Bulletin 160301 (HTML Edition)
Veteran Legislation 160301
Vet State Benefits & Discounts – ND 2016
Military History Anniversaries 0301 thru 031516
Have you Seen 160301
Retiree Appreciation Days (RAD) 160227
Bulletin 160301 (PDF Edition)
Veteran Legislation 160301
Vet State Benefits & Discounts – ND 2016
Military History Anniversaries 0301 thru 031516
Have you Seen 160301
Retiree Appreciation Days (RAD) 160227
THIS BULLETIN CONTAINS THE FOLLOWING ARTICLES
Pg Article Subject
* DOD * .
05 == DoD/VA Complex Care Effort —- (Interagency Coordination System)
05 == Gulf War 25th Anniversary ——- (Vets Fume as US Fails To Mark It)
07 == Abandoned Military Projects —- ($51.2 billion on 15 major programs)
08 == DoD Personnel Reform ————— (Proposals Crushed in the Senate)
09 == DoD Torture Use ——— (Waterboarding & Interrogation Techniques)
10 == DFAS myPay System  —– (Monthly eRAS Statements Available)
10 == PTSD Pay Grade Impact ——- (Rand Corp Treatment Study Findings)
11 == GTMO Prison  ———– (Cruel and Unusual Punishment Alleged)
12 == GTMO Prison  ———- (Shutdown Plan Lays Out Costs, Savings)
14 == DoD Fraud, Waste, and Abuse ——— (Reported 15 thru 29 Feb 2016)
14 == POW/MIA Recoveries —————— (Reported 15 thru 29 Feb 2016)
* VA * .
15 == VA Health Care Access  —— (Unreleased IG Wait Time Reports)
16 == VA Health Care Access  ———————– (5 Who Died Waiting)
18 == VA Centers of Excellence —— (Proposal Would Reduce Vet Options)
19 == VA Hepatitis C Care  ——————– (VA Expanding Treatment)
19 == Gulf War Presumptives  ————- (Eligibility for VA Treatment)
20 == VA Lawsuit | Macias~Otto  ———————————– (Denied)
20 == VA Accountability  ——- (Demoted VARO Directors Reinstated)
21 == VA Accountability  ————- (Fired Executives Right to Appeal)
22 == VA Accountability  —– (American Legion Leadership’s Opinion)
23 == VA Accountability  ——– (Obama’s Carrot-And-Stick Approach)
24 == VA Medical Foster Homes  — (VA Working to Expand Program)
26 == VA Whistleblowers  — (Lawmakers Tell VA to Stop Harassment)
27 == VA Whistleblowers  — (Officials Vow Crackdown on Retaliation)
27 == VA Crisis Hotline  ——- (IG Reports Staffing/Routing Problems)
28 == VA Crisis Hotline  —- (Corrective Actions Taken and Underway)
29 == VA Crisis Hotline  ————- (Additional Changes Implemented)
30 == VA Appeals  ——————————— (Appeals Board Access)
31 == VA Appeals  ———————— (When an Appeal is Remanded)
31 == VA Fraud, Waste & Abuse ———— (Reported 15 thru 29 FEB 2016)
34 == VA HCS Pacific Islands ——————— (Director Resigns/Retires?)
35 == VAMC Cincinnati  — (Federal Probe into Misconduct Allegation)
35 == VAMC Cincinnati  ———- (Whistleblowers Describe Poor Care)
39 == VAMC Cincinnati  —– (VISN 10 & VAMC Directors Removed)
39 == VAMC Albany NY  ————- (Director Will Not be Reinstated)
40 == VAMC Oklahoma City  ——– (Unfilled Mental Health Positions)
* Vets * .
41 == Stolen Valor —————————— (Reported 160215 thru 160231)
42 == Soldiers Memorial St. Louis MO  ——— (Closed for Renovation)
43 == Vet Fertility Treatments  —————- (Why VA Cannot Provide)
45 == Purple Heart Award ——- (An Honor Long Overdue | Cecil Stephens)
46 == Last Day of Freedom – (Death-Row Vets/Combat PTSD Documentary)
47 == Missouri Vet Tuition Aid ———– (House Passes Bill to Change Cap)
48 == St. Marys Submarine Museum —— (WWII Archives Coming Online)
48 == Vet Home – MI  — (Grand Rapids Audit Reveals Major Problems)
49 == Vet Learning Courses ——— (Free LinkedIn Online Video Tutorials)
50 == Vietnam Veterans Memorial  —————- (In Memory Program)
50 == No Man Left Behind  ——— (Sculpture’s Depicted Vet Mugged)
51 == Vet Charity Watch  ————– (SMVA Cease-And-Desist Order)
52 == Vet Groups ——————————— (Fighting Enrollment Decline)
54 == The Hurt Locker Lawsuit ———– (Appeals Court Denies Vet’s Suit)
55 == Fisher House Expansion  ——————————— (Tucson AZ)
56 == SBP Remarriage Options ——————————————– (Three)
57 == Desert Storm Memorial  —— (Honorary Chairman George Bush)
57 == Defense Mobile ——— (American Legion Member Special Discount)
58 == Reserve Duty  —————————- (The Veterans Who Aren’t)
59 == WWII Vets 102 ——————————————- (Frank Matthews)
60 == Obit: Wells~John K | Iwo Jima Hero ——————— (11 FEB 2016)
62 == Obit: Walker~Bob | Former MCPON ——————– (14 FEB 2016)
62 == Obit: Hittson~Travis | Killer Sailor Executed ———— (17 Feb 2016)
64 == Obit: Cherry~Fred V | Vietnam POW ——————— (16 Feb 2016)
65 == Obit: Encinias~Miguel | WW2-Korea-Nam Vet ——— (20 Feb 2016)
67 == Retiree Appreciation Days ————————— (As of 27 Feb 2016)
67 == Vet Hiring Fairs ————————————- (01 thru 31 Mar 2016)
68 == Vet State Benefits & Discounts ——————– (North Dakota 2016)
* Vet Legislation * .
69 == VA Claim Exams  ————– (Private Physician Use | H.R.1331)
69 == VA Immunizations  ———————- (S.1203 Fears Misleading)
71 == VA Claims Backlog  ————- (Express Appeals Act (S. 2473)
71 == Retiree Annual COLAs  – (American Heroes COLA Act H.R.677)
72 == VA Appointments  ———- (Faster Care for Vets Act | H.R.4352)
73 == HVAC  —————————– (7 Bills Advanced to Full House)
73 == Vet Bills Submitted to 114th Congress ———- (160215 thru 160229)
* MILITARY * .
75 == Military Trivia 118 ———————— (Resupply via Artillery Shell)
75 == Military Retirement Pay  ——– (2017 Budget Proposal Changes)
77 == PTSD  ——————— (RAND Study Findings | 40,000 Cases)
78 == Coast Guard Reserve ——————————– (75 Years of Service)
79 == Military Old and New ————————————- (1945 vs. 2016)
81 == Military Caisson Horses ————– (Retirees Free to A Good Home)
82 == Stilwell Chungking Museum —— (Respect for an American General)
84 == Camp Minden Explosives ———– (16 Million Pounds to be Burned)
84 == B-21 —————————– (Air Force’s New Long Range Bomber)
85 == Medal of Honor Citations ——————– (Hosking~Charles E | VN)
* MILITARY HISTORY * .
87 == Military History Anniversaries —————————– (1 thru15 Mar)
87 == Military History ——————————– (WWI Battleship Recruits)
* HEALTH CARE * .
88 == TRICARE Autism Care  — (Senate Subcommittee ABA Hearing)
89 == TRICARE User Fees  – (What Will Patients Gain from Increase)
90 == Heart-Healthy Breathing ————————— (Techniques To Help)
91 == Medicare Dental Coverage ——– (None | Plan Ahead for Retirement)
91 == TRICARE Cholesterol Screening —————- (Your Heart’s Health)
92 == Medicare Eligible Veterans ———- (Impact on VA Medical Benefits)
93 == Veterans Health Library —- (One-Stop Source for Health Information)
93 == TRICARE For Life  ————– (DoD Budget Proposed Changes)
94 == TRICARE Cost Share 2017 ——– (Under Age 65 Proposed Changes)
96 == Direct Primary Care ——————– (New Type of Health Insurance)
97 == Hearing Loss ——————————————– (Threat to Marines)
98 == Insomnia  ————————————– (Causes and Symptoms)
99 == Wisdom Teeth ————————– (Should You Have them Pulled?)
100 == Kidney Stones  ————— (Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention)
103 == TRICARE Help ———————————————- (Q&A 160301)
* FINANCES * .
104 == IRS Mileage Tax-deduction ———————– (Allowable Amounts)
104 == Senior Discount  —————————————— (Restaurants)
105 == IRS Tax-Free Income ——————————– (10 Ways to Earn it)
107 == Mystery Shopper ——— (Things to Know About Mystery Shopping)
109 == IRS Alimony Tax-deduction ————— (Declaration Requirements)
109 == IRS Sales Tax-deduction ————— (Writing off the Right Amount)
111 == IRS Filing Status ————— (Considerations for Individual or Joint)
112 == Saving Money ———————————————- (Cruise Ships 2)
113 == American Chamber of Commerce Scam —————- (How it Works)
114 == Student Job Con Email Scam —————————– (How it Works)
115 == Tax Burden for Connecticut Retired Vets ————- (As of Feb 2016)
116 == Thrift Savings Plan 2016 ——————– (Returns as of 26 Feb 2016)
* GENERAL INTEREST * .
118 == Notes of Interest ————————————- (15 thru 29 Feb 2016)
120 == Have You Seen —————————— (Photos of Interest | 160301)
121 == Veterans Affairs Department ——– (Candidates Using Wrong Name)
121 == Centenarians ——- (So who’s going to pay for you to live to be 100?)
124 == Parmesan Cheese ————————– (Tips to Avoid Cheese Fraud)
125 == Windows 10 ————– (How to Prevent Automatic Update of 7 & 8)
126 == Household Aids | Food —————————– (12 Organic Cleaners)
127 == Remember When ———————————————- (Nostalgia (1)
128 == Brain Teaser —————————————— (Son of Spoonerisms)
129 == Have You Heard? ————————————— (Seven Dollar Sex)
129 == Brain Teaser Answer ——————————– (Son of Spoonerisms)
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 29 Feb 2016
Attachment – North Dakota Vet State Benefits & Discounts FEB 2016
Attachment – Military History Anniversaries 1 thru 15 MAR
Attachment – Have You Seen (Photos of Interest) 1 MAR 2016
* DoD *
DoD/VA Complex Care Effort ► Interagency Coordination System
The Departments of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) on 24 FEB announced its ongoing effort to ease the transition for service members who require complex care management as they transition from the DoD system of health care to VA or within each system. The effort is designed to ease the burden for service members and Veterans, who have suffered illnesses or injuries so severe as to require the expertise provided by multiple care specialties throughout both Departments. “More than a decade of combat has placed enormous demands on a generation of service members and Veterans – particularly those who have suffered wounds, injuries, or illnesses which require a complex plan of care,” said Dr. Karen Guice, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, and Co-chair of the DoD-VA Interagency Care Coordination Committee (IC3). “These individuals require the complex coordination of medical and rehabilitative care, benefits, and other services to successfully transition from active duty to Veteran status, and to optimally recover from their illnesses or injuries.”
“Our collaborative efforts with DOD have improved and enhanced the process of caring for our military members with serious illness, injuries or disabilities, as they recover and return to their communities. Great attention has been made to developing a system which focuses on continuity of care, holistic support services and a ‘warm handoff’ for Service members and Veterans as they move from and between military, VA and community health care systems. Our care coordinators now have at their fingertips tools and processes that improve and simplify the lines of communication for our wounded, ill, and injured Service members and Veterans who require complex care coordination, their families, and those who provide their care in both Departments,” said Dr. Linda Spoonster Schwartz, Assistant Secretary for Policy and Planning for the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Co-chair of the DoD-VA Interagency Care Coordination Committee (IC3). “This process will enhance and improve the quality of care and services for these Veterans and their families now and in the future.”
The hallmark of the effort is the implementation of the role of Lead Coordinator. The Lead Coordinator will be a designated member of a service member’s care management team who will serve as the primary coordinator for that individual. The Lead Coordinator will offer personal guidance and assist the service member and their families in understanding the benefits and services to which they are entitled. Service members, Veterans, and their families, working with their Lead Coordinator, will have someone to whom they can turn when they have a question or issue as they actively participate in their care. The first phase of Lead Coordinator Training was completed in November. It is expected that a total of 1,500 DoD staff and 1,200 VA staff will serve as Lead Coordinators.
This effort comes as a result of the work of the DoD-VA IC3, established in 2012 to implement a joint, standard model of collaboration for the most complex cases of care that will require a warm handoff from the DoD to the VA system of care, as well as within the Departments, and is based on many of the best practices of collaboration that have been created over the last decade. This effort was enacted as policy by both departments in 2015, aligning more than 250 sub-policies to one, overarching policy that will govern the coordination of complex care cases that transition between the two departments. Coordination efforts are synchronized through the IC3 Community of Practice (CoP), a group representing more than 50 DoD and VA programs that provide specialty care, including rehabilitation services for the visually impaired and polytrauma centers. It will be the job of the Lead Coordinator to guide service members through the system, ensuring that they receive the care, benefits, and services they both require and to which they are entitled. [Source: DoD News, Defense Media Activity | February25, 2016 ++]
Gulf War 25th Anniversary ► Vets Fume as US Fails To Mark It
On 27 FEB, Scott Stump, president and founder of the National Desert Storm War Memorial Association, could not commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Persian Gulf War in Washington. There was, after all, no official Defense Department event scheduled to mark the conflict’s Feb. 28, 1991, cease-fire. Instead, Stump, a former Marine who deployed to Saudi Arabia on Dec. 31, 1990, attended a formal event and lunch at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, at the request of Gen. Jonathan Vance, defense chief of the Canadian Armed Forces. That’s right. Canada. “When we got the invitation to Canada’s official, government-sanctioned 25th anniversary event, the thing hit us with a ton of bricks,” said Stump, 49, who lives in North Carolina. “You have a country that had 4,000 troops on the ground inviting an American like me to attend their commemoration, yet our country – which deployed over 600,000 troops – is not doing anything.”
Lt. Col. Thomas Crosson, a Defense Department spokesman, confirmed that the Pentagon did not plan any 25th anniversary events to recognize the Persian Gulf War. “We certainly have not forgotten the efforts and sacrifices of those who served during the Gulf War,” he said in a statement. He added that Stump’s association – which gained preliminary approval to build a memorial near the Mall and boasts former president George H.W. Bush as its honorary board chairman – is the only group that has expressed grievances about the lack of any 25th anniversary events. The Persian Gulf War, a U.S.-led effort to oust Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces from Kuwait, was a short war by modern standards. Combat lasted about a month-and-a-half, claiming close to 300 U.S. casualties. But the lack of any Pentagon-sponsored 25th anniversary event reinforces Stump’s concern that Desert Storm veterans rarely merit the tributes heaped on other war veterans.
“Five years ago, I started this organization when I realized my kids didn’t know what Desert Storm was and people lumped it together with Operation Iraqi Freedom, relegating it to a footnote in history,” Stump said. “But if you have a war, shouldn’t it be completed as quickly as possible? I’ve had some people from other countries ask me, ‘What’s the matter with your country that they don’t want to talk about America’s victory?’ “Although the Pentagon hasn’t planned anything, some veterans organizations have scheduled their own commemorations.
- On Saturday, the VII Corps Desert Storm Veterans Association was slated to conduct a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and hold a dinner at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington with guest speaker retired Gen. Martin Dempsey.
- The U.S. Central Command in Florida, said spokesman Army Capt. Michael Meyer, was planning to send a color guard to an event Saturday at a veterans park in Tampa, featuring Brenda Schwarzkopf, widow of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., commander of coalition forces during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm.
Stump says the Defense Department should have planned one major commemoration that would have been open to all veterans, no matter to which service or unit they belonged. Two months ago, the memorial association began asking the Defense Department if it had any plans to commemorate the anniversary. The Pentagon wrote back saying nothing was in the works and suggested that individual military services might hold their own ceremonies, according to emails provided by the memorial association. But after Stump got invited to Saturday’s event hosted by the Canadian Armed Forces, and a Newseum reception 25 FEB hosted by the ambassador of Kuwait, his organization pressed the Pentagon one more time. Fred Wellman, a board member of the memorial association, sent an email to the Pentagon on 19 FEB flabbergasted.
“Up until recently I dismissed the constant complaining by Gulf War veterans that they have been forgotten by the military but frankly at this point it’s hard to dismiss their complaints,” wrote Wellman, a veteran of the Persian Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom. “We are ignoring one of the greatest military victories in world history that was led by the U.S. because its ‘just another anniversary’? Nothing at Arlington? Nothing at the Pentagon? This can’t seriously be the plan still is it?” A Pentagon official wrote him, saying he had shared Wellman’s concerns with higher-ranking brass, and sent Wellman links to stories about the 25th anniversary on the websites of the Air Force, National Guard, and Stars and Stripes. Stump said he was delighted to attend Canada’s event on Saturday. And Canada was more than happy to honor the Persian Gulf War’s 25th anniversary. In fact, Saturday’s event at the Canadian War Museum wasn’t the only commemoration organized by the Canadian Armed Forces, said spokeswoman Maj. Indira Thackorie. It was one of seven. [Source: The Washington Post | Ian Shapira | February 27, 2016 ++]
Abandoned Military Projects ► $51.2 billion on 15 major programs
The US military is unquestionably the world’s strongest force with the world’s largest defense budget. But throughout the 2000s, the Pentagon spent $51.2 billion on 15 major programs “without any fielded systems to show for it,” according to a new Center for Strategic and International Studies report. The abandoned projects are largely due to a lack of funding attributed to the Budget Control Act and sequestration. Sequestration, which is indiscriminate budget cuts across the board that affect every portion of the military equally, is the greatest threat to the US military currently, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Business Insider. Below are a series of the military’s modernization projects that were canceled partially due to a lack of funds.
- Air Force. E-10 Multi-sensor Command and Control Aircraft. Sunk Costs: $1.9 billion. The program was superseded by the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System Replacement Program.
- Air Force. Space Based Infrared Systems — Low. Sunk Costs: $1.5 billion. The program was superseded by the Space Tracking and Surveillance System.
- Air Force. CSAR-X Combat Rescue Helicopter. Sunk Costs: $0.2 billion. The project was ultimately restarted as the Combat Rescue Helicopter.
- Air Force. Airborne Laser. Sunk Costs: $5.2 billion. The project was canceled without an identified replacement.
- Army. Non-Line-of-Sight-Cannon. Sunk Costs: $18.1 billion. The project was ultimately superseded by the Ground Combat Vehicle Program. This program was also ultimately canceled.
- Army. RAH-66 Comanche Armed Reconnaissance and Attack Helicopter. Sunk Costs: $7.9 billion. The helicopter was superseded by the later canceled Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter project.
- Army. M2001 Crusader Self-Propelled Howitzer. Sunk Costs: $2.2 billion. The project was superseded by the Non-Line-of-Sight Launch System, which was also then canceled.
- Army. Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter. Sunk Costs: $0.5 billion. The project was deferred following the Army’s decision to field a mix of drones and AH-64Es instead.
- Army. Next Generation Bomber. Sunk Costs: $0.1 billion. The project was restarted as the Long Range Strike-Bomber.
- Army/Navy. Aerial Common Sensor. Sunk Costs: $0.4 billion. The project deferred in favor of the Navy’s P-8 program and upgrades to Army aircraft.
- Navy. Advanced SEAL Delivery System. Sunk Costs: $0.6 billion. The project was superseded by the later canceled Joint Multi-Mission Submersible.
- Navy. CG(X) Next Generation Cruiser. Sunk Costs: $0.2 billion. The project was deferred, and the Navy purchased additional DDG 51 destroyers instead.
- Marine Corps. VH-71 Presidential helicopter. Sunk Costs: $3.7 billion. The project was restarted as the VH-92A Presidential Helicopter.
- Marine Corps. Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. Sunk Costs: $3.3 billion. The project was ultimately superseded by the Amphibious Combat Vehicle program.
- NOAA. National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System. Sunk-Costs: $5.8 billion. The program was replaced by the now canceled Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS). The DWSS is slated to be restarted as the Weather Satellite Follow-On.
[Source: Business Inside | Jeremy Bender | January 29, 2016 ++]
DoD Personnel Reform ► Proposals Crushed in the Senate
Defense officials’ hopes for sweeping personnel reforms were crushed by Senate Republicans on 25 FEB who attacked the ideas as “an outrageous waste of time” and the Pentagon’s pick to implement them as unfit to serve. Brad Carson, the nominee to serve as undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness for nearly 11 months, received blistering criticism from members of the Senate Armed Services Committee for his work over the past year on the Force of the Future plan, work aimed at updating the military’s personnel system to better compete with civilian business benefits.
Brad R. Carson was appointed by President Obama to serve as the Acting Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness on January 5, 2016
The 49-year-old former congressman and Iraq War veteran worked as the personnel office’s acting head for most of 2015, becoming the public face for the reform plans. But senators accused him of presuming confirmation and failing to inform them about the proposed historic changes, many of which would require dramatic legislative changes. “I find it deeply disturbing that you are proposing to add expensive fringe benefits allegedly aimed at retention during a time when we are asking 3,000 excellent Army captains to leave the service who would have otherwise chosen to remain on active duty,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ). “This initiative has been an outrageous waste of official time and resources during a period of severe fiscal constraints. It illustrates the worst aspects of a bloated and inefficient defense organization.”
The Force of the Future plans initially included major changes to military pay, benefits and promotion schedules, with suggestions of midcareer sabbaticals and elimination of the up-or-out rank advancement rules. But the ideas — championed by Defense Secretary Ash Carter over the last year — have been met with resistance among defense officials and lawmakers. Carter last fall offered a watered-down version of the plan as a starting point, starting new personnel management systems to better match troops with desired job assignments and the creating of a new office to oversee efforts to attract top talent to the ranks. He has promised to build on that work, and was across Capitol Hill on Thursday defending the Pentagon’s fiscal 2017 budget request as senators tore apart his longer-term defense proposals. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) questioned whether civilian corporation tactics can work in an environment where national security issues are paramount. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) criticized efforts to make the military more “progressive” as off-base and unproductive.
For his part, Carson defended the proposals as an ongoing effort to prepare the military for the future, and to keep top talent from fleeing the services for higher-paying, more comfortable civilian posts. But advancing that work will require his official confirmation into the personnel post, an assignment that appeared very much in doubt by the end of Thursday’s hearing. McCain accused Carson of lying on several occasions in the hearing, and suggested his actions over the last year disqualified him for the post. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) asked for a command climate assessment report of his office before any Senate action is taken, due to leadership complaints forwarded to his office. No timeline has been offered for a full committee vote on Carson’s confirmation. [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane | February 25, 2016 ++]
DoD Torture Use ► Waterboarding & Interrogation Techniques
The Pentagon’s top two leaders testifying on Capitol Hill on 25 FEB dodged politically loaded questions about torture and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s unapologetic support for waterboarding and systematically targeting suspected terrorists’ family members. As Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford were speaking before the House Appropriations Committee about the Pentagon’s latest budget request, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) put the two on the spot about Trump’s recent vow to reinstate the use of waterboarding and other interrogation techniques that might be considered torture.
The lawmaker also asked about Trump’s call for targeting family members of suspected terrorists. “A leading candidate for president is telling the American people and the world that torture works. He says he will use torture to help defeat [the Islamic State group] including things way beyond waterboarding,” McCollum said. “He says he will order our military to take out the families of Islamic terrorists. And I assume that to mean directing the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to use men and women under your military command to intentionally kill innocent family members, including children,” McCollum said. “Gen. Dunford: Do you support allowing U.S. troops or the intelligence community to use torture to exact information from suspected terrorists? Does the use of torture advance the military or national interest of the United States?” McCollum asked.
Carter stepped in before the general could respond. “Before the chairman answers the question, I really need to say something,” Carter said. “I think the question is a fair question, but … this is an election year,” he said. “I feel very strongly that our department needs to stand apart from the electoral season so I respectfully decline to answer any questions that arise from the political debate going on,” Carter said. “I want Gen. Dunford, especially even more so than me, to not get involved in political debates,” Carter said. Carter urged McCollum to ask her question in a less inflammatory way.
The exchange stemmed from the Republican candidate’s repeated claim that the U.S. and its military have not been aggressive enough with suspected terrorists. At a 17 FEB campaign stop in South Carolina, Trump emphasized his intention to reinstate waterboarding and techniques that are “so much worse” and “much stronger.” “Don’t tell me it doesn’t work — torture works,” Trump said. “OK, folks? Torture — you know, half these guys [say]: ‘Torture doesn’t work.’ Believe me, it works. OK?” In December, Trump told Fox News that “we’re fighting a very politically correct war. And the other thing is with the terrorists, you have to take out their families,” he said. Trump recently wrote an op-ed in USA Today vowing to do “whatever it takes” to protect the American people.
Use of torture and killing innocent family members would violate international laws, treaties and, possibly, current domestic law. McCollum responded to Carter’s concerns by asking the military officials to make “a blanket statement as to the military role of the use of torture.” “Let me answer the question broadly without getting into what Secretary Carter highlighted,” General Dunford said.
“One of the things that makes me proud to wear this uniform is that we represent the values of the American people. And when our young men and women go to war, they go with our values. And I think our performance on the battlefield over the past decade-plus of war reflects that young men and women who go to war bring their values with them. And when we find exceptions, you have seen how aggressively we pursue addressing those exceptions.”
“I guess what I would say in response to your question is that we should never apologize for going to war with the values of the American people. That is what we’ve done historically, that is what we expect to do in the future. And again, that is what makes me proud to wear this uniform,” Dunford said.
McCollum ended the exchange, saying “Mr. Chairman, I’m assuming the values of the American people does not include torture.” [Source: Military Times | Andrew Tilghman | February 25, 2016 ++]
DFAS myPay System Update 16 ► Monthly eRAS Statements Available
Military retirees can now receive a monthly electronic statement, known as an eRAS, using myPay. The eRAS provides a complete summary of a military retiree’s pay, deductions and benefits. The statement includes information about allotments, income tax withholdings, direct deposit information and a Survivor Benefit Plan counter that shows plan members how much longer they have to pay premiums. Previously, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service issued an annual RAS each December or when a retiree’s pay, benefits or other account information changed.
The new eRAS was created in response to customer requests for more frequent communication about their accounts. “We’ve received a lot of feedback from military retirees who wanted to see a monthly breakdown of their pay and benefit information,” said Colonel Ralph Lunt, deputy director of DFAS Retired and Annuitant Pay. “We looked at a number of ways to deliver what our customers want without increasing the DOD’s already strained budget, and we decided an electronic monthly statement was the way to go.”
Military retirees can view their eRAS by logging into myPay at https://mypay.dfas.mil , the official online account
management system for military members and DOD employees. Retirees who do not have current user IDs or passwords for myPay can find instructions on how to get them at www.dfas.mil/retiredmilitary . Links to the instructions are located in the upper right hand corner of the Retired Military and Annuitants section under the “myPay Login Instructions” heading. Retirees who choose to register their email addresses with myPay will receive an email notification every month when their eRAS is available. Additionally, keeping a current email address on record allows DFAS to email a new temporary password in the event one is forgotten or if the retiree suspects their password has been compromised.
The myPay website is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week from anywhere in the world, and changes
retirees make using myPay take effect in just three to five business days. “Nearly 1 million military retirees are already seeing the benefits of going electronic,” Lunt said. Retirees who switch to myPay not only have hands-on control of their pay, but can receive their IRS Form 1099-R and other important documents sooner and more securely than those who rely on traditional mail delivery, said Lunt. For more information about myPay, contact DFAS at 888-332-7411. [Source: Afterburner | FEB 2016 ++]
PTSD Pay Grade Impact ► Rand Corp. Treatment Study Findings
A recent study by RAND Corp. found that the military’s treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression was impacted by an individual’s pay grade, with higher ranking personnel receiving greater access to medication and treatment than those at the lowest ranks. The 18 FEB report, “Quality of Care for PTSD and Depression in the Military Health System,” looked into whether there are disparities in care based on branch, region, and personal characteristics of service members, such as gender, age, race, deployment history, and pay grade. “One of the things we looked at, in addition to describing the kinds of care that they received and assessing whether they received appropriate care or recommended care, we looked for variations in care,” explained Kimberly Hepner, a senior behavioral scientist with RAND, and the lead author of the study, in an interview with Task & Purpose.
The RAND report, commissioned by the Department of Defense, is in the first phase of a multiphase effort to analyze the Military Health System’s performance, explained Kevin Dwyer, a spokesman for the Defense Health Administration, in an email to Task & Purpose. “This is a first step,” Dwyer wrote. “The Department will use this information to shape its future direction, and looks forward to implementing additional improvements in the coming year.”
The 18-month study, which began in January 2012 and ended in June 2013, drew from nearly 40,000 service members who were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or depression, or both, and research into the results is still ongoing. “We did find that enlisted service members received less consistent care in some cases, particularly, on care for depression,” explained Hepner. “We saw that enlisted service members were less likely to receive an adequate duration of medication treatment. One of the aspects of care that we looked at, was if they start medication treatment for their depression, did they receive medication for a long enough period of time to help to ensure that it would be effective.”
For service members with depression, the report notes that the percentage of personnel with up to 12 weeks of filled antidepressant prescriptions increased significantly as the pay grade increased. “We did see that enlisted service members were less likely to receive that adequate measure of treatment,” added Hepner. “We also found that they are less likely to get adequate initial treatment following a diagnosis.” Hepner defined adequate treatment in this case as being either psychotherapy or medication treatment. Based on an analysis by RAND, a patient should have either four psychotherapy visits or two medication prescriptions in the first eight weeks from diagnosis, she said.
Among service members with post-traumatic stress disorder, officers had significantly higher rates of filled prescriptions for antidepressants than those in the lowest pay grade, though that was the only major difference in care, compared to depression. In a span of two months following a new prescription, the percentage of filled antidepressant prescriptions was significantly lower among service members in the lowest pay grade category compared to junior officers. For junior officers, 82.4% had their prescriptions filled in that 60-day window, compared to 65.9% of junior enlisted personnel. In the case of service members with post-traumatic stress disorder, Hepner explained that the difference in care between officers and enlisted was less severe, which might indicate that this is not a systemic issue. “We only saw these differences in some aspects of care,” Hepner stressed. “We didn’t see these differences in terms of enlisted service members getting less consistent care across all areas that we looked at.”
Knowing that there are specific instances where there is a disparity in care between officers and enlisted — namely adequate medication and initial treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression — could help healthcare providers to zero in on the problem. “We do want to understand what are the different barriers that are getting in the way”, Hepner said. “There can be many, whether it’s staffing, whether it’s job demands, appointment times, stigma. All of these can play a role, and so we’re very interested in understanding what might be the most important factors in understanding some of these patterns that we’re seeing.” The study did find that the Military Health System performed well when it came to following up with all service members after they’d been hospitalized for psychological health reasons. After psychiatric hospitalization, patients are considered to be in a critical state and at a higher risk of suicide, which means out-patient follow-ups are critical. “These are areas where the Military Health System really outperforms other systems,” said Hepner. “This was a real bright spot in terms of the Military Health System, and what we don’t see here is that sort of variability in terms of pay grade.” [Source: Task & Purpose | James Clark | February 24, 2016 ++]
GTMO Prison Update 04 ► Cruel and Unusual Punishment Alleged
A defense lawyer for the self-proclaimed architect of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. urged a military judge on Monday to allow testimony by a witness who will say that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other alleged ringleaders were subjected to handling by female guards that caused psychological trauma and violated their Muslim beliefs. Attorney David Nevin made a motion asking that Army Judge Col. James Pohl allow Dr. Pablo Stewart to testify about the health consequences to Mohammed and the other defendants of “sexualized torture and naked touching by women” at CIA black sites. At a previous hearing, Pohl had issued a controversial order barring female guards from transporting the suspects. But he had denied testimony from additional witnesses. The defense motion asks him to reconsider that decision.
The U.S. Military Commission pre-trial hearing for the five alleged organizers of the 9/11 attacks, held at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was simulcast at this Army post outside Washington. Nevin called the use of female guards at the high security Camp 7 on Guantanamo an unnecessary “intent to punish,” not allowed under the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. “You want me to restrict a female MP [from her post] simply because she’s female?” Pohl asked. “That’s not my complete or correct statement,” Nevin said. Bob Swann, the chief prosecutor, opposed Nevin’s motion, saying that the topic has already been discussed extensively. But Nevin said that a line in the written standard operating procedures — “the close contact with unrelated females is inappropriate” — was deleted right before female guards were used. Nevin wanted an explanation as to why the language was deleted and whether it was lawful. “I’m not asking for [a procedures] change; I’m trying to get at the fact of why the change was made,” Nevin said.
Other defense team lawyers argued against censoring transcripts of a 30 OCT open hearing related to the guard situation. Some portions of the transcripts were blacked out after being made public for a short time. In that hearing, some military witnesses testified about forced-cell extraction, a forceful method in which the guards coercively remove detainees from their cells. More than a dozen media organizations have filed a motion to lift the classified status of the redacted material. Guantanamo prosecutors offered no reason for the redactions or who was responsible for making them. Walid bin Attash, who last week vowed to skip the proceedings unless his lawyers are removed from the case, was conspicuously absent from the courtroom. The other four defendants, Ramzi bin al Shibh, Ammar al Baluchi, Mustafa al Hawsawi and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, were present. [Source: Medill News Service | Celena Chong | February 22, 2016 ++]
GTMO Prison Update 05 ► Shutdown Plan Lays Out Costs, Savings
The Pentagon’s long-awaited plan to shut down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and transfer the remaining detainees to a facility in the United States calls for up to $475 million in construction costs, but would save as much as $180 million per year in operating costs. The plan, scheduled be delivered to Congress on 23 FEB, is the administration’s last-ditch effort to make good on President Obama’s campaign vow to close Guantanamo and convince lawmakers to allow the Defense Department to move nearly 60 detainees to the U.S. But the plan provides few details, and may only further antagonize members of Congress who have repeatedly passed legislation banning any effort to move detainees to the U.S.
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), chairman of House Armed Services Committee, has said his panel would hold a hearing on a closure plan. But he sent a letter to Obama warning that Congress has made clear what details must be included in any plan and that anything less than that would be unacceptable. The U.S. officials say the plan considers 13 different locations in the U.S., including seven existing prison facilities in Colorado, South Carolina and Kansas, as well as six other locations on current military bases. They say the cost estimates are meant to provide a starting point for a conversation with Congress. More detailed spending figures, which are considered classified, will be provided to Congress, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the plan publicly ahead of its release.
The seven facilities reviewed by a Pentagon assessment team last year were: the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks and Midwest Joint Regional Corrections Facility at Leavenworth, Kansas; the Consolidated Naval Brig, Charleston, South Carolina; the Federal Correctional Complex, which includes the medium, maximum and supermax facilities in Florence, Colorado; and the Colorado State Penitentiary II in Canon City, Colorado, also known as the Centennial Correctional Facility. According to the officials, the U.S. facilities would cost between $265 million and $305 million to operate each year. The annual operating cost for Guantanamo is $445 million, but the officials said the Cuba detention center will need about $225 million in repairs and construction costs if it continues to be used. They said it will cost between $290 million and $475 million for construction at the various U.S. sites, depending on the location. Some of the more expensive sites are on the military bases, which would need more construction. Because of the annual operating savings, the officials said the U.S. would make up the initial construction costs in three to five years.
Late last year, other U.S. officials said that the assessments done by the Pentagon team suggested that the Centennial Correctional Facility in Colorado is a more suitable site to send detainees whom officials believe should never be released. Those officials were not authorized to discuss that matter publicly, so spoke on condition of anonymity. Members of Congress have been demanding the Guantanamo plan for months, and those representing South Carolina, Kansas and Colorado have voiced opposition to housing the detainees in their states. The administration is currently prohibited by law from moving Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States.
The long-running dispute has taken on added intensity now because the White House has launched a final push to close the prison before Obama leaves office. Advocates of closing Guantanamo say the prison has long been a recruiting tool for militant groups and that holding extremists suspected of terror acts indefinitely without charges or trial sparks anger and dismay among U.S. allies. Opponents, however, say that changing the detention center’s ZIP code won’t solve those problems. And they warn that moving al-Qaida-linked detainees to the U.S. could create security concerns around the new location. Currently:
- There are 91 detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Of those, 35 are expected to be transferred out by this summer.
- The rest are either facing trial by military commission or have been determined to be too dangerous to release but are not facing charges. Some can’t be charged because of insufficient evidence and some may face future prosecution or have been designated for indefinite detention under the international laws of war.
- Seven detainees are in the early stages of trial by military commission, including the five men accused of planning and aiding the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, and three have been convicted and are serving sentences.
At its peak in 2003, Guantanamo held nearly 680 detainees, and there were about 245 when Obama took office. “We’ve always been very clear about what needs to happen,” said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. “We’re going to continue to transfer detainees to other countries who agree to take them, and take steps to make sure that … the threat they pose to the U.S. is limited. Second that we’ll continue to prosecute those that can be prosecuted. And third, that there’s this small group of individuals that can neither be safely transferred nor prosecuted, and it will address those three things and lay out a range of options.” [Source: The Associated Press | Lolita C. Baldor | February 23, 2016 ++]
DoD Fraud, Waste, and Abuse ► Reported 15 thru 29 Feb 2015
Harrisburg PA — Federal attorneys say a former U.S. Navy contractor from central Pennsylvania has admitted under a plea deal to giving false statements after he defrauded subcontractors out of more than $1.2 million. Pennlive.com reports that prosecutors say Andrew Persaud pleaded guilty on 23 FEB to submitting a false statement in connection with a 2011 contract to renovate warehouses at the Naval Support Activity Center. Prosecutors say the 43-year-old Mt. Holly Springs man swindled more than $1.2 million in payments meant to pay 17 subcontractors involved in the Mechanicsburg project. The Navy terminated the contract after discovering the subcontractors weren’t paid and most had walked off the job. Persaud has agreed to pay $1.2 million in restitution and forfeit the prior $1.2 million payment. He faces up to five years in prison. [Source: The Associated Press | February 24, 2016 ++]
POW/MIA Recoveries ► Reported 15 thru 29 Feb 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:
- Mail: Public Affairs Office, 2300 Defense Pentagon, Washington, D.C. 20301-2300, Attn: External Affairs
- Call: Phone: (703) 699-1420
- Message: Fill out form on http://www.dpaa.mil/Contact/ContactUs.aspx
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:
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains of Army Cpl. Eldon W. Ervin, 22, of Ottawa County, Okla., who will be buried with full military honors on a date and location yet to be determined. He was assigned to Headquarters Battery, 57th Field Artillery Battalion, 7th Infantry Division and was lost fighting in North Korea on Nov. 28, 1950.
World War II
[Source: http://www.dpaa.mil | February 29, 2015 ++]
* VA *
VA Health Care Access Update 29 ► Unreleased IG Wait Time Reports
After the Veterans Affairs wait-time scandal erupted nearly two years ago, the department’s chief watchdog investigated 73 VA facilities across the country and found scheduling problems in 51 cases. But that watchdog — the VA’s inspector general — still has not released reports with the findings of those investigations to Congress or the public. As a result, it’s impossible to tell which medical centers had problems, how serious those problems were, or whether they led to the deaths of any veterans. The inspector general has said only that they range from simple rule violations to deliberate fraud. After repeated inquiries and a Freedom of Information Act request from USA TODAY, the inspector general’s office said it will release the reports “shortly.”
Catherine Gromek, a spokeswoman for the office, did not say why the investigative reports were shared only with the VA but suggested the inspector general did not want to disrupt potential disciplinary actions by the VA. But that doesn’t explain dozens of cases in which the VA says no discipline was imposed. Acting Inspector General Linda Halliday pledged greater transparency after former interim Inspector General Richard Griffin stepped down in July amid criticism of secrecy. USA TODAY had found the office had withheld from the public the results of 140 health-care investigations, including cases in which veterans were harmed or died. In one case, the inspector general failed to release a report about potentially dangerous prescriptions being doled out at a VA hospital in Wisconsin in 2014. VA officials didn’t fix the problem, and five months after the report was completed, veteran Marine Jason Simcakoski, 35, died from a fatal mixture of drugs prescribed at the hospital. The VA didn’t correct the prescribing practices until his death became public last year. “The only way that the VA will do anything is if there’s media attention and public pressure,” his widow, Heather Fluty Simcakoski, said last week. She said she’s “appalled” the wait-time reports still haven’t been released.
In December, President Obama signed legislation requiring the VA inspector general to release investigative reports within three days of completion. But it’s been months — in some cases possibly more than a year — since the VA wait-time reports were completed. Gromek, the inspector general’s spokeswoman, refused to say when the reports were finished. According to congressional testimony, all were completed before 9 DEC 2015. Gromek said the new law applies only to “issued” reports that include recommendations based on the findings. “The reports of (wait-time) investigation are not issued and do not make a recommendation or suggest a corrective action,” she said. “We transfer our findings to VA’s Office of Accountability and Review (OAR) for any administrative action they deem appropriate.”
She said Halliday has always intended to release the reports, and her office is now scrubbing personal information from them. “This is an extensive, meticulous, and time-consuming process,” she said. “Once we are satisfied that we have met these obligations, we will finalize and issue the work product and release it publicly.” Sen. Tammy Baldwin, (D-WI), who co-authored the legislation requiring release within three days, said that’s “unacceptable.” “There is a bipartisan commitment in Congress to fix problems at the VA, but we need better transparency from the Office of Inspector General,” she said. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said that when the inspector general’s office completes a report, it should be released to the public without delay. “VA’s challenges will only fester if they are kept shrouded in secrecy,” he said.
Federal law requires the inspector general’s office to independently investigate fraud, waste and mismanagement within the VA and to keep Congress — and therefore the public — “fully and currently informed” about its findings. VA officials asked the inspector general in June 2014 to investigate 111 medical facilities where an audit — conducted after the wait-time scandal at the Phoenix VA — found potential scheduling manipulation. Those facilities, located in 37 states and Puerto Rico, range from small outpatient clinics to large hospitals. In August 2014, the inspector general released a report on the Phoenix facility, where at least 40 veterans died awaiting care. That report noted instances of wait-time manipulation the inspector general was finding elsewhere, including cases of VA staffers keeping paper wait lists or inputting the next available appointment dates as “desired” dates so the system would show no wait time. [Source: USA TODAY | Donovan Slack | February 24, 2016 ++]
VA Health Care Access Update 30 ► 5 Who died Waiting
In September 2015, a bombshell report released by the Veteran Affairs Inspector General revealed that a mind-boggling 307,000 U.S. veterans had died while still waiting to be approved for care from VA hospitals and programs. With a number that large, the idea that there are real people and families behind each of the 307,000 can often be forgotten. Here’s a look at just 5 of these veterans who have lost their lives:
1. Douglas Chase – In 2012, after a diagnosis of brain cancer, Vietnam veteran Douglas Chase requested an appointment with a local VA hospital near his home in Bedford, Massachusetts. Two years later, his wife, Suzanne, finally received a letter from the VA approving his request, noting that the hospital would “greatly appreciate a prompt response” from the Chases. For Suzanne, the letter seemed almost like cruel joke — her husband had died in 2012, four months after sending the Bedford VA hospital his request.
