RAO Bulletin 01 May 2016

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Bulletin 160501 (HTML)
Veteran Legislation 160501
Vet State Benefits & Discounts – AL 2016
Mil Hist – VN Battle of A-Shau
Military History Anniversaries 0501 thru 051516

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Bulletin 160501 (PDF)
Veteran Legislation 160501
Vet State Benefits & Discounts – AL 2016
Mil Hist – VN Battle of A-Shau
Military History Anniversaries 0501 thru 051516

THIS BULLETIN CONTAINS THE FOLLOWING ARTICLES

Pg Article Subject

* DOD * .

04 == Stars and Stripes [01] ————– (May Be Silenced by Funding Cuts)

05 == DoD Religious Expression [04] ———- (U.S. Court of Appeals Case)

07 == Commissary Prices [04] ——- (Draft Bill Eliminates At-Cost Pricing)

08 == Selective Service System [17] — (May be Headed for the Scrap Heap)

09 == Selective Service System [18] ——– (HASC | Women Must Register)

09 == BRAC [47] ———— (DoD Sends Congress Excess Capacity Report)

10 == BRAC [48] ——————– (Pentagon May Start Unilateral Closures)

11 == BRAC [49] ————— (HASC Democrat Seeks Base Closures Law)

12 == Toxic Exposure | Wurtsmith AFB —————— (PFC Tainted Water)

15 == State Sponsored Terrorism ———– (State Linked to Act can be Sued)

16 == Arlington National Cemetery [58] — (38 Acre Expansion Assessment)

17 == POW/MIA [72] —————– (North Korea Hands Over 17 Remains)

18 == POW/MIA Recoveries —————— (Reported 16 thru 30 Apr 2016)

* VA * .

21 == VA Prosthetics [14] ——– (A Giant Step for Veteran Amputees | POP)

22 == VA Appeals [23] —————— (COA Rules in Favor of Staab | $48k)

24 == VA Commission on Care [04] — (VA Leadership Updates Commission)

25 == VA Commission on Care [05] —– (MOAA | Fix, Don’t Dismantle VA)

26 == VA Privatization [03] —————- (Evidence Does Not Support Need)

27 == VA Medical Marijuana [19] ————— (DEA Approves PTSD Study)

28 == VA Women Advisory Committee [04] ———– (5 New Appointments)

29 == VA Pain Management [07] ————– (Patient Marijuana Use Impact)

29 == VA Claims Processing [16] – (Related Document Shredding | Systemic)

30 == VA Privatization [02] ————————– (Not What Veterans Want)

31 == VA Health Care Enrollment [06] ——— (Disciplinary Action Pending)

32 == Non-VA Facility Care [03] —— (Emergency Medical Expense Claims)

33 == VA Appointments [14] ——————– (MASS Contract Put on Hold)

34 == VA Health Care Access [37] —- (GAO | Wait time Problem Not Fixed)

35 == VA HBPC [02] ——— (Sharing Advantages of VA Home Based Care)

37 == VA Fraud, Waste & Abuse ————- (Reported 16 thru 30 APR 2016)

41 == VARO Roanoke VA ——— (Claims Management Plan Not Followed)

41 == VARO San Juan PR – (Action Taken on Convicted VACHS Employee)

42 == VAH Hines ————————— (Cockroach Infestation Complaints)

44 == VAMC Providence RI ————– (Long-Term Care Research Funded)

44 == VA HCS Portland ——— (Kidney Transplant Study Ethics Complaint)

* Vets * .

