurt hitting a potentially explosive cable with a shovel, but on the other hand, a future explosion could injure a beachgoer.

Unburying the cables could be expensive. The Coast Guard is removing a section of cable protruding into the water in Rhode Island but hasn’t awarded a contract. One of many options could be signs to warn people to stay away, Reddy added. The Coast Guard may want to deal with the oldest cables first, Reddy said. The dates the cables were installed and disconnected aren’t in the database. The one that caused the Rhode Island explosion was installed in the 1950s. The Coast Guard said that it follows utility and construction industry practice of leaving disconnected cables in place, and that its policies don’t require inspections of these cables. The Coast Guard is waiting to decide whether to act at the other sites until it reviews the findings from Rhode Island, Janaro said. Rhode Island officials are reviewing scientists’ final report. Following is a list of potential sites:

  • MICHIGAN: Harbor Beach Light 2, Round Island Passage Light, De Tour Reef Light, West Neebish Channel (Downbound) Lights 30 & 32, Little Rapids Cut Lights 96 & 98, Brush Point Range Front Light, Grand Marais Harbor Of Refuge Outer Light, Marquette Breakwater Outer & Inner Lights, Keweenaw Waterway Lower Entrance Light, Portage Lake North Pierhead Light, Manistee North Pierhead Light, Ludington North Pierhead Light, Pentwater North Pierhead Light 3, Muskegon South Pierhead Light, Muskegon Lake Light, Holland Harbor North Pierhead Light, St. Joseph North Pierhead Light, and St. Joseph North Pier Inner Light
  • WISCONSIN: Bayfield Harbor South Breakwater Light, Superior Entry South Breakwater Light, Kenosha Light Milwaukee Breakwater & Pierhead Lights, Sheboygan North Pierhead Light, Manitowoc Breakwater Light, and Two Rivers North Pierhead Light
  • ILLINOIS: Calumet Park 101st Street Pier Light, Chicago Harbor Light, Chicago Harbor Entrance South Side Light & Southeast Guide Wall Light, and Waukegan Harbor Light
  • INDIANA: Michigan City East Pierhead Light, Indiana Harbor East Breakwater Light, and Indiana Harbor Light 5
  • OHIO: Lorain Harbor Light, Huron Harbor Light, Sandusky Harbor Breakwater Light
  • MINNESOTA: Two Harbors East Breakwater Light and Grand Marais Light
  • DELAWARE: Bulkhead Bar Range Front Light
  • NEW JERSEY: Florence Upper Range Front Light
  • NEW YORK: Sodus Outer Light
  • PENNSYLVANIA: Enterprise Lower Range Front Light
  • RHODE ISLAND: Point Judith Harbor of Refuge West Entrance Light 3
  • VIRGINIA: Smith Point Light

[Source: Associated Press | Jennifer McDermott | January 8, 2016 ++]

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North Korea Nuclear Bomb ► 4th Test | 7 Key Questions Answered

North Korea’s announcement of a 4th nuclear bomb test on 6 JAN came soon after a magnitude-5.1 earthquake was reported 30.4 miles from the city of Kilju, North Korea, where the country’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site is located. The secretive state conducted nuclear tests there in 2006, 2009 and 2013. To better understand its ramifications the following seven questions are addressed:

What’s the difference between an H-bomb and an atomic bomb? A hydrogen bomb is much more powerful — more powerful than anything North Korea has tested before. The tests North Korea conducted until now used fission weapons, which break large atoms like plutonium, into smaller atoms. Such weapons can have a devastating impact. Think the atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. But hydrogen bombs use fusion, which take small atoms — such as hydrogen — and combine them. The result: a bomb that is hundreds of times more powerful than an atomic bomb. Here’s why: In order to combine the small atoms and start a fusion reaction, such a bomb needs a large amount of energy. And that energy comes from an atomic bomb inside the hydrogen bomb. So, basically, a hydrogen bomb causes two separate explosions.

Why would North Korea test a hydrogen bomb? Boosting nuclear capability has been one of the hallmarks of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s rule, said Mike Chinoy, author of “Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis.” “I think it does send a signal, again, that the North Koreans are a power to be reckoned with, and they want the rest of the world to take them seriously,” Chinoy said.