2. Jeremy Sears – After 5 tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Marine Sgt. Jeremy Sears returned home with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. After doctors informed him of his condition, he waited from October 2012 to February 2014 for the VA to approve his disability claims — only to learn after 16 months that his claim had been denied. Having never received a followup plan on how to manage his conditions, Sears would take his own life at a California gun range only a few months later.
3. Barry Coates – Considered “the human face of the Veterans Affairs scandal over delays in care,” Army veteran Barry Coates said that for more than a year, he had complained to VA doctors about experiencing “excruciating pain and rectal bleeding.” By the time he finally got approval to get a colonoscopy, doctors discovered a tumor the size of a baseball and that his cancer had progressed to Stage 4. Denied the simple procedure that could have saved his life, Coates died in January at the age of 46.
4. Thomas Baer – In January of 2015, 74-year-old veteran Thomas Baer was taken by his family to the urgent care facility at Wisconsin’s Tomah VA. Once there, his family says he waited hours for care without being given the proper medication or a CT scan “because the center’s scanner was down.” It was later determined that he had suffered from two strokes. Though he was afterwards taken to another nearby hospital, Baer never regained consciousness and died two days later.
5. George Barraza – In March of 2014, after he began vomiting blood, Vietnam veteran George Barraza was told by a personal doctor that he had a tumor or growth on his liver and needed to seek treatment right away at the VA. When Barraza went there the following day, he was denied admission and instead was given prescription medicine and told to return on May 5 for an appointment. Barraza would die on April 16, still weeks away from his scheduled appointment with the VA.
If each of these cases is difficult to come to terms with on its own, the fact they represent only a fraction of a fraction of the whole is even more so. [Source: Independent Journal | Parker Lee | February 25, 2016 ++]
VA Centers of Excellence ► Proposal Would Reduce Vet Options
Unquestionably, the system for providing healthcare to more than 6 million of America’s 22 million veterans needs to be reformed and strengthened. But some ideas being put forth will be bad for veterans, including one plan that sounds benign at face value but, upon closer inspection, is revealed to create fewer options for veterans who most need the VA healthcare system. This proposal would shrink VA healthcare down into a small number of “Centers of Excellence” and move the bulk of veterans’ care into the private sector.
VA already operates a number of “Centers of Excellence” focused on post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide prevention, prosthetics, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, geriatrics and vision loss, to name a few. Each of these “Centers of Excellence” is fully integrated with a VA medical center to ensure that veterans have access to a full continuum of physical and mental health care services. However, some politicians and pundits have proposed downsizing VA from a comprehensive healthcare system to only a smaller number of “Centers of Excellence” that focus only on specific war wounds or service-connected injuries and illnesses like PTSD, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injuries, and amputations. For all other care, veterans would be forced to turn to the private sector.
There are two major problems with this idea: one, it would actually result in less access to healthcare for veterans who choose and rely on VA and two, it would diminish overall quality by making it much harder to coordinate care for severely injured or ill veterans. Under this proposal, VA’s integrated healthcare system of 150-plus medical centers and 1000-plus outpatient clinics would shrink, forcing veterans into the private sector for all their primary care. With fewer VA “Centers of Excellence” located farther apart, primarily in heavily populated urban areas, hundreds of thousands of veterans with disabling injuries who rely on the VA for their care would likely have to travel farther and wait longer for care.
Fracturing veterans care between “Centers of Excellence” for specialized care and a separate private sector health system for all other care reflects the very opposite of best practices in healthcare delivery, which calls for a single, responsible point of coordination of care to ensure proper treatment and controlled costs. VA’s Patient-Centered Medical Home Model, for example, which the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality lauds as “transforming how primary care is organized and delivered,” holds one entity accountable for meeting, or at least, coordinating, the “large majority of each patient’s physical and mental health care needs, including prevention and wellness, acute care, and chronic care.” Should this “Centers of Excellence only” proposal come to pass, no single provider, clinic, or hospital would be accountable for coordinating a veteran’s medical care. Instead, different medical professionals would be accountable for discrete aspects of care, resulting in less care coordination, putting veterans at risk of negative health outcomes.
Yes, we need to improve veterans’ access to healthcare. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that, according to an independent assessment recently mandated by Congress, quality at VA remains high, performing the same or significantly better than non-VA health care on 12 of 14 measures. The answer is not to downsize the VA, which would be the real result of relying only on “Centers of Excellence.” The better answer is to increase access by integrating private community care into the VA system to create veterans health care networks, creating a nationwide system of urgent care for veterans and expanding telemedicine or web-based health services. “Centers of Excellence” – an idea that sounds excellent until you look at what it really means for veterans’ healthcare. That’s why DAV, representing nearly 1.3 million veterans of all generations, is setting the record straight. [Source: The Hill | DAV ExDir Garry J. Augustine | February 26, 2016 ++]
VA Hepatitis C Care Update 10 ► VA Expanding Treatment
On 26 FEB NAUS received a copy of a VA Memo outlining the expansion of medical coverage for the treatment of Hepatitis C. Following is a copy of the Veterans Affairs Feb. 24 memo:
In follow up to the January 27, 2016, memorandum from the Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Operations and Management, this memorandum provides updated information regarding Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) funding and prioritization. Please share this memorandum expeditiously with facility leadership and Chiefs of Pharmacy.
Expansion of eligibility for HCV treatment within VA:
- Effective immediately, for the remainder of FY 2016, all Veterans with HCV may receive treatment within VA facilities without regard to stage of liver disease; the use of the prioritization protocol to determine eligibility for treatment within VA is no longer in effect. We have received funding from Congress to support a more aggressive roll-out for treatment of Veterans who are infected with HCV.
- Even though we are not limiting treatments, facilities should manage resources to ensure that patients with more advanced disease receive treatment as soon as possible and continue outreach to such patients to offer them treatment.
- Facility managers should take immediate steps to ramp up treatment to the maximum possible capacity. Managers should ensure that adequate clinical resources (staffing, clinical pharmacists, laboratory testing, psychosocial support, etc.) are allocated to clinics providing HCV treatment to allow full utilization of funding for HCV treatment.
- At this time, funding for HCV treatment may only be used for drug acquisition. We have not received additional funding for staffing or laboratory testing.
- Veterans who have been offered HCV treatment through Choice but have not yet seen a Choice HCV provider, may elect, at the Veteran’s discretion, to receive treatment at a VA facility or to continue the referral to the Choice HCV provider.
This is great news for those in the VA medical system who have been waiting for this life-saving medicine! The VA ruling comes at a time when an estimated 200,000 veterans suffer from Hepatitis C. [NAUS Weekly Update | February 26, 2016 ++]
Gulf War Presumptives Update 07 ► Eligibility for VA Treatment
For Gulf War Veterans, VA presumes that unexplained symptoms are related to Gulf War service if a Veteran has experienced them for six months or more. The “presumptive” illness(es) must have first appeared during active duty in the Southwest Asia theater of military operations or by December 31, 2016, and be at least 10 percent disabling. If you are a Gulf War Veteran who may experience a cluster of medically unexplained chronic symptoms that can include fatigue, headaches, joint pain, indigestion, insomnia, dizziness, respiratory disorders, and memory problems, VA presumes that some health conditions were caused by military service. In practical terms, Gulf War Veterans who meet certain criteria don’t have to prove an association between their illness and military service. By assuming a link between symptoms and military service, it can simplify and speed up the application process for benefits.
Gulf War presumptive illnesses
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A condition of long-term and severe fatigue that is not relieved by rest and is not directly caused by other conditions.
- Fibromyalgia: A condition characterized by widespread muscle pain. Other symptoms may include insomnia, morning stiffness, headache, and memory problems.
- Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders: A group of conditions marked by chronic or recurrent symptoms related to any part of the gastrointestinal tract. Functional condition refers to an abnormal function of an organ, without a structural alteration in the tissues. Examples include irritable bowel syndrome, functional dyspepsia, and functional abdominal pain syndrome.
- Undiagnosed Illnesses: With symptoms that may include but are not limited to: abnormal weight loss, fatigue, cardiovascular disease, muscle and joint pain, headache, menstrual disorders, neurological and psychological problems, skin conditions, respiratory disorders, and sleep disturbances.
Chronic multi-symptom illness
Chronic multi-symptom illness (CMI) describes the presence of symptoms in two or more body systems that last or recur regularly for more than six months. This term was first used in 1998 in the article describing the symptoms of Gulf War Veterans and its use and meaning has evolved over the years. According to the Institute of Medicine, CMI was a general term that applies to a diverse mix of conditions. Some examples of CMI include:
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Gulf War Illness
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
If you suffer from CMI, consider reaching out to VA to get help. VA is actively strengthening its support of Veterans with CMI through enhanced recognition, education, and monitoring of their needs. Through an improved system of care and a well-prepared workforce, Veterans with CMI will find the clinical care and additional benefits they need to optimize their health and quality of life. [Source: Gulf War Newsletter | Winter 2016 ++]
VA Lawsuit | Macias~Otto Update 01 ► Denied
A Cuban-American veteran of the Vietnam War lost his lawsuit 17 FEB seeking to force the U.S. government to restore the pension that was cut off when he moved back to Cuba. Otto Macias was 19 when he left Cuba, enlisted in the U.S. Army and served as a machine-gunner in Vietnam. As he stayed with family in Havana in 1980, he required hospitalization for a mental breakdown and never returned to the U.S. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs then ended his pension. Lawyer Jason Flores-Williams says that was because of the Unite States’ trade embargo on Cuba. On Wednesday, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge denied Macias’ suit seeking the restoration of the pension. The ruling said Macias failed to show he had pursued his case with the secretary of veterans’ affairs before asking the courts to intervene. Macias lives with his brother in a modest apartment in a high-rise in east Havana. He is psychologically stable after years of treatment but suffering from skin cancer and has said he would like to return to the U.S. to visit if he was able. The Department of Veterans Affairs has declined to comment on the case. [Source: Associated Press | Michael Weissenstein | February 17, 2016 ++]
VA Accountability Update 19 ► Demoted VARO Directors Reinstated
A pair of senior Veterans Affairs executives at the center of a months-long scandal over the department’s internal promotion system and relocation expenses will keep their regional director jobs, after two failed attempts from VA officials to reassign them elsewhere. Diana Rubens, Philadelphia Regional Office director, and Kimberly Graves, director of the St. Paul, Minn., regional office, have been under harsh criticism since an inspector general report last fall accused them of pocketing more than $400,000 in moving costs for questionable job moves. Lawmakers have repeatedly accused the pair of gaming the promotion system for personal gain, at the expense of veterans care. But VA leaders have criticized the two only for “judgement errors” in how they handled the job moves, and supported both as reliable and responsible executives.
Director Kimberly Graves, VARO Philadelphia Director Diana Rubens, VARO St. Paul, Minn
Still, in December and January, officials moves to discipline and reassign the women to other positions across the country. The Merit Systems Protection Board rejected that attempt, and on 22 FEB VA Deputy Secretary in a statement said the pair would be allowed to continue their careers in Minnesota and Pennsylvania. “Allegations of unethical behavior in the Inspector General report were not supported by any of the evidence I reviewed,” Gibson said. “These errors in judgment took place before (the two) assumed their director positions, and the disciplinary actions do not diminish the confidence VA leadership has in (their) abilities … to manage their offices, lead their employees, and provide benefits to veterans. “The employees of those offices deserve high performing directors supporting their efforts. I have confidence that the employees of the Philadelphia and St. Paul Regional Offices … will continue their efforts to ensure all veterans timely receive the benefits they have earned and deserved.”
Gibson said he did take disciplinary actions against the two executives, but did not immediately elaborate on what that entails. VA officials promised to brief media on the ongoing issues on Monday afternoon. The lack of a harsher move is likely to inflame tempers on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers have repeatedly accused VA leaders of not doing enough to hold department officials accountable for mistakes, missteps and malfeasance. [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane | February 22, 2016 ++]
VA Accountability Update 20 ► Fired Executives Right to Appeal
The Department of Veterans Affairs told the Senate on 23 FEB that its plan to take sole control over firing executives could help fill dozens of vacant management posts at veteran medical facilities across the country. VA Secretary Bob McDonald pitched some upsides of eliminating hundreds of VA executives’ right to appeal firings to an independent merit board. He said positives include higher pay and quicker hiring of medical officials as he testified to lawmakers who are hoping to craft new legislation on VA firings by next month. The VA has proposed the dramatic shift away from the employment protections as part of its upcoming annual budget just as the Senate is pushing ahead with legislation. It comes amid persistent public criticism over its seeming inability to fire misbehaving managers, despite a nearly two-year effort by McDonald to clean up dysfunction and wrongdoing within the agency.
McDonald said the proposed changes would make VA “virtually as flexible as the private sector” in its ability to hire and fire its top employees. “People would appeal to me,” he said. VA said a recent high-profile firing decision was thwarted by a Merit Systems Protection Board. Linda Weiss, director of the Albany-Stratton VA Medical Center in New York, was fired by VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson for failing to properly handle staff misconduct, including theft of drugs, but was reinstated earlier this month by a board decision. A merit board also overturned punishments for Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves, two executives who auditors found were involved in a scheme to move into other jobs with fewer responsibilities but the same salaries and hefty relocation payments.
McDonald said the proposal would also have the benefit of allowing the VA to pay executives more and cut down the time it takes to fill key positions — an advantage for its health care network. “We compete for health care professionals from the best health care systems in the country,” he said. The average VA medical center director is paid “at best half” of what they could earn in the private sector, according to McDonald. Meanwhile, hiring can take six months on average. That has led to 34 medical centers across the country not having permanent directors, said David Shulkin, VA under secretary for health. “There is no way to ensure we are doing the best for veterans with 34 open positions,” he said.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, (R-GA), chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said his goal is to have legislation crafted by the end of March addressing accountability for VA employees. “If we have problems in the future … then we have a defensible accountability system within the department to right a wrong and not have it happen again,” Isakson said. Democrats on the Senate committee are also backing legislation, though it was unclear Tuesday whether it would mirror the VA proposal. The House passed a bill last year to speed up firings and is considering some new legislation. “I think it is making progress with very close bipartisan support,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., the ranking member on the veterans committee. [Source: Stars and Stripes | Travis J. Tritten |
February 23, 2016 ++]
VA Accountability Update 21 ► American Legion Leadership’s Opinion
Hundreds of members of The American Legion gathered before a joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees on 23 FEB to hear their leaders slam the Veterans Affairs Department for failing to hold VA employees accountable for conduct they say should have had them fired. “VA has described accountability as a top priority in the aftermath of scandals blamed for costing some veterans their lives, the payout of questionable performance bonuses, and ill-fated efforts to discipline executives who were found to have abused their positions,” Legion Commander Dale Barnett said. But that’s not what veterans have seen, he added, most recently when the VA’s move to discipline senior executives was overturned on appeal and the employees sent back to work, their previous jobs and salaries restored. “Veterans do not see this as accountability,” Barnett told the lawmakers.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Republican from Georgia and chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, told the Legionnaires that legislation was coming that will strengthen the department’s leadership’s hand when it comes to disciplining employees. “I have committed myself to see to it that before this term is over this year, hopefully by the 31st of March, we’d begin the process of passing comprehensive omnibus bill that incorporates the bills we all know need to become law,” Isakson said. The Legion earlier on Wednesday announced it had awarded Isakson its National Commander’s Distinguished Public Service Award, which is given annually to an elected official who has established an outstanding record in support of those principles advanced by The American Legion.
At the hearing, Isakson said the coming legislation will include a number of proposals by VA Secretary Bob McDonald, including one that would convert Senior Executive Service-level employees, including administrators and directors who manage the agency’s medical centers, to Title 38 employees, including professional medical staff such as doctors and nurses. Title 38 employees do not have the same Civil Service appeals process as SES employees. The latter may appeal disciplinary actions to the Merit System Protection Board, which is where the actions against several recent workers were overturned. The final arbiter in a disciplinary appeal involving Title38 workers would be the VA secretary or his designee. Isakson said comprehensive legislation will also include language to protect whistleblowers from retaliation, which has been a frequent complaint against the VA. Isakson said “99.9 percent of the employees in the VA do a great job. They are brought down and torn down from incidents like what happened in Pennsylvania, when people who are disciplined can lose their jobs, have those jobs restored for no apparent reason.”
The Legion also said the VA must do a better job of bringing down its backlog of appealed claims. Since the department made first-time claims a priority in 2010 and diverted more money and manpower to processing the paperwork, the appeals backlog has mushroomed to more than 400,000. But beyond the simple growth in new appeals is another problem, according to the VA — the law that allows veterans to continue an appeal year after year. In one often-mentioned case, a veteran has been appealing his VA-rejected claim for 25 years. Rep. Corinne Brown [D-FL), ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, asked the Legion panel what they recommend. “Tell me, ‘What do we do when the appeals process [goes on]?'” she said. “At some point ‘No’ might be the answer – not for my constituents, ‘No’ is never the answer! But for someone else, ‘No’ might be the answer,” she said to laughter.
Louis Celli, veterans affairs and rehabilitation division director for the Legion, said it comes down to making a system that veterans believe in. “We have to instill faith in the system,” he said. “Our veterans do not have enough faith in the Department of Veterans Affairs adjudication system to know their claim was processed accurately the first time. “If we could get that adjudication system improved and processed the first time we wouldn’t have the 440,000 appeals that we’re dealing with today,” he added. The joint hearing was the first of several that the lawmakers will be holding with veterans’ organizations.
- On March 2 the panels will hear from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and
- On March 3 from Paralyzed Veterans of America, Vietnam Veterans of America, Blinded Veterans of America, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, National Guard Association of the United States, AMVETS, Wounded Warrior Project and Gold Star Wives.
- On March 16 the lawmakers are scheduled to hear from the Fleet Reserve Association, The Retired Enlisted Association, the National Association of Directors of Veterans Affairs, the Military Officers Association of America, Air Force Sergeants Association, the American Ex-Prisoners of War organization, the Non-Commissioned Officers Association, Jewish War Veterans, and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
[Source: Military.com | Bryant Jordan | February 24, 2016 ++]
VA Accountability Update 22 ► Obama’s Carrot-And-Stick Approach
The Obama administration has proposed a carrot-and-stick approach to revamping the senior executive cadre at the Department of Veterans Affairs, holding out the prospect of higher salaries while proposing further limits on executives’ rights to appeal disciplinary actions. A proposal sent to Capitol Hill seeks to put into law an idea the department raised recently to shift its senior executives into a separate set of policies covering VA medical personnel, called Title 38. Those policies allow for appeals of discipline only through internal channels and not to an outside body such as the Merit Systems Protection Board.
“This lack of deference to the Secretary’s exercise of a clear statutory prerogative has frustrated the Secretary’s efforts to remove malfeasant or neglectful executives from VA’s senior leadership corps,” the proposal states. However, it says that broader reforms are needed for the department to compete for top talent it needs, particularly in the health-care field. A 2013 industry survey showed that chief executives of a single facility within an overall health-care system received an average salary of $393,100, compared with the top SES pay rate that year of $181,500, it says. Nearly 30 percent of its Senior Executive Service positions are currently vacant and the VA is having trouble filling them, it says — and in addition, 70 percent of current executives are eligible to retire or will be this year. “The VA Secretary needs greater flexibility than current authorities afford him in terms of recruiting, compensating, appraising and — where necessary — disciplining career leaders to ensure that VA can operate as a values-based high performance organization rather than a compliance-focused underperforming bureaucracy,” it says.
Under the proposal, rather than the current single pay range used for all SES members, the executive cadre at the VA would be split into four levels, with salaries at the top reaching $235,000. It projects that about two-thirds of the roughly 350 positions would stay within current limits in which the top salary is now $185,100, however. Pay would be set according to the “complexity of the position held; an analysis of the local labor market for similar positions in private and other Federal sector organizations; and the individual executive’s experience and performance in the position and/or in other VA assignments,” it says. Performance would be evaluated on “outcome-oriented and business-related factors such as customer satisfaction, employee feedback, and organization deliverables.”
Jason Briefel, acting president of the Senior Executives Association, said that although the VA’s proposal has a mix of provisions, “the disciplinary component really is the central focus and the talk about pay really seems more like talk that won’t be followed up on.” He added, “We find it especially hard to believe that after years of pillorying the senior executives at the VA that Congress and the public will support increasing their pay.” The proposal comes as the House and Senate committees overseeing the agency are working on VA personnel legislation with a goal of enacting it this year. That could include extending limits on appeal rights department-wide.
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said in a statement that “if VA’s proposal to eliminate the MSPB from the department’s senior executive disciplinary process has any chance of getting through Congress, it needs a much stronger focus on the task at hand: instilling accountability across VA, rather than increasing pay and benefits for the department’s most senior employees.” “The Title 38 employee disciplinary process can take up to 700-plus days, so simply reclassifying Senior Executive Service employees as Title 38 employees isn’t going to cut it. Additionally, if we are even going to consider giving the department any flexibility regarding executive pay, it must be accompanied by strict safeguards to ensure this authority is used sparingly and only when absolutely necessary,” he said.
The House passed a bill last year to shorten the appeals process for all VA employees, although not as severely as the 2014 law does for senior executives there; the White House threatened to veto that measure. Another bill, which passed the House committee level in January, would apply to senior executives government-wide the current limits on appeals for VA senior executives. [Source: The Washington Post | Eric Yoder | February 24, 2016 ++]
VA Medical Foster Homes Update 01 ► VA Working to Expand Program
Elderly Veterans and Veterans who require around the clock care have numerous options available to them through VA. Annually, thousands of Veterans turn to VA for care, whether it in a community residential care center, adult family home, community living center or a community nursing home partner. Most Veterans do not want to go in to an institution for their aging care, so VA has been working to expand its medical foster home program that allows caregivers to care for Veterans in their own home. It’s a win-win situation for both VA and the Veterans that chose the option, as they are able to receive personalized care in a home setting and it is less expensive than institutionalized care.
“Veterans love this program because it gives them an opportunity to be a part of a loving family,” said Beau Williams, the Medical Foster Home Program coordinator for the Tampa, Florida, VA Medical Center. Beau is charged with not only marketing the program and placing the Veterans in these loving homes, but also interviewing and approving the caregivers. “I look for caregivers with not only the qualifications required, but most importantly that they have a good heart,” Williams said. Many caregivers are already medically trained and VA provides classes and specialized training such as spinal cord injury care for their live-in patients. VA then sends home-based care specialists to the Veterans on a weekly basis for any additional assistance they require.
Caregiver Tammy Norton moved to Florida to care for her father through the VA Medical Foster Home Program. She also took in two additional Veterans, Clayton and Nat. Her father recently passed away, but she continues to care for her “new family,” as she put it. The Veterans use their VA benefits to pay Tammy for the home based care, which includes everything from meals to bathing, but it’s so much more than that. The three go on outings together, attend church, even vacation together. They are a family. Depending on the level of care required, some Veterans do miss the opportunities to socialize with others outside of their home that they may receive in a nursing home. VA organizes regular foster care socials where all foster home Veterans and their caregivers are invited to spend time together. These ‘Vet-togethers’ are loved by not only the Veterans, but also the caregivers as it gives them a chance to learn from each other’s experience.
Even though most of the Veterans in the foster home program are somewhat limited to their home, they are still involved with their community. The Tampa VAMC Voluntary Services team saw the benefit of bringing community partners and the foster home Veterans together and organized the event in conjunction with Make a Difference Day. This day is a national service day where volunteers look for opportunities to enrich the lives of others. “My father is Veteran so this is very near and dear to my heart. It’s amazing to see the love in those homes, so wonderful to give them a little bit a joy in their day,” said Kathy Gilbert of the Hillsborough Bar Association who has participated in this event for three years.
Volunteers at the Tampa, Florida VAMC prepare gift bags for Veterans on Make a Difference Day
While many volunteers spend days gathering and creating the gift bags and strive to fulfill the Veteran’s wish lists, the most rewarding part are the home visits. The Veterans and foster care providers open their doors with wide eyes and giant smiles. They visit, laugh and enjoy the company of their new friends and visitors. “You’ll find the Veterans greatly appreciate the support. I’ve heard them say that it is their home; it gives them an opportunity to be a part of a loving family,” said Tampa’s Beau Williams. “They are very happy with that.” To learn more about the VA’s Medical Foster Home Program visit go to http://www.va.gov/geriatrics/guide/longtermcare/medical_foster_homes.asp#. [Source: VAntage Point Blog | Tim Hudak | February 11, 2016 ++]
VA Whistleblowers Update 41 ► Lawmakers Tell VA to Stop Harassment
Senate lawmakers on 16 FEB told Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald to cease his department’s retaliation against a whistleblower at the VA Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, and to transfer him to a VA facility outside the Phoenix system. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) told McDonald that since whistleblower Brandon Coleman testified before Congress in December 2014 about problems at the Phoenix facility, he has been subjected to retaliation. “As founding members of the Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus, we are committed to ensuring that federal whistleblowers are treated fairly and that whistleblower retaliation is not tolerated within the federal government,” the two said in their Feb. 16 letter.
Dr. Brandon Coleman testifying before Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on 22 SEP 2015
Grassley is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Johnson chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. “VA is in possession of the members’ letter and will respond directly to their office,” department spokeswoman Walinda West said. In a statement, the VA said it is committed to creating a work environment in which all employees feel safe sharing what they know, whether good news or bad, for the benefit of veterans, without fear of reprisal. Coleman is a former Marine and an addictions specialist at the Phoenix facility, where he was suspended previously after informing higher-ups that VA officials and staff were putting suicidal veterans at risk through neglect and poor treatment. He was one of several whistleblowers invited to testify before Congress in September, when the group talked about the continued harassment that whistleblowers face even as the VA pledges to protect them.
In December 2014, Coleman filed a whistleblower complaint alleging the hospital was failing to properly care for suicidal veterans. A month later, the hospital’s interim director, Glen Grippen, met with the VA’s regional counsel to learn if they could “remove Coleman from employment,” the senators tell McDonald in the letter. Coleman could not be fired for whistleblowing but could be removed for “unrelated conduct,” the attorney advised, according to the letter. “Shortly after the meeting Mr. Coleman was accused of having an altercation with a colleague” and has been on administrative league since February 2015, Grassley and Johnson said. Coleman also reported this past November that a VA employee dressed up as him for a Halloween party at the Phoenix hospital, suggesting that the embarrassing treatment of him has been acceptable to senior officials.
Coleman wants a “simple, fair and equitable remedy,” the senators told McDonald. “That remedy is not, as the Department seems to believe, to continue to force him to languish on extended administrative leave at significant unnecessary cost to the taxpayers with no ability, under current law, to challenge his leave status.” He also wants those responsible for the actions taken against him to be held accountable, they said. The lawmakers also told McDonald they want the VA to brief their own staffs on what the department is doing about whistleblower retaliation. For that, they are requesting all correspondence relating to the investigations into the Halloween incident; to the Office of Accountability Review’s inquiry into Grippen’s alleged retaliation against Coleman; and to the decision to put Coleman on administrative leave back in February 2015. [Source: Military.com | Bryant Jordan | Feb 17, 2016 ++]
VA Whistleblowers Update 42 ► Officials Vow Crackdown on Retaliation
Department of Veterans Affairs officials vowed to crack down on whistleblower retaliation 23 FEB during a congressional hearing on the VA’s $182 billion budget proposal. “We do not tolerate retaliation and we’ll deal with it if we see it,” VA Secretary Robert McDonald said during an appearance before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. The VA has faced intense criticism for allowing employees who retaliate against whistleblowers to go unpunished, especially in the wake of a national wait-time scandal that erupted in spring 2014. Sen. Sherrod Brown, (D-OH) noted no action has been taken against VA managers accused of retaliating against whistleblowers at the agency’s Cincinnati hospital, where dozens of whistleblowers recently came forward to report dangerous conditions that put veterans’ treatment at risk. “Let’s do the investigation before we convict people,” McDonald said. Members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee raised concerns about a variety of problems that have plagued the VA, from a perceived lack of accountability for misbehaving employees to the growing backlog of veterans’ appeals requests. McDonald cited the VA’s effort to scale back employee bonuses as an example of the agency’s commitment to accountability. The hearing came one day after the VA reinstated a pair of employees accused by the agency’s inspector general of stealing $400,000 from taxpayers. [Source: Washington Examiner | Sarah Westwood | February 23, 2016 ++]
VA Crisis Hotline Update 02 ► IG Reports Staffing/Routing Problems
A VA suicide hotline movingly portrayed in an Oscar-winning documentary has allowed crisis calls to go into voicemail and has struggled with adequate staff training, according to an inspector general investigation. At least 23 veterans, troops or family members who called the Veterans Crisis Line in fiscal 2014 were transferred to a voicemail system and their calls never returned, according to a Veterans Affairs Department Inspector General report. Inspectors found problems occurred when calls were routed to backup crisis centers after staff at the Department of Veterans Affairs suicide hotline center in Canandaigua, N.Y., (800-273-8255) were taking all the calls they could handle. “We substantiated allegations that some calls routed to backup crisis centers were answered by voicemail, and callers did not always receive immediate assistance,” said the VA Inspector General report made public late last week.
The VA, which has highlighted veteran suicides as a crucial area of concern, said that since the hotline was created in 2007, about 2 million calls have been answered and emergency efforts made to intervene and save lives in more than 53,000 cases. An HBO documentary highlighting the life-and-death drama of the VA suicide hotline efforts won an Oscar last year. The 2014 documentary on the VA crisis hotline, “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1” won the Oscar for best documentary, short subject. The Inspector General report did not document how many calls are going to voicemail. But it said the number of calls going to backup crisis centers increased dramatically in recent years, from 36,261 in 2013 to 76,887 in 2014. About every sixth call goes to a backup center, the report said. Investigators found 20 calls going to voicemail at one backup crisis center in 2014 where staff were apparently unaware there was a voicemail system, the report said.
In response to the findings, the VA concurred with all recommendations for taking steps to ensure calls no longer go to voicemail and that staff training be improved. Steps to increase staffing at the Canandaigua center were announced by the VA almost a year ago, said Victoria Dillon, department spokesperson. A comprehensive training initiative is underway, and a quality assurance surveillance plan to monitor backup centers is being developed, she said. “Systems are being reviewed and action plans have been developed to resolve the issues and address the OIG (Officer of Inspector General) recommendations,” she said, adding that all improvements will be in place by September.
When the Canandaigua staff are busy taking calls, new phone calls are routed to one of six call-receiving crisis centers that are part of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association. The Inspector General found that staffers at these centers may not have the same level of training as the VA workers in Canandaigua. Calls routed to the backup centers can be placed in a queue where they hear music for several minutes while they wait, the report said. The VA had no process for learning how long these people wait or how many of them finally hang up, the report said. [Source: USA TODAY | Gregg Zoroya | February 15, 2016++]
VA Crisis Hotline Update 03 ► Corrective Actions Taken and Underway
The VA Office of Inspector General’s February 11, 2016 report on the Veteran’s Crisis Line reflects issues found there as of the end of December 2014. It is important for Veterans and our key stakeholders to know that VA undertook actions to strengthen Veterans Crisis Line operations long before publication of the inspector general report. The goal is to make the Veterans Crisis Line nothing short of a world class crisis response center. Before outlining these actions, the Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan D. Gibson wants to reiterate that the Veterans Crisis Line in Canandaigua is staffed by committed, hard-working employees — many of them Veterans — that save Veteran lives every day.
VA’s work is focused on providing these committed employees the right tools and capacity to save those Veterans. Since the crisis line began operations in 2007, VA crisis line responders have saved 53,000 Veterans. VA Deputy Secretary Gibson is extraordinarily proud of their service and what they do for Veterans. Getting this right is a top priority. VA needs to be able to help Veterans when they are most vulnerable, when they are in crisis. VA’s commitment is that by the end of this year, every Veteran in crisis will have their call promptly answered by an experienced responder at the Veterans Crisis Line. Months ago, VA launched a comprehensive plan to strengthen the Veterans Crisis Line. Since last year the VCL has:
- Strengthened leadership by hiring a director with a clinical social work background, a deputy director of business operations with call center management experience, four dedicated staff trainers and six dedicated quality managers.
- Improved management work flow data that resulted in providing the most responders at the times when Veterans are most in crisis.
- Strengthened staff training for all frontline staff involved in crisis response by implementing comprehensive multi-week training programs for all front line crisis line responders, publishing a new employee handbook and implementing a new training data base.
- Strengthened quality assurance by implementing silent monitors at the Crisis Line.
- Invested in new technology improvements to include key upgrades to phone systems and equipment to better handle the increased demand at the crisis line, which has seen growth in annual calls from 67,000 in 2008 to 534,000 in 2015.
- Expanded and improved capacity by renovating 40 percent of operational work area that resulted in the addition of 45 responder workstations.
These improvements are increasing VA’s capacity to speak with the Veterans that need them most. Other improvements underway include:
- Hiring 68 more crisis line responders.
- Strengthening third party contracting management while increasing internal capacity to handle incoming calls.
- Continued acquisition over the next several months of state-of-the art technology for phone systems and necessary internal tools.
- Continued improvement in work processes to ensure trained VA crisis responders are available to support Veterans that are calling in crisis.
The employees at the Veteran Crisis Line save lives every day. Of all the Veterans VA serve, a Veteran in crisis must know that dedicated, expert VA staff will be there when needed. That is the sacred obligation that prompted the work begun months ago to strengthen and expand the Veteran’s Crisis Line. VA will continue that work until the Veteran’s Crisis Line is the world class crisis response center Veterans deserve. [Source: VAntage Point | Sloan D. Gibson | February 16, 2016 ++]
VA Crisis Hotline Update 04 ► Additional Changes Implemented
During his visit to the Canandaigua VAMC Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson announced improvements to enhance and accelerate progress in the program which serves as a life-saving resource for Veterans who find themselves at risk of suicide. During this third trip to Canandaigua in a year, Gibson announced that the Crisis Line would form a stronger bond with VA’s Suicide Prevention Office and Mental Health Services. This partnership includes VA’s National Mental Health Director for Suicide Prevention as well as several hubs of expertise, including one Center of Excellence focusing on suicide prevention research and education located at the same medical campus as the Crisis Line responders in Canandaigua, NY. Mr. Gibson also announced that the Veterans Crisis Line would now be under the direction of VA’s Member Services, which has many efforts underway across the nation to restructure portions of VA that have direct contact with Veterans.
This brings an expertise in ensuring that staff in these vital roles have more streamlined processes, adequate training and resources at their fingertips, to better serve Veterans. These structural changes build on key hires made in the last year to lead the Crisis Line, including a director with extensive clinical social work background. “I witnessed again today that the employees at the Veterans Crisis Line have a tremendously difficult job and they complete it with care, compassion and professionalism,” said Mr. Gibson. I want to make sure that the trained professionals at the Crisis Line — folks I consider the best in the business — are able to focus on their core mission of focusing on the Veterans most in need of their help. They are life savers and we have to create the structure around them to succeed. “Over the past year, we have put together a strong team to lead the employees at the Crisis Line. Today’s announcement of a structural change within the Veterans Health Administration and additional support from our experts in suicide prevention is another step to make sure the employees and the Veterans they speak with have what they need give Veterans a safe place to call when they need us most.”
As a part of the MyVA initiative, the largest restructuring in the Department’s history, VA has made improvements at the Veterans Crisis Line a key priority. By the end of this year, every Veteran in crisis will have their call promptly answered by an experienced VA responder. That will mean non-core calls will be directed appropriately to other VA entities that can best address their questions or concerns. Already, VA has committed to increase staff at the Veterans Crisis Line. It now has more than 300 employees, and is in the process of hiring 88 more staff. At the same time, they have expanded the work area for responders and are making necessary technology improvements to phone systems and equipment to better handle the increased demand at the crisis line.
Gibson noted that the Veterans Crisis Line is staffed by committed, hardworking employees who save veterans’ lives every day. The crisis line has seen a dramatic increase in annual calls, from 67,000 in 2008 to 534,000 in 2015. The Veterans Crisis Line housed at the Canandaigua VAMC provides around-the-clock assistance to Veterans in crisis from across the nation. Callers dial 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and choose option 1 to reach a Crisis Line Responder. [Source: VA News Release | February 26, 2016 ++]
VA Appeals Update 20 ► Appeals Board Access
There is a perception that a lot of the regional offices’ decisions are appealed to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. This is not accurate. Historically, only 4 percent of all claims the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) decides are appealed to the board. The perception probably comes from the increasing number of pending appeals, but that growth is explained by looking at the math. In the last four years, VBA has completed more claims than ever before in its history. Because VBA has completed so many more claims, the volume of appeals has also increased, even though the rate of appeals of VA decisions has remained steady. If after receiving a statement of the case (SOC) from the regional office you still are not satisfied with the regional office’s decision, you can file a VA Form 9, Appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, within 60 days from the date the SOC is mailed.
Once the board receives your appeal, it assigns a docket date based on the date VA received your Form 9. This date is important: under the law, the board must work appeals in docket order. Currently, the median, or middle, docket date of appeals the board is working is July 2014. Some newer appeals can be pushed to the front of the line: those from older Veterans and survivors, those who are terminally-ill or those who have documented financial hardship, etc. It’s important to know that if the board remands (returns) your appeal to the regional office to gather more evidence, you won’t lose your place on the board’s docket.
Just like in the regional offices, several Veterans service organizations are located at the board. If you choose not to have a hearing before the board, your representative will write a legal argument on your behalf. The board will consider that argument when it conducts its own de novo review of your claim. If you choose to have a hearing, your representative will help you explain your case at that hearing. VA will transcribe the hearing and put it in your file. The board can do one of three things: grant your appeal, deny your appeal or send (remand) it back to the regional office for more action.
If you disagree with the board’s decision, you may pursue an appeal to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC). If the CAVC denies your appeal, you can appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. If you lose the appeal there, you can petition the U.S. Supreme Court for review. The Supreme Court grants review in very few appeals. Generally, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court review only legal matters in an appeal, not agency decisions. [Source: VAntage Point Blog | Catherine Tromble | February 17, 2016 ++]
VA Appeals Update 21 ► When An Appeal is Remanded
Just like in the federal court system, where a superior court has the ability to remand — or send back — an appeal to a lower court for another look, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals has the ability to remand a case back to the regional office. While the Board has the ability to remand, it uses the remand differently than a typical court system. In a typical court system, a higher court usually remands a case when a lower court interprets a law incorrectly. In VA’s circular system, appeals are remanded for many reasons.
A remand may be necessary if there has been a change in law, a worsening of a disability on appeal or the Veteran introduces new evidence or theory of entitlement at the Board. Typically each time one of these things happens, a rule of law called Duty to Assist (DTA) is triggered. DTA is an obligation VA takes very seriously. It means VA has to help you develop your claim. Often, this means scheduling you for another exam, gathering records on your behalf or giving you an opportunity to comment since a law change. About two-thirds of the Board’s remands are for reasons that arose after VBA finished processing the appeal and sent it to the Board.
Appeals are remanded for many reasons…if there has been a change in law, a worsening of a disability on appeal, the Veteran introduces new evidence or theory of entitlement at the Board or if the regional office did not process your claim correctly. Appeals are also remanded if the regional office did not process your claim correctly – usually the result of insufficient evidence gathering. While the number of these avoidable remands has declined considerably in recent years, we continue to work to improve our processing accuracy.
If the Board remands your appeal, the judge will lay out clear steps which the regional office must complete before issuing another decision on your appeal. After completing the required steps, the regional office will make a new decision that either continues the prior decision or grants your appeal. If it continues the prior decision, you will receive a supplemental statement of the case (SSOC) and your appeal will be returned to the Board for a final decision. The Board reviews your case again and renders another decision. Because of updates to laws and evidence, this remand cycle may happen more than once. If the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) remands your appeal back to the Board, the Board may issue a remand back to the regional office to follow through on any development actions the CAVC has instructed of VA. [Source: VAntage Point Blog | Catherine Trombley | February 24, 2016 ++]
VA Fraud, Waste & Abuse ► Reported 1 thru 29 Feb 2016
SACRAMENTO, Calif — Anthony Castaneda, 45, of Oakdale in Stanislaus County, was sentenced today by Judge Morrison C. England Jr. to serve five months of house arrest and two years of probation for receipt of a gratuity by a public official, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced. According to court documents, while working as a contracting official at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Castaneda was in a position to influence the award of construction contracts at VA facilities, including the VA hospital at the former Mather Field in Sacramento. In 2010, Castaneda received from a construction contractor a prepaid vacation package at a theme park worth approximately $2,250. Castaneda and his family traveled to the theme park for five days in October 2010. At the time that he accepted that gift, Castaneda was in a position to influence the award of construction contracts by making recommendations about which contractors should be given VA business. Court records also show that Castaneda received a second vacation package from the same contractor, worth approximately $1,440, in 2008. In addition to his period of house arrest, Castaneda was ordered to forfeit the value of the 2010 vacation package and to pay a $2,000 fine. The contractor in question has been charged separately in federal court in San Jose: United States v. Herrera, case number 5:14-cr-219. He pleaded guilty and on December 16, 2015, was sentenced to three years’ probation. [Source: DoJ USAO Eastern District of California Press Release | February 11, 2016 ++]
McKinney, TX — Sean C. Page, 45, who never served in the military, used his father’s name and social security number to cash in on his veteran disability status to qualify for lucrative federal government contracts under a set-aside program for disabled veterans, prosecutors said. His father, a combat veteran, served in the U.S. Army from 1964 to 1981 and was deemed to be 100 percent disabled when he was honorably discharged, authorities said. The elder Page received two bronze stars during his service in Vietnam. And he did not know about his son’s scheme, investigators said. Page was convicted 12 FEB by a federal jury in Sherman. He faces up to 10 years in prison. He was charged last year with scamming the federal contracting program out of about $1 million from 2009 to 2013 using two companies he formed. “For every one of these contracts that Mr. Page would have received…there are legitimate service disabled veterans who did not get that contract,” said Bryan Sewell, an agent with the Veterans Affairs’ inspector general’s office, in court records.
Contracting fraud under the disabled veteran program has been on the rise. The “pass-through” scheme is the most common in which a company owned by a disabled vet wins a government contract and passes it to another company to actually do the work, the assistant inspector general for Veterans Affairs told Congress in 2012. Others include “rent-a-vet” schemes and cases in which non-veterans try to win contracts for disabled vets. Page at the time “self-certified” his companies as veteran-owned, court records show. The rules have changed due to widespread fraud, and companies now must be certified by a government agency. When reached at home prior to the trial, Page’s father, Dalton Page, said he knows his son committed the crime. “We got all the proof that he did it,” he said. “Sean is my son but those programs are set aside for GIs such as myself. I am very disappointed in him getting those contracts like that. The contracts were put in my name. He had me backed in a corner.”
The senior Page said he hasn’t spoken to his son in about three years. He said he did two tours of duty in Vietnam and saw “all the body bags.” He said he suffers from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. “I do not appreciate people using veteran’s benefits,” Dalton Page said. “It shows disrespect for me.” Page’s initial indictment was dismissed in December after a judge ruled that he did not receive a “timely trial.” The U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Texas obtained a second indictment against Page days later. The government also is seeking a forfeiture judgment against $2.7 million that Page allegedly earned from the scheme.