45 == Vet Cremains [32] ————————————- (Nine Laid to Rest)

46 == Vet Fertility Treatments [02] — (VA Appropriations Bill Amendment)

47 == Vet Toxic Exposure | Lejeune [58] – (VA Claim Documents Lawsuit)

48 == Vet Health Care [02] ——— (Government-Funded Health Insurance)

49 == Veterans in Government [02] ————————- (Where We Stand)

49 == Veterans’ Preference [09] ——– (Many Do Not Really Understand It)

51 == Centurion Marine —————– (Former WMA President Turns 100)

52 == Louisiana Vet Cemeteries [06] ——— (Burial Fee Legislation | $745)

52 == Stolen Valor —————————– (Reported 160415 thru 160430)

53 == Senior Vet Care ———————– (Caring For A Hero | Lyle Bouck)

56 == WWII Vets 106 ——————————————– (Andrus~Ernest)

57 == Obit: Mayer~Frederick | Inglorious Bastard ————- (15 APR 2016)

59 == Obit: McGrath~Luta | Oldest Female Vet —————- (14 APR 2016)

59 == Obit: Mustin~Henry | 34-yr SWO ————————- (11 APR 2016)

61 == Retiree Appreciation Days ————————— (As of 26 Apr 2016)

61 == Vet Hiring Fairs ————————————- (01 thru 31 May 2016)

62 == Vet State Benefits & Discounts ————————– (Alabama 2016)

* Vet Legislation * .

63 == SBP DIC Offset [45] ——– (Time to End the Military “Widows Tax”)

64 == SBP DIC Offset [46] —– (Pivotal Legislative Year for 60K+ Widows)

65 == Vet Fraud & Abuse [01] ———- (H.R.4676 | House Vote 411 to Zero)

66 == Vet Toxic Exposure | Marshall Islands ——- (H.R.3870 Sent to Senate)

67 == Vet Deportations [06] ——- (Bill Introduced to Waive Action on Vets)

67 == VA Medical Marijuana [18] ——- (Senate Amendment for Vet Access)

68 == Vet Legislative Issues 2016 – (AL Testifies in Support of Pending Bills)

69 == VA Bonuses [31] —- (MilCon Bill Prohibits 2017 Senior Exec Awards)

71 == Vets First Act ———————————— (SVAC VA Omnibus Bill)

71 == Vet Bills Submitted to 114th Congress ———— (160416 thru 160430)

* MILITARY * .

73 == POW/MIA Displays ————————— (WPAFB Bible Removal)

74 == Disability Separation Pay ——————– (14k Vets Wrongly Taxed)

75 == C-130J Fatal Crash —- (Cause | Forgotten Night-Vision Goggle Case)

76 == Army Honorary Sergeant Major —— (Retired Gen. Gordon Sullivan)

77 == GI Bill [204] ——————– (50% Dependent Housing Stipend Cut)

78 == Military Sexual Assault ——————– (Pentagon Misled Congress)

81 == USCG Laser Use Prohibited ————- (FDA vice DoD Rules Apply)

82 == Military 2017 Pay Raise —————————– (HASC Backs 2.1%)

83 == TRADES ———————- (Transformative Design program | Radar)

83 == Trump Foreign Policy Platform —————- (Build-Up U.S. Military)

84 == Archive Photo of the Day ————— (Chernobyl Ukraine May 1986)

85 == Medal of Honor Citations ——————— (Baker~Vernon J | WWII)

* MILITARY HISTORY * .

87 == Military History Discussions ———- (WWII 106th Infantry Division)

87 == Military History —————————– (Battle of A-Shau | Vietnam)

88 == Military Trivia 120 ——————————— (Japan’s Coup d’Etat )

91 == M-1 Rifle ——————————————————- (Not a ‘Gun’)

91 == Military History Anniversaries ————————— (01thru 15 May)

92 == WWII US Automobile Industry —————————- (Soup to Nuts)

* HEALTH CARE * .

93 == TRICARE Mental Health Care [03] ————– (Day Limits Changes)

93 == Smoking —- (TRICARE Program Unfunded for Cessation Treatment)

95 == TRICARE Urgent Care [01] —— (Non-referral Visits Could Increase)

95 == Prescription Decoding ——– (Understanding Terms & Abbreviations)

* FINANCES * .