Why now? In a signed letter broadcast on Korean media, Kim wrote that he wanted to ring in the new year with, quite literally, a bang. “For the victorious and glorious year of 2016 when the 7th convention of the Workers’ Party will be held, make the world look up to our strong nuclear country and labor party by opening the year with exciting noise of the first hydrogen bomb!” the letter read.

Does North Korea really have an H-bomb? Maybe not, some analysts say. “North Korea appears to have had a difficult time mastering even the basics of a fission weapon,” wrote Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at the Rand Corp, in a piece for CNN.com last month. Bennett’s piece came shortly after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un claimed last in December that his country had become a “powerful nuclear weapons state ready to detonate a hydrogen bomb.” “With this in mind, it is quite possible that Kim’s claim could be untrue, which would come as no surprise to those familiar with the regime’s saber rattling.” The U.S. said it could take days to confirm whether North Korea successfully tested a hydrogen bomb.

If not an H-bomb, what could North Korea have? It’s possible North Korea has a “boosted” weapon — one that uses a small amount of fusion to boost the fission process, but is not a hydrogen bomb. But even a boosted weapon could cause serious destruction. “If North Korea really has a boosted nuclear weapon of perhaps 50 kilotons, it could do significant damage in a city as densely populated as Seoul, South Korea: About 250,000 people could be killed in such a strike, or about 2.5% of the population,” Bennett wrote last month. “And if North Korea one day produces a true hydrogen bomb of, say, one megaton yield, then it would be deadlier still.” A megaton is equal to 1 million tons of TNT.

How scared should North Korea’s neighbors be? Analysts have said that North Korea may be able to fit nuclear warheads on ground-launched missiles that can reach South Korea and Japan. David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector, told CNN last year that Pyongyang could have 10 to 15 nuclear weapons and that it could grow that amount by several weapons per year. Albright said he thinks Pyongyang can miniaturize a warhead for shorter missiles, but not yet for intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs.

What should the world do about this? An H-bomb test presents a serious dilemma for world leaders.

“All the choices with North Korea are bad,” Chinoy said. “There’s no evidence that the sanctions that have been in place in one form or another for many, many years have had any impact on North Korean behavior, even if they have hurt the North Koreans to some degree economically. So a ratcheting up of sanctions is unlikely to have the desired effect.” And starting a war, of course, would be extremely dangerous. “And that really only leaves talking to North Korea, which clearly, I think the North Koreans would like,” Chinoy said. Yun said the test could make North Korea feel more secure and emboldened in trying to negotiate on the world stage. “They maybe feel like they’re in a position of strength and be willing to have some kind of negotiation,” he said. “And obviously, from our standpoint, we have a lot less leverage.”

North Korea’s announcement of the test came soon after a magnitude-5.1 earthquake was reported 30.4 miles from the city of Kilju, North Korea, where the country’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site is located. The secretive state conducted nuclear tests there in 2006, 2009 and 2013.

[Source: CNN | Holly Yan | January 6, 2016 ++]

http://img.hani.co.kr/imgdb/resize/2012/0502/133583979734_20120502.JPG

A satellite photo of the North Korean nuclear test site in Pungye Village taken before North Korea’s third nuclear test on 12 February 2013

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NEO Guide | Korea ► Noncombatant Evacuation

In the wake of North Korea’s latest test of what may or may not have been a nuclear bomb, the world is waiting to see what the isolated, enigmatic nation will do next. The event has stoked understandable anxiety in the region, as well as in the Pentagon. But should war ever come to the Korean Peninsula, the Defense Department has a standing plan to get troops’ families and DoD civilians to safety. It’s called a noncombatant evacuation, or NEO, which spells out the necessary steps families of military personnel, civilians and even some pets must take to retreat from the radioactive fallout. The plan is tested annually, most recently in November. “Each year, we review lessons learned during the previous exercise and then apply those lessons to help families better understand the process,” said Maj. James Leidenberg, planner for the 501st Military Intelligence Brigade, Eighth U.S. Army. “A few areas where we have improved have been to ensure that families have their NEO packets updated, their pets registered … and all of their required paperwork filled out,” Leidenberg said “The bottom line is that when a crisis hits, you don’t have a lot of time to go back and do that preparation, so anything you can do beforehand will expedite the evacuation.”

Practice family evacuation

U.S. military family members get off a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter Oct. 30 after a mock evacuation flight at U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan in Seoul, South Korea, on Oct. 30.