Page created 12G Resources Group in 2009 and Premier Building Maintenance in 2008 to provide general services such as cleaning and landscape work for veteran-owned facilities, the indictment said. He won five Veterans Affairs contracts after using his father’s information to certify his businesses. Page’s companies also got 10 Army and Air Force contracts. Page continued to do federal contract work after his October 2014 arraignment in violation of a federal judge’s order, court records show. He earned $35,175 from a landscaping and snow removal job with the Veterans Medical Center of Salt Lake City while he was out on bond. [Source: The Dallas morning News | Kevin Krause | February 16, 2016 ++]
Providence VAMC — Authorities say a woman who was a registered nurse at the Providence VA Medical Center has pleaded guilty to stealing prescription drugs from the center and falsifying her employment application. United States Attorney Peter Neronha announced 22 FEB that 47-year-old Lisa McManaman, of Providence, pleaded guilty Friday to theft of government property and false statements. Prosecutors say McManaman used an automated medication dispensing system between May 2015 and October 2015 to obtain controlled-substance pills, including oxycodone and morphine. The pills weren’t prescribed for or provided to patients. Prosecutors say she also failed to disclose on her employment application that in November 2013 she was fired from her job as a nurse in the intensive care unit of a Rhode Island hospital. She’s scheduled to be sentenced 13 MAY 2016. [Source: The Associated Press | February 22, 2016 ++]
Albany VAMC — Nathan Baum, age 30, of East Greenbush, New York, pled guilty today to tampering with a consumer product and obtaining controlled substances by deception and subterfuge. Baum, a licensed practical nurse who worked at the hospice ward of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) in Albany, improperly accessed syringes that contained oxycodone hydrochloride. These syringes were stored in locked containers, which Baum was able to access using his individually assigned password. Between April 8, 2014 and May 16, 2014, Baum removed the oxycodone hydrochloride from at least 25 syringes and replaced it with haloperidol. Oxycodone hydrochloride, a Schedule II controlled substance, is a highly addictive narcotic analgesic used to treat moderate to severe pain and is to be prescribed only when medically required. Haloperidol, often marketed as Haldol, is an anti-psychotic medication used to treat certain mental/mood disorders and to treat uncontrolled movements or agitation.
“To satisfy his addiction, the defendant stole pain medicine intended for veterans in hospice care and tried to hide his crime by replacing that medicine with anti-psychotic medicine that would not have eased their pain,” stated U.S. Attorney Richard S. Hartunian. “In committing this terrible crime, Baum betrayed his patients and their loved ones, the nursing profession, and the Department of Veterans Affairs.” “Mr. Baum abused his position as a nurse with the VA for his own personal gain at the expense of his patients,” stated Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey G. Hughes of the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General, Northeast Field Office. “FDA oversees the U.S. supply of medicines to ensure that they are safe and effective, and those who knowingly give the wrong medicines to patients put their health at risk,” said Spencer E. Morrison, Acting Special Agent in Charge, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations’ New York Field Office.
Baum’s tampering was discovered in late May 2014, when his supervisor noticed that he was slurring his speech and his pupils were pinpoint – signs of controlled substance abuse. When federal agents inspected the locked container Baum was allowed to access, they found that three sets of oxycodone hydrochloride syringes had been tampered with. In an interview, Baum admitted that he was addicted to painkillers; that he used oxycodone hydrochloride that was intended for veterans; and that he replaced the oxycodone hydrochloride in some syringes with Haldol. Senior U.S. District Judge Lawrence E. Kahn is scheduled to sentence Baum on June 22, 2016. Tampering with a consumer product carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and a term of supervised release of up to 3 years. Obtaining controlled substances by deception and subterfuge carries a maximum sentence of 4 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. A defendant’s sentence is imposed by a judge based on a combination of factors including the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and relevant statutes. [Source: DOJ | U.S. Attorneys Office Northern District of NY | February 24, 2016 ++]
Wilkes-Barre VAMC — A registered nurse has acknowledged drinking four or five beers in the hours before assisting in an emergency operation at a veterans hospital, authorities said 24 FEB. Richard Pieri is charged in Luzerne County with recklessly endangering another person, driving under the influence and public drunkenness. Pieri stumbled into the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center on 4 FEB before the surgery, during which his responsibilities included preparing the patient and monitoring vital signs, a police affidavit said. He had difficulty logging into a computer and entered incorrect time stamps documenting when the operation began and ended, authorities said. The police affidavit doesn’t say what procedure the patient underwent but said the patient was readmitted for stomach pains. Authorities allege that when Pieri, 59, was asked by police why he believed they would want to question him, he replied, “I guess it has something to do with me being drunk on call.” Pieri, who’s from Drums, told investigators that he went to the Mohegan Sun Pocono casino at about 5 p.m. and consumed four or five beers while playing slots, then went home to lie down before he was paged for surgery at about 10:30 p.m., authorities alleged in court documents. He said he had forgotten he was on call until his pager went off, they said. The executive assistant to the director of the medical center, William Klaips, said patient safety was “paramount” and as soon as officials were notified of the events, “we made sure there were no unsafe situations for our patients, and then we did the further investigations.” [Source: The Associated Press | February 24, 2016 ++]
VA HCS Pacific Islands ► Director Resigns/Retires?
Wayne Pfeffer, the embattled head of the Veterans Administration’s Pacific Islands Health Care System, has abruptly resigned, effectively immediately, and will be returning to the mainland. Pfeffer had been on the job less than three years and oversaw a system that at one point in 2014 had the longest wait times in the entire VA system for an incoming patient to get an initial appointment with a primary care physician. In 2014, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard had called for Pfeffer’s resignation. Acting director Tonia Bagby, a clinical psychologist, today referred to Pfeffer’s departure as a “retirement,” rather than a resignation.
Wayne L .Pfeffer ToniaJ. Bagby
Pfeffer was not on the job today after sending an email to the VA staff around noon 16 FEB that read, “It has not been an easy decision for me, however due to personal reasons, I am retiring and returning to the mainland. VA PIHCS will continue to get better and better because of the great people here. I want to thank each and every one of you for your support and the things you’ve shared and allowed me to share. I will certainly miss Hawaii, and all of you who have become my family, my ohana. It has been a honor and a pleasure to have been able to be a member of this ‘ohana and the wonderful things happening here.”
Asked why Pfeffer retired immediately, Bagby said, “everyone has their own personal reasons. I believe Mr. Pfeffer was thoughtful in his decisions.” Asked about her own plans for the VA, Bagby said, “I’m not comfortable saying anything at this time,” but added, “we are definitely able and capable moving forward.” Asked what message she had for veterans throughout the Pacific Region, Bagby said, “the wait times happened in 2014 and we’ve made great improvements since then. Now we’re in 2016, almost two years later, and a lot of veterans will continue to see great improvements … if they’re not already experiencing that.” [Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Dan Nakaso | February 17, 2016 ++]
VAMC Cincinnati Update 02 ► Federal Probe Into Misconduct Allegation
A recent federal probe into alleged “misconduct” at a Department of Veterans Affairs facility in Cincinnati is focusing on allegations of drugs being improperly prescribed to patients, Fox News learned 13 FEB. The agency’s inspector general is purportedly looking into whether Dr. Barbara Temeck, the facility’s acting chief of staff and a thoracic surgeon, carries proper authority to prescribe medicine. Among the allegations is that Temeck prescribed medication to the wife of Jack Hetrick, the director of the VA region that includes Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. A VA email obtained by Fox News states Hetrick has recused himself from “any and all decisions” regarding the facility because his wife has a “professional and personal relationship with the physician involved.”
A source told Fox News on Friday that the VA inspector general is “investigating an allegation of misconduct that adversely affects the care of veterans at the Cincinnati facility.” The inspector general’s office and Veteran Affairs did not respond to messages Saturday asking to verify the investigation. The investigation and wrongdoings, if verified, could be another setback for the troubled agency. In 2014, at least 35 military veterans died while awaiting care at a VA facility in Phoenix. The finding resulted in the discovery of additional cases of delays in patient care in other facilities in other states. And agency Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned amid the fallout. Reports about the Cincinnati investigation began circulating on Capitol Hill after what sources described as “cryptic” phone calls at about 5 p.m. to congressional offices, advising them of a formal inquiry from the inspector general’s office. Multiple offices in the Ohio and Indiana delegations received the calls, which purportedly were scripted. And the person from the VA making the calls would not deviate nor answer questions about the inquiry, sources said.
Lawmakers and their aides are livid about how and when the information was communicated. A spokesman for GOP Rep. Brad Wenstrup — a military veteran who represents part of Cincinnati and is a podiatrist and member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee — said the congressman is “deeply troubled by this cryptic news and wants to know more, to include who is being investigated and why.” The spokesman also said the timing of the announcement — late on a Friday before a federal holiday — suggests the agency is attempting to hide the story from the public. Wenstrup is leading a Veterans’ Affairs committee field hearing in Cincinnati next week that will focus on veteran hiring practices and questions about the investigation are expected to arise. The Cincinnati investigation could prove embarrassing to new Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald. He was brought in to clean up the agency after the scandal two years ago. Moreover, McDonald worked for years in Cincinnati as the president and chief executive office at of Procter and Gamble, which is based in that Ohio city. [Source: FoxNews.com | Chad Pergram | February 13, 2016 ++]
VAMC Cincinnati Update 03 ► Whistleblowers Describe Poor Care
Nearly three dozen whistleblowers have come forward saying the VA Medical Center in Cincinnati is in a state of disorder. They say veterans are not getting the care they need in the backyard of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald, the former chief executive of Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble Co. Since October, a team of Scripps reporters has been talking to a group of 34 current and former medical center staff members. The group, including 18 doctors from several departments, sent an unsigned letter to McDonald in September describing “urgent concerns about quality of care” at the facility, which serves more than 40,000 area veterans. They allege a pattern of cost cutting that forced out experienced surgeons, reduced access to care and put patients in harm’s way. At the center of the controversy are Dr. Barbara Temeck, acting chief of staff for the Cincinnati VA Medical Center, and Jack Hetrick, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ regional director.
The VA has launched one investigation and requested the Office of Inspector General open an additional independent investigation. The VA also temporarily removed oversight authority of the Cincinnati hospital from Hetrick, the highest-ranking VA official in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana. The agency did this “to ensure no conflict of interest.” The Cincinnati VA is reporting to a Pittsburgh-based regional director while the investigations proceed. The findings of a joint investigation by the Scripps News Washington Bureau and WCPO triggered the federal probes. Several local veterans described long delays and substandard care during Dr. Temeck’s tenure. Ted Dickey, a 72-year-old Vietnam veteran, had depended on the Cincinnati VA for care for some 30 years. When the VA told Dickey he needed a hip replacement last May, instead of treating him, they gave him a referral and showed him the door. He was told there were no longer hip surgeons on staff. “They don’t know how to run a hospital,” Dickey said. “Their way of running a hospital is not doing surgery and farming it out.”
Dr. Temeck declined to comment for this story. Mr. Hetrick walked out of an interview after praising the Cincinnati hospital for overcoming “resource challenges” and improving quality. “I’ve worked very closely with them to make sure we get them back on track,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that this organization was set solid for the future. I think we’re there.” The hospital has consistently received four or five stars, which are the highest ratings by the VA. Here are some of the Scripps-WCPO findings, all based on interviews and documents:
- Services to veterans have been reduced, including spine and orthopedic surgeries, along with customized prosthetic services for artificial limbs.
- Dr. Temeck prescribed controlled substances, including hydrocodone and a generic form of Valium, to Mrs. Hetrick, the wife of her regional boss, Jack Hetrick. State and federal authorities confirm Dr. Temeck does not have a valid controlled substances license that would allow her to write prescriptions privately for Mrs. Hetrick.
- Dr. Temeck cut around-the-clock staffing by emergency airway specialists to save money, resulting in at least one close call involving a patient who could not breathe.
- Dr. Temeck told operating-room staff they were being “too picky” when they reported surgical instruments delivered to operating rooms with blood and bone chips from previous surgeries.
- Dr. Temeck is paid separately as a VA administrator and cardiothoracic surgeon. But whistleblowers say she has never served as the operating surgeon since coming to Cincinnati.
The nearly three dozen whistleblowers have been voicing their concerns for the better part of a year, including meeting in person with regional director Hetrick and reaching out to members of Congress and Secretary McDonald. They say little has been done to remedy the problems. The chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Florida Republican Jeff Miller, said his staff has been talking to Cincinnati whistleblowers, but he wanted to give McDonald some time to address the issues they raised. “If in fact this is true, I would hope the secretary will take it seriously because if he doesn’t, we’ll examine it from the committee standpoint,” Miller said.
Local VA ‘Just Not Up to Standard’
Three longtime employees of the Cincinnati VA agreed to go public with their concerns because they believe hospital leaders are no longer acting in the best interest of veterans. Their public comments reflect the private concerns of dozens of doctors and nurses who also agreed to be interviewed and provided documents but asked not to be named for fear of retaliation. “This was a model hospital,” said Dr. Richard Freiberg, former chief of orthopedics for the Cincinnati VA. ‘We were serving veterans with almost every imaginable problem and doing state-of-the-art care. Now, we’re unable to care for almost all of them’ Now, we’re unable to care for almost all of them.” He recounted that shortly after Dr. Temeck came to Cincinnati, she called a sudden meeting of the hospital’s full-time total joint surgeons: “We were told that we were going to be reduced to one full time between the three of us.” Dr. Freiberg ended his VA employment in October, frustrated by cuts that rendered the hospital unable to do complex joint replacements for hips, knees and shoulders. He continues to volunteer for the facility.
“Things I’ve observed at the Cincinnati VA are just not up to standard,” said Mike Brooks, a certified registered nurse anesthetist who joined the VA after a 24-year Navy career that began when he was 17. Brooks is a shop steward for the national nurses union and began working in Cincinnati in 2008. “It bothers me because I know the veterans who deserve the best care we can give them are being put at risk.”
Susan Ware is a nurse practitioner who decided to speak publicly because of the dismantling of a neurosurgery practice that treated 686 patients in 2013 and now refers all brain and nervous-system procedures elsewhere. Ware worked in neurosurgery for 16 years. “What’s happening at the Cincinnati VA is sad,” she said. “There is a reason why the VA exists and there’s a reason veterans want to come to the VA. And it’s being ignored.” Ware said she and other employees started complaining about Dr. Temeck’s management decisions more than a year ago, but the regional director Jack Hetrick took no action. “It seems that Mr. Hetrick supports her,” Ware said, “despite the knowledge that he has about how unhappy the staff is.”
The Boss’ Wife
Mr. Hetrick and Dr. Temeck have a work relationship that dates back to at least 2002. He was the director of the Edward Hines Jr. VA near Chicago and Dr. Temeck was the hospital’s chief of staff, records show. Both moved on to jobs outside of Illinois, but stayed with the VA. According to documents obtained by Scripps, on Dec. 26, 2012, more than two years after Dr. Temeck left her position in Illinois, she prescribed pain medication for Mr. Hetrick’s wife — 50 pills of a generic form of Valium. On May 17, 2013, Dr. Temeck prescribed 100 pills of hydrocodone. This was eight weeks before Dr. Temeck was named Cincinnati’s acting chief of staff. Both drugs are labeled controlled substances by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. During an interview, Mr. Hetrick walked out of the room when asked about the prescriptions. “You’re not going to engage me,” he said. At the time of publication, Mrs. Hetrick’s attorney had not responded to requests for comment. These prescriptions raise several issues:
- Dr. Temeck was working at a VA hospital in South Carolina when the 2013 prescription was written, but she used an Illinois address tied to the VA hospital she had left in 2010 to issue the prescription.
- Dr. Temeck’s Illinois license does not allow her to write prescriptions for controlled substances outside the VA.
- Dr. Temeck’s authority to prescribe controlled substances in Illinois expired in 2011.
- State and federal officials told Scripps that Dr. Temeck did not have in 2011, nor does she have now, a valid controlled substance license that would allow her to write prescriptions privately for Mrs. Hetrick.
- According to medical ethics experts interviewed by Scripps, it poses a conflict of interest for a doctor to provide treatment, particularly controlled substances, for his or her work superior, or their family members.
According to a statement from Derek Atkinson, spokesperson for the VA regional network headed by Mr. Hetrick, Dr. Temeck has “an active state medical license in Virginia that includes prescribing controlled substances.” An official with the Virginia Department of Health Professions, which regulates the state’s doctors and pharmacists, told Scripps that Virginia medical licenses do not include the ability to write prescriptions for controlled substances. “To write controlled substances, the physician must hold a DEA registration,” department spokeswoman Diane Powers said. Dr. Temeck has not held a Drug Enforcement Administration controlled substances registration outside the VA system for nearly two decades, the DEA told Scripps. Instead, in recent years she’s held what’s known as a “limited registration,” which allows her to write prescriptions only within VA facilities she’s working in. When asked about the prescription matter, Rep. Miller said rules appear to have been broken. “Was the person allowed to receive the prescription? From what I can gather they were not.” He added, “I believe that it needs to be fully investigated.”
The Boss’ Pay
As acting chief of staff, Dr. Temeck earns $137,191. According to the VA, Temeck earns an additional $194,343 for her role as a cardiothoracic surgeon, for a total of $331,534. Multiple sources, including those who have been inside the operating room with Dr. Temeck, say she only serves as an assistant and has never worked as the operating surgeon since arriving in Cincinnati. “It’s certainly common knowledge in the hospital that she’s gaming the system,” Dr. Freiberg said. Brooks said it’s an “open secret” in the hospital that Dr. Temeck earns the additional salary as a cardiothoracic surgeon for work he has never seen her perform. VA rules allow physicians to receive a “market pay augmentation” in specialties where it’s competing with private-sector hospitals for labor talent. The VA handbook says the amount of market pay depends on several factors, including the doctor’s level of experience, credentials and accomplishments along with analysis of the local health care labor market.
“It’s certainly not right by the taxpayer,” said Brooks, a certified nurse anesthetist who participated in several surgeries in which he says Dr. Temeck scrubbed in, then assisted in surgery. Sometimes, she holds a retractor, Brooks said, but she never took the lead. A retractor is a medical instrument used for drawing back the edges of an incision. “She’s in the room when surgeries happen,” he added, “but I can’t say I’ve ever seen her pick up a scalpel and do a surgery.” The Cincinnati VA declined to say how many times Dr. Temeck has led a thoracic surgery since joining the hospital staff, but stated her “workload is consistent with other provider(s) in Cincinnati and other facilities of similar complexities.” The VA also said Dr. Temeck is “privileged and in good standing” at the Cincinnati VA “and works within the scope of privileges.”
Bryan Snyder, a supervisory human resources specialist at the hospital, made the case for awarding the permanent chief of staff job to Dr. Temeck, along with a substantial pay raise. According to an internal memo, Snyder sought an exception to let Dr. Temeck exceed the federal salary cap of $385,000 for her role as a cardiothoracic surgeon if she gets the permanent job. “Dr. Temeck has already proved invaluable in the short time she has been detailed to this facility,” Snyder wrote. “Her input and assistance have assisted with decision-making and planning and facilitated a ‘fresh eyes’ approach to the clinical operations of the facility that is transforming several patient services and processes.”
Cost-Cutting Close Call
When Dr. Temeck arrived in 2013, the hospital was paying overtime to nurse anesthetists so they would be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to handle emergency breathing problems. As a cost-cutting measure, sources say Dr. Temeck replaced that system with a requirement that on-call surgeons perform intubation during off hours. Intubation is the insertion of a plastic tube into a patient’s windpipe to assist in breathing. On May 9, 2014, Dr. Temeck was the on-call surgeon when a patient stopped breathing. “She had trouble,” said Brooks, referring to Dr. Temeck. “She had to call for backup.” Others who were involved in the incident confirmed his account. Sources told us the VA’s Office of Medical Inspector recently interviewed employees about the incident. Days after the incident, sources say Dr. Temeck reversed the policy. The Cincinnati VA says it now provides “Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists coverage 24/7.”
Bones on Blades
Brooks and other operating-room staff said one of the most disturbing problems involved contaminated surgical instruments. “I’ve seen surgical instruments that once we open the sterile pack, they will have pieces of debris, possibly bone or other debris from previous surgeries still on the instrumentation,” Brooks said. Instead of committing to better training or spending to hire more certified technicians, Brooks said Dr. Temeck told operating-room staff to stop complaining. She also required them to notify her when they spotted problems so she could inspect the tools before they could be replaced with clean ones. Brooks said surgeries were halted, sometimes with patients cut open, waiting for Dr. Temeck to arrive for an inspection. “She felt that these were all fabrications, that we were making up stories about the instruments not being clean, so she wanted to see for herself”, he said. “If she was in another meeting, it could be 20 minutes, half an hour, with the patient under anesthesia.” Under Dr. Temeck’s tenure at the Cincinnati VA the rate of MRSA infections has increased substantially. The highly contagious, drug-resistant infection is commonly associated with surgeries. According to the most recent publicly available data, Cincinnati now has one of the highest rates of MRSA infections for VA hospitals nationally.
Brooks said he and many of the other whistleblowers filed complaints with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, a federal agency that reviews whistleblower complaints, but does not have independent investigative authority. The agency notified him in May that no action would be taken. Brooks shared the written response he received. “You were unable to provide our office with detailed information regarding the gravity and frequency of the problem,” said Olare Nelson, an attorney in the OSC’s disclosure unit. Brooks is undeterred. “I’m ringing the bell,” he said. “I’m letting people know there’s an issue here. They continue to say that everything’s fine, but we know on the inside that we have an institutional culture that is not promoting safe patient care.” [Source: WCPO.com | Mark Greenblatt, Dan Monk, Aaron Kessler | February 16, 2016 ++]
VAMC Cincinnati Update 04 ► VISN 10 & VAMC Directors Removed
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced actions against two senior leaders in Cincinnati, Ohio. Based on preliminary results of a joint VA Office of Medical Inspector (OMI) and Office of Accountability (OAR) review conducted February 9-11, 2016 at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center, Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Sloan D. Gibson, has proposed the removal of Jack Hetrick, the Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN 10) director, from Federal Service. Today, Mr. Hetrick submitted his retirement. Additionally, VA’s Undersecretary for Health, Dr. David J. Shulkin, has detailed the Cincinnati VA Medical Center Acting Chief of Staff, Dr. Barbara Temeck, out of her current duties pending appropriate administrative action.
Hetrick received a notice of pending removal 25 FEB. As of that date, Shulkin has summarily suspended Temeck’s privileges and detailed her to non-patient-care duties while he considers appropriate additional actions. “We are committed to sustainable accountability,” said Gibson. “We will continue to use VA’s statutory authority to hold employees accountable where warranted by the evidence. That is simply the right thing to do for Veterans and taxpayers.”
The VA joint team conducted the site visit to investigate allegations of professional misconduct on the part of Temeck along with allegations that she directed the referral of Veterans for care in the community as a cost-shifting mechanism, resulting in poor quality of care. The team did not substantiate any impropriety with respect to community care referrals or quality of care for Veterans. However, the team did substantiate misconduct by both Hetrick and Temeck related to Temeck’s provision of prescriptions and other medical care to members of Hetrick’s family. VA OIG has accepted VA’s referral of the substantiated allegations for potential criminal investigation. [Source: VA News Release | February 25, 2016 ++]
VAMC Albany NY Update 02 ► Director Will Not be Reinstated
Department of Veterans Affairs officials are standing by removal of their Albany medical center’s director despite an oversight board’s ruling that terminating her was too severe a punishment. Merit Systems Protection Board Administrative Law Judge Arthur Joseph two weeks ago ordered Linda Weiss’ removal cancelled. Veterans Affairs Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson called that ruling unprecedented, saying he replaced Weiss at the Stratton VA Medical Center in mid-January for failing to promptly ensure patients get safe medical care. “In my judgment, a medical center director who fails to proactively address patient safety concerns or fails to be an advocate for vulnerable veteran patients has no place in the VA,” Gibson said.
This week, Joseph issued his 30-page ruling. He found Weiss failed to reassign a nursing assistant promptly following a detailed report last March that she was impatient, spoke sharply and handled patients roughly, though Weiss started the process for transferring the aide to a job as a supply technician. Joseph also noted complaints about the aide going back to 2011, noting that a nursing director had then recommended the aide’s removal, though Weiss didn’t sustain the charge that the aide physically abused a patient by roughly shoving food in his mouth. Joseph concluded there were also mitigating circumstances, that the threat to patients wasn’t dire in the four months it took to transfer the aide and that Weiss had 42 years of positive VA service. Gibson issued another statement in response to the detailed ruling, calling it untimely and “unenforceable under the law.”
House Committee on Veterans Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller criticized the board ruling, saying no business could operate effectively if many of its major personnel decisions “were subject to approval by an unaccountable board with a strong bias against accountability.” Negotiations are continuing for legislation to change the system, he said. Weiss had said her VA hospital was trying to be a model for others around the nation. [Source: The Associated Press | Michael Virtanen | February 17, 2016++]
VAMC Oklahoma City Update 02 ► Unfilled Mental Health Positions
As veteran suicide rates remain a problem in Oklahoma and across the country, a doctor shortage problem has emerged at the Oklahoma City VA Health Care System. Through a Freedom of Information Act request, KOCO found 21 percent of mental health provider positions are unfilled, although VA officials said the shortage stands at 11 percent as they recently hired two providers. In addition, 23.5 percent of medical doctor positions are vacant. “Too many of our veterans just fall through the cracks,” said state Sen. Frank Simpson, District 14. Simpson said he has talked to many veterans who have had to wait a long time to see a mental health provider, and this shortage may be why. “I would like to see the VA contract out more of our mental health services to local physicians and local psychologists so that they can take care of veterans within our community,” Simpson said.
At the Oklahoma capitol 22 FEB state lawmakers and members of the community gathered to raise awareness about veteran suicides. Statistics show nationwide 22 veterans commit suicide every day. “It’s on track that literally we lose more veterans from suicide than in battle,” said U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, District 2. At the event, Mullin expressed his frustration with the VA crisis line where no immediate assistance was provided to veterans who needed it. “There is no excuse, and I don’t care what anybody says. There is no excuse,” Mullin said. Mullin pushed for more efforts be made to assist veterans in need of immediate assistance.
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs told KOCO that they have hired more staff and staggered their shifts so that more staff will be available to answer the veteran crisis line during peak times of 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. A spokesperson with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says they are also making necessary technology improvements to their phone systems. Officials with the Oklahoma City VA Health Care System got back with KOCO late in the day on Monday. The OKC VA released this statement:
“As of today, our vacancy rate for mental health physicians has dropped to 11% and we continue our recruitment efforts to fill the remaining three vacancies. These vacancies have not negatively impacted our ability to care for our veterans. Our inpatient mental health unit continues normal operations and the average wait time for an outpatient mental health appointment is 9 ½ days.”
[Source: KOCO.com | Crystal Price | February 22, 2016 ++]
* Vets *
Stolen Valor ► Reported 160215 thru 160231
Green Beret Posers Exposed — It takes a mere glance for Tim Howle to see through the nonsense. A military uniform adorned with every award a service member can earn is a dead giveaway. He hopes he’s wrong, but sometimes an impersonator is blatantly lying and receiving financial benefits based on those lies. That’s where Howle draws the line. “It’s just about righting wrong,” Howle said. “We hold certain values of honesty and integrity as a basis for our being. If nobody else is going to stand up to these guys, we feel we have to do it.” Howle is among a growing group of veterans — mostly retired — in online groups that investigates tips of people impersonating or bolstering a military career. The groups have been active for years but are gaining national attention in the wake of a decision to strike down the Stolen Valor Act.
Last month, a specially convened panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the First Amendment allows people to wear unearned military honors. The decision followed the 2007 Stolen Valor Act conviction of Elven Joe Swisher of Idaho, who wore a Purple Heart on the witness stand as he testified at the 2005 trial of a man charged with soliciting the murder of a federal judge. Swisher testified that David Roland Hinkson offered him $10,000 to kill the 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. Swisher enlisted in the Marine Corps a year after the Korean War ended and was never wounded in the line of duty, according to prosecutors. Swisher was honorably discharged in 1957, and documents indicate he didn’t receive any medals, according to the 9th Circuit ruling.
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. The recent decision citing freedom of speech to wear unearned medals disappointed Howle. “It’s hard,” he said. Howle enlisted in the Air Force in June 1974. “It wasn’t military enough for me,” Howle said, with a smile. He left as a staff sergeant after four years. In December 1981, he was commissioned into the Army as a second lieutenant and went to language school and was stationed in Germany. He served at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and completed the advanced course for field artillery officers in 1984. The following year, he arrived at Fort Bragg as an artillery officer. He was selected for Special Forces and served with the 10th Special Forces at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, which is now closed. Over his career, Howle deployed to Turkey, Iraq and Africa. “I had a great career,” he said. “I loved every minute of it.”
After his military career, Howle worked as a principal on Fort Bragg for about 10 years. He retired in 2011 and lives in Hope Mills with his wife. The brotherhood he forged as a Special Forces operator has helped him stay vigilant against the frauds, he said. Because the Special Forces community is so small and tight-knit, it’s easy to keep tabs on who really served, he said. “Special Forces is really a small group,” he said. “We can usually tell if a story doesn’t add up and is so clearly bogus.” Over the past three years, Howle estimated, he’s investigated hundreds of tips through the help of his Facebook group Green Beret Posers Exposed. The page, which was started by a group of Special Forces operators, is not public. Only those whose service has been verified can join.
The group works with other online military investigation groups, including This Ain’t Hell and Guardian of Valor. The approach is the same. Tips are sent to members, who post them in the group. Members chime in if the tip is unfounded. Unlike rogue people who confront impersonators in public places and videotape the encounter, online groups request service records through the federal Freedom of Information Act to verify claims. Even when confronted with service records, Howle said some impersonators are reluctant to confess. No one has ever explained why they do it, Howle said. “They will cry, beg for forgiveness,” he said. “It’s real frustrating when you can’t get these guys to own up.” When a tip is credible, someone will turn it over to police for formal investigation. Howle said he’s even passed information to the FBI. “It’s sad because they don’t enforce it,” Howle said. “When we do find there may be some criminal or fraud things going on, and can’t get law enforcement to take a hard look at it, that’s sad. They think it’s a victimless crime, but it’s not. These benefits could go to a veteran who needs them.” For example, one person investigated by Green Beret Posers Exposed claimed to be a Special Forces colonel and received a service dog worth more than $40,000. It turned out the man spent less than a year in the Army and was discharged as a private.
Howle is hoping state laws could make a difference. In the past few years, Howle said state-level laws similar to the federal Stolen Valor Act have gained popularity. North Carolina does not have such a law. Last month, Anthony Anderson, who runs the popular website Guardian of Valor, testified before two committees in Maryland to discuss state-level Stolen Valor legislation. His website works to out people who falsely claim unauthorized medals or tabs. It features a “Hall of Shame,” where posers are pictured and named. Howle is compelled to track down the phonies for more than stopping unearned benefits. To him and other Special Forces soldiers, it’s also about preserving the prestige and heroic actions of those who fought. “We’ve lost so many soldiers,” Howle said. “And those guys aren’t looking for glory. It’s all about the guys who have paid the ultimate sacrifice and been badly wounded. When you go to visit those guys recovering, and think about these guys building a life on lies, it makes you want to spit.” [Source: The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Amanda Dolasinski | February 12, 2016 ++]
Soldiers Memorial St. Louis MO Update 01 ► Closed for Renovation
The Soldiers Memorial Military Museum closed 28 FEB for the scheduled $30 million renovation, with promises of reopening in two years as a functional and inspirational “transformation.” It is the first lengthy closure of the 80-year-old downtown landmark. The Missouri Historical Society and local public officials held a flag lowering ceremony Sunday afternoon to mark the occasion. “I really didn’t think it was ever going to happen,” said St. Louis Assessor Freddie Dunlap, a commissioner on the Soldiers Memorial board. “It’s been a long time coming. It’s much needed.” The museum is owned by the City of St. Louis, and it had been operated for years on a shoestring budget. Last year, the city inked a deal with the Historical Society, which runs the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park, to restore and operate the memorial.
Its archives of war letters, weapons, uniforms, medals and other artifacts were disorganized; some were dirty, faded and even molding. City staff estimated the building needed $6 million in upgrades and repairs — its limestone exterior hadn’t been cleaned in more than 60 years. The museum has no air conditioning. Old windows let in ultraviolet light that faded exhibits. Mayor Francis Slay tried multiple times to find another caretaker, even asking the National Park Service to take over. Finally, two years ago, Historical Society trustees agreed to hire staff to begin cleaning, counting and describing the memorial’s artifacts. A nonprofit support group gave $917,000 toward the work. The family foundation of Enterprise Rent-A-Car founder Jack Taylor also committed to help. In November, Slay signed over control of the museum to the Historical Society.
Bugler Sarah Gamblin-Luig, from Bugles Across America, plays taps on Sunday
The complex, which was built in honor of World War I veterans, includes a World War II memorial called the Court of Honor directly across Chestnut Street. Historical Society leaders said they will create a “state-of-the-art” facility to honor military service, veterans and their families. Workers will add storm windows, “museum-quality” heating, air conditioning and electrical systems, plus wheelchair ramps and other improvements. They will refurbish the museum’s lower level for use as galleries, more than doubling the amount of exhibition space. And the classical/Art Deco outside will get a face-lift. Workers will also revitalize the Court of Honor, adding fountains and monuments lauding veterans who died in service. Historical Society leaders said they’ve already secured anonymous donations to cover renovation costs and will not tap the roughly $10 million in tax dollars annually paid by St. Louis city and St. Louis County property owners to the History Museum.
On Sunday, about 200 people packed the wide outdoor terrace leading into the museum. A veterans color guard marched flags into place, backs not quite as straight, arms not quite as thick as they once were. A four-year-old led the Pledge of Allegiance. A bugle’s wavering notes echoed in the memorial’s halls. Slay called it an “exciting day” and promised a facility transformation. “Visitors will return to a world-class museum,” he told the crowd. History Museum President Frances Levine said the work would “reunite artifacts with the stories of those who served.” “I can assure you it will be worth the wait,” she said. And Terrie Hobson, president of the local chapter of the parents support group American Gold Star Mothers, spoke of her son, Lance Cpl. Jack Kenner, who died in Iraq eight years ago. Mothers still meet at Soldiers Memorial quarterly, she said.
The crowd pulled handkerchiefs and tissues from pockets. Bernard White, 58, from Pasadena Park, wanted to see the memorial one last time before it closed. The names, the weapons, the letters home — it hit him hard, he said. He was surprised there weren’t more visitors to the museum itself. The world, he said, spends too much time and money on stadiums, arenas and recreational stuff. “If nothing else downtown gets attended to,” he said, “this place should.” [Source: St. Louis Post Dispatch | David Hunn | February 28, 2016 ++]
Vet Fertility Treatments Update 01 ► Why VA Cannot Provide
Midway through Matt Keil’s second deployment in Iraq, he came home and married his fiancé, Tracy, in 2007. He had two weeks R&R; no time for a honeymoon. Before he went back to war the couple had the sort of conversation unique to newlyweds in the military. “I told her if you get a phone call that I’m injured, I’m probably fine,” Matt says. “But if they come to the apartment or to your work in person, then I’m dead.” Six weeks later the news came—a phone call, thankfully. Matt had been shot in the shoulder. It wasn’t until Tracy got to Walter Reed Army Medical Center that she got the full story. The sniper’s bullet had nicked Matt’s spine. “The doctor came in and told me he was paralyzed from the neck down, and he said it was a ‘Christopher Reeve’-type injury,” says Tracy.
Questions overwhelmed them about the future, including whether they’d ever be able to have children. It seemed like something they could figure out later. “They were kinda telling us we’re putting the cart before the horse,” Matt recalls. “‘You guys got to get through a whole hell of a lot of rehab.’” Time was running out, though, and the Keils didn’t realize it. To have children they’d need help: in vitro fertilization. But IVF is expensive, costing, on average, at least $12,000 per cycle of treatment, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
The Pentagon’s health-care system for active-duty troops covers IVF for wounded soldiers like Matt Keil. The Department of Veterans Affairs for veterans doesn’t. By the time the Keils learned about the difference, it was too late. “We were just swallowing the fact that he was never going to go back to work,” Tracy says. “But finding out that IVF wouldn’t be covered because we agreed to retire out so quickly, that was hard, because nobody told me that.” A law passed in 1992 made it illegal for the VA to pay for IVF, which some people oppose because embryos are often destroyed in the process. The only option for the Keils would have been to get the procedure done immediately after Matt’s injury. They had missed the window. Matt was just starting to accept that with the limits of current science he might never walk again. But the limit on his ability to pay for IVF was put in his way by Congress. “This is a direct result of a combat injury,” says Tracy. “Don’t tell me that his service wasn’t good enough for us to have a chance at a family. Because we’ve already lost so much. I just want to have a family with the man that I love and please don’t make this any worse than it already has to be.”
In the decades since Congress banned IVF for the VA, the procedure has become much more common. And about 1,400 troops came back from Iraq and Afghanistan with severe injuries to their reproductive organs. Thousands more have head injuries, paralysis or other conditions that make IVF their best option. Bills to change the law come up periodically, only to be blocked at the last minute, says Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). “They don’t come out and say that directly, but there continues to be a backroom concern about the practice of IVF,” Murray says. Murray’s bipartisan IVF bill nearly passed last summer. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), who is staunchly against abortion rights, effectively blocked it. Tillis declined requests for comment, but said at the time that he opposed the bill because other problems at the VA need to be fixed first. The Congressional Budget Office estimates a change in VA policy to pay for fertility treatment could cost more than $500 million over four years. Murray says vets should get the same options as active-duty troops. “It’s really ridiculous that Congress would deny a widely used medical procedure to our veterans just because of their own … beliefs,” she says.
Rep. Jeff Miller, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said he’s working toward a compromise that “meets the needs of this special group of severely injured veterans while being sensitive to concerns surrounding IVF procedures.” In the meantime, many fertility clinics across the country offer discounted rates for veterans who are paying out of their own pockets for IVF. For the Keils, who spent the year after Matt’s injury figuring out how their new life could work, offers like that came too late. “We weren’t at a good spot in our marriage at the time, and thought that if we’re going to bring kids into this world they need to be brought into a healthy relationship,” says Matt. “What if we didn’t even end up staying together?” Tracy adds. They took a year to work it out, and then decided it was for sure—their marriage would survive. They also wanted a family. “We were ready, and it didn’t matter what it was going to take,” Tracy says. [Source: The Atlantic | Quil Lawrence | 2February 26, 2016 ++]
Purple Heart Award ► An Honor Long Overdue | Cecil Stephens
More than 70 years after being wounded in one of the deadliest battles of World War II, Cecil Stephens was honored with the Purple Heart. The 90-year-old Merced man’s service was recognized by the Merced Veterans of Foreign Wars, the county Board of Supervisors, and representatives from the offices of Assemblyman Adam Gray and Rep. Jim Costa, among others, while he was surrounded by family and friends at the Hampshire retirement community. It was an honor long overdue. Cecil Stephens was injured in the Battle of Okinawa during WWII on May 14, 1945
Born in Manchester, Tenn., in 1925, Stephens moved to Merced in the 1930s. He was just 19 when he joined the 1st Marine Division in Japan as a private first class in 1944. The next year, he found himself in the Battle of Okinawa in the Ryukyu Islands, where the young Stephens manned a Browning automatic rifle and, on May 14, 1945, was wounded. “I was the one they were after all the time,” he joked. Even now, he said, the shrapnel remains in his leg. The three-month Battle of Okinawa was one of the fiercest of the war. Of the 180,000 U.S. servicemen sent to Okinawa, more than 12,500 were killed, and about 38,000 were missing or wounded, according to the Marine Corps Association and Foundation. The Japanese military lost at least 70,000, and anywhere from 40,000 to 150,000 Okinawans are believed to have perished during the battle.
After the war, Stephens returned to Merced and worked as a county mechanic for 36 years before taking various part-time jobs in local eateries. Stephens didn’t talk much about his time at war, according to his family. He saw a lot of people die, and his memories were the sort of thing people try to forget. Stephens didn’t give much thought to being recognized for his injury, not until his niece and nephew, Joan Bippus of Sacramento and Terry Prost of Indianapolis, began looking into it. The two compiled Stephens’ military personnel records and researched the Purple Heart, confirming that his experience at Okinawa made him eligible for the honor. “It was some of the fiercest fighting against the Japanese during the whole war,” Prost said of the battle during a phone interview. “It bothered me that somebody who survived that (battle) never officially got his medal.”
The Purple Heart is one of the most recognized and respected medals awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. As one of the nation’s oldest military awards, the significance of the so-called Badge of Military Merit has evolved to recognize service members wounded by an enemy in combat.
When the honor finally came for Stephens in December, it arrived in a most unceremonious way: It was delivered by mail, the package simply left on his doorstep. Debra Yerger, who is manager at the Hampshire, where Stephens has lived for the last seven years, decided the World War II veteran deserved more. “Anyone who is deserving of a Purple Heart deserved better treatment than that,” she said. “He’s more deserving than a package left on his doorstep.” So, Yerger and other staffers collaborated with VFW Post 4327 to organize a proper ceremony.
On 19 FEB, a crowd of dignitaries and loved ones were on hand to pay tribute for the sacrifice of long ago. “I wasn’t expecting this,” Stephens said. “I knew there would be a small presentation. It sewed up to be a big one.” Prost, who served in the Navy, said he would encourage family members of all veterans, especially those who served in WWII, to look into veterans’ service to determine if they are eligible for any awards. Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, fewer than 700,000 are believed to survive today, according to The National WWII Museum. It’s estimated that 430 of these members of the Greatest Generation die each day. Prost said he was glad to see his uncle finally be honored. “It’s a recognition of his service to his country,” Prost said. “He put his life on the line for all of us.” [Source: Merced Sun-Star | Brianna Calix | February 24, 2016 ++]
Last Day of Freedom ► Death-Row Vets/Combat PTSD Documentary
The film that raises questions about veterans’ mental health care, capital punishment and justice for troubled troops is on the short list for a 28 FEB Oscar presentation. The 30-minute documentary “Last Day of Freedom” tells the story of former Marine Manuel Babbitt through the eyes of his brother Bill. Babbitt was executed in California in 1999 after being convicted of beating an elderly woman to death in Sacramento in 1980. Babbitt — “Manny” to family and friends — had suffered a head injury as a child, and despite having learning disabilities and dropping out of school in seventh grade at age 17, was recruited by the Marine Corps. He went to Vietnam and later developed a host of mental health issues, including schizophrenia, severe post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse. “They was able to discern his physical wounds and was able to patch them up, but they never got around to patching that wound in his head,” Bill says in the film.
Through a melange of film footage and animation using more than 30,000 drawings and sketches, filmmakers Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman follow Manny Babbitt’s life from childhood to grave, focusing on his struggles but also on the system they believe failed him. “One of the things we really wanted to uncover is the complexities of the death penalty and of veterans’ care,” said Hibbert-Jones, an associate professor of art at the University of California-Santa Cruz. “The fact that someone would go to war and serve their country and then be failed by that country is a complete travesty.”