97 == SSIA [01] ————– (Set to Expire Without NDAA Legislative Fix)

98 == Social Security Sign-Up [01] —————— (To Delay or Not Delay)

99 == IRS Audit [06] ———————— (What to Do if You Get a Notice)

100 == IRS Audit [07] ———————– (Budget Cuts Mean Fewer Audits)

100 == Phantom Discounts —————————— (Death of the Price Tag)

102 == Car Insurance [12] —————————— (Ticket Impact on Rates)

103 == Pentagon FCU —————————– (Fifth Merger in Five Months)

103 == Saving Money ———————————— (27 More Ways to do It)

105 == Macy’s Delivery Email Scam —————————- (How it Works)

106 == Internet Connected Car Scam —————– (Scammers’ Next Target)

107 == Tax Burden for Georgia Retired Vets —————– (As of Apr 2016)

* GENERAL INTEREST * .

109 == Notes of Interest ———————————— (16 thru 30 Apr 2016)

111 == Retirement Planning [10] ———- (Giving Back to your Community)

112 == Household Tips [04] ———————- (Save time and Money)

113 == Calendar Key Dates —————————————— (May & June)

114 == NATO/Russia Council — (1st Meeting in 2-yrs | Differences Remain)

114 == Child Pornography ——— (U.S. Coast Guardsman Gets 20 Years ++)

115 == Fruit Flies ———————————————- (How to Get Rid of)

116 == Honey —————————————————- (Unexpected Uses)

117 == Gun Control ———————————————————- (Alaska)

118 == Buying A Better Used Car ——– (Don’t Let Life Give You a Lemon)

118 == Brain Teaser —————————– (Engulfed Tire | Weighing Stuff)

119 == Have You Heard? ————————————— (Senior Citizens 3)

120 == Brain Teaser Answer ————- —– (Engulfed Tire | Weighing Stuff)

Note:

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

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

* ATTACHMENTS * .

Attachment – Veteran Legislation as of 28 Apr 2016

Attachment – Alabama Vet State Benefits & Discounts Apr 2016

Attachment – Military History Anniversaries 01 thru 15 MAY

Attachment – Battle of A-Shau | Vietnam

* DoD *



Stars and Stripes Update 01 ► May Be Silenced by Funding Cuts

Stars and Stripes may lose its federal funding — $12 million a year — under a proposal being considered by the Department of Defense, according to a 12 APR column by Stars and Stripes Ombudsman Tobias Naegele. The paper is run by DoD’s Defense Media Activity, but maintains editorial sovereignty. “Of the appropriated funds, $7 million comes from the regular defense budget and $5 million from overseas contingency operations funds — the war budget — mostly to pay for printing and distributing the paper downrange,” Naegele wrote, noting that the paper’s publisher estimates the proposed cuts equal 40 percent of its overall funding. The rest of the budget comes from funds not allocated by Congress.

153rd MP Company - OIF 2007

According to Naegele, a former Military Times executive editor, the idea to defund the newspaper came from the Defense Department’s Business Process and Systems Review (BPSR) team. It was established two years ago “to reduce the cost of management headquarters by 20 percent over the next five years,” according to an August 2014 DoD memo. Details of the proposal were not immediately available. Stars and Stripes Editor Terry Leonard declined to comment on the column, citing conflict of interest concerns. Naegele praised the BPSR’s concern as due diligence, and acknowledged that, when it comes down to it, the numbers don’t work in the newspaper’s favor. But he also made the case for print newspapers being a key link between service members who are forward-deployed in areas lacking reliable internet access and the news back home in the United States. “Studying Stars and Stripes’ balance sheet tells us the obvious: The newspaper loses money,” he wrote. “It’s the intangibles that are harder for us to understand.”