A former senior U.S. military official who was stationed in South Korea from 2011 to 2013 told Military Times 7 JAN that all military family members, including children, are issued protective masks upon arrival. “Families were required to maintain [their] Non-Combatant Evacuation binder, which was inspected twice a year by the commands,” he added. According to the USFK Anti-terrorism and Force Protection memorandum, leaders are required to “brief all personnel and family members on personal security and safety procedures on a routine basis, with particular importance placed on the first 30 days of arrival in Korea,” the statement says. The NEO guide, which also can be found through the U.S. Forces Korea website, dictates a basic evacuation plan that has been used in past crises elsewhere, such as in 2006, when the U.S. evacuated American civilians from Lebanon. Here’s how it would work:

ELIGIBILITY. Those who may be ordered to evacuate include U.S. government civilian employees and dependents, U.S. military family members, and other designated personnel. Others who may be designated as eligible for authorized assistance include private U.S. citizens and their dependents; legal residents of the U.S.; foreign national employees of the U.S. government and their dependents, and other designated non-U.S. government foreign nationals. For that last group, the U.S. Embassy in Seoul makes the designations.

GET IT TOGETHER. Anyone tapped to leave the affected area will assemble after an alert from leadership — either the U.S. military or embassy — goes out. The NEO binder that families receive should contain their “pertinent documents (passports, Power of Attorney, etc.), should the family have to be evacuated,” the former official said. “Once a year, families would muster with this binder and their packed luggage, pet carriers, and so on and get accounted for as if they were being evacuated.”

WAIT, PETS? Yes, pets are considered family members and can be registered to leave an affected area if necessary, the NEO document says. But this area is a bit gray. After an emergency evacuation practice exercise in 2006, U.S. Forces Korea’s top commander at the time, Gen. B.B. Bell, told local commanders that Americans found themselves “in chaos” during the Lebanon evacuation, according to a report in Stars and Stripes. “What do you do with 5,000 dogs?” Bell asked, noting that six out of 10 families in Korea at the time had pets. While pets cannot be abandoned, one alternative is to ship them.

THE PLAN. Those eligible for evacuation would meet at a designated evacuation control center to be properly vetted with their materials before they relocate. A relocation center, according to the NEO guide, would be positioned south on the Korean Peninsula. Evacuees then would move to an airport or seaport to move to a designated “safe haven” or return to the U.S.

[Source: MilitaryTimes | Oriana Pawlyk | January 7, 2016 ++]

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ROK’s Nuclear Test Response ► Propaganda Blasts Resumption

South Korea made a high-volume response 8 JAN to North Korea’s latest nuclear test, resuming blasts of propaganda and pop music across the Demilitarized Zone. Similar actions before have irked Pyongyang so much that it threatened military action. Given that the broadcasts escalated a crisis in August, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond asked South Korea to stop and give the international community a chance to impose effective sanctions against North Korea. “We have to be bigger than the North Koreans,” Hammond told reporters during a visit to Japan. “We know responding in this way is simply rising to the bait North Korea is presenting to us.” While experts doubt that the North’s fourth nuclear test 6 JAN was a hydrogen bomb, a potentially much more powerful weapon that it has detonated before, it still has spawned concern, especially coupled with the reclusive country’s equally aggressive missile program.“ They’ve definitely got our attention, and we’re watching it closely,” 7th Fleet commander Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin said.

http://www.stripes.com/polopoly_fs/1.387649.1452244799!/image/image.JPG_gen/derivatives/landscape_804/image.JPG

A South Korean soldier adjusts equipment used for propaganda broadcasts near the border between South Korea and North Korea Friday, Jan. 8, 2016. In response to North KoreaÕs latest nuclear test, South Korea has resumed blasts of propaganda and pop music across the Demilitarized Zone, which is likely to anger the North.

While Aucoin said some of the North’s hardware is “not very high tech” — specifically mentioning submarines — its nuclear weapons and missiles are a threat. “We want them to abandon any nuclear activities,” he said. “Until they do that, they’re not going to achieve prosperity, they’re not going to achieve the security they desire. They’re going to live in isolation. It’s in their best interest to abandon these activities and comply with the international commitments and obligations.” The U.N. Security Council, whose previous sanctions have failed to dissuade North Korea from its nuclear ambitions, is considering what more it can do; efforts to further restrict the country’s economy by cracking down further on its international trade and banking links seem likely, along with better enforcement of the existing measures. China, the North’s main ally and trade partner, also is coming under increasing pressure to intervene more robustly.