The movie is among five vying for the Academy Award for best short documentary. Going into the competition, it already has a bevy of accolades, including the best short film award at the International Documentary Association, as well as the jury and best filmmaker awards from the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. Hibbert-Jones said the six-year project began as an effort to understand the impact of gang violence and PTSD on youth. “But as we listened to Bill’s story, it was so powerful … it really speaks to the issues of the judicial system, who goes to war for us, race and politics,” she said. The exact number of combat veterans facing capital punishment in the United States is unknown. An extrapolation from several states released last November estimates that 275 to 300 of the country’s 3,057 inmates on death row are veterans. Manny Babbitt is emblematic of many of these cases, Hibbert-Jones said. “Sadly, Manny’s is not an unusual case,” she said.
Babbitt joined the Marine Corps under a program that admitted service members with IQs or physical standards lower than the accepted norm. He was struck in the head and hand by shrapnel at Khe Sanh, Vietnam, and returned to combat a week after he was wounded. When he got home, he began displaying symptoms of PTSD, including flashbacks and nightmares, according to Bill. He began abusing drugs and alcohol, and turned to crime, robbing gas stations and breaking into homes. He was caught, convicted and sentenced to prison but served most of his time in a mental hospital. After he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, he was let out. He went to live with Bill and his family, and during that time, he broke into the home of Leah Schendel, 78, and beat her to death.
In the film, Bill talks about figuring out Manny participated in the crime and choosing to turn him in. “I was so grateful for these cops, you know? They were going to make it right, somehow,” Bill Babbitt says. “I told my family it was going to be alright.” After Manny was convicted and efforts to appeal the case failed, he was executed on his 50th birthday. In the year before his death, the Marine Corps awarded him his Purple Heart in prison. Hibbert-Jones, a native of England, and Talisman, an Israeli veteran, that they have lifelong feelings against the death penalty, viewing it as cruel and unusual punishment. But Hibbert-Jones said in cases involving the mentally ill, the punishment seems even more egregious. “We have been showing this film at universities, and people say, ‘This was years ago. This doesn’t happen today.’ But that’s not true. These issues have not gone away,” she said.
Nearly 40 years after Babbitt was discharged, the Defense Department does not know how many troops have been discharged with combat-related mental health disorders, according to the Government Accountability Office. According to a report published in 2015, the Army, Marine Corps and Navy do not accurately label the reasons for discharges ineligible for disability pay, making it impossible to know how many service members in the past decade have been kicked out for misbehavior that may be related to PTSD or other combat-related disorders. A Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation in 2013 by The Gazette of Colorado Springs found that the Army continues to discharge troops who have combat-related mental issues for misconduct and poor behavior without examining the connection between the two. The report also found that Army psychologists face pressure to clear troops for discharge from superiors who want to thin the ranks.
Hibbert-Jones said she would like to win in order to shine a spotlight on the plight of veterans’ mental health and capital punishment. “One of our hopes for the film is it will reach audiences that might not otherwise be aware of these issues,” Hibbert-Jones said. “Last Day of Freedom” is currently available on Netflix. To view a trailer go to https://vimeo.com/49610192 [Source: Military Times | Patricia Kime | February 22, 2016 ++]
Missouri Vet Tuition Aid ► House Passes Bill to Change Cap
House members have voted unanimously to make changes to the Missouri Returning Heroes’ Education Act’s tuition $50 per credit hour cap for veterans who enlisted after Sept. 11, 2001. The Joplin Globe reports the 22 FEB 149-0 vote could have significant implications for veterans who are inundated with costs related to tuition, such as student fees and room and board. University of Missouri graduate student Sean McLafferty testified during the bill’s committee hearing that Mizzou currently charges $276 per credit hour for in-state tuition. Rep. Charlie Davis, a Webb City Republican, says he is confident the bill will pass in the Senate. A hearing date has not been set for the measure. For a FAQ on the 2008 legislation go to http://dhe.mo.gov/files/moretheroesact.pdf. [Source: The Associated Press February 24, 2016 ++]
St. Marys Submarine Museum ► WWII Archives Coming Online
More than 1,600 World War II submarine war patrol reports fill the file cabinets in the St. Marys Submarine Museum. Many of the records were classified confidential or top secret at the time they were filed. The records were scheduled to be shredded until a high ranking admiral decided the information has important historical value. Museum workers and volunteers have been meticulously transcribing the reports digitally since 2008 and have recently completed the arduous task. It’s the largest collection of WWII submarine war patrol reports outside the Navy Archives. Retired Master Chief John Crouse, the first museum manager, worked on the project until his unexpected death in 2010. His replacement, Keith Post, said he had too many responsibilities when he was asked to serve as interim museum manager to work on the archives. “After John died, the project went into mothballs,” he said.
A museum volunteer, Paul Denzier, learned about Crouse’s work to type each record into digital format. The format allows readers to conduct word searches on all the records and to cut and paste any information they want to copy. “The only way to do it was to type it in longhand,” Denzier said. More than 40 volunteers worked to type the reports, which were required to be written by the captain of each boat when returning from a war patrol. The reports range anywhere from five pages to more than 120 pages, he said. Some of the reports were compelling, written by what Denzier said must have been aspiring writers. “Some were short, snappy and to the point,” he said. “Some wrote good action reports you couldn’t put down. I’d be writing them at 3 o’clock in the morning.” One team member is making charts tracking the location of individual submarines during their patrols, including where they faced enemy fire and where they attacked or sank enemy ships. The charts of nearly 1,100 of the war patrols have been completed, he said. Post said the digital records will be available to review at the museum and they will be online in about six months. [Source: The Brunswick News | Gordon Jackson | February 22, 2016 ++]
Michigan Vet Home Update 01 ► Grand Rapids Audit Reveals Major Problems
Workers at a Michigan veterans home falsely claimed they were checking on patients after being alerted of possible falls, failed to properly investigate allegations of abuse and neglect, and took too long to fill prescriptions, the state auditor said 18 FEB. The 415-bed Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, one of two state-run nursing homes for veterans, provided insufficient care and continued with inadequate staffing levels even as the state filed four complaints over a 1 ½-year period against the contractor hired to supply nursing aides, according to the audit. The report flagged a host of problems and issued five “material” findings — the most serious that can be levied.
- Auditors looked at third-shift surveillance video to show that only about a half of required room checks and one-third of fall-alarm checks were done, even though the home produced documentation that the checks occurred.
- The audit found that of 38 abuse or neglect complaints made over a 23-month period, nine were not forwarded to the nursing director and stayed with managers of departments against which the complaints were lodged — a violation of policy.
- About one-third of prescriptions were filled late, and problems also were flagged with tracking medication inventories and insurance billing.
The audit was made public by the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency on Thursday, a day before its scheduled release by Auditor General Doug Ringler, after outraged lawmakers began issuing statements and promising oversight hearings. Sen. David Knezek, a Dearborn Heights Democrat and a Marine Corps veteran, said he was “devastated” by the auditor’s conclusions. “We owe our veterans and their families a debt of gratitude — not a legacy of heartbreak and mismanaged care,” he said. The agency agreed with the findings and said it is making changes to comply with recommendations and bring the home in line with industry best practices. “There is room for improvement. We have placed our focus on improving the quality of care,” Veterans Affairs Director Jeff Barnes told The Associated Press in a phone interview.
In the fall, he appointed Leslie Shanlian, a nursing home administrator, as chief executive officer of the new Michigan Veteran Health System to coordinate operations in Grand Rapids and at the D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans in Marquette. An electronic medical records system should be ready within months, he said, and an automated dispensing system will help better control and oversee medications. The home will discontinue the use of fall-alarm sensors in beds and wheelchairs after reviewing research indicating that the pressure-sensitive devices can increase rates of falling and limit mobility. Shanlian said inspectors are spot-checking surveillance video now to see if the proper checks have been done, and workers have been warned that they could be fired for falsifying records.
In his budget presentation last week, Gov. Rick Snyder proposed $8 million to pursue certification from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — which would qualify the state for more health care funding and bring additional inspections. It includes $6.1 million to remodel a floor at the Grand Rapids home. “It gives us the ability to provide services that we currently cannot,” Barnes said. Rep. Holly Hughes, a Montague Republican, promised to “get to the bottom of this and demand accountability from the people responsible, whether that be further inquiry, reprimands or job termination.” The audit said the company that supplies about 150 nursing aides, J2S Group-HealthForce in Grand Rapids, filed a complaint against the state after the state complained for a fourth time in October about the firm not meeting required staffing. Barnes said Thursday the Michigan attorney general’s office and company lawyers are close to finishing a contract change, including a potential pay-for-performance bonus incentive each time staff levels are at 100 percent for 30 consecutive days. [Source: The Associated Press | Dave Eggert | February 19, 2016 ++]
Vet Learning Courses ► Free Online Video Tutorials
LinkedIn is now offering service members and veterans one year of access to its professional development site, www.Lynda.com , at no cost. This online learning company offers thousands of on-demand courses for users to build their business, software, technology, creative and other skills. LinkedIn also allows job seekers to create a public Veterans Employment Center (VEC) profile. The VEC connects transitioning service members, veterans and their families with employers that have made a commitment to hire them. To create a VEC profile, visit the Veterans Employment Center webpage and selecting ‘job seekers.’ For more information, visit the LinkedIn Veterans webpage at www.veterans.linkedin.com. [Source: NAUS | Weekly Update | February 19, 2016 ++]
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Update 17 ► In Memory Program
More than 58,000 names meet the Defense Department’s criteria to be etched into the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, but those who survived the war — but later died as a result of their service — are not. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund acknowledges their service and sacrifice through an online “In Memory” Honor Roll. Causes of death that fit the criteria for inclusion in the program include exposure to Agent Orange, PTSD-related illnesses/events, cancer, diabetes, heart attacks, etc. The program is free and the application process is simple. To honor a loved one, you only need to submit the veteran’s DD214 to show their proof of service in the Vietnam War, a copy of their death certificate, and a photograph. The application deadline for inclusion in the 2016 ceremony is March 4. For information or to submit applications, go to: http://www.vvmf.org/InMemoryProgram. [Source: VFW | Action Corps Weekly | February 19, 2016 ++]
No Man Left Behind Update 01 ► Sculpture’s Depicted Vet Mugged
Police in Washington, D.C., are looking for at least four people in connection with the assault and robbery of a veteran Marine sergeant and Bronze Star with “V” recipient, who was one of two Marines who helped carry then-1st Sgt. Bradley Kasal out of Fallujah’s infamous “Hell House”.
Marine Sgt. Christopher Marquez depicted in the “No Man Left Behind” statues that are displayed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Camp Pendleton
Marquez said his memories of what happened next are a blur. He said the restaurant’s manager later told him that security camera footage shows one of the people hitting him in the back of the head with an unknown object as he was leaving the McDonald’s. “It was a sharp blow to the back of my head,” Marquez said. His assailants allegedly took everything in his pockets, tearing off the back of his pants to steal his wallet, Marquez said. They allegedly made more than $115 in charges on his USAA debit card, he said. When he came to, Marquez said he took a taxi cab to his apartment complex, where he met police. After spending several hours at George Washington University Hospital being examined for head trauma, Marquez was told to go to a Veterans Affairs medical facility for follow-up treatment, he said. On 16 FEB, Marquez said he was getting a replacement identification so that he could be seen by VA doctors.
Marquez was awarded the Bronze Star with combat distinguishing device for his actions in Fallujah, Iraq, on Nov. 12, 2004, when he refused to leave his mortally wounded team leader despite being under intense fire from an enemy machine gun, his award citation says. As bullets hit the wall around him, Marquez dragged his team leader to a place of relative safety, where he could be administered medical aid. Veteran Marine Sgt. Christopher Marquez is depicted in the “No Man Left Behind” statues that are displayed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Camp Pendleton, Calif. Marquez, left, was helping then-1st Sgt. Bradley Kasal during a firefight in Fallujah, Iraq. “Adhering to the longstanding Marine Corps tradition of ‘No man left behind,’ he was willing to risk his own life to ensure that a fellow Marine would not fall into the hands of the enemy,” the citation says. The next day, Marquez helped carry out Kasal, now the sergeant major of I Marine Expeditionary Force, from a house in Fallujah that was the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting of the retake the city from terrorists. Kasal was later awarded the Navy Cross for his heroism there. “That was a crazy deployment,” Marquez told Marine Corps Times. “There were constant firefights all over the place.”
Marquez said he is angry at being attacked at home after making it through Iraq. “We’re there to protect our country so that people … don’t have to be scared of getting killed or being attacked,” he said. “We’re all Americans, especially in the military. We serve with people from all backgrounds. It seems like there is so much tension right now. … It’s very sad.” Video at http://www.navytimes.com/story/military/2016/02/18/dc-police-release-video-assault-decorated-marine-vet/80556684/ is newly released surveillance footage from the McDonalds shows a black male wearing a tank top hitting Marquez in the head as he leaves the restaurant.
The suspects allegedly assaulted former Sgt. Christopher Marquez at a McDonald’s on 12 FEB in Washington. Identified as Person of Interest 1, he and at least one other person can be seen kicking Marquez while the Marine vet is on the ground after people have gone through his pants pockets for valuables. Police are also looking for a black female identified as Person of Interest 2 and another person identified as Person of Interest 3, whose gender cannot be determined from the surveillance video. “Anyone who can identify these individuals or who has knowledge of this incident should take no action but call police at (202) 727-9099 or text your tip to the Department’s TEXT TIP LINE to 50411,” according to a Metropolitan Police Department news release. The case number is CCN #16-022-175.
Two teens have been arrested in connection to the assault and robbery of former Sgt. Christopher Marquez, D.C. police said. Police said one 17-year-old male and one 17-year-old female were involved in the attack. The male was charged with aggravated assault and the female was charged with robbery. Christopher Marquez, who served in the Marine Corps from 2003 to 2011, said he believes the February 12th attack was racially motivated. “The kids were asking me if I think that black lives mattered,” Marquez told USA Today. “I was ignoring them, just because I felt intimidated. I felt how they approached me, it was very hostile. I felt they were really trying to intimidate me and just trying to start a confrontation with me.” Police say a third suspect was involved in the assault. Crime Solvers of Washington, DC currently offers a reward of up to $1,000 to anyone who provides information that leads to the arrest and indictment of the person or persons responsible for a crime committed in the District of Columbia. A GoFundMe account has been set up for Marquez. To make a donation go to https://www.gofundme.com/m6p4me6c. [Source: Marine Corps Times & WUSA | Jeff Schogol | February 17 & 23, 2016 ++]
Vet Charity Watch Update 54 ► SMVA Cease-And-Desist Order
Authorities have issued a cease-and-desist order against an unregistered charity in Southern Maryland that they say raised thousands of dollars under the false guise of housing veterans. Dan Brashear, the leader of the Southern Maryland Veterans Association (SMVA), says his group is the victim of embezzlement by a former employee and insists that he helped relocate several homeless veterans. But the Maryland Secretary of State and Attorney General’s offices say his group has failed to account for its donations and ordered it to stop raising money. The state investigation was already underway when Norman Randolph McDonald, a former manager at the charity, was arrested in January on suspicion of stealing donations meant for veterans. The group solicited at grocery stores in Calvert County. Brashear said he thought McDonald had filed the necessary paperwork for the charity to operate. A message left with McDonald’s attorney was not immediately returned. Brashear said he wanted to help veterans when he got out of prison in 2012 after serving 22 years for killing his then-girlfriend. His first charity venture in Western Maryland ran into financial problems, and an assistant accused him of misusing funds, Brashear said. Now he plans to operate shelters for veterans in Texas and Indiana, and he said he’ll appeal the cease-and-desist order to clear his name. [Source: The Washington Post | Fenit Nirappil | February 17, 2016 ++]
Vet Groups ► Fighting Enrollment Decline
Their loyalty is as strong as their patriotism. As members of veterans organizations, those who have served in the armed forces can be seen at the funerals of fellow veterans where they quietly stand guard, waiting to perform a 30-second military rite. They travel to local schools on Veterans Day, and go cemetery-to-cemetery giving speeches to crowds on Memorial Day with paper poppies pinned to their shirts. The color guards often are seen at sporting events or marching proudly down the main streets of America during summer parades, carrying the flags of their state, their fraternal organization and their country. Many local VFW and American Legion halls are open for fish fry Fridays, and put on steak feeds once a month. The American Legion sponsors high school students to go to Badger Boys State, a week-long seminar about the workings of government. Veterans groups often are visible in the community as they work to raise funds not just for their own organizations, but for local food pantries, Veterans Administration hospitals and other local community services. But look closely at that color guard marching down the street or at the cemetery at the ready to perform military rites. Most, if not all, of its participants likely are at least 60 years old.
Declining Membership. Membership in the VFW and American Legion is decreasing as the highest population of veterans — those of World War II — passes away. The Veterans of Foreign Wars is the oldest of veterans fraternal groups, formed by soldiers of the Spanish American War in 1899, becoming known as the VFW in 1913. Membership in the VFW is open to those who have received a campaign medal for overseas service; have served 30 consecutive or 60 non-consecutive days in Korea; or have ever received hostile fire or imminent danger pay. VFW membership has dropped with the losses among the aging WWII veteran population. As of 2014, the number of living WWII veterans in the U.S. dropped below 1 million, with death rates of about 430 a day, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
With VFW national membership at 1.3 million — down from its 1992 peak of 2.1 million — the average age among VFW members is 70. “We have 180 members and six or seven WWII guys left,” said Prairie du Sac Lachmund-Cramer VFW Post 7694 commander and Vietnam veteran Bart Mauch. “Our honor guard does military rites and we did 23 funerals last year. Since 1995, we’ve done 312 funeral military rites.” Most of the members of the Prairie du Sac VFW are Vietnam era vets. The post’s elderly veterans who pass away are not being replaced by younger servicemen and women. Vietnam veteran Tom Schuster lives in Madison, but belongs to the Sauk Prairie VFW because that’s his hometown. “It’s really hard to communicate with younger guys because they just don’t want anything to do with joining,” Schuster said.
Different Era. Schuster has been a VFW member for 10 years, a relatively short time compared to many members. He said that has more to do with coming home to a national attitude that showed no respect to Vietnam vets in the early 1970s. He said he felt the same attitude with VFW groups 40 years ago. “When I got out of the service, I went into Madison to join the VFW and they didn’t want us because we were Vietnam,” Schuster said. “They did not think Vietnam veterans fought a war.” The American Legion, which was was created by an act of Congress in 1919 and spearheaded the original GI Bill for veterans returning from World War II in the 1940s, has seen its national membership decrease to 2.4 million, down from 2.7 million a decade ago and 3.1 million 20 years ago. Eligibility for the American Legion is less stringent than for VFW members. It’s open to all war-time veterans whether they served in combat or not.
Dale Oatman, state-wide commander for the American Legion based in Portage, also likened recruitment difficulties with younger members to the distancing and alienation Vietnam veterans felt in the 70s from the American public. “Forty years later Vietnam vets have started coming on board,” Oatman said. “They are the largest group out there right now. If that will happen with the new generation, I don’t know The Burton-Koppang American Legion Post in Mauston has the largest membership in Juneau County with 175 veterans. Post adjutant Jim Bittick said most members are in their 60s and 70s. “Our pool of prospective members is shrinking,” Bittick said. “You have to be a vet when America was at war. That number is shrinking. Less than one percent of the population goes into the military now.” Bittick pointed out that most fraternal organizations such as the Lions Club, Kiwanis and other groups struggle to attract younger members. “People in their 40s and younger don’t seem to be interested,” he said.
Gary Thompson, vice commander of the Harold Larkin Memorial American Legion in Wisconsin Dells and a Vietnam veteran, said the post has few young members. “We can’t figure out why. We’re just not getting them,” he said. “A lot of it is job related for them, or they don’t want to get involved in military politics.” The same is true at the Baraboo American Legion. “Its like going to the geriatric ward at our meetings,” said Baraboo Legion public information officer Tom Gaukel. “There’s usually about 30 people there, and of the 30, there may be two that are less than 65 or 70 years old.”
Smaller Military. A primary reason for dwindling membership in veterans organizations is the military employs fewer people than in the past. According to figures obtained from the U.S. Department of Defense, in December 2015 there were 1.3 million active military personnel in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps combined, compared to more than 16 million during WWII and 8.7 million during the Vietnam War. “Weapons technology means fewer need for the military personnel,” Oatman said. “It doesn’t take as much support to operate an air craft. The Stealth aircraft has fewer on its crew. Drones are not manned. Some satellites are controlled from within the U.S.” The ability of veterans’ groups to recruit also was hampered by the Patriot Act, enacted by Congress in 2001 after the attacks on 9/11. The Act ended the Department of Veterans Affairs’ practice of publishing lists of returning veterans. Oatman said recruiting new members has been “a tough nut to crack.” The age of members has made the organizations slow to keep up with advancing technology frequently used by younger generations. Some local commanders admit it’s only been in the last three or four years that their post has created a website or a Facebook page, if they have one at all.
Reedsburg Thurber-Greenwood VFW member and Vietnam veteran Art Krolikowski said his post has tried recruitment activities such as hosting Packers Days or family events to attract the younger servicemen and women. “What happens is they come, but don’t come back,” Krolikowski said. “They’re busier than heck. Their kids may be in sports and both people in the household are working. We find a lot of them aren’t coming back until they’ve been out of the service 15 years or so.” “National American Legion has come up with a new marketing commission, in part, so they can address membership,” Oatman said. “We’d certainly like to get more veterans on board.” Oatman said younger veterans should consider the work that American Legion members do around the state for veterans. He said their efforts include addressing economic and health issues while working to improve benefits and quality of life.
On 4 FEB, Wisconsin American Legion state leaders testified before a State Assembly committee about proposed legislation that would eliminate the requirement that each of the state’s 72 counties maintain a veterans service officer to assist veterans with their VA benefits. “We’d like younger veterans to see what’s going on and get on board with the American Legion because we’re fighting for our cause,” Oatman said. American Legion State Adjutant David Kurtz said advocacy work is a big reason younger veterans should participate in their local American Legion or VFW. “The things we’re engaged in at state capitol for legislative issues effect the delivery of services,” Kurtz said. “We are protecting and defending the benefits veterans have earned. “We’re representing their best interests every day.”
Kurtz said the organization would like to get younger veterans involved in Camp American Legion near Rhinelander. The camp is a free rehabilitation camp offered to any discharged veteran with a physical or psychological illness, injury or disability, or active duty military person who has returned home within the last nine months and any survivor family members who have lost a service member in the last year. “We have veterans and their spouses and children who come to the camp needing a degree of reintegration for someone gone for six months or a year so they can reestablish relationships,” Kurtz said. “We have entire family support groups and peer counseling for post-traumatic stress issues that’s not a clinical setting, but has trained peer counselors.”
Other Responsibilities. At 43 years old, Nick Westley is among the youngest members of Mauston’s American Legion. He served in the U.S. Navy on a fast tech submarine at Pearl Harbor as a nuclear machinist. He is a bartender at the post on the weekends, the post’s finance officer and manages the bar and liquor purchases. But this year he’s stepping down from those positions to start his own insurance business, and is a single dad of two teenage daughters. “It’s one thing if you’re retired,” Westley said. “My generation tends to say, ‘I don’t have that luxury.’ I take kids to school and work full time and then try to fulfill my civic obligations.” He said he enjoys his time with older vets at the Legion, but said there is a different perspective among today’s soldiers. “We didn’t all join the military for patriotic or noble causes,” Westley said. “Some of the people in today’s modern military join for school benefits. Some say, ‘I’m looking at college and it’s not a fit for me. I think I’ll join the service then go to school.’ Some make the military a career.” Westley has no problem telling younger folks the benefits of joining up, if for no other reason than connecting with other servicemen to share experiences and friendship. “The newer generations tend to say, ‘What’s in it for me?’” Westley said. “So you have to put your sales hat on.” Westley said the benefits can be as basic as camaraderie or as important as an opportunity for business networking.
Family Focus. Jason Lane is 42 years old and is the service officer for the Baraboo American Legion. He said the void in younger membership is something he has been “keenly aware of,” and said it reflects changes in modern society. “The family cultural dynamic has changed in the last 30 years,” Lane said. “The men from the WWII era got involved in a Legion right away and stayed members until they passed away. People my age are more family-centric and seem to have so much more to do.” But he said even with a large age differential there’s still a payoff. “It’s about socializing and connecting with people who may have gone through some of the same traumatic issues in a different time period, and who you have something in common with,” Lane said. Lane, who helped develop the Baraboo Legion’s website and social media presence, also said it’s important for the organizations to accept change. “Just breaking through the ‘we’ve done it this way for years, so let’s just keep doing it that way’ idea,” Lane said. “Guys may be timid to reach out to families because they’ve always done things the same way. Start focusing more on the family dynamic instead of the just the veteran.”
Kevin Krohn of Prairie du Sac is a member of the Prairie du Sac VFW. He recently was promoted to store manager at Ace Hardware in Sauk City. He’s a 47-year-old father of three kids who are heavily involved in sports at school. Since his new promotion he has to work more evenings and said he misses the meetings at the VFW hall. “It’s the camaraderie,” Krohn said. “We have a substantial amount of that in the service. That’s kind of the way those guys are. They are fun guys to be around. I’d go down there when they were playing cribbage, and I’m not of the cribbage age, but I had fun. If I knew the answer of how to get the younger guys involved, I’d do it. I think it’s just a matter of time. We have to wait.” [Source: Sauk Prairie Eagle | Kim Lamoreaux | February 16, 2016 ++]
The Hurt Locker Lawsuit ► Appeals Court Denies Vet’s Suit
A federal appeals court on 17 FEB upheld the dismissal of an Iraq War veteran’s lawsuit against the makers of the “The Hurt Locker” that claimed the Oscar-winning film portrayed him in a bad light. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled a lower court’s dismissal of Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver’s 2009 lawsuit against director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal was proper. Sarver, a bomb-disposal technician who was shadowed by Boal in Iraq, contended the film defamed him by portraying him as obsessed with death. The court disagreed, saying the film was protected by the First Amendment and its fictional protagonist, even if he is based on Sarver, was shown to be a heroic figure.
Master Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver March 3, 2010 file photo
The ruling states the justices agreed that reasonable viewers of the movie “would be left with the conclusion that the character Will James was a heroic figure, albeit one struggling with certain internal conflicts.” The ruling further stated, ” ‘The Hurt Locker’ is speech that is fully protected by the First Amendment, which safeguards the storytellers and artists who take the raw materials of life — including the stories of real individuals, ordinary or extraordinary — and transform them into art, be it articles, books, movies, or plays.” Attorney Jeremiah Reynolds, who represented Bigelow and Boal said, “This is a highly important precedent that will have major implications for the entire film industry,” said
“The Hurt Locker” won six Oscars, including one for Boal’s screenplay and another for Bigelow’s directing. It also won for best picture. Sarver’s attorney, Michael Dezsi, says the ruling is disappointing, and he’s considering how to proceed, including an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. “Sgt. Sarver courageously defended his country and the liberties of this nation in the most dangerous of circumstances, and has now been repaid by the failure of the judicial system to protect his rights,” Dezsi wrote in an email. Sarver sued over the film days before it won big at the 2010 Oscars. A Los Angeles federal judge dismissed his case the following year. Boal was embedded with Sarver’s unit in 2004 and wrote about Sarver and other bomb disposal experts in an article for Playboy magazine titled “The Man in the Bomb Suit.” Sarver said Boal wanted to stay with him exclusively because he didn’t trust other bomb techs. [Source: Associated Press | Anthony Mccartney | February 17, 2016 ++]
Fisher House Expansion Update 13 ► Tucson AZ
In May 2015 the Fisher Foundation in partnership with the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System broke ground and built the first ever Fisher House in Arizona. The Fisher House has 16 suites for families, a communal kitchen, a spacious communal dining room, a family room and dining room, a communal laundry room, in room telephone and TV/DVD player. The facility is wheelchair accessible and volunteers are available. The houses are built on the premise that a family’s love is great medicine and when a loved one is in the hospital, a Fisher House unites families, relieving financial and emotional stress from the veteran in the hospital being away from home and the family from wondering what their member’s treatment is every day. The Arizona Fisher House Committee was tasked in raising matching funds of $2.5 million dollars. This Fisher House is located next to the hospital but is not a government facility, and that probably is the reason it was finished in less than a year from breaking ground to be ready for guests. Tucson was the Fisher Houses 69th in the U.S. and abroad. They were started by Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher. For more information on how you can help, contact the Fisher House Manager at 520-629-1822. The committee hopes to keep the three refrigerators stocked with food and other items to make this great facility a great home away from home. [Source: The Arizona Republic | Arthur G. Sloane | February 25, 2016 ++]
Tucson Fisher House Dedicated 18 FEB
SBP Remarriage Options ► Three Available
There are several options available to a retiree participating in the Survivor Benefit Plan with spouse or spouse and child coverage when the spouse is lost through death, divorce, or annulment, and the retiree later remarries. Unless former-spouse coverage is elected as part of a divorce, retirees who remarry have three choices. They can:
- Resume the prior level of spouse coverage.
- Elect not to resume spouse SBP coverage. This election will not affect existing child coverage, if any. This election is irrevocable.
- If the original election was for reduced coverage, the retiree may request that the base amount be increased up to and including full retired pay. If this option is elected, the retiree must pay the Defense Finance and Accounting Service the difference between the SBP cost previously paid and the costs, with interest, which would have been paid if the higher level of coverage had originally been elected. This additional payment must be completed before the first anniversary of marriage.
If payment is not completed before the first anniversary of marriage, the election is null and void, and spouse coverage will be resumed at the previous level. If partial payment has been made on the amount due for increased coverage, a refund of the partial payment will be made. Retirees must notify the Defense Finance and Accounting Service of their desired election within one year of the new marriage or the first option listed above automatically takes effect the date the new spouse becomes an eligible beneficiary. DFAS should be promptly notified of the remarriage to avoid a large debt for unpaid premiums.
“Simply getting your new spouse an ID card does not update your pay records with DFAS,” said Pat Peek, chief of the Air Force’s SBP program. “You must notify DFAS separately.” Additional rules apply, such as:
- The member may not add child coverage by virtue of the remarriage alone if child coverage was previously bypassed.
- Child coverage may not be eliminated based upon a remarriage.
- The level of coverage may not be reduced upon remarriage.
A retiree married at retirement who declines SBP spouse coverage cannot later enroll in the plan for that spouse or any future spouse unless during a congressionally approved open enrollment period. Normally, penalties and extra charges are assessed during these periods. A new spouse becomes an eligible beneficiary on the first anniversary of marriage or the birth of a child of the marriage, if earlier. As an exception, a spouse divorced from a retiree who later remarries that retiree becomes an eligible beneficiary immediately upon remarriage if the member:
- Retired after Sept. 20 1972 and initially elected coverage for that spouse at retirement, or
- Retired before Sept. 21 1972 and elected coverage for that spouse during the initial enrollment period for
For more information, contact DFAS at 800-321-1080. [Source: Afterburner | FEB 2016 ++]
Desert Storm Memorial Update 05 ► Honorary Chairman George Bush
With 2016 marking the 25th anniversary of the first Gulf War conflict, the campaign for a national memorial is charging forward. The board of directors of the National Desert Storm War Memorial (NDSWM) Association has gained an honorary chairman: President George H.W. Bush, commander in chief during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Association head Scott Stump commented in a press release, “I can think of no more dogged advocate for our Desert Storm veterans than President Bush. His leadership will surely guide us to mission success.” NDSWM has set a goal of raising $25 million toward construction of the memorial in this 25th anniversary year; the current estimated budget is $40 million, with a planned completion date of 2018.
The next step toward completion was taken 2 JAN, when the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission – which oversees commemorative works in the District of Columbia and its environs – delivered a recommendation for the Desert Storm memorial to be located in Area I in Washington, D.C., close to existing national war memorials, the Mall and White House, and more. According to the U.S. Code, Area I is only approved if “the subject of the commemorative work is of pre-eminent historical and lasting significance to the United States.” The American Legion passed a resolution supporting the memorial at the 95th National Convention in Houston. Keep up with the latest news at the NDSWM website http://www.nationaldesertstormwarmemorial.org. [Source: American Legion | February 4, 2016 ++]
Defense Mobile ► American Legion Member Special Discount
American Legion members are eligible to receive a special discount on their mobile service from Defense Mobile, a nationwide 4G LTE mobile service exclusively for veterans, military servicemembers and their families. Defense Mobile is offering Legion members two options:
- The Alpha plan for $19.98 per month. This plan includes 300 minutes of talk time, 300 texts and 300MB of 4G LTE data a month. Use the promo code TALALPHA at checkout.
- The Bravo plan for $24.98 per month. This plan includes unlimited talk, unlimited text and 1GB of 4G LTE data. Use the promo code TALBRAVO at checkout.
To claim either offer, American Legion members will need to activate service with Defense Mobile at http://weare.defensemobile.com/tal by April 30, 2016. This special pricing includes the 10 percent discount available to all members of The American Legion. Learn more about switching mobile service to Defense Mobile and its low-cost plans with no-contract or activation fees at www.defensemobile.com/legion . Legionnaires will need to provide the appropriate promo code at checkout and verify military service using their American Legion member number when activating Defense Mobile service. This offer is only available to members of The American Legion who buy and activate service and sign up for AutoPay. Defense Mobile offers mobile service on America’s best networks with a veteran-staffed Member Care Team based in the United States. Defense Mobile is committed to give 10 percent of profits back to military and veteran families in need. [Source: AL Online Update | Issue 388 | February 18, 2016 ++]
Reserve Duty Update 01 ► The Veterans Who Aren’t
Since September 11, 2001, more than 900,000 members of our reserve components – the National Guard and Reserves of our Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard – have served in support of the war on terrorism. More than 1,200 have died in that fight. “War is a national challenge, and, for our part, we cannot execute without the Guard and the Reserve,” said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley. You can’t talk to a general or admiral for more than five minutes without hearing a variation on that theme. Reservists today serve virtually everywhere, alongside their “active component” comrades. In battle, the performance of these trained and courageous citizen-warriors of all ranks, specialties, and any other category has been recognized as indistinguishable from the “regulars.” They ask to serve; they deserve equity for that service.
Most of the legislation governing the military was written before and during the Cold War. The reserves in those days were a strategic reserve and not used much – that’s where the “one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer” model evolved. Desert Shield, Desert Storm and the present war changed all that. The reserves are now considered “operational.” They are used continually, like the active force. In the late 1980s, usage of the reserves was 1 million man-days per year; it is now about 25 million man-days. But the law hasn’t kept up as important benefits are limited only to those who serve in “active military, naval, or air service.” By “important benefits,” we aren’t necessarily talking about an extra $27.50 a month for your bum knee from that five-mile run in combat boots back in 1982. We are talking about who you are in the eyes of federal law when it comes to being considered for hiring preferences accorded to veterans. We are talking about helping young, dynamic new professionals – who understand service and dedication to higher cause – renew our graying and often hidebound federal bureaucracy.
A reserve must amass enough days on “active duty” to qualify to be a veteran. Under titles 5 and 38 for federal hiring preference 180 or more consecutive days on active duty are needed– and that does not include active duty while training. In past years getting nearly six consecutive months on active duty was tough; it still is: the armed services purposely limit orders to 179 or fewer days. They aren’t stingy or mean-spirited: anyone on active duty 180 or more days is reflected on active duty manning documents and counts against the service’s personnel ceiling. They shortchange reservists because they are forced to. The Reserve Officers Association (ROA) has worked with Congress to craft a simple solution. It’s easy: in the law, change the word “consecutive” to “cumulative.”
Both the Department of Veterans Affairs and the top leaders of our reserve forces informally indicated to ROA that the cost is not prohibitive and they would not object to such a change. Changing one word would provide significant equity to members of our Guard and Reserve who affirm the wisdom of our founders in their willingness to serve boldly, selflessly, and with great fidelity in the defense of our way of life. They balance military service – a consuming and uncompromising business – with the demands of a civilian work life and the care of their families. ROA is urging this reform for today’s reservists now being shortchanged, and for the benefit of a nation that needs them serving the public as civil servants.
Case in point is that of Maj. Bonnie Carroll. In 1994 she founded Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) after her husband, an Army officer, was killed in a military plane crash. TAPS supports those who have lost a loved one in military service, but provides expertise to all who need that kind of help. They are known for their unparalleled expertise in the care and recovery of survivors. For her work with surviving families, President Obama awarded Bonnie the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November. Maor Carroll ultimately retired after 32 years in both the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve. But according to federal law, she’s not a veteran. It’s time that changed. [Source: The Hill | Jeffrey Phillips ExDir ROA | February 22, 2016 ++]
WWII Vets 102 ► Frank Matthews
It’s hard to say which is more amazing: that Frank Matthews was the only Marine in his platoon to survive the battle of Iwo Jima—or that he’s still going strong enough, 71 years later, to tell museum visitors what his experiences were like. Either way, the Stafford County man considers it his responsibility to speak for those who can’t. “I’m not so much an individual person as I am a representative of a whole group of people who cannot be here because they are not alive,” Matthews said. The battle of “Iwo,” as he calls it, started Feb. 1, 1945, and was the bloodiest conflict of the Pacific theater during World War II. The iconic image of men raising the flag on Mount Suribachi has become one of the most recognizable symbols of the war—and of the Marine Corps itself. And Frank Jackson Matthews, a skinny kid from South Carolina who was four months shy of his 19th birthday and worried he’d do something stupid to embarrass himself, was there to do his part.
“I just think it’s remarkable,” said Sean Miller, 15, from Maryland who recently toured the National Museum of the Marine Corps, where Matthews is a volunteer docent. “He’s, like, living history.” Miller and his family listened somberly as Matthews talked about the 7,000 Marines who died on the island—more than the losses in all the Gulf Wars combined. Moments later, the young visitor smiled, as many others have done before him, when Matthews declared there are two genuine artifacts from the battle in the museum. “The flag and me,” Matthews said. Matthews is 89. He still drives, maneuvering back roads to get to the museum several times a week. He’s logged more than 5,000 hours there and is among the most active of the 169 regular docents, said Gwenn Adams, public affairs chief. Matthews had a pacemaker put in two years ago, and he senses that old age is catching up with him. Normal activities, like getting dressed, take more out of him than a year ago.
Photos of Frank J. Matthews from May 1945 and Today
But his short- and long-term memories are keen. While some of his stories sound rehearsed—probably because he’s repeated them so often—he can easily speak to other aspects of modern or ancient history. “I warn you, he’s sharp as a tack,” said his daughter, Jan Gardner. “Don’t ask a question you don’t want an answer to.” Matthews lives with Gardner and her husband, Rich, but in their basement, where he can cook his own meals and keep his own schedule. His daughter reminds him to take his medicine but doesn’t dare dictate his level of activity. “I don’t tell him when he can go or when to stay home,” she said.
Matthews was in the 4th Marine Division and still wears a red diamond-shaped pin denoting the division on his hat and shirt. He spent 28 days on Iwo Jima as Allied forces sought to capture the island—which is in Japan’s front yard—because it would provide them an airfield from which to launch attacks on the mainland. The battle was the only time Matthews saw hand-to-hand combat, although he also served during the Korean War. On Iwo, he had to carry an 80-pound flamethrower on his 150-pound frame and patrol underground caverns in search of the enemy. It was nothing short of harrowing, and the scenes of bloodied bodies and smell of sulfur on the volcanic island were sickening. But it wasn’t the only challenge the son of a preacher man faced. He turned to music after the war, to try to forget some of the awful things he’d done. Even though he couldn’t see faces in the dark caves he patrolled, he knew there were human beings there—and he had to burn them to death or be killed himself. “They wouldn’t surrender,” he told museum visitors about the ferocious fighting spirit of the Japanese.
He had dreamed of teaching music at the university level, but the timing never was right. Plus, he suffered three wounds at Iwo, including severe damage to his right wrist and arm. He took it all in stride, as he’s mentioned during many interviews and accolades. He’s been featured on CBS News and in local newspapers and heralded by the Marine Corps commandant. In a 2013 story on the Marine Corps’ website, he spoke to the lingering scars of war. “I still don’t play [the piano] as well as I did when I was 17,” he said. “So what? I don’t do a lot of things as well as I did when I was 17.” After the Korean War, Matthews went to live in Louisiana with his family. He studied music history and composition at Louisiana State University and directed the choir at his father’s church during the summer. One night during practice, in walked the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Her name was Margaret, and the two eventually married and shared what he called 42 short years together.
By the 1960s, the humidity of the deep South caused her health to deteriorate, and a doctor said she needed a drier climate. The couple decided to move across country and leave behind everyone they loved, in the hopes her asthma-like conditions would improve. They did, and the family came to love life in California. He took jobs in computer programming, administration or teaching youngsters how to play the piano. He often juggled three or four jobs at a time to keep food on the table. After his wife died in 1999, he came back East to live with the Gardners. When the Marine Corps museum opened near Quantico in 2006, Matthews started visiting—and quickly was recruited as a docent. He says there’s no place for ego among the displays of men dying for their country. He points out photos of himself on the wall, carrying a flame thrower, and stresses that his purpose is to educate others, to give a first-person account of the experience. “You have to be willing to tell your story if you’re going to be of any value,” he said. ‘You don’t know jack’
About five years ago, the family started talking about a book on Matthews’ life. His daughter spoke with publishers of military books who seemed interested, but the process of getting approval was “excruciatingly slow.” The family decided to publish it themselves. Matthews’ niece, Alisa Murphy, always had a good rapport with the veteran, and she started compiling his Iwo Jima accounts. Then, she added his family history and musical background, and the result was a 137-page paperback titled, “You Don’t Know Jack.” Matthews goes by one of two names, depending on where he is. Or, as he told a gracious and charming general’s wife who had asked his real name: “I’m Frank on base and Jack off.” That’s one of several stories in the book, which is available on Amazon and Kindle. Matthews will sign copies from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday in the museum’s store. The public affairs office isn’t endorsing the book—it can’t as a federal installation—and Matthews stresses that he would never let it interfere with his work. “I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be around,” he said, “but I would like to be able to continue doing what I do at the museum. All I want to do is just say a little to get people to understand what it was like.” [Source: The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va. | Cathy Dyson | December 4, 2015 ++]
Obit: John Keith Wells ► 11 FEB 2016
First Lieutenant John Keith Wells, USMC, 94, of Wheat Ridge, died 11 FEB at the Arvada Care and Rehabilitation Center. Wells, who received the Navy Cross, Bronze Star and Purple Heart, commanded the 3rd Platoon, Easy Co., 28th Marine Regiment, during the Battle of Iwo Jima. The 3rd Platoon was part of the invasion force, landing on February 19, 1945. It was a key unit in the frontal assault on Mt. Suribachi. Wells, thinking the frontal assault order from higher up was pure suicide, refused to give his marines the order to assault. Without the supporting fire that had been promised, he simply rose from his shell hole, waived his rifle over his head and began running up the mountain. The rest of his Marines followed. He didn’t make it to the top, because he was shot multiple times by the Japanese, but he was still able to direct his men on their mission. They raised the first flag on the mountain.
February 12, 2013
A few hours later, a second group of Marines replaced that flag with a larger one. The second flag raising was memorialized in a photograph that was destined to become one of the most iconic war photos of all time. “He was a very warm, sensitive, spiritual man all the way to age 94,” said Connie Schultz, the World War II hero’s daughter. “He honored and loved the Marine Corp with all his heart and soul. He loved his family and his last words were, ‘My family.’” Son-in-Law Herman Schultz told Denver7, “I knew him for 45 years and that wasn’t enough. The first time I met him, he was directing people at Texas Tech, back on May 11, 1970. A tornado was about to hit, and he was directing students to go down to the basement to save their lives.” “He was even in charge way back then,” Connie Schultz said.