This isn’t the first time that Stars and Stripes has come under fiscal fire. In 2013, sequestration-induced funding slashes put job cuts, printing-schedule changes, a pay-raise freeze and travel limitations for staff on the table, Politico reported. In current case, though, Naegele proposed an investigation into readership among deployed troops before making a final call. “Use it to dig beyond what servicemembers like or don’t like about Stripes and discover the deeper value they derive from having it available and what the payoff is to helping them be better-informed citizens,” he wrote. “Then, when we’ve gathered some answers, we can talk seriously about whether it’s time for Stripes to go the way of sailing ships and hardtack, or whether it, like the ageless B-52 bomber, should be refitted with new wings and electronics and keep contributing to the military mission.”

-o-o-O-o-o

The House Armed Services Committee on 27 APR added a measure to its annual defense budget bill protecting Stars and Stripes funding amid a Pentagon review. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), a former A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot, and requires the defense secretary to justify any reductions in the newspaper’s funding to the House committee before making cuts.

[Source: Military Times | Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory | April 26, 2016 ++]

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DoD Religious Expression Update 04 ► U.S. Court of Appeals Case

Rare arguments before the highest military court in the land 27 APR came down to whether a Marine’s refusal to obey orders to remove signs from her desk containing a biblical passage were her exercising her right of religious freedom or just plain insubordination. Defenders of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act argued on Lance Cpl. Monifa Sterling’s behalf that the lower courts’ refusal to look at that aspect of the case “left the rights of the servicemember severely unprotected,” attorney Paul Clement said. But the government maintained Sterling’s religious freedoms were not in question here. Attorney Brian Keller argued this was a case of military order and discipline, as the lower appeals court had concluded. “This is a case of insubordination,” he told the court.

A sketch artist renders arguments during a hearing Wednesday at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces on religious freedom in the military. The case involves a Marine lance corporal who disobeyed orders to remove signs bearing a defiant religious quotation from her desk.
photographed by Dianna Cahn 4/27/2016<br>

monifa sterling

A sketch artist renders arguments during a hearing Wednesday at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces on religious freedom in the military. The case involves a Marine lance corporal Monifa Sterling (right) who disobeyed orders to remove signs bearing a defiant religious quotation from her desk.

The case is the first of its kind to reach the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, raising potentially precedent-setting questions about the balance of religious freedoms in a military environment. On Wednesday, a five-judge panel heard arguments about why it should consider the appeal on the basis that Sterling’s religious freedoms protected her from following orders. The judges will weigh the arguments and issue their decision at a later date. “It’s an historic case, a precedent-setting case,” said Mike Berry, senior counsel and director of military affairs at First Liberty Institute, which is representing Sterling. “This is really the first time a military court has addressed the issue of whether [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] applies to all people serving in the military and this case may very well serve as precedent for decades.”

Sterling’s case was taken on by strong advocates. Clement is a former solicitor general under President George W. Bush who has argued more than 75 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. An amicus brief supporting her appeal was brought by faith institutions that have relationships with the military and individuals ranging from senior ranking archdiocese officials to chaplains, rabbis and an Imam. Other briefs were filed by 43 members of Congress, leading conservative lawyers, nine generals and religious rights organizations supporting Sterling’s appeal. Sterling was found guilty in a special court-martial for defying the order of a staff sergeant in 2013 to remove three signs at her work station bearing the words “No weapon formed against me shall prosper,” a modified quotation from Isaiah in the Bible. She later told the court that she posted them in a triangular fashion to represent the Holy Trinity. When Sterling refused, the staff sergeant pulled the signs down. Sterling put them up again the next day. She was brought up on charges for disobeying that order as well as others at a later date. She was demoted and discharged for bad conduct.

Last year, an appeals judge upheld the lower court’s ruling, and agreed “the orders to remove the signs were lawful because the signs could be interpreted as combative and could be seen as contrary to good order and discipline.” The lower court also concluded the Religious Freedom Restoration Act could not be invoked because there was no evidence that the order to remove the signs denied her ability to “exercise her religion” and she had never told the staff sergeant that the signs had a religious connotation or sought a religious practice accommodation. Arguing that the religious freedom act was not adequately interpreted, Clement gave the court an example. According to the statute, it is legal to inconvenience a religious practice, but not to criminalize it – even if that practice is not mandated by the religion.