China recently agreed to work with South Korea and Japan to persuade Pyongyang to resume six-party talks on its nuclear program, but that and other efforts by Beijing also have failed to bear fruit. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday urged China, which has been showing increasing frustration at the North’s continued provocations, to take a harder line. The question is how far Beijing will go; the last thing it wants is collapse of the regime, which could send floods of refugees across its borders and lead to U.S. forces on its doorstep. It’s unclear why North Korea chose to conduct another nuclear test now. Speculation has focused on leader Kim Jong Un’s apparent inability to consolidate power four years after taking over following his father’s death — he has carried out a number of bloody purges of top officials — and a need to rally the populace of the impoverished country with displays of military might. He also reportedly wants direct talks with Washington, and the nuclear test put him right in the middle of the U.S. presidential race, where foreign policy already had become a major issue. [Source: Stars & Stripes | Paul Alexander | January 8, 2016 ++]

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Immigrant Children Housing ► MaxwellGunter AFB Opposed

Members of Alabama’s congressional delegation are responding to reports released on 4 JAN that the federal government could be once again looking at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base as a possible location to house undocumented immigrant children. According to Representative Martha Roby (R-AL), her office was recently notified by the Pentagon that Maxwell is among six military bases that are being assessed by the Department of Health and Human Services as a place to house children from the influx of undocumented immigrants at the Mexico border while they await deportation. The federal government looked at Maxwell as a possible location to house immigrants in 2014, but Alabama lawmakers strongly opposed it and no immigrants were ever transported to Maxwell.

Roby responded by saying that military installations are no place to house undocumented children. “The Air Force personnel at Maxwell-Gunter are working hard to keep America safe,” Roby said in a statement. “That mission is challenging enough without the added responsibility of housing, feeding and securing detainees.” Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) released the following statement in response to the reports:

“This Administration has once again ignored what is in the best interest of the American people. The decision to assess the possibility of housing illegal immigrants at Department of Defense facilities, like Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, will only exacerbate our illegal immigration problem by not enforcing the laws on the books. Taxpayer dollars intended for military facilities should be used for those men and women working to keep our nation safe – not to house illegal immigrants. Instead of searching for housing, the federal government should be expeditiously and humanely sending these individuals back home. President Obama’s disregard for the rule of law and his attempt to push executive amnesty has led us to where we are today. I remain steadfast in my opposition to illegal immigration, and I will fight against allowing those who break our laws to be housed at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base.”

Representative Terri Sewell (D-AL) also released a statement saying that the housing of undocumented immigrants on American soil is part of a humanitarian crisis. “This is a humanitarian crisis and I believe we have a moral obligation to protect and treat unaccompanied children with care and compassion. Should Maxwell Air Force Base be selected as a site, we as Alabamians, as we have always done, must rise to the call of duty and follow the law.” An email from the Pentagon to Roby’s office says that other federal facilities that are being assessed include:

  • Homestead Job Corps in Homestead, Florida
  • Denver Federal Campus in Lakewood, Colorado
  • Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City, Florida
  • Grand Forks Air Force Base near Grand Forks, North Dakota
  • Naval Support Activity in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Hanscom Air Force Base near Bedford, Massachusetts
  • Travis Air Force Base near Fairfield, California

According to Roby, the assessments are still ongoing, and have not been finalized at this time. [Source: NBC WSFA-12 | Hunter Robinson | January 6, 2016 ++]

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Photos That Say it All A Long Day’s Work

Surgeon

Performing heart transplant surgery for 23 long hours, this surgeon did something that’s almost part of a day’s work in their line of work. But note that the surgeon doesn’t look a bit tired, while his assistant is sleeping soundly in the corner of the room.

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Most Creative Statues ► Onesti, Romania | Tree Image

http://www.wherecoolthingshappen.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/worlds-most-creative-statues-19.jpg

Mihai Eminescu

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Interesting Inventions ► Compact Boots

http://qph.is.quoracdn.net/main-qimg-1f7000770b781902fd5286e945090db7

Moments of US History ► Muhammad Ali’s fists 1963

1963_080814

Ali’s fists after his fight with Cooper, 1963

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Parking ► Revenge Tactic #11 Against Inconsiderate Parkers

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Brain Teaser ► Puzzling Prattle 1

  1. Children: Two children, who were all tangled up in their reckoning of the days of the week, paused on their way to school to straighten matters out. “When the day after tomorrow is yesterday,” said Priscilla, “then ‘today’ will be as far from Sunday as that day was which was ‘today’ when the day before yesterday was tomorrow!”