Brighton resident Dean Glorso knew Wells from some veteran’s meetings at American Legion Post 161 in Arvada.
“Keith Wells belonged to the Cooper’s Troopers Organization,” Glorso said. “When I started, there were about 12 – 15 vets that still attended the meetings. Now, we’re down to about 5 or 6.” Glorso told Denver7 it was an honor to get to know Wells. When Mr. Wells went into hospice in December, Glorso decided to honor him with a painting depicting the hero on the war-torn island. “He never made it up (to the mountain top), but he was there in spirit. It was because of him that they raised the first flag up on Mt. Suribachi.” Glorso said. “His platoon was the most decorated platoon in the Marine Corp. He saw the operation and they systematically took out some 25 pill boxes and gun emplacements inside Mt. Suribachi. It was a suicide mission and he did it. He got his men moving up that mountain.” “Wow! We’re very proud to have Dean Glorso paint this painting representing my Dad in spirit on the famous flag raising,” Connie Schultz said. “It will be an honor and a memento in our family for many, many years to come.”
Iwo Jima, the First Flag
by Ron Stark
John Keith Wells was born on February 5, 1922 in Lakeview, TX. He graduated from Lakeview High School and attended Texas A&M University for three years, before joining the Marine Corps during World War II. After leaving the service, he completed his Geology degree at Texas Tech University. He went into the oil business. He married the love of his life, Kathryn A. Buchanan on June 5, 1948. He was preceded in death by his parents, Del and Eddy Marie Wells, and by his wife. He is survived by sons, John Wells of Denver, Wes Wells and his wife Debi of Waco, Texas, daughter Connie Schultz and her husband Herman of Denver, a brother, Clayton Wells of Abilene, Texas, 11 grandchildren and 22 great grandchildren. A graveside service was held at Elmwood Memorial Park in Abilene, Texas Feb. 20, 2016. [Source: Denver7 ABC | Lance Hernandez |February 14, 2016 ++]
Obit: Bob Walker ► 14 FEB 2016
Retired Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Bob Walker, a 1970s-era leader who reshaped enlisted training and introduced the enlisted surface warfare qualification, died Sunday. He was 87. His death was confirmed by the office of the MCPON. Walker served as the service’s third MCPON, holding the post from 1975 to 1979. He is credited with initiating petty officer indoctrination training for all E-4 selectees, training that is still required to this day. He was also a proponent for more chief training and recommended the creation of what would become the Navy’s Senior Enlisted Academy. Walker also pushed for the silver ESWS pin as a way for enlisted to advance their knowledge and showcase their professionalism along the lines of the gold warfare quals worn by officers.
3rd Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy
Walker, a New York native, joined the service in 1948 and became a radarman, serving aboard destroyer escorts William Seiverling and Erben, according to a 16 FEB news release from the MCPON’s office. Aboard Erben, he deployed in support of the Korean war. Walker earned his anchors by his eight-year mark and continued to advance, during which time radarman was renamed operations specialist. “Bob Walker provided sound leadership during difficult times,” MCPON Mike Stevens said in the statement. “He advocated for changes to ensure a more professional enlisted force and opened the lines of communication throughout the chain of command.” Walker is survived by his wife Fran of 64 years, five children, 12 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. [Source: Navy Times | Sam Fellman | February 16, 2016 ++]
Obit: Travis Hittson ► 17 Feb 2016
A former Navy crewman was executed 17 FEB in Georgia for killing a fellow sailor whose remains were found buried in two states. Travis Hittson, 45, was pronounced dead at 8:14 p.m. after receiving an injection of the barbiturate pentobarbital at the state prison in Jackson. He was convicted in the April 1992 killing of Conway Utterbeck. The State Board of Pardons and Paroles, the only entity in Georgia authorized to commute a death sentence, rejected Hittson’s request for clemency after a hearing Tuesday.
Hittson’s lawyers had said he was mistreated and neglected as a child and constantly craved the approval of others. That, they said, combined with alcoholism and relatively low intelligence, made it easy for his direct supervisor in the Navy, Edward Vollmer, to manipulate him into killing Utterbeck. In a legal filing, they contended his constitutional rights were violated during sentencing when a judge allowed a state psychologist who had examined Hittson to recount damaging statements Hittson had made about Utterbeck. State lawyers said those arguments have previously been raised and rejected by the courts and are procedurally barred. A Butts County judge on 16 FEB rejected Hittson’s challenge, and his attorneys appealed to the state Supreme Court. On Wednesday, the state’s high court rejected Hittson’s appeal and denied a stay of execution. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal Wednesday evening.
Hittson, Utterbeck and Vollmer were stationed in Pensacola, Florida, in April 1992 when they went to Vollmer’s parents’ home in Warner Robins in central Georgia for a weekend. Hittson told investigators he and Vollmer went out drinking the second night they were there, leaving Utterbeck at the house. As they were driving back to the house, Vollmer told Hittson that Utterbeck planned to kill them both and that they needed to “get him” first, according to court filings. When they reached the house, where Utterbeck was sleeping in a recliner, Vollmer put on a bulletproof vest and took a sawed-off shotgun and a handgun from his car and gave Hittson an aluminum baseball bat. On Vollmer’s instructions, Hittson hit Utterbeck several times in the head with the bat and then dragged him into the kitchen where Vollmer was waiting, according to court filings. Vollmer stepped on Utterbeck’s hand and Hittson shot him in the head, according to court filings.
Vollmer said they needed to cut up Utterbeck’s body to get rid of the evidence, according to court filings. Hittson told investigators he began to cut the body with a hacksaw but he became sick and Vollmer finished dismembering the body, according to court filings. They buried Utterbeck’s torso in Houston County in central Georgia and brought the rest of the remains back to Pensacola and buried them there. When investigators began questioning Utterbeck’s shipmates a couple of months later, Hittson confessed and also implicated Vollmer, according to court filings. He led investigators to Utterbeck’s remains and other crime scene evidence. Hittson was convicted of malice murder, aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and theft by taking. He was sentenced to death for the malice murder conviction.
Vollmer reached a plea deal and is serving a life sentence. He was denied parole in 1999 and again last year. Reconsideration of his case had been set for 2020, but based on information offered at Hittson’s clemency hearing, the parole board on Wednesday reset that for 2024. Eight years is the maximum delay between consideration dates allowed by board rules. Hittson was the second person executed in Georgia this year. The state executed five inmates last year, the most it has executed in a calendar year since 1987. [Source: The Associated Press | Kate Brumback, | February 17, 2016 ++]
Obit: Fred Vann Cherry ► 16 Feb 2016
A Suffolk native who was held prisoner of war in Vietnam for more than seven years died 16 JAN. U.S. Air Force Col. Fred Vann Cherry was 87 years old and living in Maryland. His son, Fred Cherry Jr., said his father viewed the time in captivity as part of what he had signed up for. “He knew what to expect,” Cherry said. “To dad, those seven and a half years was his duty.” Cherry was the first and highest-ranking black officer to become a prisoner in Vietnam. He was shot down Oct. 22, 1965, at the age of 37. His wife and five children were living in Japan at the time.
In a talk given at the U.S. Naval War College in 2012, the elder Cherry candidly discussed all aspects of his imprisonment. He took off from Thailand about 10 a.m. that day to target a missile installation, Cherry told the audience. He flew about 600 miles an hour for 32 minutes and was hit by ground fire just prior to arriving at his target. He was so close to the ground he could see the Vietnamese firing on him, he said. “I saw them start to shoot,” he said. “The muzzle flashes got my attention. I felt my aircraft take a very definite hit.” Cherry kept flying briefly, attempting to gain control of the aircraft. However, he had to eject when it exploded. As he was falling, people on the ground continued to shoot at him. “They missed. That was the important thing,” he said during the 2012 speech, prompting laughter.
His parachute opened just 200 feet from the ground. The impact broke his left shoulder, left ankle and left wrist. Field workers took his weapons and imprisoned him. He eventually arrived at “The Zoo,” a prisoner-of-war camp. “We were severely punished as new arrivals,” Cherry said during the 2012 speech. Prisoners were beaten, made to kneel on rocks and other sharp objects, subjected to solitary confinement and more, according to the Naval War College talk. Cherry’s injuries from his fall were not treated until another prisoner of war, Lt. j.g. Porter Halyburton, was confined with him. Halyburton, who spoke alongside Cherry in the 2012 presentation, said he pushed the Vietnamese to get treatment for Cherry by telling them he would die if he wasn’t treated. “I knew they didn’t want that, because we were valuable property,” Halyburton said in 2012.
The surgery on Cherry’s shoulder was botched and left him with more open wounds, which the Vietnamese again did not treat appropriately. Cherry remained unable to lift his left arm above his head for the rest of his life. “Fred never complained about anything, in spite of this incredible pain and discomfort he went through,” Halyburton said in 2012. The friendship between the two men — whom the Vietnamese put together mistakenly thinking that racial tension would break them — became the subject of a book, “Two Souls Indivisible: The Friendship that Saved Two POWs in Vietnam,” by James S. Hirsch. Meanwhile, Cherry’s family was worried about him.
“We knew he was shot down,” the younger Cherry said Wednesday. “It took months before they could confirm he was alive and being held captive.” Communication between Cherry and his family was scarce, but a few letters did manage to get through. So Cherry knew, by the time he got out of imprisonment, that two of his sons had signed on to serve — one in the Navy and one in the Army. The third son also later enlisted. The younger Cherry was stationed in Germany when he learned, through a list of POWs being released published in the Air Force Times, that his father was being freed on Feb. 12, 1973. “I said, ‘Man, you have to send me home,’” Cherry recalled telling his supervisor. “About an hour later, they had packed all my stuff up, and they had a Jeep and my airplane tickets.”
Col. Cherry pauses during his address after he and six other former POWs arrived at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington on Feb. 16, 1973.
Cherry arrived at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland just before his father’s plane touched down. He was surprised to find that he was now the same height as his father. “As a kid, your dad is big, bigger than life,” he said. “He gets off the plane and he’s my height.” He and his brother, who greeted their father in uniform, soon found that the fact they were outranked by their father was not lost on him. “He was telling us where to walk,” Cherry said. “He was still an officer, and we were peons.” Cherry would go on to retire on Sept. 1, 1981, after attending the National War College and being assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency and having served more than 30 years in the Air Force. He started his own engineering company. “I’ve never, ever, ever heard any ill will against my father,” Cherry said. “Everybody that met him adored him, respected him and loved him.”
Cherry’s awards and decorations include two Purple Hearts, the Silver Star, the Air Force Cross, the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Bronze Stars with Combat V, the Prisoner of War Medal and more. A scholarship in his name is given annually by the Suffolk Foundation. Funeral arrangements for Cherry are still pending. The entire interview featuring Cherry and Halyburton can be viewed at www.tinyurl.com/fredcherry. [Source: Suffolk News-Journal | Tracy Agnew | February 17, 2016 ++]
Obit: Miguel Encinias ► 20 Feb 2016
Las Vegas, N.M., native Miguel Encinias, who fought in three wars and received three Distinguished Flying Crosses, died peacefully in his sleep Saturday. He was 92. His son and daughter said he died of natural causes in an Albuquerque nursing home. One of New Mexico’s most decorated war veterans, Encinias served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War and was a former prisoner of war. He later helped oversee the creation of the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. “He was a very quiet, humble man who didn’t speak much — unless he had to give a speech,” said Ralph Arellanes, whose father and uncles grew up with Encinias in Las Vegas in the 1930s. “He never spoke ill of the Germans or the Japanese or anybody he fought. As he said, ‘They were just defending their country and fighting for what they believed in.’”
Encinias was born April 8, 1923, the youngest of 16 children. As a teen he delivered the Las Vegas Daily Optic newspaper and also boxed. His daughter, Isabel Encinias, said her father was a movie buff who would box for money and then use his winnings to go to the cinema. When the family’s fortunes declined during the tail end of the Great Depression, he joined the New Mexico National Guard in 1939 at the age of 16. He wasn’t alone — many of his peers did the same thing. “The reason for the rush to join was that the battalions were predominantly Hispanic … from Las Vegas, Albuquerque and Socorro … almost 100 percent Hispanic,” Encinias said in a 2001 interview for the University of Texas Voces Oral History Project. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Encinias, knowing there was a big demand for pilots, applied for the air cadet academy and was accepted. He recalled in that 2001 interview that “All the time I was in training I never met another pilot who was Hispanic.”
Lt. Col Miguel Encinias, 1923-2016: An ace in the air, a scholar on the ground
After his plane was shot down over Northern Italy in 1944, he said, he also was the only Hispanic prisoner at Stalag Luft 1 in Barth, Germany. By that time he had flown some 40 missions against the Germans and shot down three enemy aircraft in combat. He and other prisoners used Red Cross rations to bribe the guards for radio parts which they used to build a radio and learn what was going on during the war. Encinias joked that because of that radio the prisoners knew about the invasion of Normandy before the Germans who held them. Encinias was interviewed about his 15 months of captivity at Stalag Luft 1 by Tom Brokaw, who profiled the New Mexican in The Greatest Generation Speaks, Brokaw’s sequel to his best-seller The Greatest Generation. The camp was liberated by Russian troops in April 1945. After the war, Encinias attended Georgetown University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. He later got the equivalent of a master’s degree at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris. Encinias was so proficient in French that he was asked to teach the language at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
He married Jeanine Henrietta Blondel, a native of France, in 1963, and had one son and three daughters with her. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, Encinias served as an F-86 Sabre jet pilot and flew over 100 missions, once again getting shot down at least once. This time, however, an American helicopter crew rescued him from behind enemy lines. He remained in the Air Force and served as an adviser in Vietnam in the early 1960s, accompanying Vietnamese Air Force pilots on missions. He recalled once taking a Vietnamese soldier for a low-level flight along a swampy area where the passenger was “sitting in the back with a shotgun shooting Viet Cong.”
Encinias retired from the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel in 1971 and returned to New Mexico, where he earned a doctorate in Spanish literature at The University of New Mexico. He also wrote several books, including a novel based on the life of Spanish explorer Don Juan de Oñate. His daughter said he lived two lives: “One in the military and one afterward. In a 2006 interview with The New Mexican, Encinias said he kept volunteering to fight “to prove something to myself. … I said to myself that I was only good enough for war, so I made a career out of it.” His son, Juan-Pablo Encinias, said his father realized “it was a very special cause he was fighting for. He felt very strongly about serving, especially in World War II, and felt it was a just cause no matter what the price. “He almost never spoke about his combat experience. My father really did not seem that scarred by the wars. He was a tough-minded person who kind of accepted that as part of life and was not taken aback by it.” Nevertheless, when Encinias was interviewed for the University of Texas Voces Oral History Project about his wartime experiences, he got choked up remembering the atrocities Russian soldiers committed against German women when the country was liberated from the Nazis. “They were so defenseless,” he said.
In the mid-1990s, President Bill Clinton asked Encinias to serve on the World War II Memorial Advisory Board to help build the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. When that memorial finally opened in 2004, Encinias was the only living veteran on the board to attend the ceremony, where he spoke. In addition to his Distinguished Flying Cross honors, during his career Encinias was awarded two Purple Heart medals and 14 Air Medals, his children said. He is survived by his wife, two of his daughters, his son and four grandchildren. Burial in Santa Fe National Cemetery was scheduled for 26 FEB. [Source: The New Mexican | Robert Nott | February 24, 2016 ++]
Retiree Appreciation Days ► As of 27 Feb 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:
- HTML: http://www.hostmtb.org/RADs_and_Other_Retiree-Veterans_Events.html
- PDF: http://www.hostmtb.org/RADs_and_Other_Retiree-Veterans_Events.pdf
- Word: http://www.hostmtb.org/RADs_and_Other_Retiree-Veterans_Events.doc
[Source: RAD List Manager | Milton Bell | February 28, 2015 ++]
Vet Hiring Fairs ► 01 thru 31 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 six weeks. 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 .
March 2 – 9:30 am to 2:00 pm
March 5 – 8:30 am to 1:30 pm
March 7 – 2:00 pm to March 11 – 2:30 pm
March 8 – 7:30 am to 10:30 am
March 9 – 7:00 pm to March 10 – 1:00 pm
March 11 – 7:00 am to 10:00 am
March 16 – 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm
March 17 – 8:30 am to 2:00 pm
March 23 – 4:00 pm to March 24 – 4:00 pm
Fort Sam Houston, TX – Fort Sam Houston Wounded Veteran & Caregiver Employment Conference
March 29 – 8:30 am to 2:30 pm
March 30 – 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm
March 31 – 3:00 pm to 3:45 pm
[Source: U.S. Chamber of Commerce Assn February 13, 2016 ++]
Vet State Benefits & Discounts ► North Dakota | 2016
The state of North Dakota provides several benefits to veterans as indicated below. To obtain information on these refer to the attachment to this Bulletin titled, “Veteran State Benefits – ND” for an overview of the below those benefits. Benefits are available to veterans who are residents of the state. For a more detailed explanation of each refer to http://www.nd.gov/veterans and/or http://militaryandveteransdiscounts.com/location/north-dakota.
- Housing Benefits
- Financial Assistance Benefits
- Education Benefits
- Other State Veteran Benefits
* Vet Legislation *
VA Claim Exams Update 01 ► Private Physician Use | H.R.1331
A bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. Al Franken and Rep. Tim Walz aimed at tackling the Department of Veterans Affairs benefit-claims backlog passed the House of Representatives last week. The Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act of 2015 is a bipartisan, bicameral bill that allows local doctors to conduct disability medical examinations for veterans seeking benefits from the VA for the first time. Currently, veterans must visit a VA facility for the examination. Allowing veterans to see a local doctor for their initial exam is designed to conserve VA resources, cut back on long wait times at VA hospitals, enable quicker diagnoses of disabilities, and eliminate unnecessary trips to the VA for veterans in rural communities, their offices said in a joint news release. Additionally, the Franken-Walz legislation requires the VA to complete two reports:
- One that is due 180 days after passage to track the bill’s implementation.
- An annual report that tracks the most common reasons and disabilities for which claims submitted using evidence by local doctors were denied by the VA.
For a veteran to qualify, he or she must be waiting 125 days or more for the VA to process their claim. Until recently, hundreds of thousands of veterans were in the VA benefits backlog. The VA already has taken steps to address the problem. Last month, VA Secretary Bob McDonald told Congress the VA’s claims backlog — those not acted on within 125 days of filing — had been reduced from its 2013 peak of 611,000 to 82,000. The VA is requesting a budget of $182 billion next year, a nearly $20 billion funding increase designed in part to tackle outstanding health care claims from veterans. The VA is earmarking $180 million to the Veterans Benefits Administration to enhance its electronic claims system and $143 million to the Veterans Claims Intake Program to continue converting older, paper records, into digital images and data.
McDonald has said the funding will expand health care options to veterans across the country, continue efforts to end chronic veteran homelessness and further reduce the backlog on first-time claims and also on appeals. Said Franken in a statement: “We know that our veterans’ battles don’t always end when they return home.” He added: “Too many return with mental and physical disabilities incurred while protecting our freedoms. All they expect in return for their service is for our nation to keep its promises and get them the VA benefits they’ve earned.” A release from both offices said the Franken-Walz bill was written after engaging veterans and groups representing them to determine where the problem lies. While they said there is no silver bullet that will end the backlog overnight, it is hoped the legislation will cut through bureaucratic red tape and help veterans get the benefits and care they need. “After these brave men and women put their life on the line for us, the least we can do is ensure they are getting the benefits they have earned in a timely manner,” said Walz, a retired command sergeant major in the Minnesota Army National Guard and the highest-ranking enlisted soldier ever to serve in Congress, in a statement. [Source: Star Tribune | Mark Brunswick | February 15, 2016 ++]
VA Immunizations Update 03 ► S.1203 Fears Misleading
Just as the scare over Senate Bill 1203, entitled “21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery and Other Improvements Act,” was starting to die down, fears have been fueled again that the piece of legislation will require veterans who want to receive benefits or healthcare to submit to mandatory vaccinations. An article in Activist Post alleges that SB 1203 is a means to force people who once served in the military to become vaccinated. The article alleges that this group will lose their inherent right to opt out of receiving vaccinations if this bill passes. It states:
- “A Bill has just passed the US Senate, mandating that the US Department of Veteran Affairs ensure that all veterans receive immunizations (vaccines) per a draconian schedule. At this juncture, active military must receive over a dozen vaccines. This piece of legislation is therefore an effort to extend the vaccine mandate to those who have previously served their country.
- “Sec. 101 of Senate Bill 1203, named the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act, states that the Department of Veterans Affairs will be tasked with the mandate to ‘ensure that veterans receiving medical services under chapter 17 of title 38, United States Code, receive each immunization on the recommended adult immunization schedule at the time such immunization is indicated on that schedule.’”
The part of SB 1203 that is fueling the fears is the wording in a particular area of the proposed legislation. The wording seems to indicate, if taken out of context, that SB 1203 will require veterans to be vaccinated according to the Recommended Adult Immunization Schedule. It further states:
- “Not later than two years after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall submit to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the House of Representatives a report on the development and implementation by the Department of Veterans Affairs of quality measures and metrics, including targets for compliance, to ensure that veterans receiving medical services under chapter 17 of title 38, United States Code, receive each immunization on the recommended adult immunization schedule at the time such immunization is indicated on that schedule.”
In context though, the phrase has to do with updating Chapter 17 of Title 38 the United States Code. Title 38 is about veterans’ benefits. Chapter 17 is about hospital, nursing home, domiciliary, and medical care benefits. SB 1203 won’t require vaccination in order to be eligible for benefits, but it will expand and improve access for veterans to all of the immunizations they are entitled to as a covered service. As a covered preventative service, instead of the current benefit of “immunizations against infectious disease,” SB 1203 would make the VA benefits cover “immunizations against infectious diseases, including each immunization on the recommended adult immunization schedule at the time such immunization is indicated on that schedule.” This new wording will make it so that veterans will be afforded the right to have access to more vaccines as they are due, instead of waiting around and getting told that a vaccination that they want to get isn’t a covered benefit.
The other issue people have been voicing their concerns over has to do with a change to Section 1704. Section 1704 currently states that a “Preventive health services: annual report” has to be turned in by Halloween every year from the Secretary to the Committees on Veterans’ Affairs of the Senate and House of Representatives and dictates what the report has to include in it each year. The way SB 1203 changes the current legislation is by making it so the Secretary also has to include in this annual report a description of the programs and activities conducted by the VA to “provide veterans each immunization on the recommended adult immunization schedule at the time such immunization is indicated on that schedule.” It says provide, not force.
Section 1704(1)(A) which is to be amended by SB 1203 will make the Secretary responsible for writing up a report to make them held accountable to offering veterans all the vaccines they wish to have, as long as they are recommended. It is not creating a law by which veterans can be forced to be injected with all of the recommended adult vaccinations. Title 38 of United States Code is a set of rules that must be followed by the administration and providers in order to ensure that veterans are granted the benefits that they are entitled to. The preventative health services veterans are entitled to also include periodic medical and dental examinations, nutrition education, mental health preventive services, substance abuse prevention services, services to help prevent developing disabilities of a metabolic or degenerative nature, genetic counseling, vision and eye care services, and other services. SB 1203 even has an addition about chiropractic care.
Veterans aren’t denied some health benefits for opting out of others. Title 38 also states that the Secretary can furnish tobacco to veterans receiving hospital or domiciliary care, but it certainly isn’t a requirement that the veterans smoke or chew it, merely because it would be supplied to them if they wanted it, since they have every right to use it.
According to the Veterans Health Administration Handbook, the national policy on healthcare granted to vets still includes giving informed consent and participating in their own health care decisions. “VHA is committed to providing a health care environment that supports respect for patients and protects their right to autonomous, informed participation in health care decisions. These essential elements of quality health care are formalized in this national policy that establishes a process for informing patients about health care options and obtaining their consent prior to treatment.”
On a VA website discussing preventative care, the following excerpt explains a veteran’s right to their own health choices. “All preventive services have possible benefits (pros) and harms (cons). Depending on your values and preferences about these benefits and harms, you may wish to receive additional, fewer, or different services from those that are recommended.”
- One comment left on Veterans News Now‘s article about the mandatory vaccination scare left by C.C. Kimball pointed out that, even though many veterans are left with lacking care, “misinformation only hinders efforts to improve health care.”
- John Bibler III of Plymouth, Massachusetts, wrote, “They are not going to require that everyone gets immunized. They are going to provide immunizations according to the schedule to those veterans who want them. Whoever wrote this article has no idea how to read legislation. Nowhere in the bill does it state veterans will be required to be immunized… it does state the VA must develop a program to provide immunizations,”
There are mandatory vaccination bills in the works around the country that are sure to draw more serious debates over constitutionality pending around the country. Some are specific to healthcare workers, others to school children. H.R. 2232 was introduced in May of 2015, but went nowhere. Lawmakers were flooded with phone calls opposing that bill. That bill aims to amend the Public Health Service Act to make it so that if states want funding for schools, they will require all students in public elementary and secondary schools to be vaccinated in accordance with the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. That bill allowed for only medical exceptions. That bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Health a few days after its introduction, where it has not moved forward to date and has absolutely zero co-sponsors.
While taken out of context, Senate Bill 1203 could be seen as a threat to health liberties. Even the American Legion wants to see it enacted into law, saying, “The 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act would improve the way that benefits claims are processed by the Department of Veterans Affairs.” [Source: Inquisitr | Dawn Papple | February 17, 2016 ++]
VA Claims Backlog Update 152 ► Express Appeals Act (S. 2473)
Senator Dan Sullivan (AK) has introduced the “Express Appeals Act” (S. 2473) that establishes a new, voluntary five-year pilot program to help reduce the large backlog of disability claims appeals before the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). While the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has made progress on the disability claims backlog, another backlog (over 400,000 pending appeals) on the appeals process has been created. An average veteran waits nearly 1,000 days—or almost three years—for the VA to resolve an appeal. Readers are encouraged to use the FRA Action Center to ask their Senators to support this important bill. To access an editable preformatted message click on http://capwiz.com/fra/issues/alert/?alertid=70071626&queueid=[capwiz:queue_id]. You can also download it in letter format for mailing. [Source: FRA | Making Waves | February 19, 2016 ++]
Retiree Annual COLAs Update 03 ► American Heroes COLA Act H.R.677
Veterans always get the same annual cost-of-living increase as Social Security recipients. But there’s no guarantee that will continue. That’s why lawmakers are again pushing for new legislation that would permanently tie together the two rate increases, and thus avoiding a potential payout hiccup if congressional politics stalls what is normally routine business. Earlier this month, House lawmakers adopted the so-called “American Heroes COLA Act,” which would provide an automatic cost-of-living adjust for veterans benefits such as disability compensation, payouts for dependents, and other Veterans Affairs living allowances.
Under current law, those annual increases are automatic for Social Security benefits, determined by the executive branch without intervention from Congress. But veterans benefits fall into a different category, one that requires lawmaker intervention each year to become law. “The current process leaves veterans and their families, who depend on these benefits to make ends meet, in limbo until Washington actually passes legislation,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ralph Abraham, a Louisiana Republican. This legislation would “end this uncertainty and … enable VA beneficiaries to better plan for their financial future.” The current process hasn’t resulted in problematic cost-of-living adjustments for veterans. In the last few decades, only one year — 2000 — saw uneven increases for Social Security recipients and veterans, and that came as a result of a rounding difference between the two rates.
But Abraham and other lawmakers point out that congressional infighting in recent years has sidelined other legislation assumed routine, including the budget fights which resulted in the 2013 partial government shutdown. By making the veteran benefits increases automatic, that political turmoil is no longer an obstacle. Veterans groups have supported similar efforts in the past, and offered backing for ways to make the COLA process simpler for veterans’ families. But proposals to solve the problem have stalled over questions about how to tie the rates together or whether to use other COLA calculations for veterans benefits.
Officials from the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees have been discussing an omnibus veterans reform measure to bring before both chambers later this spring, with the COLA fix among the issues under consideration. Last year, neither veterans nor Social Security recipients saw an increase in their payouts, with federal officials citing a drop in consumer prices as evidence that an increase was not needed. The bill would not affect adjustments for military retirement pay, which are calculated through other methods. [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane | February 20, 2016 ++]
VA Appointments Update 13 ► Faster Care for Vets Act | H.R.4352
At https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7KGCu4saU4 is a self-recorded video which exemplifies many veteran’s frustration in trying to communicate via phone with their VA Medical Center. In this video Dennis Magnasco, a veteran and a member of Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) staff, attempts to schedule his doctor’s appointment with the New Bedford VAMC. After numerous attempts to follow the directions of the VA’s phone system he is trapped in an endless loop and gives up in frustration after five minutes of repeated recordings in this video and two days of attempts. The VA alleges the problem was corrected but it is a persistent one throughout the VA’s current system.
Congresswoman Rodgers along with Congressman Seth Moulton (D-MA) on 22 FEB introduced H.R. 4352, the Faster Care for Veterans Act, a bill that requires the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to commence a pilot program which incorporates commercially available self-scheduling technologies at VA medical facilities. “Our veterans should have the same options that people have in doctors’ offices across the country,” McMorris Rodgers said. “After hearing from a number of veterans in Eastern Washington, it’s clear that current systems at the VA are so archaic and cumbersome, the agency is unable to follow through on its responsibility to provide the care our veterans have earned. We must try something different. With this bill, we are demonstrating to the VA that innovative technology – already available to millions of patients – can work for them to get our veterans the care they’ve earned in a timely manner, cut back on red tape, and stay within budget. I appreciate Rep. Moulton’s support on this important legislation, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the People’s House to see it through.”
The Faster Care for Veterans Act is a direct response to news that broke nearly two years ago exposing unacceptable wait times, poor treatment, and failed customer service at VA facilities across the country. Instead of wait times coming down, in 2015 the number of veterans waiting 30 days or more for medical care increased by 50 percent. Additionally, a 2008 internal audit by the Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that 18 percent of outpatient appointment slots went unfilled due to patient “no-shows” or because facility personnel did not refill the cancelled appointments. While the VA has adopted a scheduling program that attempts to address this issue, the VA’s system is too expensive, will take too long to implement, and does not guarantee a self-scheduling component.
Upon enactment of the Faster Care for Veterans Act, the VA will be required to commence an 18-month pilot program that allows veterans to access an on-line self-scheduling technology – currently available in the private sector – to schedule and confirm medical appointments at VA medical facilities. [Source: ABC News | Elizabeth Mclaughlin | February 22, 2016 ++]
HVAC Update 18 ► 7 Bills Advanced to Full House
On 25 FEB, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a markup to amend and advance several pieces of legislation. The following bills were unanimously approved by the committee and advanced to the full House for consideration:
- H.R. 1769, Toxic Exposure Research Act of 2015, which would require VA to study the effects of toxic exposures on veterans’ descendants.
- H.R. 4063, Jason Simcakoski PROMISE Act, which focuses on opioid therapy.
- H.R. 4591, VA Purchased Health Care Streamlining and Modernization Act, which would make it easier for private doctors to enter into provider agreements with VA.
- H.R. 4129, Jumpstart VA Construction Act.
- H.R. 4590, FY16 VA Seismic Safety, Construction, and Leases Authorization Act.
- H.R. 3484, Los Angeles Homeless Veterans Leasing Act of 2015.
- H.R. 4336, Women Airforce Service Pilot Arlington Inurnment Restoration Act, which would authorize WASPs to be inurned at Arlington National Cemetery.
[Source: VFW | Action Corps Weekly | February 26, 2016 ++]
Vet Bills Submitted to 114th Congress ► 160215 thru 160229
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:
FOLLOWING IS A SUMMARY OF VETERAN RELATED LEGISLATION INTRODUCED IN THE HOUSE SINCE THE LAST BULLETIN WAS PUBLISHED
- H.R.4554 : National Guard Tricare Eligibility. A bill to amend title 10, United States Code, to ensure that certain members of the National Guard serving on full-time National Guard duty and dependents remain eligible for the TRICARE program during periods in which the member is responding to a disaster.
- H.R.4556 : Expedited Hiring for VA Trained Psychiatrists Act of 2016. A bill to authorize the Department of Veterans Affairs to appoint a psychiatrist who completes a residency at a Veterans Health Administration (VHA) facility to a VHA health care position immediately after such residency, without regard to civil service or classification laws, if: (1) the psychiatrist meets the qualifications established in regulations prescribed for the position, and (2) the position has been unfilled for at least 35 days.
- H.R.4591 : VA Secretary Agreements. To amend title 38, United States Code, to authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to enter into agreements with certain health care providers to furnish hospital care, medical services, and extended care to veterans.
- H.R.4635 : Prescription Drug Take-Back Program. A bill to provide for a prescription drug take-back program for members of the Armed Forces and veterans, and for other purposes.
- H.R.4640 : VA Suicide Death Review. A bill to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to conduct a review of the deaths of certain veterans who died by suicide, and for other purposes.
FOLLOWING IS A SUMMARY OF VETERAN RELATED LEGISLATION INTRODUCED IN THE SENATE SINCE THE LAST BULLETIN WAS PUBLISHED
- S.2596 : 100% Disabled Vet Space “A” Travel. A bill to amend title 10, United States Code, to permit veterans who have a service-connected, permanent disability rated as total to travel on military aircraft in the same manner and to the same extent as retired members of the Armed Forces entitled to such travel.
- S.2601 : VA Secretary Controlled Substance Disclosure to States. A bill to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to disclose certain information to State controlled substance monitoring programs.
* Military *
Military Trivia 118 ► Resupply via Artillery shell
Medical supplies were delivered via artillery shells during World War II. The below images show how special artillery rounds were used during World War II to transport medical supplies to American Soldiers surrounded by German forces. In late October 1944, German counterattacks isolated much of the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment of the 36th Division. Supplies were dropped from fighter-bombers, but the weather deteriorated and German pressure pushed in the “Lost Battalion” perimeter. In desperation, resupply was conducted by artillery, which could both be more precise and operate around the clock.
The specialty round (left) is about to be fired by the 141th Field Artillery Battalion, Belmont Sector, France. Personnel from the 11th Medical Battalion in Eloves, France (right) pack the small bundles of medical supplies. These artillery shells normally carried propaganda leaflets or food such as D-rations, vitamin-fortified chocolate bars and water-purification tablets. Both images are from Oct. 27, 1944.
[Source: U.S. Army Medical Department Center of History and Heritage Archives May 2015 ++]
Military Retirement Pay Update 04 ► 2017 Budget Proposal Changes
The Pentagon is fending off criticism that another round of updates to the military’s retirement system would benefit older career-minded personnel at the expense of younger troops who fulfill only a short-term obligation. The proposed changes are outlined in the Defense Department’s 2017 budget request, revealed 9 FEB, which urges Congress to rework several pieces of the new retirement plan that was passed into law last year and is slated to take effect in January 2018. “We absolutely do not agree that this is something that is trying to benefit the most senior people at the expense of junior people,” Defense Department Comptroller Mike McCord told Defense News, a Military Times partner, during an interview following the budget’s release. “I think this has been misconstrued or mis-portrayed as something that is only going to benefit generals. This is for people, senior enlisted and senior officers, and we think these are changes we’ve proposed before that would help us manage the force better,” McCord said.
The Pentagon supports Congress’s transition to a blended retirement system, which will shrink military pensions for future troops by 20 percent yet offer cash contributions to individual investment accounts for most troops, even those who separate long before serving a full 20-year career. But now defense officials want Congress to make “modifications” meant to help the individual military services meet “retention needs,” budget documents show. Those proposed changes seek to:
1. Delay contributions for junior troops. The Pentagon wants to delay the start of government matching contributions to individual investment accounts until troops reach their fifth year of military service. Under the current law, matching contributions begin when troops reach their third year of service. Since about half of the enlisted force leaves the military before reaching five years, this change would significantly reduce the retirement benefit for the non-career force.
2. Expand contributions for senior troops. The Pentagon wants to extend government matching contributions for senior leaders by continuing matching payments until a service member’s retirement date. Current law suspends those contributions at 26 years of service. While only a small fraction of the force stays beyond 26 years, this change would have a big impact on those individuals. A 5 percent government match for someone at the O-6 pay grade — colonels in the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps, captains in the Navy — amounts to more than $500 monthly. For generals and admirals, it would be worth even more — and officials hope to boost the max contribution from 5 to 6 percent (see below).
3. Eliminate required bonus rates for mid-career troops. The Pentagon wants to remove the new retirement system’s mandatory minimum “continuation pay” for all troops reaching 12 years of service, and give the services flexibility to set continuation pay based on their individual needs. Current law ensures that all troops reaching 12 years of service receive continuation pay equal to 2.5 months basic pay. Removing the mandatory element of this benefit would make it similar to the existing system used for retention bonuses and would hit the less-competitive, easy-to-fill career fields hardest.
4. Boost the maximum matching contribution. The Pentagon wants to raise the current cap on government contributions to individual investment accounts to 6 percent of basic pay. Current law limits that to 5 percent. Theoretically this would impact most of the force equally. But in practice this revised benefit would flow to the troops and families who can most afford to maximize their own personal contributions and draw the bigger matching contribution.
These proposals have drawn criticism from members of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, a blue-ribbon panel whose recommendations last year formed the basis for the law Congress ultimately passed. “Money is driving the attitude at the Department of Defense,” said Michael Higgins, a retired Air Force personnel officer and longtime Capitol Hill staffer who served on the commission, which supports two of the proposals — extending matching contributions for senior leaders serving more than 26 years and raising the cap on those contributions from 5 to 6 percent. But the other two — eliminating the matching contributions for the lowest-ranking troops and removing the mandatory element of the 12-year continuation pay — contradict the commission’s specific recommendations.
On the issue of whether third- and fourth-year troops should receive matching contributions, Higgins said the Pentagon is “reluctant to see expenditures outlayed for individuals who are not going to be on the DoD team for the long run.” But leaders may be underestimating the subtle impact those benefits would have on recruiting by offering prospective troops an “early recognition of service with credible benefits.” “It’s a terrific incentive that is going to reach the very talented, very aggressive kind of individual. There is a quality cut there that DoD really benefits from, because you’re really appealing to the individual who is thinking more responsibly. And I think DoD is really missing that,” Higgins said.
McCord underscored the Defense Department’s support for the new retirement system, noting that the Pentagon floated these proposals last year but Congress opted against them in the final National Defense Authorization Act passed in November. “Overall we think it was a good reform passed last year. We’re happy to have seen it accomplished and we support it,” he said. “We are going back and saying [to Congress]: ‘We asked for a set of changes. You did most of them … but a couple of things that we think you missed.’ “The biggest one is continuation pay,” McCord said, “which we intended to be a force management tool at the 12-year point — not something given to everyone at the 12-year point,” he said. “The changes we are asking for would allow us to manage the force better — to keep the people we want to keep. … And we don’t think its fair, especially for the senior enlisted, to have their benefit go down because they reach 26 years of service.” Congress will decide whether to adopt these changes as part of its annual budget negotiations. So far lawmakers have not signaled any strong support or opposition.
The existing law offers all current troops a grandfather clause to remain under the traditional retirement system if they choose. Alternatively, those who joined after 2006 have the choice to opt into the new system and begin receiving monthly government contributions once the new benefit begins in 2018. To help service members make that decision, the Defense Department will roll out a force-wide financial education program later this year, officials said. Studies suggest the new retirement system will be popular among the youngest troops, and that opting in may be a good decision for those who might not plan to serve a full 20-year career. Future troops entering the military after January 2018 will be automatically enrolled in the new system. As is:
- The new system calls for creation of individual investment accounts, known as a Thrift Savings Plan, for all recruits who show up at boot camp.
- Troops will automatically receive monthly deposits equal to 1 percent of their basic pay.
- Troops can select an investment fund and hope to accumulate market gains and interest over time as financial markets grow.
- Ownership of the TSP accounts will be handed off to individual troops after they reach two years of service, and they’ll be given incentives to contribute their own money to the retirement account. Specifically, the Defense Department will offer a dollar-for-dollar match to individual contributions up to an additional 3 percent of pre-tax basic pay. That means that for troops opting to contribute 3 percent of basic pay, the Pentagon will contribute 4 percent, which would be the initial 1 percent automatic contribution plus a 3 percent dollar-for-dollar match.
- In total, troops contributing 3 percent would sock away monthly pre-tax contributions equal to 7 percent of basic pay. The current system also offers an additional contribution worth 50 cents on the dollar for individuals who invest either 4 percent or 5 percent of their pay.
- To receive the maximum possible retirement benefit, troops would have to contribute 5 percent of their basic pay in exchange for 5 percent from the government. Again, the changes proposed in the 2017 budget would extend dollar-for-dollar matches up to five percent, meaning troops could receive a maximum of 6 percent government matching money — the 5 percent dollar-for-dollar match plus the 1 percent automatic contribution.
Higgins said these proposals could put the military compensation system at risk. “At the end of the day, are these two proposals, if they should be adopted, going to kill the system? I don’t know. I think it puts the success of the new system at risk unnecessarily,” he said. “If you tinker with it … you are really going to change service members perspective on this system. And if you do that, you put the system at risk to where it’s not going to produce the retention or the force structure that the department desires,” he said. [Source: Military Times | Andrew Tilghman | February 21, 2016 ++]
PTSD Update 203 ► RAND Study Findings | 40,000 Cases
The U.S. military is struggling to provide adequate therapy sessions for thousands of active-duty troops suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, a massive study released 18 FEB concludes. The RAND Corp. study of 40,000 cases, the largest ever, found that only a third of troops with PTSD and less than a quarter who are clinically depressed receive the minimum number of therapy sessions after being diagnosed. A RAND review of U.S. military and Department of Veterans Affairs treatment guidelines concluded that troops diagnosed with PTSD should receive at least four therapy sessions within eight weeks or at least two sessions to manage newly prescribed medications.
The good news in the study: vast improvement in how the Army and other service branches follow up with inpatient cases of PTSD after servicemembers are released from mental hospital care, a crucial period when many suicides occur. “We just don’t have enough mental health professionals to meet the demand,” said Brad Carson, acting principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. He said the military will turn increasingly to civilian therapists available through Pentagon contracts. Carson also plans to examine the RAND findings “to see ways that we can improve.” Since 2009, the military has increased mental health professionals on staff by 42% to 9,295. The study examined treatment for a year following diagnoses in 2012. There were 8,286 diagnosed with PTSD, 24,251 with depression and 6,290 suffering from both illnesses. RAND described the study as the largest independent examination of mental health treatment in the military.
Army research found that one of the most vulnerable periods for suicide by soldiers is during the year after being released from hospital care. The suicide rate for soldiers in this group was 264 per 100,000, far outpacing the national suicide rate of 13 per 100,000 people. The RAND study shows the military has become more aggressive in treating servicemembers after they are released from in-patient psychiatric care. About 86% of those with PTSD or depression had a follow-up session with a mental health specialist within seven days after being discharged, and the rate jumped to more than 95% for seeing a therapist within 30 days, according to the study. “This is a very important, high-risk time for these servicemembers,” said Kimberly Hepner, a clinical psychologist and lead author of the RAND study. “This is a prime example of where they (the U.S. military medical system) really out-performed all other available data.” She said the military’s rate of success in this category was higher than in civilian medical care and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
But the study also shows the military must provide more therapy quickly after a diagnosis of PTSD or depression, Hepner said. “Are there enough visits at the beginning to give the servicemember a good start at getting effective treatment? And that’s really a key place where we saw that the military health system could improve,” she said. he RAND study cited a 2014 internal Army medical command memorandum emphasizing the need to see soldiers within 72 hours of being discharged from a hospital. It urges commanders to require a soldier to attend a session if one is missed. It also says no one will be discharged during a weekend or holiday to avoid losing track of follow-up care. About 2.6 million U.S. servicemembers served in Iraq or Afghanistan from 2001 through 2014. Rates of PTSD among these troops ranged from 4% to 20%, with depression rates ranging from 5% to 37%, depending on the study.