So if the government changes the speed limit on the road to a church, one could argue it’s an inconvenience but does not violate the law, Clement said. However, if they criminalized driving to that church, that would violate the statute. Clement also argued though Sterling did not seek a religious “accommodation,” the religious freedom act still applies. “She got court-martialed for posting biblical verses,” he said. Judge Scott Stucky questioned Clement on the use of religious freedom in this case. The military is supposed to be neutral in matters of religion, he said. The judge wondered whether this was a case of religious freedom protections shielding a practitioner or an act of insubordination shielded under the guise of religion. “Does throwing a cloak of religion on it excuse her from thumbing her nose at her supervisor?” he asked.

Clement argued there was room for the court to explore this issue and determine whether the military had acted against religion. Keller argued the Sterling was not punished for putting up religious signs, but rather for defying orders. He argued there was a mismatch between religious protections and hanging signs. He also argued because Sterling never sought a religious accommodation and only raised the religious protections issue later, there was no argument that her religious freedoms were “substantially burdened” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Clement rebutted that because she invoked religious freedom later doesn’t mean that it’s not a fair consideration. “When it’s invoked in defense, that’s when it needs to be explored,” he told the judges. [Source: Stars & Stripes | Dianna Cahn | April 27, 2016 ++]

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Commissary Prices Update 04 ► Draft Bill Eliminates At-Cost Pricing

Sweeping changes in the commissary system may be coming sooner than expected — including how groceries are priced — under draft legislation that would bypass the need for pilot programs. Commissaries would be allowed to increase their profit margin so officials can reduce the amount of taxpayer dollars used to operate stores. The current-year budget for operating commissary stores worldwide is $1.4 billion. By law, commissaries sell grocery items “at cost,” with no profit. A 5 percent surcharge is used to pay for construction and renovation of stores.

The draft bill released 19 APR would change that, allowing the Defense Department to use variable pricing and develop private label products, moving away from selling groceries at cost. DoD officials are figuring out a detailed baseline of savings under the current system — how much commissary shoppers save vs. shopping outside the gates, estimated around 30 percent overall. It’s not yet known what the expected level of savings would be under the reformed commissary system, but DoD documents laying out the plan say the savings for customers would be “reasonably consistent” with the level of savings under the current system. The released draft bill is an early step in the legislative process, from the House Armed Services personnel subcommittee, that will result in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act once both houses of Congress have addressed it.

House staff said safeguards are built into the legislation to protect the commissary benefit and that the changes are “not irreversible” under the proposal. DoD would be required to submit reports at least quarterly on the progress, and as lawmakers monitor the changes, if there are problems, DoD will have the authority to infuse more taxpayer dollars into the commissary system to make sure the benefit is maintained for service members. DoD and lawmakers have realized they will not be able to completely get rid of all taxpayer funding for commissaries, because some funding is needed to provide a savings benefit.

Under variable pricing, also called “flexible” or “alternative” pricing, commissary officials would determine the prices “in response to market conditions and customer demand,” according to the Defense Department’s legislative proposal laying out these reforms. The current pricing system, selling all items at cost, “constrains sales margins and limits potential savings benefits across disparate geographic markets,” officials stated. Under a private label program, the commissary agency would develop its own store brands of certain items, similar to items found in commercial stores that are generally cheaper than name brands. Defense officials will start testing those two concepts — variable pricing and private label products — sometime this summer, said DoD spokesman Air Force Major Ben. Sakrisson. Information was not available about how the tests will be conducted, or where.

The tests were authorized in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act. But this draft legislation gives DoD authority to move ahead without so-called pilot programs. “We’re not calling it a pilot program, but there are enough escape valves that if it doesn’t work, we’ll go right back to appropriated funds,” a House staff member said. He said pilot programs need to be conducted across the entire commissary system and that running a test at one store or in one region is too small a sample to see the effects. Over the next five years, officials want to save a cumulative $1 billion, with a goal of saving $512 million in taxpayer dollars in fiscal year 2021, according to DoD documents outlining the reform proposals.