On which day of the week did this puzzling prattle occur?

  1. Apples: A basket contains 5 apples. Do you know how to divide them among 5 kids so that each one has an apple and one apple stays in the basket?
  2. Pears: There are a few trees in a garden. On one of them, a pear tree, there are pears (quite logical). But after a strong wind blew, there were neither pears on the tree nor on the ground.

How come?

  1. Sack: A poor farmer went to the market to sell some peas and lentils. However, as he had only one sack and didn’t want to mix peas and lentils, he poured in the peas first, tied the sack in the middle, and then filled the top portion of the sack with the lentils. At the market a rich innkeeper happened by with his own sack. He wanted to buy the peas, but he did not want the lentils. Pouring the seed anywhere else but the sacks is considered soiling. Trading sacks is not allowed. The farmer can’t cut a hole in his sack.

How would you transfer the peas to the innkeeper’s sack, which he wants to keep, without soiling the produce?

  1. Sea Tales: The captain of a ship was telling this interesting story: “We traveled the sea far and wide. At one time, two of my sailors were standing on opposite sides of the ship. One was looking west and the other one east. And at the same time, they could see each other clearly.”

How can that be possible?

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Have You Heard? ► Engineer Goes to Hell

An engineer dies and reports to the Pearly Gates.

Saint Peter checks his dossier and, not seeing his name there, accidentally sends him to Hell.

It doesn’t take long before the engineer becomes rather dissatisfied with the level of comfort in Hell.

He soon begins to design and build improvements. Shortly thereafter, Hell has air conditioning, flush toilets and escalators. Needless to say, the engineer is a pretty popular guy.

One day, God calls Satan and says: “So, how are things in Hell?”

Satan replies: “Hey, things are going great. We’ve got air conditioning, flush toilets, and escalators. And there’s no telling what this engineer is going  to come up with next.”

“What!” God exclaims: “You’ve got an engineer?

That’s a mistake – he should never have been sent to Hell. Send him to me.”

“Not a chance,” Satan replies: “I like having an engineer on the staff, and I’m keeping him!”

God insists: “Send him back or I’ll sue.”

Satan laughs uproariously and answers: “Yeah, right. And where are you going to get a lawyer?

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Have You Heard? ► Indian Want Coffee

An Indian walks into a cafe with a shotgun in one hand and pulling a male buffalo with the other.  He says to the waiter:

“Want coffee.”

The waiter says, “Sure, Chief. Coming right up.” He gets the Indian a tall mug of coffee…

The Indian drinks the coffee down in one gulp, turns and blasts the buffalo with the shotgun, causing parts of the animal to splatter everywhere and then just walks out.

The next morning the Indian returns. He has his shotgun in one hand, pulling another male buffalo with the other.

He walks up to the counter and says to the waiter:

“Want coffee.”

The waiter says, “Whoa, Tonto!  We’re still cleaning up your mess from yesterday.  What was all that about, anyway?”

The Indian smiles and proudly says,

cid:1137EE7A89174373B9F9BE5E608CBD24@Maryjane

“Training for a position in United States Congress…  Come in, drink coffee, shoot the bull, leave mess for others to clean up, disappear for rest of day.”

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Help!!!Things that might make you say it (04)

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Brain Teaser Answers ► Puzzling Prattle 1

Answer 1: The two children were so befogged over the calendar that they had started on their way to school on Sunday morning!

Answer 2: Four kids get an apple (one apple for each one of them) and the fifth kid gets an apple with the basket still containing the apple.

Answer 3: At first, there were 2 pears on the tree. After the wind blew, one pear fell on the ground. So there where no pears on the tree and there were no pears on the ground.

Answer 4: Pour the lentils into the innkeeper’s sack, bind it and turn inside out. Pour in the peas. Then unbind the sack a pour the lentils back to your sack.

Answer 5: The marines were standing back against the sides of the ship so they were looking at each other. It does not matter where the ship is (of course it does not apply to the North and South Pole).

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RAO Bulletin Editor/Publisher:

Lt. James (EMO) Tichacek, USN (Ret) Tel: (858) 432-1246 Email: [email protected]

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