RAND researchers found that the Pentagon could improve how rapidly doctors review the progress of a servicemember who was placed on medication after being diagnosed with PTSD or depression. Only 45% of those with PTSD and 42% of those with depression had their medication progress reviewed within 30 days after diagnosis, which is a proper standard, according to the RAND study. About 70% of those studied were in the Army, more than 90% of those who had PTSD had been deployed and the average deployment was 20 months. The average profile of a patient in the military with PTSD or depression was a soldier 34 years old or younger, white and married. [Source: USA TODAY | Gregg Zoroya | February 18, 2016 ++]
Coast Guard Reserve ► 75 Years of Service
The United States Coast Guard Reserve is celebrating 75 years of service to the nation. USCG reservists have served in every major conflict or crisis the nation has faced since the inception of the component, according to Rear Adm. Kurt B. Hinrichs, the Coast Guard’s director of reserve and military personnel. Since the creation of the Coast Guard Reserve with the Coast Guard Auxiliary and Reserve Act of Feb. 19, 1941, its mission has remained deeply rooted in national defense, Hinrichs said. More than 200,000 reservists served in World War II. Reserve-staffed Port Security Units have deployed to Haiti and the Middle East, and continue to support maritime security efforts with Joint Task Force Guantanamo. About half of the reserve force deployed after 9/11 for homeland security missions, Hinrichs said. Reservists served from 2002 to 2014 on teams that worked with U.S. Army personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan to inspect shipping containers, he noted.
Reservists are the Coast Guard’s “force in garrison” who have supported domestic missions such as the response to Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. “The Coast Guard Reserve could not be the ready, reliable surge force on which the nation relies if not for the hard work and dedication of each and every one of its 7,000 members,” he said. “In turn, they could not continue to answer the call if not for the unwavering support of both their families and their employers,” he added. The highest-ranking enlisted reserve member, Coast Guard Reserve Force Master Chief Eric Johnson, said he is continually impressed with the highly skilled force. Reservists strengthen the Coast Guard with their dedication, commitment, valuable outside experience and diversity of thought, Johnson said. Reservists and their families make many sacrifices to serve the nation, he said.
They serve in a variety of rates, including boatswain’s mate, food service specialist, gunner’s mate, health service technician, public affairs specialist, and marine science technician. “I am thankful for everything they do and the way they do it,” he said. “The excitement and energy that they put into being members of the Coast Guard Reserve, it’s always a pleasure to see it.” Senior Chief Petty Officer Marguerite DeMartino, a public affairs specialist, was among the thousands of Coast Guard Reservists called up for duty following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. DeMartino, who has been in the Coast Guard Reserve for more than a quarter century, said it has been a fulfilling experience to serve her community and nation. “I lived my dream,” she said. [Source: DoD News, DMA | Lisa Ferdinando | February 19, 2016 ++]
Military Old and New ► 1945 vs. 2016
1945 – NCO’s had a typewriter on their desks for doing daily reports.
2016 – Everyone has an internet access computer, and they wonder why
no work is getting done.
1945 – We painted pictures of girls on airplanes to remind us of home.
2016 – They put the real thing in the cockpit.
1945 – Your girlfriend was at home praying you would return alive.
2016 – She is in the same trench praying your condom worked.
1945 – If you got drunk off duty your buddies would take you back to
the barracks to sleep it off.
2016 – If you get drunk they slap you in rehab and ruin your career.
1945 – You were taught to aim at your enemy and shoot him.
2016 – You spray 500 bullets into the brush, don’t hit anything, and
retreat because you’re out of ammo.
1945 – Canteens were made of steel, and you could heat coffee or hot
chocolate in them.
2016 – Canteens are made of plastic, you can’t heat anything in them,
and they always taste like plastic.
1945 – Officers were professional soldiers first and they commanded respect.
2016 – Officers are politicians first and beg not to be given a wedgie.
1945 – They collected enemy intelligence and analyzed it.
2016 – They collect your pee and analyze it.
1945 – If you didn’t act right, the Sergeant Major put you in the brig
until you straightened up.
2016 – If you don’t act right, they start a paper trail that follows
1945 – Medals were awarded to heroes who saved lives at the risk of their own.
2016 – Medals are awarded to people who work at headquarters.
1945 – You slept in barracks like a soldier.
2016 – You sleep in a dormitory like a college kid.
1945 – You ate in a mess hall, which was free, and you could have all
the food you wanted.
2016 – You eat in a dining facility, every slice of bread or pad of
butter costs, and you better not take too much.
1945 – We defeated powerful countries like Germany and Japan.
2016 – We come up short against Iraq and Afghanistan.
1945 – If you wanted to relax, you went to the rec center, played
pool, smoked and drank beer.
2016 – You go to the community center, and you can play pool.
1945 – If you wanted beer and conversation you went to the NCO or
2016 – The beer will cost you $2.75, membership is forced, and someone
is watching how much you drink.
1945 – The Exchange had bargains for soldiers who didn’t make much money.
2016 – You can get better and cheaper merchandise at Walmart.
1945 – We could recognize the enemy by their Nazi helmets.
2016 – We are wearing the Nazi helmets.
1945 – We called the enemy names like “Krauts” and “Japs” because we
didn’t like them.
2016 – We call the enemy the “opposing force” or “aggressor” because
we don’t want to offend them.
1945 – Victory was declared when the enemy was defeated and all his
things were broken.
2016 – We haven’t a clue as to what victory is or what it takes to achieve it.
1945 – A commander would put his butt on the line to protect his people.
2016 – A commander will put his people on the line to protect his butt.
1945 – Wars were planned and run by generals who knew how to fight and win.
2016 – Wars are planned by politicians who haven’t a clue about
fighting or winning.
1945 – We were fighting for freedom, and the country was committed to winning.
2016 – We don’t know what we’re fighting for, and the government is
committed to social programs and political correctness.
[Source: Unknown | February 21, 2016 ++]
Military Caisson Horses ► Retirees Free to A Good Home
He received good marks in his early days in the military: “quite impressive,” his supervisor once wrote. But after he kicked a few soldiers, he swiftly found himself unwelcome in the Army. Meanwhile, his buddy started out with similarly good reviews — “a big morale booster” — but found his military service cut short by a painful foot condition. Now, the two retirees are, like so many veterans leaving the service, looking for their next homes. Preferably homes with lots of hay and some room in a barn. “These guys did their service,” Staff Sgt. David Smith said. “It’s their time to be a horse.”
Quincy (left) waits while stalls are cleaned in the stables at Fort Myer in Arlington. First Lieutenant Daniel Nicolosi (right) escorts Kennedy in the Caisson barn at Fort Myer
Kennedy and Quincy, highly trained horses who have served in the Army’s Old Guard at Arlington National Cemetery, have finished their tours of duty. And both are up for adoption, free to a good home. They have served in a role almost unique in the U.S. military, that of the caisson horse. Caisson horses pull coffins to burials at Arlington, bringing former officers and service members killed in action in America’s wars to their grave sites with haunting uniformity and precision. The choreographed procession, led by a riderless horse, is one of the most solemn and stylized rituals in the nation. Kennedy and Quincy performed it about eight times a day, every other week, in every sort of weather. But because they are now unsuitable — Quincy, an 11-year-old quarter horse, is having trouble with his feet because of navicular disease, and Kennedy, a 15-year-old Standardbred, acted out too many times — members of the public have the rare opportunity to adopt a caisson horse.
The horses will go free to two lucky new owners, but the vetting process is strict. Smith said that a herd manager from the Army will travel to prospective homes to make sure the horses find suitable places to spend the rest of their days. Applicants can visit the horses on Tuesdays at Fort Myer, the Army installation adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery. The six-page application, available online, asks questions including, “How often do you think a horse should be wormed?” and “If you go on vacation, what would you do with this animal? If you had to move, what would you do with this animal?” Jenna Sears was the most recent person to make it through the vetting process. Now, she is the proud owner of Freedom, a 12-year-old quarter horse who had to leave the Army because of an eye cyst. “The caisson horses are known for being very calm,” Sears said. “They’re kind of the ideal horse.” A horseback rider since she was about 10 years old, the 27-year-old Fredericksburg resident said she is thrilled to have her own horse for casual trail riding. She boards him in King George County, Va., and has owned him for about a month. “Not many people can say that they own a caisson horse,” she said.
The caisson horses are accustomed to hard work. They start their day in the barn at Fort Myer at 4:30 a.m., when soldiers assigned to the caisson come in to prepare for the day’s funerals. Pfc. Kris Loudner, who has been one of the caisson riders for more than a year, said the riders polish every piece of tack daily — that’s 314 pieces of brass shined every morning. By 8 a.m., the horses are ready to go to the cemetery, where they stay until about 4 p.m. “These horses have been doing this so long, they know what the job is,” Loudner said. He marveled when he first joined the caisson at how the animals knew how to behave when each funeral procession started. “The horses will be nipping at each other, acting the fool,” he said. “As soon as it’s time, they tighten up. They’re ready for the mission to start.”
Quincy typically walked at the front of funeral processions or in the middle position, Smith said. Kennedy had the most distinctive job of all, that of the riderless horse. The tradition of a horse walking riderless to a grave site, its saddle empty to memorialize the service member who will never ride again, dates back to the funeral of Genghis Khan, an exhibit in the barn at Fort Myer says. Riderless horses also distinguished the funerals of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. The horse that led John F. Kennedy’s funeral is buried at Fort Myer. The horse from Ronald Reagan’s funeral is too old to work but still lives in the barn as an honored elder statesman. Just a few stalls down, Kennedy and Quincy live side by side. “I’ve always liked Quincy. He’s got a good attitude, a good personality,” Loudner said. “He’s just an excellent horse.”
Quincy, seeming to hear the praise, bobbed his head vigorously. Loudner chuckled: It’s the same move Quincy makes when they play music in the barn. Loudner, 24, is an Oklahoma farm boy by birth. When he joined the Army, he was excited to find his way back to a barn. “I take a big whiff, and it just takes me back to when I was a kid.” Asked about his job, he lets out a contemplative puff of air. “We’re the final escort to America’s fallen service members,” he said. “We take America’s service members to their final resting place. It’s a very honorable, very awe-inspiring job.” That’s the job that the two horses will soon retire from. “I think one of the reasons to own a horse like Quincy or Kennedy is to have a piece in this mission,” Loudner said. “In a way, you’re tending to a horse that has honored America’s service members.” [Source: The Washington Post | Julie Zauzmer | February 21, 2016++]
Stilwell Chungking Museum ► Respect for An American General
Early in his tenure as commander of the United States’ World War II mission in China, Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell expressed a grudging fondness for the damp, ramshackle capital deep in the country’s southwest that would be his base for the next several years. “Chungking isn’t half bad when the sun shines,” the plain-spoken general wrote in his diary, using the spelling of the period. But his tolerance for the underserviced, refugee-laden town perched high above the Yangtze River did not last. A year later, he composed a five-stanza poem that went, in part: “The garbage is rich, as it rots in the ditch, / And the honey-carts scatter pollution.” By the time General Stilwell was recalled to the United States in the fall of 1944, he grumbled that Washington was “as big a pile of manure as Chungking was.”
Still, that unflattering take on Chongqing, now a metropolis of 30 million, has not stopped a wellspring of local pride and scholarship about General Stilwell, the American military hero who was sent by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help the Chinese battle the Japanese. A museum dedicated to General Stilwell opened here more than 20 years ago in the gray-stone, flat-roofed house set in a garden of palm trees where the general lived and worked. Scholars in Chongqing say that when William J. Perry, then the defense secretary, came for the opening of the museum in 1994, his plane was the first American aircraft to touch down here since the victory of the Communists in 1949. In a sign of the official respect for General Stilwell, the Chongqing municipal government runs the museum.
A bust (left) of Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell outside the Stilwell Museum in Chongqing. The museum opened in 1994, in the general’s former house. Chiang Kai-shek, the Chinese Nationalist leader, and his wife, Madame Chiang, with General Stilwell (right) during a meeting in 1942 in Burma, now called Myanmar.
One of the epic personality battles of the war played out here: Two stubborn and hostile men, General Stilwell and Chiang Kai-shek, the Nationalist leader, vied for the affection of the American president, even though they were supposed to be allies. General Stilwell openly referred to Chiang as “Peanut” and railed against his corruption, complaining that it left conscripts starving in the streets of Chongqing.
Dark wood furniture, a sepia-toned wall map of the region in the conference area and a spartan dining table where General Stilwell entertained make it easy to envision what went on in the modest rooms. Other touches — a gray steel Remington typewriter, a glass-fronted bookcase behind the general’s desk and a wood-framed bed — are of the period but did not belong to the general, according to his grandson, John Easterbrook. The photos on the walls reflect the intrigue of a city that was not only an encampment for American military and government advisers who dealt with Chiang but also home to a small cell of Communists led by Zhou Enlai, later the first premier of the People’s Republic of China, who stayed not far from General Stilwell’s house.
The most striking images in the Stilwell museum are grainy black-and-white shots of the grim-faced generals, Stilwell and Chiang, that capture their frosty relationship. They both stand ramrod straight, rail thin and staring ahead, with the fashionably dressed Madame Chian g Kai-shek sandwiched between them as a chic intermediary — though not always trustworthy, from the American’s point of view. After coming to power, the Chinese Communist Party refused to acknowledge the help the United States had given China in defeating the Japanese, a reaction to American support for Chiang during the civil war. But that attitude changed in the 1990s, and now the American role has become part of the standard version of the war. General Stilwell’s low regard for Chiang, who lost to the Communists and fled to Taiwan in 1949, has contributed to his high standing in China.
In the Stilwell papers, now housed at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, the general refers to the Communist program as: “Reduce taxes, rents, interest. Raise production, and standard of living.” The government of Chiang, he wrote, was riddled with “greed, corruption, favoritism, more taxes, a ruined currency, terrible waste of life, callous disregard of all the rights of man.” “Stilwell was very unhappy with the Kuomintang soldiers and the situation in the war,” said Zhou Yong, the director in Chongqing of the Research Center for the Great Rear Area During the Anti-Japanese War, using the Chinese word for the Nationalists. “But that was the reality of China at the time,” said Mr. Zhou, who has visited the United States and Taiwan to pursue his research on wartime Chongqing. General Stilwell, he said, “had to find a new force to win the war, and the new force was the Communist Party.”
General Stilwell, he noted, wanted the Communists under Mao Zedong to have a share equal to Chiang’s of the American supply of fighting equipment, known as Lend-Lease. The sharing never came to pass: Chiang outfoxed the American he never trusted, and persuaded Roosevelt to bring the general home. Among scholars in China the unforgiving attitude toward Chiang that prevailed in the early years of Communist rule has softened, and now, credit is given to his troops for helping to keep the Japanese at bay. “There’s a transformation in China’s study of this part of history,” said Tan Gang, an associate professor at Southwest University in Chongqing. “It used to be that if scholars mentioned the Kuomintang, they would criticize it. Now, we can see the Kuomintang more objectively.” It was understandable, Mr. Tan said, that Chiang loathed General Stilwell and worked to undermine him. “Stilwell often criticized Chiang Kai-shek publicly, and his words were very nasty,” Mr. Tan said. “It embarrassed Chiang Kai-shek — that’s why he didn’t like him.”
Though the general was known as “Vinegar Joe,” and his language left an indelible image of a rough-talking boss, his diaries were mostly a means of letting off steam, Mr. Easterbrook said by telephone from his home near San Jose, Calif. The general would most want to be remembered as a stalwart supporter of the Chinese soldier, his grandson said. Early in his stay there, General Stilwell wrote, “The Chinese soldier best exemplifies the greatness of the Chinese people — their indomitable spirit, their uncomplaining loyalty, their honesty of purpose, their steadfast perseverance. [Source: The New York Yimes | Jane Perlezfeb | February 23, 2016 ++]
Camp Minden Explosives ► 16 Million Pounds to be Burned
A series of explosions at a north Louisiana National Guard complex (Camp Minden) terrified nearby residents, prompted some evacuations and led authorities to discover 16 million pounds of improperly stored M6 artillery propellant in bunkers. Now, nearly 3½ years later, the privately contracted cleanup of the site once operated by Explo Systems Inc. is about to begin. The National Guard has hired Explosive Service International based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to burn the dangerous propellant in a special chamber delivered to the site. The Army is paying $32 million for cleanup. Lt. Col. Pete Schneider says 800 pounds of propellant will be burned at a time. The project will last a year with the burn unit running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, once it’s fully operational.
[Source: The Associated Press | February 23, 2016 ++]
B-21 ► Air Force’s New Long Range Bomber
U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah James, unveiling the first image of a new Northrop Grumman Corp long-range bomber on Friday, said it would be designated the B-21. James revealed the first artist’s rendering of the secret bomber, an angular flying wing, at the Air Force Association’s annual Air Warfare Symposium. She said the name of the new warplane would be chosen with the help of service members.
The program has been shrouded in secrecy since its inception for fear of revealing military secrets to potential enemies, and to avoid giving the losing bidders any details before their formal protest was rejected last week. Northrop won a contract worth an estimated $80 billion in October to develop and build 100 new bombers, but work on the new plane was delayed for months while federal auditors reviewed a protest by Boeing Co and its key supplier, Lockheed Martin Corp. Boeing has now told senior U.S. Air Force leaders that it will not take further legal action challenging the contract, Reuters reported Thursday, citing two sources familiar with the decision. The Air Force, under pressure from lawmakers and retired Air Force officers, has promised to release more information about the new plane in March.
Although the program has now survived the legal protest process, it still faces hurdles in Congress. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain on 25 FEB said he would block the Air Force’s use of a cost-plus type of contract for the long-range bomber since it holds the government responsible for cost overruns. The Air Force says that only the engineering and development phase of the program, valued at $21.4 billion, is structured as a cost-plus contract with incentive fees. Production of the first five sets of new bombers, usually the most expensive planes in a new class of aircraft, would be structured with a firm, fixed price, the service said. Analysts say the program will be worth around $80 billion in total, providing a boon to Northrop and its key suppliers, but the Air Force has said only that it expects to pay $511 million per plane in 2010 dollars. John Michael Loh, a retired four-star U.S. Air Force general, has urged the Air Force to name Northrop’s suppliers to shore up support in Congress, and avoid a re-run of the B-2 bomber program, which was scaled back from 132 planes to just 21, which drove the price of each plane sharply higher. [Source: Reuters | Andrea Shalal | February 26, 2016 ++]
Medal of Honor Citations ► Hosking~Charles E | VN
The President of the United States in the name of The Congress
takes pleasure in presenting the
Medal of Honor posthumously
Charles Ernest Hosking, Jr.
Rank and organization: Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company A, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces
Place and date: Phuoc Long Province, Republic of Vietnam, 21 March 1967
Entered service: Fort Dix in 1944
Born: Ramsey, New Jersey May 12, 1924
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. M/Sgt. Hosking (then Sfc.), Detachment A-302, Company A, greatly distinguished himself while serving as company advisor in the III Corps Civilian Irregular Defense Group Reaction Battalion during combat operations in Don Luan District. A Viet Cong suspect was apprehended and subsequently identified as a Viet Cong sniper. While M/Sgt. Hosking was preparing the enemy for movement back to the base camp, the prisoner suddenly grabbed a hand grenade from M/Sgt. Hosking’s belt, armed the grenade, and started running towards the company command group which consisted of 2 Americans and 2 Vietnamese who were standing a few feet away. Instantly realizing that the enemy intended to kill the other men, M/Sgt. Hosking immediately leaped upon the Viet Cong’s back. With utter disregard for his personal safety, he grasped the Viet Cong in a “Bear Hug” forcing the grenade against the enemy soldier’s chest. He then wrestled the Viet Cong to the ground and covered the enemy’s body with his body until the grenade detonated. The blast instantly killed both M/Sgt. Hosking and the Viet Cong. By absorbing the full force of the exploding grenade with his body and that of the enemy, he saved the other members of his command group from death or serious injury. M/Sgt. Hosking’s risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in the highest tradition of the U.S. Army and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.
Hosking served in WWII. His promotion to Master Sergeant, like his Medal of Honor, was bestowed posthumously. His name is found on Panel 17E, Line 5 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. Hosking was buried at Valleau Cemetery in Ridgewood, New Jersey. Hosking Way, a road off of Darlington Avenue in Ramsey, is named in his honor.
[Source: http://www.history.army.mil/html/moh/vietnam-a-l.html#Hosking Feb 2016 ++]
* Military History *
Military History Anniversaries ► 1 thru 15 Mar
Significant events in U.S. Military History over the next 15 days are listed in the attachment to this Bulletin titled, “Military History Anniversaries 1 thru 15 Mar”. [Source: This Day In History http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history Feb 2016 ++]
Military History ► WWI Battleship Recruits
In 1917 the U.S. Navy built a full-size battleship in Union Square, New York. It would stay there for the next three years. Intended as a recruitment and training center, the ship was commissioned as a normal seagoing ship, under the command of Acting Captain C. F. Pierce, and manned by trainee sailors from Newport Training Station. Internally the ship had a wireless station, full officer’s quarters, doctor’s quarters and examination rooms to assess the health of potential candidates. Constructed from wood, the USS Recruit carried two cage masts, a conning tower and a dummy funnel, or smokestack. It had six wooden replicas of 14-inch (360 mm) guns housed in three twin turrets, 10 wooden five-inch (130 mm) anti-torpedo boat guns and two replica one-pound saluting guns, matching the configuration of battleships of the time.
According to the August 1917 edition of Popular Science, the Recruit followed the normal navy routine. Sailors rose at 6 a.m., scrubbed the decks, did their laundry, and attended instructional classes. They then stood guard over the ship and were available to answer questions from visitors. By night, all the ship’s lights were turned on, including a series of searchlights. The ship hosted a variety of social events and receptions, including a christening, patriotic speeches and visits by various dignitaries, a group of Native Americans and the woman’s motor corps.As a recruiting tool the ship was very successful, helping to recruit 25,000 men into the U.S. Navy. The First World War ended in 1918, and by 1920 the Recruit was no longer needed in Union Square. It was properly decommissioned and dismantled, with the intention of relocating it to Coney Island’s Luna Park. This did not happen and the fate of the Recruit is unknown.
[Source: http://mashable.com/2015/04/30/uss-recruit June 2015 ++]
* Health Care *
TRICARE Autism Care Update 17 ► Senate Subcommittee ABA Hearing
Pentagon plans to reduce Tricare rates for autism therapy specialists came under fire in FEB from two U.S. senators who say they’re concerned that the pay cut will result in few providers willing to accept Tricare patients. Tricare officials announced late last year that they plan to reduce reimbursement rates for providers for “applied behavior analysis” (ABA) autism therapy by as much as 35 percent for providers in certain locations. Currently providers are paid a fixed rate based on education and certification level, regardless of location. Under the new plan, the national hourly rate will be set, for example, at $114 for providers with a doctorate — more than $10 less than the current rate — and then further adjusted either up or down based on a geographic rate calculation used by Medicare. Each education level will also receive a different rate based on location.
“The ABA treatment for persons with autism and the proposed rate cut is something that I’m concerned with the timing of,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) told a panel of experts a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing this week. “I think we may be making a mistake cutting treatment options below the national average and produce a bad outcome for something, I think, that has been proven to be highly effective and highly beneficial to those that take advantage of the treatment,” he added.
Providing ABA therapy has long been a source of contention between military families and Tricare. In 2013, for example, Tricare officials first sought to limit ABA coverage for active duty families, then abruptly changed course after public outcry. Then, in 2014, officials announced plans to slash reimbursement rates for day-to-day therapy by 46 percent, causing further outrage and a delay in the rate reduction plan. Instead, Tricare officials at that time commissioned a study from the RAND Corp. to examine reimbursement rates among private insurers. That study has raised serious concern among autism therapy advocates lobbyists, including officials at Autism Speaks. Those experts said they worry that the reduction will cause a provider shortage near military bases, particularly ones in rural locations. “Autism Speaks is concerned that the rate cuts will reduce access to ABA services. Shortages of Board Certified Behavioral Analysts already exist near Fort Campbell, Fort Sill, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and other locations around the country,” Autism Speaks officials said in a statement. “If adopted, the rate cuts might lead providers to leave Tricare’s networks or give priority to children with other types of health insurance.”
Sen. Kristen Gillibrand Sen. Thom Tillis
Dr. Jonathan Woodson, the Pentagon’s assistant secretary for health affairs, told the committee that Tricare is keeping a close watch on whether or not there are enough providers. “Certainly we’ll be monitoring the situation very closely, and should we find in any locality that it’s been adversely affected, we will make rapid changes,” he said. Sill Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, worried that the Tricare-ordered RAND study is “misleading.” “I have some specific concerns in regards to the studies and the methodologies, because I don’t think they are reflective of the cost, so I’d like to request some follow-up information specifically on that, and further consideration, because I think it’s inadequate,” she told Woodson during the hearing. “I think your study is misleading in its outcomes … I’m very concerned that there will be negative consequences for patients.” [Source: Military.com | Amy Bushatz | February 24, 2016 ++]
TRICARE User Fees Update 100 ► What Will Patients Gain from Increase
Congressional panels reviewing the Department of Defense plan to raise Tricare fees and co-pays are asking what beneficiaries can expect in return. Faster appointments, more evening clinic hours, more physicians spending more time seeing patients and more base hospitals operating at full capacity were some answers given by military health care leaders. Perhaps the most important commitment came from Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, who said he, the new director of the Defense Health Agency, Vice Admiral Raquel C. Bono, and the surgeons general of the Army, Navy and Air Force all recognize the need “to pivot to a full patient-centered, customer-focused delivery system.”
The comment came in response to Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV), an Army Reserve physician who said that while assigned to military treatment facilities “we did not have a taxing schedule of patient flow,” while doctors in civilian hospitals “see many more patients in the same period of time.” Woodson seemed to give a less satisfactory response to Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) who asked what to tell beneficiaries who want to know what they will gain from having to pay more. Their share of total health costs would climb from 8 percent to 10.4 percent, Woodson said, modestly compared to 27 percent when Tricare was rolled out two decades ago. The catastrophic cap on total health expenditures by individuals and families would rise for the first time since 2001, Woodson said, yet remain low relative to other insurance plans. “There’s also a second-payer option put forward, which lowers the fees for those who have other health insurance,” Woodson said. “We’ve also set the fee structure so it incentivizes” use of military treatment facilities.
The Senate and House armed services subcommittees took different approaches in separate hearings as they moved closer to deciding how to reform the multi-option military health insurance benefit. The House subcommittee chaired by Heck pressed Woodson and Bono about proposed fee hikes while praising its intention to simplify three existing options down to only Tricare Select. Retirees younger than 65 would see the biggest pop in out-of-pocket costs. Their cost to enroll in managed care would climb about 25 percent in 2018. Working-age retirees who prefer Choice also would have to pay to participate ($450 for individuals, $900 for families) or lose coverage. A first-ever enrollment fee for older retirees who use Tricare for Life to Medicare Part B would apply only to new TFL users, not current TFL beneficiaries. But most anyone filling prescriptions off base would see increasingly higher co-pays. A promised improvement in health insurance for Reserve and National Guard members will not be ready until next year, Woodson said. Tricare needs more information on these members’ current insurance choices before deciding on an option to replace or enhance the unpopular Tricare Reserve Select.
A day earlier, the Senate subcommittee led by Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., heard first from a panel of industry health care experts on ways to reform Tricare, before it ask Woodson, Bono and the surgeons general to testify on current efforts to make Tricare more responsive and efficient. On fees and co-pays, Dr. A. Mark Fendrick, professor of internal medicine and health management policy at the University of Michigan, urged that Tricare be moved to a value-based insurance design now being used by hundreds of public and private employers. The idea is to replace a one-size-fits-all approach to setting fees and co-pays by charging less for services more valuable to patient health and charging more for services of less value. “Does it make sense,” Fendrick asked, “that my Tricare patients pay the same co-payment to see a cardiologist after a heart attack as to see a dermatologist for mild acne?” In closing the hearing, Graham called the current design of Tricare “antiquated” and told Woodson he wanted to see his team offer “reforms, not just premium increases. We’re going to look at Tricare and turn it upside down and make it more transparent, more accountable.” [Source: The Gazette | Tom Philpott | February 28, 2016 ++]
Heart-Healthy Breathing ► Techniques To Help
Stress can take its toll on your mental and physical health, including your heart health, but there are breathing techniques to help! When you’re less focused on your breathing, it’s typical to breathe erratically—especially when you face the stressors of day-to-day life. But when you have longer, slower exhales—breathing at about 4-second-inhale and 6-second-exhale paces—your heart rate rhythmically fluctuates up and down. This rhythmic variability in heart rate mirrors your inhales and exhales so that you have maximum heart rate at the end of the inhale and minimum heart rate at the end of the exhale. More importantly, this physiological shift could help you feel less stressed, anxious, or depressed—and experience better heart health. Listen to http://www.tricare.mil/podcast for more on how to breath healthy.
It’s easy to go through the motions of breathing while absorbed in your own thoughts; instead, take notice of your breathing and other body sensations. Regularly tuning in to your body sensations could help you feel more resilient and ready to:
Adapt to change
Deal with whatever comes your way
See the brighter, or funnier, side of problems
Overcome stress and
Check out the Human Performance Resource Center at www.hprc-online.org for paced breathing MP3s and additional mind-body exercises. Start training your breathing and becoming more mindful today! [Source: TRICARE Beneficiary Bulletin #340 | Lorraine Cwieka.| February 26, 2016 ++]
Medicare Dental Coverage ► None | Plan Ahead for Retirement
Baby boomers beware: A major retirement expense may be hiding in your mouth. A majority of those age 50 to 64 either believe that — or are unsure whether — a Medicare health insurance plan will cover routine dental care, according to a recent survey by advocacy group Oral Health America (OHA). The reality is that Medicare doesn’t cover most routine dental care, such as cleanings and fillings; procedures, such as tooth extractions; or supplies, such as dentures, dental plates or other dental devices. “The issue dates back 50 years, to the origination of Medicare, when oral health was not included in that bill,” said OHA president and CEO Beth Truett. “Now, with 10,000 people retiring a day, suddenly people began to say, ‘Wait a minute, this is not what I expected.'”
Truett said just 10 percent of seniors have dental care when they retire. So from cleanings to dentures, you are mostly on your own — and those expenses can really add up, taking a big bite out of your nest egg. So much so that many retirees are opting to avoid going to the dentist altogether, with 40 percent saying they haven’t been to the dentist in the last year. “Without coverage, they’re afraid of what they’ll find,” Truett said. Buying your own dental insurance is an option, and Truett points to United Concordia and United Health as two insurers who have been active in developing senior plans. Also, some Medicare Advantage managed-care plans offer dental benefits. But a common criticism of plans like these is that they do not cover much of the expensive periodontal needs of seniors, such as implants, and there can be a cap on what’s covered. The good news is, there are ways to save on your dental bills. Here are four strategies to help you drill down those costs.
1. Look up prices before you go. Start by looking online at general prices for procedures in your area. One great resource is run by Fair Health, a nonprofit that has a searchable database of dental bills on its website Fairhealthconsumer.org. You’ll be able to see the estimated out-of-pocket costs for various dental procedures, including root canals and cleanings. Knowing the price ahead of time can help you plan for how much money you’ll need in retirement, as well as help you comparison-shop providers.
2. Take advantage of group discounts. Even if you don’t have dental insurance, there are ways to take advantage of large group discounts by enrolling in a non-insurance dental savings plan. Similar to a warehouse shopping club, you pay an annual membership fee to gain access to lower rates, which can be 10 percent to 60 percent less than if you go it alone. Just be sure to understand what types of procedures are covered before signing up.
3. Access veterans’ benefits, if you qualify. Also, if you’re a veteran, you may be eligible for dental-care benefits. Levels of coverage range from extensive care to very limited coverage, depending on your situation. For more information, go to the VA website at www.va.,gov .
4. Find lower fees at dental school clinics. Finally, consider checking out the closest dental school. Some universities offer dental-care services for a fraction of what you would normally pay at a practice. You can scour the American Dental Education Association’s website at www.adea.org for a list of accredited dental schools across the country. (http://www.adea.org/dental_education_pathways/aadsas/Pages/PDS.aspx)
[Source: USA TODAY | Sharon Epperson & Katie Young | February 27, 2016 ++]
TRICARE Cholesterol Screening ► Your Heart’s Health
Cholesterol plays an important role in the health of your heart. A build-up of cholesterol and other deposits can block arteries and lead to coronary artery disease (CAD) – the most common type of heart disease in the United States. Knowing if you have high cholesterol is important because it is one of a number of factors that determine your risk for CAD. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for some people, the first sign of CAD is a heart attack. Certain lifestyle choices such as smoking, physical inactivity and diet also increase your risk. Currently, TRICARE covers cholesterol testing every 5 years in adults age 20 and over, as recommended by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Beneficiaries should talk to their primary care manager (PCM) for more information on preventive screenings, and what their specific needs are in order to stay heart healthy.
Plaque buildup in the wall of the arteries that supply blood to the heart
Beneficiaries using TRICARE Standard should note that cholesterol screenings are covered only when combined with an immunization, breast, cervical, colorectal or prostate cancer screening. Prime beneficiaries may receive clinical preventive services from their primary care manager or any network provider without a referral or authorization at no cost. Your liver makes enough cholesterol for your body’s needs, but we often get more from the foods we eat. If we take in more cholesterol than the body can use, the extra cholesterol can build up in the walls of the arteries, including those of the heart. A blood test can detect the amount of cholesterol and triglycerides (a related kind of fat) in your blood. For more information about coronary artery disease, visit the CAD page on the CDC’s website http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/coronary_ad.htm. For more information about your covered preventive services, go to the TRICARE website http://www.tricare.mil/CoveredServices/IsItCovered/PreventiveServices.aspx. [Source: TRICARE Communications | February 23, 2016 ++]
Medicare Eligible Veterans ► Impact on VA Medical Benefits
Enrolling in original Medicare which is Parts A and B will not cause you to lose your VA medical benefits. In fact enrolling in Medicare helps you if you need medical benefits outside of the VA. For one to qualify for Medicare you must work and paid Social Security and Medicare taxes from your payroll check? One has to work only 10 years or 40 quarters to qualify for Medicare Part A at no cost. You have to enroll in Part B for which most people are paying a premium of $104.90 per month in 2016. There is a $166 per year. After your deductible is met, you typically pay 20% of the Medicare-approved amount for most doctor services (including most doctor services while you’re a hospital inpatient), outpatient therapy, and durable medical equipment.
VA encourages Veterans to enroll in Part B even though you do not need “Part B” to receive medical care from the VA. When you go outside of the VA for any medical treatment you do need Part B. You might be ambulanced to another hospital that is not a VA facility for a medical emergency or you may go to one of the original three comprehensive cancer centers in the United States established by the National Cancer Act of 1971 for cancer treatment. Chemotherapy is usually done on an outpatient basis which falls under Medicare Part B. In such cases you will pay 100% of the medical charges that “Part B” covers because you do not have Part B. Part B covers all of your outpatient needs, doctor services such as office visits and even surgery, MRIs, chemotherapy and the list can go on. Without Part B of Medicare, a person might have to pay 100% out their pocket for services associated with Part B and this could be in the $1,000s or hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Many who do not enroll in Part B when they are first eligible for Medicare, may have to pay a “late enrollment” penalty of 10% for each full 12-month period that you could have had Part B, but did not sign up for it Let’s says you waited 50 months, which is a 4 full 12-month period, then the Part B penalty is an additional 40% added to the current Part B premium for as long as you have Medicare. But not enrolling in Part D (Medicare Prescription Drug plan) is another story. Medicare considers the VA credible coverage and when you enroll in Part D at a later date, you do not get the late enrollment penalty. Guess what no Part D donut hole! [Source: The citizen | Toni King | February 24, 2016 ++]
Veterans Health Library ► One-Stop Source for Health Information
Since 2013, the Veterans Health Library at www.veteranshealthlibrary.org has been offering Veterans, family members, and caregivers 24/7 access to comprehensive, Veteran-focused health information. The online Library is a one-stop source for health information to help Veterans stay healthy and well-informed. There are over 1,500 health sheets; more than 150 videos; Go-to-Guides with audio, video and interactive quizzes; and Flipbooks that have been approved by VA experts, and include topics specific to Veterans, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), combat-related Traumatic Brain Injury, Agent Orange, and Cold Injury. All health information is available in English and Spanish to Veterans, their family and the public, no matter where the Veteran receives care. Today, the Veterans Health Library has a fresh, new look and feel that improves the users’ experience to make it more responsive to your needs. Come on in…browse around…and see for yourself. Stay Healthy! [Source: Miami VA Healthcare System News Article | February 16, 2016 ++]
TRICARE For Life Update 03 ► DoD Budget Proposed Changes
The following explanation and chart are directly from the DoD Budget:
Implement Enrollment Fee for New Tricare-for-Life Beneficiaries and Increase Pharmacy Co-Pays — In conjunction with the TRICARE Plan changes, the Department again seeks to adjust pharmacy co-pay structures and establish a modest annual enrollment fee for the TRICARE-for-Life coverage for Medicare-eligible retirees.
TRICARE-for-Life Annual Family (Two Individuals) Enrollment Fees*
% of Gross Retired Pay (GRP)
Retired Pay FY2016 FY 2017 FY 2018 FY 2019 FY 2020 FY 2021
N/A 0.50% 1.00% 1.50% 2.00% 2.00%
Ceiling $0 $150 $300 $450 $600 $632
Flag Officer Ceiling $0 $200 $400 $600 $800 $842
* Individual fees are 50 percent of family fees (e.g., 1 percent of GRP in FY 2020 and after). Ceilings indexed to retiree National Health Expenditures (NHE) per capita after FY 2020.
NAUS Note: Along with members of The Military Coalition, NAUS opposes any enrollment fee for TRICARE-for-Life. TFL is an earned entitlement. Service members who qualify for TFL have more than earned the benefit due to their multiple years of service and an additional fee for a benefit most were promised is an insult. We owe these men and women a large debt of gratitude for their service. We will fight any enrollment fee.
MOAA is particularly concerned at this plan to means-test service-earned health care benefits. No other employer means-tests retired employees’ health benefits. MOAA objects to such means-testing, which would impose successively greater financial penalties for longer and more successful service. It is particularly inappropriate to seek to impose additional fees on TFL-eligibles for three other reasons.
- First, this population is already paying the highest fees of any military beneficiaries, as TFL requires enrolling in Medicare Part B and paying the associated premiums, which start at $2,500 per year for a married couple and can run far higher.
- Second, the expressed intent of Congress in enacting TFL was that Medicare Part B premiums would be the only enrollment fee for TFL, acknowledging that Medicare would be paying 75 percent of these beneficiaries’ health costs. DoD and Hill leaders at the time opined that a career of service and sacrifice constituted a full, pre-paid premium for TFL coverage of the other 25 percent.
- Third, the Pentagon’s costs for TFL have dropped dramatically – from $11 billion in FY11 to an estimated $6.4 billion in FY17, as Defense actuaries now have 15 years of actual experience with the program and can more accurately project program costs. Rather than “spiraling out of control,” DoD health costs for this group are spiraling downward – so why the need to charge them an additional fee?
[Source: NAUS Weekly Update & MOAA Leg Up | February 19, 2016 ++]
TRICARE Cost Share 2017 ► Under Age 65 Budget Proposed Changes
Retirees under age 65 will also see huge increases under the budget plan, with lots of fee and copay changes. Among the more complex changes are proposed cost-shares for various kinds of provider visits. TRICARE Prime enrollees would see some increases in fees for seeing civilian network providers. TRICARE Standard beneficiaries would pay flat fees (and would not have a deductible) if they see civilian providers in the network. If they see out-of-network providers, they would still pay 25 percent of TRICARE-allowed charges, but would see their current deductible doubled – from $150/$300 (single/family) to $300/$600. The chart below summarizes the various cost-share changes for different types of provider visits.
- Prime beneficiaries who use out-of-network care without a referral would be subject to steep point-of-service fees: 50 percent of allowable charges after paying a $300/$600 deductible.
- In addition, the DoD plan proposes charging all military retirees under age 65 an annual enrollment fee for participating in either TRICARE Prime or Standard.
- The Prime enrollment fee would rise to $350/$700 (single/family) vs. the current $283/$565.
- The new enrollment fee for Standard would be even higher – $450/$900 (single/family) – plus the $300/$600 deductible for out-of-network care.
- Retiree copays and cost sharing also would apply to survivors (except those whose sponsors died on active duty) and TRICARE Young Adult beneficiaries with a retired sponsor.
- TRICARE Select and TRICARE Retired Reserve beneficiaries would continue their current premium levels, and their deductible and cost-shares would be the same as proposed for TRICARE Standard.
- Care in Military Treatment Facilities (MTF) would continue to be provided at no cost.
Active duty family members would not see the same drastic increases, unless they use out-of-network providers, in which case they also would incur the $600 family deductible (and high point-of-service charges if they don’t have a referral).
- Active duty family copays and cost sharing would apply to survivors whose sponsors died on active duty, TRICARE Young Adult beneficiaries with an active duty sponsor, and the Transitional Assistance Management Program.
- All fees, deductibles, and copays for all categories of beneficiaries would be increased annually by a national health care expenditure index, projected to rise over 5 percent annually. See this month’s As I See It column at http://www.moaa.org/Content/Take-Action/As-I-See-It/With-Proposed-TRICARE-Fees,-Time-Is-NOT-on-Your-Side.aspx for an assessment of the impact this would have over time.
Needless to say, MOAA believes this wide array of fee increases would impose disproportionate financial penalties on retired military beneficiaries. In addition to our concerns about the fees, we want to see more details on how DoD plans to improve beneficiaries’ timely access to quality care. [Source: MOAA Leg UP | February 19, 2016 ++]
Direct Primary Care ► New Type of Health Insurance
Let’s face it, nobody likes going to the doctor. You wait forever, you barely see your physician, and you leave with an insurance-coded bill that might as well be written in Sanskrit. There’s got to be a better way, right? Dr. Brian Forrest, the CEO of Access Healthcare Direct, thinks so. More than a decade ago, he and a handful of other fed-up primary care physicians broke from the medical mainstream, eliminated the health insurance middleman altogether, and launched “direct primary care” (DPC), a subscription-based practice that works like your gym membership.
Direct primary care is a newer type of primary-care medical practice that doesn’t accept health insurance. Instead, member patients pay a subscription fee, typically on a monthly basis. The Direct Primary Care Coalition says the model cuts overhead and allows patients to see physicians for longer appointments, which can be scheduled more easily and frequently than at a conventional practice. The Apex, North Carolina, physician found that by eliminating the administrative overhead of accepting health insurance, he could charge his patients a modest monthly subscription, pay himself and his staff, and even throw in routine EKG, cholesterol and diabetes screenings for free. Most direct primary care subscriptions cost between $25 and $85 per month.
“I love practicing this way,” Forrest says. “I only schedule 1 patient per hour, I’m able to get patients in the same day if needed and I can practice innovative telemedicine as well. It really frees me up to take care of patients.” Dr. Wanda Filer, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, calls DPC a bargain for consumers. “It’s actually lower in cost than most people would pay for regular health insurance in a month, and you can see your doctor as many times as necessary,” she says. “The patient’s out-of-pocket cost is much more defined and controlled.” Access Network claims the scores of physicians in its direct primary care network spend 35 minutes, on average, with each patient versus 8 minutes in traditional care, and a whopping 140 minutes per year versus just 20 minutes in mainstream medicine. As a result, studies have found that direct primary care members were 65% less likely to visit an emergency room, 35% less likely to require hospitalization, and enjoyed lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels as well as reduced risk of diabetes, strokes and heart attacks than traditional patients. Direct primary care patients also may save a bundle on prescription drugs, Forrest says. “If somebody saves $100 a month on their prescriptions and they’re only paying us $50 a month total, it’s a win-win for them as a consumer,” he says.
A direct primary care subscription alone won’t satisfy the health insurance requirements under the Obama health care law. Forrest says DPC patients typically purchase a qualified health savings account and high-deductible silver or bronze plan on their state Obamacare exchange for catastrophic health issues outside of primary care. The nonprofit American Academy of Private Physicians estimates there are more than 9,000 direct primary care doctors across the country. The academy’s website has a search function that allows you to find a participating doctor near you. More care, less cost, better results and less health insurance mumbo jumbo. Proponents ask: What’s not to like about direct primary care? Go to http://aapp.org/2016/01/08/why-you-should-transition-to-direct-primary-care-and-how-you-can-make-the-process-easier to learn more about how the program works and to locate a participating physician. [Source: Bankrate Weekly Roundup | Jay MacDonald | February 16, 2016 ++]
Hearing Loss ► Threat to Marines
Hearing loss remains a significant threat to Marines, both during and after their military careers. In January, leaders in hearing conservation from across the Defense Department met for a focus group aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, to attack the issue. They reviewed technologies, policies and how to get the word out to Marines. “Noise-induced hearing loss is completely preventable, and we can do better at every level to reduce it,” said hearing conservation program manager Dr. Jolene Mancini, an audiologist at Naval Health Clinic Quantico. “Improvements can be made in all areas, but probably the most effective is also the simplest and lowest-tech solution — education.” Here’s what you need to know:
1. Damage to your health. Permanent hearing loss can result not just from one-time exposure to a loud noise, but from prolonged exposure to lower noises. Continuous exposure to impulse noise 95 decibels or below — a lawn mower, for example — can lead to permanent side effects. “Hearing loss is the obvious one, but many other aspects of your health can be affected,” Mancini said. “Noise exposure has been associated with high blood pressure, sleep disturbance, increased stress and many other non-auditory effects.”
2. Who’s affected. Every Marine has been exposed to hazardous noise at some point in his or her career, according to Mancini. Exact statistics are not available, she said, but the results of not having or using the right hearing protection are significant. “Hearing loss and tinnitus are the most commonly reported service-connected disabilities to the VA, and over $1 billion is paid annually to veterans for compensation,” she said.
3. The main causes. Hearing damage isn’t limited to being around firing weapons or things that go boom, sounds which can exceed 170 decibels. Continuous exposure to loud equipment, vehicles or aircraft are major contributors, and the effects add up, Mancini said. “Any exposure to hazardous noise where a person isn’t properly protected is going to damage their hearing,” she said. “It doesn’t hurt to lose your hearing but the damage occurs with every exposure, and it is cumulative.”
4. Protect yourself. The focus group is working to bring new technologies and policies to the force, but Marines need to take the lead in protecting themselves and their troops. There are hundreds of hearing protection devices available with different styles, noise reduction and materials, and Marines should educate themselves on the right one to use for their environment. Start at the Department of Defense Hearing Center of Excellence. “Noise exposure cannot be completely avoided, but each Marine needs to understand the type of noise they are exposed to, and how to protect him/herself,” Mancini said. “Familiarization with the types of [hearing protection devices] available to them and their appropriate wear is the first step.”
5. What’s next. The focus group is investigating ways to bring Marines better hearing protection devices specific to lower impulse noises. They’re also looking at different ways to cap noises at the source, such as noise controls for heavy machinery or rifle suppressors. Over the next month, they will collaborate with researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to study various weapons systems at Quantico, and will present their findings at a symposium to share with other occupational health professionals. “When it comes to hearing conservation in the Marine Corps, there is room for improvement,” Mancini said. “We are working hard on our end to improve our measurements and recommendations; with specific outreach, education and collaboration, we hope to have a more informed, and more protected Marine population.”
[Source: Marine Corps Times | Matthew L. Schehl | February 16, 2016++]
Insomnia Update 02 ► Causes and Symptoms
Insomnia is when you have a hard time falling or staying asleep, or you wake up too early. It can happen for short periods of time and then go away. But for some people insomnia is an ongoing (chronic) problem. Insomnia can make it hard to function during the day. It can cause problems at work or school, and with relationships. It can cause concentration and mood problems. But insomnia can be treated to help you get back to a healthier sleep cycle. You may have insomnia for a few nights in a row from time to time. This is called acute insomnia. Or your sleep trouble may be ongoing for a longer period of time. This is called chronic insomnia.
Acute insomnia can be caused by things such as:
- Jet lag
- Short-term illness or pain
- Medications for colds, allergies, or pain
- Hormonal changes due to menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause
- Major life changes (death, loss of job, moving, divorce)
Chronic insomnia can be caused by behavior, lifestyle, and other factors such as:
- Lying in bed awake, trying too hard to sleep
- Sleeping later than usual in the morning
- Taking naps during the day
- Ongoing stress
- Using the computer at night
- Shift work that changes your sleep hours
- Drinking too much alcohol before bed
- Caffeine, nicotine, or heavy meals late in the day
- Thoughts and beliefs such as “I’ll never get to sleep”
Chronic insomnia can happen at the same time as other health problems such as:
- Ongoing illness or pain
- Medications for heart disease, asthma, thyroid, birth control
- Depression or anxiety
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- A sleep disorder such as apnea or restless legs syndrome
Symptoms of Insomnia. Can include:
- Trouble falling asleep
- Waking in the night
- Trouble getting back to sleep
- Waking up too early in the morning
- Not feeling refreshed by sleep
- Daytime tiredness
- Low energy
- Mood problems (irritability, depression)
- Trouble concentrating
Diagnosing Insomnia. Your health care provider will ask about your sleep schedule and your daily routine. Tell him or her how you feel during the day. He or she will ask about your medical history. Tell him or her about all your symptoms, and any other health problems. Tell the health care provider about all medications and supplements you take. Your health care provider may ask that you do:
- A sleep diary (for a week or more). A sleep diary helps you track information about your sleep. This includes information such as your bedtimes and wake times and how rested you feel.
- A sleep study. This is a painless test done in a hospital or clinic overnight. It uses wires and electrodes attached to your body while you sleep. These measure brain waves and other signals from your body during sleep. This helps to diagnose medical sleep disorders but is not necessary for an insomnia diagnosis.
Treating Insomnia. Acute insomnia often goes away on its own. In some cases, medication can also be used. Talk with your health care provider about the risks and benefits of sleep medications. Chronic insomnia is often treated with cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). This is a type of therapy to help change thoughts and habits. It is shown to work well in treating insomnia. There are several CBT-I methods. Some can help you make lifestyle changes. Others can help you relax or change your thoughts.
[Source: Health Encyclopedia http://www.veteranshealthlibrary.org/Encyclopedia/142,41433_VA | Feb 2016 ++]
Wisdom Teeth ► Should You Have them Pulled?
There are still many unanswered questions about wisdom teeth. This is one of the reasons why there are so many contradictory ideas about them. Some dentists recommend removing wisdom teeth no matter what – even if they are not causing any problems. Their reasoning is that the wisdom teeth will usually end up causing problems anyway and leave you with unattractive teeth. Another argument for removal is that we simply no longer need wisdom teeth. It has now become common to only recommend pulling wisdom teeth if they have already caused trouble or if problems are highly likely. Removing the teeth is quite unpleasant and may cause side effects. It has also not yet been proven whether pulling wisdom teeth that do not cause any problems has any possible health benefit. So it is a good idea to weigh the pros and cons of having an operation.
What happens if a wisdom tooth does not break through?
Wisdom teeth often do not come in or they only break through part of the way. Up to 80% of young people in Europe have at least one wisdom tooth that has not broken all the way through. This is more common in the lower jaw than it is in the upper jaw. The reason is usually that there is not enough room in the jaw. This can mean that other teeth get in the way of the wisdom tooth, or that it grows in crooked. Wisdom teeth that do not break through (sometimes also called “retained” wisdom teeth) might not cause any problems. But some people have pain, swelling or inflamed gums. The wisdom teeth may also push other teeth out of the way as they break through. And wisdom teeth that have already come in can also push against other teeth and grow in the wrong direction, causing inflammation, tooth decay or other complications.
When is it a good idea to have your wisdom teeth pulled?
A decision about whether or not to have your wisdom teeth pulled mainly depends on whether they are already causing trouble or whether it is highly likely that they will in the future. It is important to get answers to the following questions before having any wisdom teeth removed:
- Have your wisdom teeth already caused pain or injury to your jaw or neighboring teeth, or is there an increased risk that that could happen?
- Are the wisdom teeth preventing the other teeth from developing properly?
- Is it possible that the wisdom teeth will interfere with other dental or jaw-related treatments that are already planned?
- What are the risks associated with the procedure?
- Could the wisdom teeth replace other lost or badly damaged molars (back teeth)?
- People who have crooked incisors (front teeth) or a small jawbone sometimes worry that their teeth may start pushing each other to the side even more when their wisdom teeth grow out of the gum. This is not necessarily true. The same thing applies here: If the wisdom teeth are not expected to be affecting other teeth, they can be left in.
What side effects can having wisdom teeth removed cause?
Nerves and blood vessels can be damaged during the procedure. This can cause bleeding and usually temporary numbness in the tongue or face. In very rare cases it may cause a serious infection. As many as 1 out of 100 people may have permanent problems related to the procedure, such as numbness or damage to neighboring teeth. The risk will depend on how extensive the procedure needs to be. Most people have swelling around their mouth or cheeks after surgery and cannot fully open their mouth for a few hours or even a few days. Many have pain right after the operation, but it does not last long. But if the pain returns after four or five days and also gets worse and is accompanied by swelling or bad breath it is likely that the wound is infected. This can happen if the clotted blood that closes the wound loosens too soon, leaving the wound unprotected. Local anesthesia needs to be used to pull wisdom teeth. If the procedure is more involved, general anesthesia may be used.
What can you do about pain after the operation?
- Many people use painkillers after they have had wisdom teeth pulled, and sometimes pain relief medication is also given before the procedure. Both ibuprofen and acetaminophen (paracetamol) can help relieve pain after surgery. ASA (the drug found in “Aspirin”) is not suitable afterwards because it can increase the risk of bleeding. Research shows that a 400 mg dose of ibuprofen relieved pain better than a 1000 mg dose of acetaminophen (paracetamol). A combination of 1000 mg acetaminophen and 400 mg ibuprofen relieves pain better than an equal dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen on their own, and the effect lasts longer too. Adults should only take this combination every eight hours at the most to avoid going over the maximum dose for both drugs. The maximum dose of ibuprofen in adults is 800 to 1,200 mg in 24 hours. The maximum dose for acetaminophen is 4,000 mg in 24 hours.
- For a few days after the procedure, an ice pack held against your cheek can help to reduce swelling. Smoking, fruit juices and hot drinks should be avoided at first as they can slow down the healing process.
- Hard foods also sometimes cause problems. Soups and foods that can be broken down using just your tongue are easier to eat, like potatoes, fish or pasta.
- It is better to avoid doing more strenuous physical activities like sports or going to the sauna for a few days after having your teeth pulled – even if you are already starting to feel better – because that could also keep the wound from healing.
[Source: Informed Health https://www.informedhealth.org/nl.2701.en.html?part=behandlung-ab | FEB 2016 ++] ++]
Kidney Stones Update 01 ► Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention
Kidney stones are small, hard deposits that can form in a part of the kidney called the renal pelvis. Kidney stones that enter the ureter are sometimes referred to as ureteral stones. Many of these stones are so small that they are able to travel to the bladder in just a few days or weeks without any treatment, and then exit the body in your urine. So if the stones are smaller, it’s often enough to take medication if you have any symptoms, drink plenty of fluids and simply wait for the kidney stones to pass through. Larger stones may get stuck as they exit the renal pelvis or take longer to move through the ureter, causing severe pain and other symptoms. Then they usually need to be broken up by sound waves or surgically removed. The most suitable treatment will depend on the size, the type and the position of the stones in the kidney or the urinary tract. It’s common to have kidney stones multiple times. Finding the cause is a necessary part of preventing that from happening.
Kidney stones are very common: In Germany, 1 to 2% of the population has them each year. Estimates for the U.S. show that 7% of women and 13% of men are diagnosed with kidney stones at least once during their life. Kidney stones affect people of all ages, including children, but are most common in people between the ages of 20 and 40.
Many people have kidney stones that go unnoticed and are discovered only by chance. Some might feel slight discomfort near their kidneys, but not attribute it to a kidney stone. Kidney stones often go unnoticed until they block the renal pelvis or travel through the ureter. The main symptom is pain, which can range from feeling just a little unwell to waves of severe pain. The pain may affect your lower abdomen, belly or back, depending on which part of the ureter the stone is in. The pain is especially severe when the kidney stone travels through a narrower passage of the ureter, for example when it enters the ureter from the renal pelvis or when it enters the bladder. Sudden episodes of severe pain on one side radiating through your lower abdomen are common. This is sometimes referred to as renal colic. The intensity of pain gets stronger and weaker in waves, sometimes accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Some people also twist and turn to find a position that helps to relieve the pain. A renal colic usually lasts from 20 to 60 minutes.
Where kidney stones usually cause pain
Other possible symptoms of a kidney stone passing through the ureter include blood in your urine, painful urination, and a stronger or more frequent urge to urinate. The pain can sometimes spread to your genitals as well. Small kidney stones don’t always cause symptoms. They’re sometimes first noticed when they exit the body in urine. Or they may be detected by chance in x-rays or ultrasound scans of the belly region.
Kidney stones are made up of the dissolved salts found in our urine. The urine becomes supersaturated when there are too many of these salts. If that happens, they start to form crystals, which can develop into stones over time. These three types of kidney stones are the most common:
- Calcium stones: About 80% of kidney stones are made up of calcium salts – calcium oxalate or calcium phosphate, specifically.
- Uric acid stones: Uric acid is the cause of about 5 to 10% of all kidney stones.
- Struvite stones: About 10% of kidney stones are made up of the mineral struvite, which contains mostly magnesium and phosphate.
Calcium stones usually result from high levels of calcium in your urine. That may happen when your body takes in too much calcium from the foods you eat or if excess calcium from your blood is released through the kidneys into your urine. High levels of calcium in the blood may result from overactive parathyroid glands. Calcium stones might also be caused by high concentrations of oxalic acid in the urine (hyperoxaluria). Oxalic acid is present in many plant-based foods. Hyperoxaluria may be caused by certain medical conditions or be related to your diet. Often it’s not possible to find an exact cause. Some conditions that affect the levels of uric acid in your blood may increase your risk of developing uric acid stones, including the following:
- Gout: Gout is a metabolic disorder in which the level of uric acid in the blood is too high. Some of the uric acid is then released into the urine.
- Diabetes: The exact cause isn’t known, but people with diabetes possibly have more acidic urine.
- Chronic diarrhea: Dehydration caused by diarrhea makes your urine more acidic.
pH is used to measure acidity. The lower the pH, the more acidic your urine is. A lower pH level increases your risk of developing most of the different types of kidney stones. This isn’t the case with struvite stones, though, which arise when the pH level of urine is too high – that is, when it’s less acidic. The cause might be a urinary tract infection such as cystitis or a renal pelvis infection. Other substances are only rarely the cause of kidney stones. Genetically-related excess levels of the amino acid cystine may cause the formation of cystine stones, for example. Some stones contain a mixture of different crystal types.
Risk factors – Because kidney stones have such various causes, there are also a number of different risk factors:
- Dehydration: Kidney stones are more likely to form if there is less water in the urine. Then the water isn’t able to dissolve as many mineral salts. So not drinking enough fluids or sweating a lot could increase your risk of developing kidney stones.
- Unusual anatomical structures in the kidney: Renal cysts or a horseshoe kidney can make kidney stones more likely. A “horseshoe kidney” refers to the lower ends of both kidneys being attached.
- Family history: Some people have a family history of kidney stones. So it’s probable that genes play a role, but the link may also come from having a similar lifestyle or other commonalities.
- Citrate deficiency: Some substances in our urine act to keep crystals from forming, the main one being citrate (a citric acid salt). So it’s easier for kidney stones to form if you have a citrate deficiency. A citrate deficiency might result from chronic diarrhea or a lack of potassium. But often, no particular cause is found.
- Diet: A high-salt diet appears to increase your risk of developing calcium stones: The presence of salt causes more calcium and less citrate to dissolve in your urine. Other aspects related to diet also play a role in kidney stone formation. But many people who have calcium stones don’t find a specific cause.
- Some medications may increase the likelihood of kidney stones developing. For example, the HIV drug indinavir can cause the formation of crystals in your urine, which may develop into stones. Other drugs can alter the composition of the urine, and create the right conditions for kidney stones to develop. These include the drug topiramate, which is used to treat epilepsy and migraine. But generally speaking, the use of medication is among the less common causes of kidney stones.
Kidney stones usually only cause symptoms once they’ve entered the ureter. The symptoms depend mostly on how large the kidney stones are: Kidney stones less than 5 millimeters in diameter travel to the bladder without any problems and are flushed out of the body in the urine 70% of the time. This happens with stones that are between 5 and 10 millimeters in diameter 50% of the time. Kidney stones that are larger than 10 millimeters in diameter usually need to be treated. The time it takes for a kidney stone to pass varies quite a bit as well. Small kidney stones are usually passed with the urine after one or two weeks. Kidney stones that are not flushed out on their own within four weeks are usually treated. About 30 to 50% of people treated for a kidney stone have one again within five years, and some get them even more often. So prevention is a key part of dealing with kidney stones.
Effects & Diagnoses – Left untreated, kidney stones can narrow or block the ureters, increasing the risk of infection and putting added temporary strain on the kidneys. These problems are rare because most kidney stones are treated before they can cause complications. Signs of an infection of the upper urinary tract include fever, chills, side and low back pain, and nausea or vomiting. The usual symptoms of kidney stones can provide a basis for a diagnosis, but they aren’t always enough to tell what the exact cause is. Ultrasound scans can be used to detect most kidney stones. If doctors still aren’t sure, they may also use computed tomography (CT) scans. A simple x-ray of the kidneys, ureters and bladder is less exact because some kidney stones don’t show up. Calcium stones are easy to detect, but struvite stones are harder to see and uric acid stones don’t appear at all. But x-ray images can help to determine how successful treatment for calcium stones was. Blood and urine tests are also important. These tests can help provide evidence of the underlying cause by showing whether you have an infection or whether your levels of calcium or uric acid are too high.
Prevention & Treatment
When kidney stones are treated without doing anything about the underlying cause, they often come back. The best thing to do will depend on what type of kidney stones you have. It can help to keep track of the kidney stones that you pass in your urine. One way to do this is to use a filter or sieve to catch them when you urinate. Kidney stones that have been surgically removed are analyzed at a laboratory. Experts generally recommend drinking enough fluids to produce two liters (about 8.5 cups) of urine per day. Depending on the cause, you might also be advised to eat a diet low in oxalate, salt, meat or protein. Medication that can affect the pH level of your urine or lower the levels of calcium or uric acid may also be an option.
The best ways of preventing kidney stones will also depend on your individual risk of getting them again. If you have smaller kidney stones that aren’t painful, all you need to do is wait to pass them when you urinate. It’s possible to tell by their size and location whether they can pass on their own. You can use painkillers such as diclofenac, ibuprofen or metamizole to relieve any pain. They can be combined with stronger drugs (opioids) for more severe pain. Larger kidney stones usually need to be removed. Depending on how large the kidney stones are and where they’re located, sound waves can be used to destroy them or they can be removed using endoscopy or surgery. For more on treatment go to https://www.informedhealth.org/treating-kidney-stones.2674.en.html?part=behandlung-6n.
[Source: Informed Health https://www.informedhealth.org/kidney-stones.2674.en.html | FEB 2016 ++]
TRICARE Help ► Q&A 160301
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 the wife of a retired Air Force colonel. I also am a board member for an equine-assisted therapy program in Tucson, Arizona. We have a hippotherapy program with a physical therapist that is very successful in helping children and adults with special needs. Does Tricare cover hippotherapy?
A. In 2012, the family of Tricare beneficiary Kaitlyn Samuels fought the Defense Department to pay for physical therapy, which included hippotherapy, a treatment that integrates physical exercises with horseback riding to improve coordination, balance and strength. Samuels, who was born with cerebral palsy, must exercise to improve her health and keep her spine from folding over on itself, and hippotherapy did the trick. But in mid-2010, Tricare stopped paying for the treatments, calling them “experimental.” The Samuelses went to Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, who floated a bill in 2013 that would have required Tricare to pay for the therapy. But that bill never made it out of committee.
Kaitlyn and her parents sued the Defense Department, seeking payment for her exercise sessions dating to 2010. And last June, government attorneys settled the case by paying the Samuelses an undisclosed amount, including money for five additional years of therapy, according to the Dallas Morning News. The case did nothing to advance the effort to pass legislation to help other Tricare beneficiaries. Tricare does not cover hippotherapy and will deny such claims. The Samuelses plan to push for legislation requiring Tricare to cover the treatment, the paper reported.
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 | 15 thru 29 FEB 2016 ++]
* Finances *
IRS Mileage Tax-deduction ► Allowable Amounts
Americans love automobiles. The IRS even shares the national motoring madness by annually adjusting most of the standard mileage rates taxpayers can use to claim certain types of road trips as tax deductions. The annual adjustments are based on inflation, as well as the IRS’ yearly study of the fixed and variable costs of operating a vehicle. Below are the adjusted per-mile amounts you can claim for different types of tax-deductible travel in 2015, as well as 2016 rates for your planning purposes.
Mileage rate deductions
Business Moving Medical Charitable
2015 per-mile rates 57.5 cents 23 cents 23 cents 14 cents
2016 per-mile rates 54 cents 19 cents 19 cents 14 cents
While the reimbursement rate for business mileage, as well as qualified moving and medical travel, is adjusted annually for inflation, the rate allowed for miles driven in aid of a charity is set by statute at 14 cents per mile. In times of extraordinary disaster, Congress has increased the standard mileage rate for miles driven in connection with a specific charitable cause, as was the case following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. However, such changes are temporary. [Source: Bankrate.com | Kay Bell | February 17, 2016 ++]
Senior Discount Update 03 ► Restaurants
Keep this list and send a copy to your senior friends and relatives. Note: YOU must ASK for your discount!
- Applebee’s: 15% off with Golden Apple Card (60+)
- Arby’s: 10% off (55+)
- Ben & Jerry’s: 10% off (60+)
- Bennigan’s: Discount varies by location (60+)
- Bob’s Big Boy: Discount varies by location (60+)
- Boston Market: 10% off (65+)
- Burger King: 10% off (60+)
- Chick-Fil-A: 10% off or free small drink or coffee (55+)
- Chili’s: 10% off (55+)
- CiCi’s Pizza: 10% off (60+)
- Denny’s: 10% off, 20% off for AARP members (55 +)
- Dunkin’ Donuts: 10% off or free coffee (55+)
- Einstein’s Bagels: 10% off baker’s dozen of bagels (60+)
- Fuddrucker’s: 10% off any senior platter ( 55+)
- Gatti’s Pizza: 10% off (60+)
- Golden Corral: 10% off (60+)
- Hardee’s: $0.33 beverages everyday (65+)
- IHOP: 10% off (55+)
- Jack in the Box: Up to 20% off (55+)
- KFC: Free small drink with any meal (55+)
- Krispy Kreme: 10% off (50+)
- Long John Silver’s: Various discounts at locations (55+)
- McDonald’s: Discounts on coffee everyday (55+)
- Mrs. Fields: 10% off at participating locations (60+)
- Shoney’s: 10% off
- Sonic: 10% off or free beverage (60+)
- Steak ‘n Shake: 10% off every Monday & Tuesday (50+)
- Subway: 10% off (60+)
- Sweet Tomatoes: 10% off (62+)
- Taco Bell : 5% off; free beverages for seniors (65+)
- TCBY: 10% off (55+)
- Tea Room Cafe: 10% off (50+)
- Village Inn: 10% off (60+)
- Waffle House: 10% off every Monday (60+)
- Wendy’s: 10% off (55 +)
- Whataburger: 10% off (62+)
- White Castle : 10% off (62+)
IRS Tax-Free Income ► 10 Ways to Earn it
We all look forward to tax write-offs each year but at times they seem few and far between…or are they? It turns out, there are tons of ways to earn income that will survive tax season and leave you with a pretty penny as well. Here are just 10 ways to earn tax-free income and hold onto money you’ve saved.
1. Remodel, Citizen. If your home is a fixer-upper and you have time to improve it, remodeling could be an opportunity to earn extra money. The more improvements you make, the more likely you’ll be able to sell the house for more than you originally paid, which translates to a nice profit for you and one that can’t be taxed. (There is a $500,000 exemption on capital gains for your principal home if you’re married and a $250,000 exemption if you’re single). To make the effort profitable, do as much of the remodeling and renovating yourself as you can. While not all of us are carpenters and plumbers, something as simple as new paint can increase your home’s market value when done correctly. Check out www.interest.com/home-equity/news/our-10-most-valuable-home-improvements-are-hammer-ready and http://www.thedigeratilife.com/blog/index.php/2008/06/26/home-improvement-project-return-on-investment .
2. Thank you, Sir. One of the most practical ways to keep more of your money after taxes is to make the most of employer reimbursements. From the cost of office supplies to public transportation, you may be surprised at how much your employer is willing to reimburse. According to an article published in Forbes, in some cases, you can even ask for more reimbursements in lieu of a raise; employers are usually more than willing to oblige because this allows them to save on payroll taxes. Reimbursements work out well for you as well because these payments can’t be taxed and are yours to keep in full.
3. Carpool Party. Carpooling is a great idea for anyone on a budget and an even better idea if you’re the one driving. Why? Because if everyone in the car pays their share, the money that they give you for gas will be tax-exempt. That’s right, your work buddies get a ride and you don’t have to share the cash with the government. Everyone is happy.
4. Teenage Dream. Payroll taxes are a bummer, but depending on the industry in which you work, they could cost you a lot less as an employer. If your employees are under the age of 16 and you are paying them a fair wage for their services, their payroll becomes deductible. Legality is important, however, and employers can only take advantage of this tax deduction if they abide by federal and state child labor laws. For a comprehensive list of these laws, check out the Department of Labor website http://www.dol.gov/whd/state/nonfarm.htm.
5. Sky-High Roller. If you’re looking for ways to save, don’t forget the value of your airline miles. While these aren’t technically sources of income, airline miles can be worth a lot and save you hundreds of dollars that you would have spent on airfare—money that you can instead hold onto scot-free. The best part is that there are numerous ways of earning more miles; booking airfare, using certain rental car services and signing up for airline promotions are just a few mile-earning methods. Refer to http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/2011/07/26/10-ways-to-earn-miles-without-credit-cards for others.
6. Bring on the Houseguests! While you would typically pay taxes on revenue from renting out your home, there is an interesting exception to the rule. Rental income is only taxable if you rent out your property for more than 14 days out of the year. Two weeks or less, and you can keep it all. Conveniently, the same rule applies to vacation homes. One man’s two-week vacation is another man’s chance to make bank.
7. And to You, I Leave My Loot. Looking for nontaxable dollars? Then you’d better start sweet-talking mom and dad. Whatever they decide to leave you in inheritance money won’t be counted as income and therefore won’t be taxed. Neither will any death benefits that you might receive from their employer. However, if you inherit property that produces income, such as an apartment building, that will be taxed (https://ttlc.intuit.com/questions/1899700-is-my-inheritance-taxable).
8. Baby Boons. It doesn’t matter if the child is yours or adopted, foster care or child support payments that you receive from the government are nontaxable, according to in Montgomery Media Group. The IRS is even willing to account for expenses that aren’t covered by foster care payments. As a foster parent, in some instances you can deduct extra expenses as charitable contributions, but only if you are caring for the child to benefit the state and not yourself. The National Foster Parent Association offers more in-depth information about tax laws for foster parents. You should also note that the tax laws are different for spousal support payments.
9. The Discount Counts. Employee reimbursements is not all that your workplace can do for you. Employee benefits and discounts are equally useful in saving up tax-free cash. Some prime examples of valuable benefits include healthcare, work vehicles and meals served on work premises. None of these can be taxed because they are considered “compensation” instead of income. The same goes for employee discounts–the money you save when you buy something from your employer isn’t taxed later. You can find a longer list of nontaxable benefits online, courtesy of the Houston Chronicle at http://smallbusiness.chron.com/list-nontaxable-fringe-benefits-21172.html.
10. Accounting for Your Presents. Is any gift really free? According the IRS, all of them are, or at least most of them. If a friend or relative decides to gift you some cash, there’s no need to report the amount to the IRS as a part of your income. Medical expenses or tuition paid on someone else’s behalf also qualify as gifts. There are of course exceptions to this rule, and the monetary gift cannot exceed $14,000.
[Source: Veterans United | Christa Penning | February 16, 2016 ++]
Mystery Shopper ► Things to Know About Mystery Shopping
There’s more to be said about mystery shopping than could possibly be put into one article. However, here are the five most essential things you should know.
1. You can’t just shop anywhere for anything: Mystery shoppers don’t wake up in the morning, decide to go grocery shopping and expect to get paid. No, mystery shoppers are assigned very specific scenarios that often dictate what they buy and, sometimes, even what they say. You may love the #3 meal at the fast food joint, but the mystery shopping company might insist you buy the #1 meal. At retail stores, you may be required to buy something and then turn right around and return it.
2. Client names are closely guarded secrets: Or at least, they’re supposed to be. This is a competitive business with mystery shopping companies always wary of other firms poaching their clients. Shoppers are strictly forbidden from sharing client details. Don’t expect to pop onto a message board to ask who shops Kroger or whatever other store you love and get a straight answer.
3. You need to be a decent writer: One aspect of mystery shopping that surprised me was the amount of writing involved. Many shopping assignments — “shops” for short — require a narrative of your experience, describing exactly what you saw and what was said. When I exited the secret shopper world, some companies were replacing narratives with videotaped shopping missions. However, it’s my understanding that narratives remain the mainstay in the industry.
4. Accurate record-keeping and timing is critical: If you want to be a mystery shopper, you need to have attention to detail. Some shops require to-the-second timing of how long you spent in line, how long before you were greeted and how long it took for service to begin. At some stores, worker bonuses – or even their jobs – might depend on your getting the timing right and accurately relaying other information.
5. You won’t get rich: While mystery shopping is a nice way to make extra money, no one is going to retire early this way. The most expensive shop I ever completed was for a high-end steakhouse that reimbursed $150 for a meal (note: we had to float that money for a month before getting paid), and the cheapest shops I did were $5 phone calls requiring little to no narrative. In my experience, $12-$15 was the norm for a shop, and if one paid $25 or more, you felt lucky. I eventually quit mystery shopping when gas prices hit $4 a gallon in our area. At that point, it didn’t make much sense to drive across town for $10.
If you’re still interested in pursuing mystery shopping. You’re next question is probably: Where do I find all these amazing shopping opportunities? Here are the two starting places:
- Volition: This site looks totally Web 1.0, but Volition at http://www.volition.com/mystery.html is a great source of information. To get started, click on the mystery shopping company list and apply to them one by one. The forum is also an invaluable place to learn more from the pros. That said, newbies should read rather than post on the forum. There are strict posting rules and very little compassion for those who break them.
- MSPA –North America: Formerly known as the Mystery Shopping Providers Association, this is the industry group for secret shopper companies. If you’re really serious about mystery shopping, you can be certified by the MSPA, a process that has the potential to open the door to more lucrative jobs. Even if you’re not certified, you can visit the site to find a list of member companies at http://www.mspa-na.org .
If a shopping company says they are sending a check and ask you to cash it so you can send a portion of the money to someone else, it’s a scam.Anytime someone says you need to cash a check and wire money, giant red flags should be waving in your head. It doesn’t matter if it’s a mystery shopping company or your distant aunt in Nairobi: If someone sends you a check to cash, it’s a scam!There are some occasions when it might cost you money to mystery shop:
- There is a fee for MSPA certification.
- Some companies may require you purchase certain equipment, such as thermometers, scales or video recording devices.
- You may need to make a purchase as part of the shop and wait for reimbursement.
- Some shops require purchases that are not reimbursed.
Note: No legitimate company will ask you to pay a fee as part of their application process, however. What’s more, no legitimate company will send you a random email out of the blue offering a princely sum to mystery shop for them.
Once you start applying for companies and see what their job offer emails look like, you’ll quickly be able to spot the fakes. The real players will have a website where you can sign up for the job and view the details. If you ever have a doubt about whether a company is on the up and up, check to see if it’s a MSPA member or search for the company on the Volition forums. And never, ever, respond to an email with your personal information unless it’s a scheduler or company you’re familiar with. [Source: MoneyTalksNews | Maryalene LaPonsie | February 18, 2016 ++]
IRS Alimony Tax-deduction ► Declaration Requirements
When the end of matrimony leads to the start of alimony, each parting partner can feel the tax effects. If you are the ex-spouse getting alimony payments, the money is taxable to you as income in the year it is received. This added income calls for a couple of additional tax considerations for the recipient. And if you’re the former husband or wife paying spousal support, you get a tax break.
- A receiver’s tax costs. First, because no taxes are withheld from alimony payments, you might need to make estimated tax payments or increase the amount withheld from your paycheck. If you don’t, you could end up owing the Internal Revenue Service when you file your final return. Secondly, your option to file shorter, simpler tax forms disappeared with that first alimony check you cashed. Alimony payments must be reported on line 11 of the long Form 1040.
- Tax benefits for the payer. What about the ex making the payments? He or she may complain every month when writing the check, but that taxpayer now has a new tax deduction. Alimony payments are subtracted from the payer’s income on line 31 of Form 1040. In addition to entering how much alimony was paid, the filer must include his or her ex-spouse’s Social Security number. This enables the IRS to cross-check deducted payments against reported alimony income.
A spouse who gets alimony and refuses to give his or her ex a tax ID number could face a $50 tax penalty. And if you as the payer know the number but forget to write it on your return, you could face a separate $50 penalty. Worse, if the alimony recipient’s tax ID is missing, the IRS could disallow the deduction. In cases where a divorce decree calls for alimony and child support, and the amount of each is specifically stated, only the alimony is taxable. Child support is not taxable as income, nor can the partner paying it deduct the cost. The IRS provides more information on tax issues facing divorced couples in Publication 504, Divorced or Separated Individuals. [Source: Bankrate.com | Kay Bell | February 16, 2016 ++]
IRS Sales Tax-deduction ► Writing off the Right Amount
Most states and cities get a good portion of their operating revenue from sales taxes tagged onto just about everything you buy. But on the federal level, Uncle Sam lets taxpayers use those taxes to help reduce their IRS bills. The sales tax deduction is particularly welcomed by taxpayers in the states that do not collect but do levy state sales taxes. It also could benefit taxpayers who face substantial local sales taxes. Even some residents of states with both types of taxes might find the sales tax deduction is more valuable to them than the income tax write-off. Most people typically pay more in state income taxes than in state and local sales taxes. But double-check just in case. Depending on your state’s income tax rate and how much you made (and paid), your sales tax amount could be greater. You can only deduct income or sales taxes, but not both.
Some years that tax deduction choice was at risk. When sales tax deduction returned to the tax code in 2004, it was temporary and was periodically renewed as part of the tax extenders package, usually late in the tax year or even retroactively. In December 2015, however, the Protecting Americans From Tax Hikes, or PATH, Act made the sales tax deduction permanent. So now you no longer have to worry about whether you’ll be able to make the sales or income tax deduction choice. But regardless of your state’s tax collection practices, to take full advantage of the sales tax deduction, you have to know exactly how to file for it and just which taxes you can claim.
Choosing your tax deduction method
The process begins with your answers to two filing questions. First, do you plan to itemize? If so, then which write-off — sales taxes or income taxes — will give you the biggest break? Deciding whether to itemize deductions or claim the standard amount is always a key tax-time choice. The IRS says that most people take the standard deduction. It’s easy to claim; there are no forms or work sheets to fill out and each year the standard deduction increases, thanks to inflation adjustments. But if you use the standard deduction, you can’t take the sales tax break. To claim the sales taxes you paid, you must itemize. If sales taxes are your only deductible expense, then it’s not worth it to itemize. This one itemized deduction will likely be much less than your standard deduction, and you always want to take the largest tax deduction amount you’re allowed. Taxpayers who itemize expenses will have to decide which option — deducting sales taxes or income taxes — will give them the biggest break.
Writing off the right amount
Then there’s the issue of just how much in sales taxes you can claim. If you have the documentation, there is no limit on the deduction amount. Even if you don’t have all your receipts, you still might be able to re-create many of your sales tax payments. William Abrams, a partner in the law firm Abrams Garfinkel Margolis Bergson LLP, with offices in California and New York, notes that many types of records, such as credit card statements, are available online. By accessing them, he says, taxpayers could improve the accuracy of their annual sales tax computations. The actual receipt calculation might be worthwhile if you made a lot of purchases last year. Scenarios involving costly and taxable expenditures include:
- You bought a lot of electronic equipment.
- You moved to your first or a new home and furnished it.
- You bought expensive jewelry, such as an engagement ring.
- You paid for the wedding that followed that ring purchase.
“You’re more likely to have kept receipts for these items for insurance purposes or because they were mind-boggling,” says Bob D. Scharin, senior tax analyst from the Tax and Accounting business of Thomson Reuters. “Basically, you’re looking for spending that’s disproportionate to your income.” Most filers, however, will claim the amount that the IRS has figured for them in special sales tax tables; one for each applicable state. The deduction amounts are based on the average consumption by taxpayers, taking into account filing status, number of dependents, adjusted gross income and rates of state and local general sales taxation. The IRS tables with standard sales tax deduction amounts can be found in the Schedule A instructions. The IRS also offers an online sales tax deduction calculator.
Counting all your income
But even with the tables, it’s not quite that simple. In using the data, you need to keep a couple of things in mind to get the biggest deduction.
- First, don’t rely solely on your 1040 information when you read the table. The figure you enter on your federal return is taxable income, but Scharin says that the sales tax table amounts are based on total income, not just your adjusted, taxable income. You should take nontaxable income amounts into account for sales tax deduction purposes, he says, because the larger your total income, the larger your sales tax deduction. These other types of income include municipal bond or other tax-exempt interest, workers’ compensation, nontaxable combat pay, the nontaxable portion of Social Security and other retirement benefits, as well as the nontaxable parts of an IRA, including a Roth IRA distribution.
- Also, most of the tables only cover the state rates. “If you have a local sales tax, which many people don’t realize, you could be sacrificing some of the deduction if you use only the table amount,” says Scharin. To account for local sales taxes, you’re going to have to do some extra calculating. If you’re not using tax software, a work sheet, also in the Schedule A instructions, will help you determine the correct number.
- You also could have some extra math to do if you lived in different states that collected sales taxes. In this case, you must determine each state’s sales tax amount to arrive at your appropriate, combined deduction.
- Sales taxes you paid on the purchase of motor vehicles, boats, aircraft and, in some cases, building materials for a substantial addition to or renovation of an existing structure also can be counted on top of your sales tax table and local tax amounts. These additional amounts will be accounted for in the previously mentioned sales tax work sheet.
While all these considerations will definitely mean more work for some taxpayers, Scharin says, “If you went this far and you’re itemizing, you might as well get your full deduction.” [Source: Bankrate.com | Kay Bell | February 15, 2016 ++]
IRS Filing Status ► Considerations for Individual or Joint
As a married couple, you probably share almost everything. But is that such a good idea when it comes to filing taxes? Most couples file their return jointly, combining incomes and sharing deductions. Thanks to the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling making same-sex marriages legal nationwide, there will be even more married taxpayers deciding whether to file 1 federal 1040 or 2 returns as married filing separately. The trend to file jointly also is encouraged in large part by tax-law changes during the past few years to ease the marriage penalty. This filing phenomenon tended to show up when working spouses made roughly equal incomes; in many cases, they paid more taxes on their combined return than did unmarried couples filing separate returns as single taxpayers, forcing the married pair to face a tax penalty. Tweaks to the tax brackets have helped ease this problem. But sometimes it pays for couples to re-examine how they file. There definitely are instances when filing separately might be warranted.
Togetherness or not? Separate returns could produce tax savings if 1 spouse has a lot of medical expenses and a low income. By filing separately, the partner with the doctor bills might be more likely to meet the 10% of adjusted gross income threshold needed to itemize medical costs. Taxpayers age 65 or older can still use the 7.5% threshold through 2016. Only 1 spouse on a joint return must meet that age to get the lower deduction percentage. If 1 spouse uses questionable tax-filing techniques, the other partner might be wise to insist on separate returns. When both partners sign a joint return, each is legally liable for the tax bill and any issues that might come up later. The IRS does offer innocent spouse protection, but the victimized partner must show he or she was, indeed, unaware of any tax scheme. Filing separately could afford more protection for you if the IRS comes around asking about a creative return. And when a marriage is on the rocks, many couples decide to start splitting taxes even before the divorce decree is entered. This way they can avoid being tied together by tax issues after the marriage is over.
Not always a perfect union. But married filing separately could have some drawbacks. Although the tax-rate disparities between single filers and married couples have been lessened in the 2 lowest tax brackets, spouses who file separately will find the tax rates for them aren’t as amenable in the upper ranges. In fact, a check of the tax brackets shows married-filing-separately taxpayers face the 28%, 33%, 35% and 39.6% brackets sooner than do other unmarried taxpayers. For example, a single filer with taxable income of $80,000 in 2015 would pay a maximum tax rate of 25%. But a married taxpayer who earned that same amount and filed a separate return would see a portion of his income fall into the 28% bracket. And while a single filer can make up to $189,300 and stay in the 28% range, a married taxpayer filing separately jumps to the 33% bracket when her taxable income hits $115,226. Deduction flexibility also is sacrificed. If one spouse itemizes, both must itemize, splitting the items to be listed on a separate Schedule A for each. That means a partner with few deductions couldn’t use the standard amount and might get cheated when it comes to reducing taxable income.
Deduction, credit considerations. Many tax-cutting credits and deductions are forfeited when couples file separate 1040s. You can’t take the earned income tax credit, claim adoption expenses or child and dependent care costs, use educational tax credits or even deduct the interest you paid on a student loan if you’re married and filing separately. If you have children, you might find the child tax credit reduced because it phases out at different income limits for the various filing statuses. And the amount of capital gains losses you can deduct is cut in half. The married filing separately rules are complicated further if you live in a community property state — Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington or Wisconsin. In these places, state law determines whether your income can be considered as separate or community for tax purposes. See IRS Publication 555, Community Property, for more information.
You should go ahead and figure your taxes as both joint and separate filers and use the method that produces the lower tax bill. But chances are, you’ll find joint filing will be your best choice. And after all, aren’t taxes a tiny price to pay for love? [Source: Bankrate.com | Kay Bell | February 12, 2016 ++]
Saving Money ► Cruise Ships 2
Bargain seekers looking for vacations offering adventure and relaxation increasingly are setting out on cruise ships.bLured by prices promoted as including all the fun, food and fantastic destinations visited by floating hotels, more than 22 million people worldwide are expected to try their sea legs in 2015, estimates Cruise Lines International Association, an industry trade group. It can be a great way to travel, visiting multiple destinations without changing hotels day after day, but it can also have hidden costs. Before making your booking, assure smooth sailing for your wallet by learning these tricks of the trade that the cruise lines employ.
1. Get the price right. You should never pay the price listed in the brochure, says Stewart Chiron, The Cruise Guy. “Cruise prices in the brochure are always going to be much more expensive than what they’re selling at the time,” Chiron says. “There’s going to be all kinds of deals, all different kinds of incentives, depending on the availability of a specific ship and sailing date.” You’ll need to study those deals carefully to compare costs.
- For example, the brochure price for two adults sailing away on a late September seven-night eastern Caribbean cruise on a popular ship is $779 per person, double occupancy, for an inside stateroom, one of the lowest price categories on a ship. We found a deal for $539, so the 31 percent savings sounded like a bargain at first glance — you’re getting your traveling hotel room with all the cruise ship amenities for $77 a night each. That might be the best price you can find, but it’s not likely the final price you will pay.
- First, remember the stateroom price quote is per person, and there are two going, so double it: That’s $154 a night, or $1,078 for seven nights. Still seems like a great value, but wait, there’s more.
- Price quotes usually do not include taxes, fees and port expenses, which in the example we found were $130.84 per person, or $261.68 total. That brings the stateroom booking to $1,339.68, or about $191.38 per night.
2. Credits and perks. Travel agencies and cruise ship companies often offer onboard credits that may offset your bill. These can be confusing but can also be substantial, so they are worth studying. You might see a promotion like this: “Early Booking Bonus! Book now and receive a FREE $100 per cabin onboard credit on select categories.” Or this: Use the cruise ship company’s branded charge card and “you can earn up to 17,500 Bonus Points after qualifying transactions that can be redeemed for up to $175 in onboard credit.”AllThingsCruise.com at http://allthingscruise.com/cruise-research/best-cruise-deal/articles/how-to-get-the-best-deal-on-a-cruise/explains credits this way:
- Cabin credits are money placed in your shipboard account to be used for tips, drinks, excursions – anything you can charge while on board.
- “Spa credits,” “shore excursion credits,” and “casino credits” are intended for specific services but can be used for almost any onboard expense. You might even redeem a casino credit for chips and, instead of gambling, cash them in.
3. You may need them. Extra! Extra! The nickel-and-diming starts the instant you’re on board, warns Money Talks News financial expert Stacy Johnson. While most food is free and seemingly unlimited, cruise lines increasingly offer specialty venues that have cover charges. However, you can find deals on those, too, before you even leave your home. Royal Caribbean, for example, says if you book reservations at three or more specialty restaurants (that’s $25 to $75 per person per restaurant), it will give you back 30 percent of the total cost of the specialty restaurants in the form of onboard credit waiting for you when you board. Also extra are booze, soft drinks, photos, dry-cleaning, spa treatments (often discounted the first day and during port calls), branded ice cream and the Internet. “I see parents tell the kids, ‘I’m not giving you $20 to go to the game room, go play on the Internet,’” Chiron said. “And they see what that hourly bill could be, which could be about $50 an hour. They’ll be more conscious of it the next time.”
4. More ways to save.
- Book your own shore excursions: Cruise line prices for land tours often are higher than prices you can get by booking tours yourself online. But don’t miss the boat. Carnival Cruise Line notes that it waits for all its excursions to return to the ship before departing ports.
- Gamble ashore: Many land-based casinos have to pay out a certain percentage on things like slot machines. Ships in international waters often don’t.
- Don’t jump at the balcony: Travel experts say a balcony is alluring but not worth the typically extra 25 percent cost above an inside cabin. Between off-boat trips and on-boat activities, you won’t spend much time in your room. Use the savings for something else.
- Crime happens: With 3,000 to 5,600 of your favorite travelers sharing your voyage, you need to protect yourself and your belongings as if you were on land.
- Guard against germs: If one person on a cruise ship gets sick and doesn’t wash his or her hands, illness can spread quickly, as happened when more than 700 were sickened in 2014 on the Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas. Wash your hands and keep hand sanitizer within reach.
[Source: MoneyTalksNews | Jim Gold | July 24, 2015 ++]
American Chamber of Commerce Scam ► How it Works
Own a small business or work for one? Watch out for this con that’s targeting businesses by posing as the “American Chamber of Commerce.”
How the Scam Works
- Your business gets a call from someone claiming to represent the American Chamber of Commerce. The caller asks for an employee (current or former) by name and claims to be updating your company’s listing in its directory. They ask to verify basic business information, such as address, business name, main contacts, and phone numbers.
- This may seem harmless, but it’s a phishing con. There is no American Chamber of Commerce. Con artists hope that business owners confuse the “American Chamber” with the real “U.S. Chamber of Commerce” and share information. Scammers can use this information to commit ID theft or target the business with other scams, such as phony invoices.
Tips to avoid a directory scam:
- Hang up. Don’t confirm information from unknown callers. This just gives the scammers something to use against you.
- Call again. If you want to confirm that the call was a fraud, reach out to the real organization through a phone number you find on their website or another reliable source.
- Don’t believe what you see. Scammers are great at mimicking phone numbers, official seals, fonts, and other details. Just because it looks like it’s from a legitimate company, does not mean it is.
- Train staff. Make sure that the people processing invoices or answering phone calls are aware of these scams.
- Create a process for inspecting invoices. Always check that goods or services were both ordered and delivered before paying an invoice. Designate a small group of employees with authority to approve purchases and pay bills.
Learn more about similar scams targeting small businesses, such as the Yellow Pages con and fake invoices for nonexistent government fees, at BBB.org. 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 at https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker/us. [Source: BBB Scam Alert | February 3, 2015 ++]
Student Job Con Email Scam ► How it Works
Scammers are targeting college students with fake jobs. They blast solicitations to college email accounts promising positions with flexible hours and good pay. If you are in college or know a student, be sure to watch out for these phony job offers.
How the Scam Works:
- You receive a message to your college email account. It is encouraging you to apply for a job, and the position sounds great for students. One scam message read: “The position offers flexibility that allows you to choose your hours during the day to avoid conflicts between classes or other business.”
- Don’t bother sending your resume, though. It’s a scam. If you reply to the email, the con artists will offer you the position. (First, they may do a short interview over email or an online chat.) Then, they will send a check for your first “assignment.” You will be instructed to keep a portion of the money and send the rest to other scam agents. Unfortunately, the check is fake, and you will responsible for any money withdrawn against it.
- Job scams often use the names of legitimate businesses. But in this recent wave, targets reported being contacted by fake companies as well. However, in one instance, only the job position was provided: administrative assistant.
How to Spot an Employment Scam:
- Some positions are more likely to be scams. Always be wary of work from home, secret shopper positions or any job with a generic title, such as caregiver or customer service representative. These positions often don’t require special training or licensing, so they appeal to a wide range of applicants. Scammers take advantage of this.
- If a job looks suspicious, search for it online. If the result comes up in other cities with the exact same job post, it is likely a scam. Also, check the real company’s job page to make sure the position is posted there.
- Watch out for on-the-spot job offers. You may be an excellent candidate for the job, but beware of offers made without an interview. A real company will want to talk to a candidate before hiring him or her.
- Don’t fall for an overpayment scam. No legitimate job would ever overpay an employee and ask him/her wire the money elsewhere. This is a common trick used by scammers.
- Be very cautious of any job that asks you to share personal information or hand over money. Scammers will often use the guise of running a credit check, setting up direct deposit or paying for training. This information can then be used for identity theft, so be absolutely certain before you share.
Read more about the recent spate of job scams in this alert issued by the BBB Serving Greater Cleveland http://www.bbb.org/cleveland/news-events/news-releases/2015/11/area-job-seekers-targeted-by-bogus-employers. 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 at https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker/us. [Source: BBB Scam Alert | February 26, 2015 ++]
Tax Burden for Connecticut Retired Vets ► As of Feb 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 Connecticut.
State Sales Tax: 6.35% (food, prescription & non-prescription drugs exempt).
Gasoline Tax: 65.8 cents/gallon (Includes all taxes)
Diesel Fuel Tax: 78.9 cents/gallon (Includes all taxes)
Cigarette Tax: $3.40/pack of 20.
Personal Income Taxes
Tax Rate Range: Low – 3.0%; High – 6.7%
Income Brackets: Six. Lowest – $10,000; Highest – Over $250,001. For joint returns, the taxes are twice the tax imposed on half the income. To estimate you taxes go to http://www.dir.ct.gov/drs/Taxcalsched/TCS2012.htm.
Personal Exemptions: Single – $14,500; Married – $24,000; Dependents – $0. For details go to www.ct.gov/drs/cwp/view.asp?A=1510&Q=472218.
Standard Deduction: None
Medical/Dental Deduction: None
Federal Income Tax Deduction: None
Retirement Income Taxes: Social Security is exempt for individual taxpayers with federal adjusted gross income of less than $50,000 and for married filing jointly taxpayers, with federal AGI below $60,000. All out-of-state government and federal civil service pensions are fully taxed. Tax information for seniors is available at http://www.ct.gov/drs/cwp/view.asp?A=1510&Q=484910
Retired Military Pay: Connecticut exempts 50% of federally taxable military retirement pay from the state income tax. The exemption applies to federal retirement pay to members of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and Army and Air National Guard. Benefits received by a beneficiary under an option or election made by a retired member are also covered by this law.
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.
Taxes and real and personal property are assessed and collected by individual towns or other taxing districts. All assessments are at 70% of fair market value. An annual property tax credit or rent rebate is available to residents, age 65 or older, or to a surviving spouse of a previously approved applicant who is age 50 or older. Regardless of age, totally disabled persons are also eligible. Income parameters apply.
Municipalities may provide additional tax relief for seniors. Call 800-286-2214 or 860-297-5962 for details.
Inheritance and Estate Taxes
Connecticut imposes an estate tax which taxes the transfer of estates valued at $2.0 million or more at a progressive rate starting with 7.2 percent of the first $100,000 over the threshold and rising to 12 percent for the amount above $10.1 million. This is applicable to estates of decedents dying on or after January 1, 2011. Additional information can be found at http://ct.gov/drs/cwp/view.asp?A=1514&Q=482068.
For further information, visit the Colorado Department of Revenue site http://www.ct.gov/drs/site/default.asp. For details go to http://www.ct.gov/drs/cwp/view.asp?A=1510&Q=472218
[Source: www.retirementliving.com Feb 2016 ++]
Thrift Savings Plan 2016 ► Returns as of 26 Feb 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 – 2/26/2016
|Last Price (2/26/2016)||14.9636||17.2994||26.3757||32.4338||22.0988|
|Annual Return Since 8/31/1990||4.8%||6.4%||9.6%||10.3%||5.1%|
|Annualized Standard Deviation ||0.3%||3.9%||18.1%||20.0%||18.0%|
|Maximum Drawdown ||–||-6.6%||-55.2%||-57.4%||-60.9%|
|Sharpe Ratio ||–||0.41||0.34||0.35||0.11|
|Value of $1,000 invested on 8/31/1990||$3,328||$4,911||$10,356||$12,124||$3,56|
- The first TSP fund became available to investors in April 1987, and others followed in 1988 and 2001. TSP.gov has published monthly fund returns since inception, and daily fund price history since 2003. To allow for a longer performance comparison, we extended the available TSP fund price history for the C, G, F, I, and S funds with their underlying index data. For example, we extended the TSP C Fund with the S&P 500 Total Return index. The same was done for the other TSP funds and their underlying index. The indexes we use do not account for fund expenses, so earlier returns are slightly higher. However, in practice the difference is not significant: the TSP funds have extremely low expense ratios (0.027% per year as of this writing).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- There are 5 active TSP Lifecycle Funds, and one retired fund. The L Income, L 2010, L 2020, L 2030, and L 2040 funds were introduced on 8/1/2005. The new L 2050 fund opened up to investors on 1/31/2011. The L 2010 fund was retired on December 31, 2010, its assets folded into the L Income Fund.
|TSP Lifecycle Funds
8/1/2005 – 2/26/2016
|Last Price (2/26/2016)||17.6274||22.6102||24.1408||25.4104||14.2627|
|Annual Return Since 8/1/2005||4.0%||5.2%||5.5%||5.8%||7.3%|
|Annualized Standard Deviation||4.1%||12.0%||14.6%||16.7%||14.2%|
|Value of $1,000 invested on 8/1/2005||$1,518||$1,706||$1,770||$1,811||$1,426|
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 February 28, 2016 ++]
* General Interest *
Notes of Interest ► 15 thru 29 Feb 2016
- Windows 10. The Defense Department plans to upgrade 4 million devices across its various branches to the seven-month-old Windows 10 operating system.
- Rogue Blimp. A runaway Army radar blimp last fall would not have been a problem if someone hadn’t forgotten to put batteries in a device that would have automatically deflated the blimp in the event of an emergency. A Pentagon investigation found that “design, human and procedural issues all contributed” to the misadventure.
- Senior Groups. Age doesn’t mean the acquisition and retention of common sense. Case in point check out http://i.imgur.com/2SvpTAA.gifv.
- Toothpicks. Check out http://kingsbaynavyleague.org/documents/Matchstick%20Fleet.pdf and see what they can be used for besides their intended purpose.
- Alaska VA Hotline. Alaska Veterans Affairs is rolling out a local hotline for veterans that may have issues with the My Choice Healthcare plan in the State. Anyone in Alaska using the My Choice program is urged to call 907-257-3767 if they have any questions or complaints.
- Virginia Vet Legal Clinics. The Virginia State Bar (VSB) and the Virginia Department of Veterans Services (DVS) are teaming up in March to provide a series of four pro bono veterans legal services clinics to low-income veterans. In order to be eligible for services, veterans and their spouses must fill out an intake questionnaire on Attorney General Herring’s website or at their local Virginia Department of Veterans Services Benefits Center. For more information and clinic locations, visit Attorney General Herring’s website http://ag.virginia.gov/index.php/veteranslegalservices.
- Scholarships. Go to www.naus.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/16-Scholarship-member-kit-Final.pdf to obtain the eligibility requirements and application for one of the eight annual $2,000 NAUS scholarships.
- Bladder Cancer Webinar. To register for the Veterans Health Council 1 MAR webinar at 13-1500 go to https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/9166362731003361281.
- TV Set Top Boxes. According to the FCC:
- 99 percent of pay-TV subscribers have limited choices and lease set-top boxes from their cable or satellite providers.
- The average American household pays $231 per year in set-top box rental fees.
- American consumers collectively spend $20 billion per year to lease set-top boxes.
- Since 1994, the cost of set-top boxes has increased by 185 percent, while the cost of computers, TVs and mobile phones has decreased by 90%.
- USS Arizona. To see what happens at this WWII memorial after the tourists go home check out https://www.youtube.com/embed/MgE2KiPd3xg?feature=player_detailpage
- Awesome People. Go to http://safeshare.tv/w/MRMDIWCFec to view some things you most likely would not or could not do.
- How’d he do it? Criss Angel’s Amazing Trick With Coffee Mug at http://videos2view.net/coffee-trick.htm.
- Complete vs. Finished. Can you define the difference in their meaning. No dictionary had ever been adequately about to do so. However, this pretty well sums it up: When you marry the right woman, you are ‘Complete.’ If you marry the wrong woman, you are ‘Finished.’ And , when the right woman catches you with the wrong woman, you are ‘Completely Finished.’
- GTMO. How many guards does it really take to secure the declining number of war-on-terror detainees. Today, 2,000 troops and civilians are stationed there to staff the prison and court alone, by one measure working out to $4.4 million a year for each of the last 91 detainees.
- Open Skies Treaty. Russia is asking permission to start flying surveillance planes equipped with high-powered digital cameras. Russia and the United States are signatories to the Open Skies Treaty, which allows unarmed observation flights over the entire territory of all 34 member nations to foster transparency about military activity and help monitor arms control and other agreements.
- Baggage Fees. Active-duty members traveling on Spirit Airlines will no longer have to pay baggage fees on up to two checked bags and one free carry-on, officials said. The new policy, which is in line with other airlines’ policies regarding baggage fees for military personnel, was effective 19 FEB.
- Thunderbirds. The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds are going to be among the attractions at the Wings Over Vermont airshow scheduled for this summer in the skies over Burlington. Organizers say the free event — scheduled for Aug. 13 and 14 — will also commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Vermont Air National Guard.
- Liver disease. There are many health-related drawbacks associated with drinking too much coffee, such as insomnia and irritable bowel syndrome, but scientists believe they’ve uncovered a positive effect. Daily cups of coffee are linked with a reduced risk of cirrhosis liver disease, according to a recently published meta-analysis of nine previous studies.
- Active Duty Pay. A bill signed 23 FEB by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf exempts from the state’s earned income tax all active duty military pay, no matter where it was earned.
- Zika Virus. Fourteen more people may have caught the Zika virus in the U.S. without traveling to affected zones, federal health officials said 23 FEB. There is strong evidence that the virus is sexually transmitted fairly often.
- Elections. Candidates are expected to spend $11.4 billion on political ads in 2016, according to Borrell Associates. And though it’s a presidential election year, only part of the money is going to the race for the executive office. State and local races are estimated to account for almost half of the total amount.
- Car Insurance. The Consumer Federation of America – which recently conducted an analysis of premium quotes from the major auto insurers for a 30-year-old safe driver in 10 cities across the United States – found that consumers pay an average of 7 percent more (about $112 a year) for auto insurance if they write a rent check rather than a mortgage check for their home.
- Golfers. Check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3fbTGhDDL2g&feature=youtube_gdata_player to hear John Denver’s never televised “18 Hole” parody on Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “16 Tons’.
- Homeowners. Rep Raul M. Grijalva [AZ-3] introduced on 2/25/2016 H.R.4623 to allow homeowners of moderate-value homes who are subject to mortgage foreclosure proceedings to remain in their homes as renters.
- Homeless Vet. Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwJJ4xC10xw&feature=youtu.be to see the outcome of a social experiment involving the honesty of people.
[Source: Various | February 29, 2016 ++]
Have You Seen ► Photos of Interest | 160301
The following are included in the attachment to this Bulletin titled, “Have You Seen”.
- Aviation Art 103 ► D-Day Drop – ‘Stick 21’
- Battle of Okinawa ► Shuri May 1945
- D-Day ► Airplane Convoy Liverpool U.K.
- Ghosts of Time ► Then & Now’ Photos of WWII Sites (11)
- Help!!! ► Things that might make you say it (07)
- Interesting Ideas ► TV Too Big for Cabinet
- Interesting Inventions ► Gentile Alarm Clock
- Moments of US History ► NYC Fireman 1969
- Most Creative Statues ► Dallas, Texas | Cattle Drive
- Parking ► Revenge Tactic #14 Against Inconsiderate Parkers
- Photos That Say it All ► May He Rest In Peace
- Spanish American War Images 82 ► American Sailors
- WWI in Photos 138 ► Battlefield on the Western Front
- WWII Advertising ► Western Ammunition .. He Shoots for Freedom
- WWII PostWar Events ► 1946 Hiroshima, Japan New Construction
- WWII Prewar Events ► 1938 Nazi SS Troops Oath Taking
- WWII Posters ► Breaking The Bottleneck | 1942
[Source: Various Feb 2016 ++]
Veterans Affairs Department ► Candidates Using Wrong Name
The 2016 presidential campaign has been everything except predictable. But we can count on one thing: At any given moment, an Oval Office hopeful somewhere is screwing up the name of the Veterans Affairs Department. Both Republican and Democratic candidates consistently call the Veterans Affairs Department the “Veterans Administration” during debates, rallies, town halls and other public remarks. That would be fine if it were the 1980s, and Ronald Reagan were president. But in March 1989 – nearly 27 years ago — the Veterans Administration was renamed the Veterans Affairs Department. (Reagan elevated the VA to a Cabinet-level department in October 1988, and the change took effect in March 1989 under President George H. W. Bush.) Yet current and former 2016 presidential candidates – many of whom have served in public office for some time – can’t quite seem to get the name right. A few examples:
- Sanders: “I will fight to protect and preserve the Veterans Administration.” – Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders during the Feb. 18 MSNBC/Telemundo town hall. Sanders is a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and is a former chairman of the panel.
- Christie: “I’d like to ask all the veterans listening out there tonight, who are waiting in line for healthcare, who are literally dying because the Veterans Administration doesn’t work, do you think Barack Obama knows what he’s doing?” – Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (who dropped out of the presidential race earlier this month) during the Feb. 6 Republican debate in Manchester, N.H.
- Bush: “Career civil service reform would allow the next president to fire people that are — that are showing sheer incompetence. At a town hall meeting today, someone came — told a story of their father who looked like he was 85. He had — he got a bill eight years later from an operation he had, eight years it took. They couldn’t resolve the dispute and then he was told that he died. Literally, the Veterans Administration sent a death certificate to this guy and it took nine months to clarify the guy — I met him.” –Former Republican Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (who dropped out of the race this past week) during the Feb. 6 debate. Interestingly, Bush referred to the “Department of Veterans Affairs” just a few sentences earlier.
- Rubio: “I’m here on the floor today to talk about an issue that has received a tremendous amount of attention and rightfully so over the last few weeks, and it’s the outrage over what’s happening at the Veterans Administration.” – Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, in May 2014 on the Senate floor (well before the presidential campaign got underway), discussing accountability at the department right after the news broke about the wait-list problems affecting veterans in Phoenix, Ariz.
- Trump: And then there’s Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, whose plan to reform the VA on his website is entitled: “Veterans Administration Reforms That Will Make American Great Again.” To be fair, the first sentence of his proposal refers to the “Department of Veterans Affairs.”
So, why all the confusion? It could be because VA’s three major sub-components have “Administration” after their names: the Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefits Administration, and the National Cemetery Administration. VHA and VBA, in particular, are in the news regularly, and they are the organizations that vets have the most interaction with. Randal Noller, a VA spokesman and self-described “wannabe history nerd,” has been including this brief primer on the name change in his email signature: VA ceased to be named the Veterans Administration on March 15, 1989 when President Ronald Reagan elevated it to a Cabinet-level department. At that time, VA became the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Noller said in an email that he started using the signature block “after a conversation that included me asking, ‘When was the name change?’ I thought it would be good to let others know – or to remind them – whether inside or outside the VA.” Clearly, lots of people need the reminder, including news organizations. Fox News and CNN have both called the department the Veterans Administration on occasion. The federal government is a vast and labyrinthine place, full of countless programs, policies and acronyms. We’re all human — even politicians — so we misspeak, or confuse agencies (or forget the ones that we want to eliminate). But if you’re running for president, and you want to reform a major department with a vital mission (and a 300,000-plus workforce), you should probably take the time to get the name right. Maybe everyone should just stick to using the acronym “VA.” [Source: GovExec.com | Kellie Lunney | February 25, 2016 ++]
Centenarians ► So who’s going to pay for you to live to be 100?
You may have read that the U.S. is experiencing something of a centenarian boom. The number of Americans living 100 years or more totaled 72,197 in 2014, up 44% since 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the ranks of the oldest old are still relatively small, centenarians are rapidly moving from society’s fringes into the mainstream. That’s nice to see. But this longevity transformation is a clarion call for the nation to take the economics of an aging population seriously. Without major policy changes by the U.S. government and employers, a future with swelling numbers of octogenarians, nonagenarians and centenarians is potentially grim. “The implications are terrible,” says Olivia Mitchell, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and executive director of the Pension Research Council.
- Elderly poverty rates could soar as the oldest old outlive their savings.
- The household finances and emotional well-being of their caregiving children — boomers and Gen X’ers — could suffer.
- Mounting costs for long-term care and Social Security could overwhelm federal and state government budgets. And ,
- The money is likely to run out for many who live to 100 but never thought they would.
Will retirement savings last another 40 years?
Case in point: The ludicrous notion that the average worker will be able to save enough during a 40-year work life to live off accumulated wealth for another 40 years in retirement. Say you start working at 20, retire at 62 and live to 100. Using conservative investment and wage assumptions, you’d have to save about 31% of your earnings every year from the time you started working until retirement to maintain your pre-retirement income until you hit the triple-digit age, calculates Henry Aaron, economist at the Brookings Institution. A life expectancy of “only” 80 years? Your annual savings rate would still need to be a hefty 20%!
The reimagining of retirement has begun
Now, before you sink into despair, there’s no good reason for this bleak future to emerge. An aging population is already reimagining the second half of life. Instead of the traditional employment on/off switch — work full-time and then full stop — growing numbers of boomers are earning an income well into their traditional retirement years, typically embracing part-time and flexible work. Earning a slim, part-time income in the traditional retirement years makes a big difference to household finances. For example, bringing home $20,000 in part-time earnings is equivalent to withdrawing 4% from a $500,000 retirement savings plan. (4% is a rule-of-thumb withdrawal rate in the personal finance industry).
“As a society we have to get serious about encouraging people to stay in the labor force longer and have longer careers,” says Jeffrey Brown, economist and dean of the College of Business at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Reform efforts must focus on accelerating the trend toward longer work lives and on measures that will reassure tomorrow’s centenarians that they’ll enjoy a secure income for the rest of their lives. Overhauling long-term care for the frail elderly is a much tougher task, but the tantalizing outlines of a more humane and cost-effective community-based system is beginning to emerge. So how can America help ensure that its centenarians can afford their longer lives?
Proposals to stem the 100-year-olds’ financial crisis – Here are a few ideas making the rounds among economists and gerontologists:
- Older workers could be considered “paid up” on their Social Security after 40 years of work. Eliminating the employee share of the Social Security payroll tax at that point would boost an older worker’s take-home pay and getting rid of the employer’s contribution then would give firms, nonprofits and government agencies an incentive to keep them on payroll. To encourage people to stay on the job until 70, pay their Social Security benefit in a lump sum for the years they work past Full Retirement Age (currently 66) and until 70. Mitchell and several other scholars estimate the lure of a lump-sum payment could encourage people to continue working almost two years longer.
- All citizens could be assured a guaranteed minimum income or universal basic income paid by the government. This idea is being debated in Europe and Canada currently. “From a policy perspective, that might be something that should be on the table with more and more people living a long time,” says Joseph Marchand, economist at the University of Alberta. ”It’s the start of the way we should be thinking.” Nobel laureate Edmund Phelps of Columbia University has been calling for a variation of this idea: a universal employment subsidy paid to organizations for each low-wage person they employ. Since many older workers look for part-time jobs and flexible work — which typically come with a low wage — the subsidy would boost their take-home pay.
- Social Security’s solvency should be addressed — soon. Social Security is America’s bedrock financial safety net, a terrific inflation-adjusted annuity that you can’t outlive. You’ll receive Social Security payments for as you live even if you go well past the 100-year-mark — assuming the Social Security Trust Fund is financially sound. But unless Congress makes some reforms, the trust fund won’t pay full benefits to everyone due them starting in 2034. The rise in centenarians points out how disgraceful it is that Washington has failed to shore up the system’s finances. I’ve written several times calling for raising, or eliminating, the cap on the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax ($118,500 in 2016) to improve the system’s underlying finances. If you don’t like that idea, there are a number of other adjustments to consider; read the 36 policy options described by The Congressional Budget Office. “A couple of small tweaks and Social Security will probably be OK,” says Marchand.
Long-term care costs and centenarians
Now, let’s turn to the 800-pound gorilla in the centenarian room: Long-term care, a system that’s badly broken. Today, families bear the brunt of long-term caregiving. But, says Jennifer Troyer, economist at the Belk School of Business at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, “I don’t think people have thought a lot about whether an informal sector will be able to support this kind of aging — living to 100.” Insurance companies selling long-term care coverage have been dropping out, policies are often pricey and their limited sales show no signs of rebounding. Thankfully, a number of efforts are under way to redesign financing long-term care. A good example: the recently released Bipartisan Policy Center’s report, Initial Recommendations to Improve the Financing of Long-Term Care.
Many experts believe long-term care will need to be integrated into Medicare. (Today, Medicare only helps out with long-term care at the margins.) Some think the federal government should subsidize and revive the private long-term care insurance market. Another likely reform: more home-based care with services provided by the community.
The means-tested long-term care provider of last resort, Medicaid, requires participants join the ranks of the impoverished to qualify. One disturbing thought: more middle- and upper-income people who live to 100 or so could find themselves on Medicaid — people who never thought that could happen to them. Margherita Borella of Università di Torino, Mariacristina De Nardi of Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Eric French of University College London have looked into who receives Medicaid in old age and why. They’ve found that the safety net program includes a significant fraction of people who had high lifetime average incomes before ending up on Medicaid at very old ages. For example, the Medicaid rate among singles aged 95 and older in the top third of average lifetime incomes, is a surprisingly high 5% to 10%.
Herman Wouk in his new book, “Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old Author,” writes: “My grandfather used to say that Lord Rothschild had a clock that struck the hour by booming, ‘One Hour Nearer Death!’” I feel that way sometimes when it comes to failing to act on the promises — and the pitfalls — of an aging America.
[Source: MarketWatch | Chris Farrell | February 17, 2016 ++]
Parmesan Cheese ► Tips to Avoid Cheese Fraud
Many Americans were shocked in FEB to find out that the Parmesan cheese they’ve been sprinkling on their pasta dishes — which is often labeled as 100 percent Parmesan cheese — may be infused with a wood pulp product and, in some cases, contains no Parmesan at all. According to Bloomberg, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration discovered that some grated Parmesan cheeses have been mislabeled because they contain too much cellulose filler — a complex carbohydrate extracted from wood pulp that’s a common and legal anti-clumping agent food makers use — or they’re actually made from cheaper cheeses, such as cheddar and mozzarella. Cheese fraud may leave a bad taste in your mouth, but if it makes you feel any better, some of the alleged perpetrators are facing legal action.
Michelle Myrter, president and co-owner of Pennsylvania-based Castle Cheese Inc., is expected to plead guilty this month to criminal charges accusing her company of mislabeling its Parmesan and Romano cheese items, Bloomberg reports. “Specifically, your product labels declare that the products are Parmesan cheese or Romano cheese, but they are in fact a mixture of trimmings of various cheeses and other ingredients,” the FDA told the company in a 2013 warning letter. “In addition, your Parmesan cheese products do not contain any Parmesan cheese.” Myrter is facing a $100,000 fine and up to a year in prison.
Liz Thorpe, a cheese expert and author of the book “The Cheese Chronicles,” told NBC News that following these tips should help consumers make sure they’re purchasing actual Parmesan cheese and not a mix of cheap cheese or wood pulp-based fillers:
- Skip the pre-grated Parm. It’s easy and quick to buy a wheel of cheese and grate or crumble it yourself. Plus, “it will taste so much better and you’ll use less cheese because its flavor is so much better,” Thorpe explains.
- Check the cheese rind. You want to look for the words “Parmigiano-Reggiano.” Thorpe explains: “The first thing to know is that Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano and American Parmesan cheese aren’t the same thing. Parmigiano-Reggiano is a legally protected designation of origin that’s used in Europe only for Italian cheese. The beauty of this cheese is that you can always know that you’re getting the real thing because the name ‘Parmigiano-Reggiano’ is burned onto its rind in an unmistakable dotted pattern.”
- If you really want pre-grated, know the good brands. Thorpe recommends Sartori, BelGioioso and Arthur Schuman Inc. “Their products are widely available, their quality is really excellent and you can count on their cheeses,” she said.
- Know the tiers of quality. If you want the best quality Parmesan, shop for it in the deli, Thorpe explains. The dairy case is your second best option, and the green cans in the aisle are a last resort. “Cheese is a perishable product and you want your cheese to require refrigeration,” Thorpe says. “If you’re buying one that is not refrigerated, there’s a reason. A grated product that’s shelf stable — that’s the lowest [quality] product that you could be buying.”
[Source: MoneyTalksNews | Krystal Steinmetz | February 20, 2016 ++]
Windows 10 ► How to Prevent Automatic Update of 7 & 8
Do you like Windows 7? Many people do. In organizational settings, some custom programs are customized for Windows 7. A small percentage of printers and other peripherals work with it but not its successors. With some people, it’s just inertia. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? But Microsoft doesn’t want you to use it anymore. It wants you to upgrade your Windows 7 and Windows 8 systems to Windows 10, and it’s pushing hard. Despite its lush profit margins and storehouse of cash, Microsoft wants to save money by not having to support earlier operating systems.
First, it broke precedent by announcing that for consumers wanting to upgrade their existing Windows 8 or Windows 7 machine, the cost during the first year after its release would be nothing. This is a good thing. Not so good is Microsoft bugging you with periodic nag pop-ups that this upgrade is available. Even worse is Microsoft’s recent announcement that it automatically will upgrade Windows 7 and Windows 8 systems through Windows Update over the next months unless you tell it otherwise. Telling it otherwise isn’t completely straightforward. To prevent Microsoft from automatically installing Windows 10 on your Windows 7 computer, you should do these things:
- Open Windows Update through your Start Menu.
- Click Change Settings.
- Under Important Updates, choose “Check for updates but let me choose whether or not to download and install them.”
- Under Recommended Updates, check “Give me recommended updates the same way I receive important updates.”
- Click OK.
Step No. 4 above is the one that’s not intuitive since Windows 10 will become a recommended update. Microsoft is being so aggressive that even after you do this, it will indicate you have a problem with Windows Update through its Taskbar icon “Solve PC issues.” Just ignore this. Microsoft previously stopped “mainstream support” of Windows 7, in January 2015. This means Windows 7 doesn’t benefit from new features, and you can’t call Microsoft for free help. But Windows 7 still receives all-important security fixes. Microsoft plans to maintain Windows 7 “extended support” until January 2020, when security fixes no longer will be provided. With Windows 8, Microsoft made one of the biggest business miscalculations in history. By putting a tablet and smartphone interface on its PC operating system, it sought to boost sales of its own tablets and smartphones, which lagged far behind competitors. But the result was sabotaging sales of PCs made by others while doing nothing for the sale of Microsoft’s tablets and smartphones.
Before Windows 7, the darling of Windows aficionados was Windows XP. But Microsoft stopped supporting XP in April 2014, which meant it stopped releasing bug fixes, including those related to security. For a large number of people, particularly those in the corporate world, this eliminated XP as a viable product. In a marketing contrivance, Microsoft named the successor to Windows 8 Windows 10 rather than Windows 9. Windows 10 was released in July 2015, Windows 8 in October 2012, and Windows 7 in October 2009.
With Windows 10, Microsoft isn’t abandoning its wishes that everyone use Windows on smartphones and tablets as well as desktop and laptop PCs. Window 10 switches interfaces depending on the type of device it’s used on. It looks one way on devices in which users primarily use a keyboard and mouse or other pointing device, such as a desktop or laptop PC. And it looks another way on devices in which users primarily use a touchscreen, such as a tablet or smartphone. With convertible laptops/tablets, it asks users what they want. Microsoft should follow the spirit of this by making it easy, not difficult, for users to use what they want, Windows 7, Windows 8, or Windows 10. [Source: MOAA News Exchange | Reid Goldsborough | February 12, 2016 ++]
Household Aids | Food ► 12 Organic Cleaners
In recent years, countless homeowners have made the shift from harsh, chemical-based household cleaning products to mild, all-natural alternatives. Folks are slowly starting to realize that spotless floors and sparkling surfaces don’t outweigh the health risks associated with repeated exposure to the dangerous and potentially toxic ingredients in many popular household cleaners. If you want to make the switch to organic cleaning products, look no further than your pantry or fridge. Many of the foods you’ll find there can be used as cleaners that are as safe and effective as the pricey, all-natural cleaners you see online and in the grocery store. Following are nine foods that moonlight as household cleaners.
1. Ketchup – You may recognize it as a french fry’s best friend, but this popular condiment is also a potent household cleaner. Thanks to the natural acidity of the tomatoes, ketchup makes a powerful metal polish. Dab some on a cloth and use it to make your copper bowls, pots and pans shine. Once you are done in the kitchen, use ketchup to clean your car.
2. Vinegar – It’s not just for salad dressing, according to Organic Authority. Numerous studies have shown that a straight 5 percent solution of vinegar can kill 99 percent of bacteria, 82 percent of mold and 80 percent of germs (viruses). Use the all-purpose surface cleaner to disinfect countertops, clean tile floors, freshen laundry, remove stains from carpet, wash windows and remove water marks from glasses.
3. Lemons – Forget about those chemical cleaners disguised to smell like lemons. Instead, use the real thing. Lemons have mildly acidic properties that can help rid your stove and appliances of grease and grime. They can also be used to remove stains from wood cutting boards and to shine brass and copper. You can even toss half a lemon down your garbage disposal to help deodorize the internal workings.
4. Table salt – Salt is one of those ingredients that almost everyone keeps on hand. Good Housekeeping suggests several ways to clean with the mineral: The coarse texture of this cooking staple can erase stains from a butcher-block countertop, and helps release stuck-on food from your cast-iron skillet. Salt can also be used to remove those stubborn coffee and tea rings that tend to cling to the bottom of mugs, and — when mixed with white vinegar — it can help remove stains from carpeting.
5. Club soda – This bubbly beverage works wonders on stained fabric and carpeting, according to Reader’s Digest: Pour club soda on the stain and scrub gently. Scrub more vigorously to remove stains on carpets or less delicate articles of clothing. Club soda can also be used to remove rust and clean porcelain fixtures as well as stainless-steel appliances and sinks. Keep a spray bottle of club soda in your vehicle to rid your windshield of grease and bird droppings.
6. Onions – This aromatic veggie is another great addition to your arsenal of natural cleaning products. Use it to rid your grill of baked-on, caked-on residue. How does it work? Heat up the grill and then cut an onion in half and stab one half of the onion with a fork, flat part facing down. This small trick will work to remove all the grease and leftover grit on the grill. You’ll wonder why you ever resorted to harsh chemical cleaners and scouring pads.
7. Bananas – When bananas become household cleaners, all of the magic is in the peel, which is perfect for polishing silverware. Just rub the banana peel over your fork, knife or spoon, and follow it up with a soft cloth. You’ll be using what would have been waste to get the job done — and you can still reap all of the nutritional benefits from the banana. Talk about a win-win!
8. Walnuts – Once you remove walnuts from their shells, they become an effective tool for removing scuffs and scratches from wooden cabinets and furniture. According to Organic Authority: Simply rub the meat of a walnut onto your scratches and watch them disappear. First, use circular motions, then back and forth along the whole of the scratch. After several minutes of sitting, the oils in the walnut will have seeped into the scratch and worked its magic.
9. Rice – This great grain is more than just a delicious side dish. Toss a handful of raw rice into your coffee grinder and grind it into a fine dust. When you empty the grinder, the coffee bean and spice particles will disappear too. Also mix a scoop of uncooked rice with a little warm water, vinegar and soap, and swirl it inside narrow decanters, vases and other glassware to scrub hard-to-reach spots.
10. Cucumber – Bathroom mirror fogging up after a shower? Rub some cucumber peels on it before you start the water, the problem will be solved.
11. White wine – Sprinkle red wine stains with white wine, which is acidic, to neutralize the stain, or water, and blot again. Remove the remaining stain with a clean cloth and methylated spirits.
12. White bread – Use to pick up little pieces of broken glass. Grab a piece of white bread, dampen it, and dab it on all the little pieces of the broken glass, then all tiny pieces will be picked up.
[Source: MoneyTalksNews | Melissa Neiman | November 3, 2015 ++]
Remember When ► Nostalgia (1)
Who Can Still Remember (1)
- All the girls had ugly gym uniforms?
- And wore tennis shoes not $200 Nike’s
- It took three minutes for the TV to warm up?
- Nobody owned a purebred dog?
- When a quarter was a decent allowance?
- You’d reach into a muddy gutter for a penny?
- Your Mom wore nylons that came in two pieces?
- You got your windshield cleaned, oil checked, and gas pumped, without asking, all for free, every time? And you didn’t pay for air? And, you got trading stamps to boot?
- No one ever asked where the car keys were because they were always in the car, in the ignition, and the doors were never locked?
- Lying on your back in the grass with your friends… and saying things like, ‘That cloud looks like a… ‘?
- Playing baseball with no adults to help kids with the rules of the game?
- Stuff from the store came without safety caps and hermetic seals because no one had yet tried to poison a perfect stranger…
- And with all our progress, don’t you just wish, just once, you could slip back in time and savor the slower pace, and share it with the children of today.
- When being sent to the principal’s office was nothing compared to the fate that awaited the student at home?
- Basically we were in fear for our lives, but it wasn’t because of drive-by shootings, drugs, gangs, etc. Our parents and grandparents were a much bigger threat! But we survived because their love was greater than the threat.
- And our summers were filled with bike rides, Hula Hoops, and visits to the pool, and eating Kool-Aid powder with sugar.
Didn’t that feel good, just to go back and say, ‘Yeah, I remember that’?
Brain Teaser ► Son of Spoonerisms
Spoonerisms are two words whose first sounds have been traded. They are named after a Reverend Spooner. In the columns below, six pairs of words have been “Spoonerized”, creating two new words. They have been changed phonetically, so the original words may have different spellings.
Example: boy tote = toy boat
Can you match each word from Column A to its match in Column B and find the original familiar word pairs?
These are all things that may be found in a bathroom.
Column A Column B
Have You Heard? ► Seven Dollar Sex
An Arizona couple, both well into their 80’s, go to a sex therapist’s office.
The doctor asks, ‘What can I do for you?’
The man says, ‘Will you watch us have sexual intercourse?’
The doctor raises both eyebrows, but he is so amazed that such an
elderly couple is asking for sexual advice that he agrees.
When the couple finishes, the doctor says, ‘There’s absolutely nothing
wrong with the way you have intercourse.’
He thanks them for coming, he wishes them good luck, he charges them
$50 and he says good bye.
The next week, the same couple returns and asks the sex therapist to
watch again. The sex therapist is a bit puzzled, but agrees.
This happens several weeks in a row
The couple makes an appointment, has intercourse with no problems,
pays the doctor, then leave.
Finally, after 3 months of this routine, the doctor says, ‘I’m sorry, but I have to ask.
Just what are you trying to find out?’
The man says, ‘We’re not trying to find out anything.
She’s married; so we can’t go to her house.
I’m married; and we can’t go to my house.
The Holiday Inn charges $98.
The Hilton charges $139.
We do it here for $50, and best of all….
Medicare pays $43 of it.
Brain Teaser Answer ► Son of Spoonerisms
bill pox = pill box
drink sane = sink drain
fail Nile = nail file
math bat = bath mat
sand hope = hand soap
wild tall = tiled wall
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