This draft legislation also gives DoD authority to convert the Defense Commissary Agency to a non-appropriated fund organization, allowing it to operate more like a business with the aim of gaining savings in its operations. A lot of that savings would be in pay, a House staff member said, but commissary employees wouldn’t see a reduction in pay, and appropriated-fund employees wouldn’t be converted to non-appropriated fund employees. The positions would be converted when the current employee left the job or retired. But that conversion also depends on whether the new pricing systems meet DoD’s to-be-determined benchmarks for success. The commissary system would operate more like the military exchanges, which are non-appropriated fund entities. The legislative changes are necessary to provide DoD with the flexibility to improve business practices across the DoD resale system “while delivering the same level of service and savings to commissary patrons as the current system at substantially reduced cost to the taxpayer,” according to the DoD document outlining the reform proposals. [Source: Military Times | Karen Jowers | April 19, 2016 ++]

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Selective Service System Update 17 May be Headed for the Scrap Heap

The military draft may be headed for the scrap heap. The House Armed Services Committee will include instructions to examine the Selective Service program’s viability and possible “alternatives” as part of its review of the annual defense authorization bill next week, staffers confirmed 22 APR. The move comes following months of hand-wringing over whether women will be forced to register for the draft as part of the military’s plans to open combat jobs to all troops regardless of gender. A bipartisan group of House lawmakers — several of whom sit on the committee — has already offered legislation to abolish the Selective Service System, calling it an outdated vestige of military history.

635969384004914435-AP-401118161.jpg

Men complete the induction process at Los Angeles City Hall. on Nov 18, 1940, after being chosen

to serve under the Selective Service system

Committee officials said the authorization bill language is not geared toward keeping or eliminating the Selective Service system, but reviewing the cost and operation of a program that hasn’t been used to fill the ranks since 1973. The agency’s activities cost taxpayers roughly $23 million each year, and a 2012 Government Accountability Office report questioned whether the system could even provide a list of draftees to the Defense Department if called upon to do so. Meanwhile, military officials over the last two decades have repeatedly downplayed the idea of reviving the military draft, saying today’s all-volunteer force is the most highly trained and disciplined in American history. While returning to the draft could connect more Americans to the armed forces, it would almost certainly also dilute that skill.

Several lawmakers have also voiced plans to introduce related amendments to the authorization bill to specifically exempt women from registering for the draft, arguing that Pentagon officials haven’t fully thought out the ramifications of opening combat jobs to women. The authorization bill, which sets spending guidelines and policy priorities for next fiscal year, will be marked up by the armed services committee on Thursday. The Senate must take up the measure later this year before sending the proposal to the White House to be signed into law. [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane | April 24, 2016 ++]

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Selective Service System Update 18 HASC | Women Must Register

Women will have to register with the Selective Service and would be eligible to be drafted in the military, under a provision narrowly approved by a House panel on 27 APR. The proposal passed the House Armed Services Committee without support from its sponsor, Iraq War veteran Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who introduced the measure as a way to force congressional conversation about the role of women in the military. But several Republicans broke ranks with their committee counterparts to support the idea of drafting women for military service, until now a possibility solely reserved for men.

Female Food Specialist Assumes Dual Role

Under current law, all men ages 18 to 26 are required to register for possible involuntary military service with the Selective Service System. Women have always been exempt, and past legal challenges have pointed to restrictions placed on their military service as a reason for their exclusion. But earlier this year, Defense Secretary Ash Carter opened all military jobs to women, negating that argument. Hunter said the move made the Selective Service setup “sexist” and said he was unwilling to leave the draft issue up to the White House or Pentagon. But he also made clear he opposed the idea of adding women to draft lists. Others disagreed, including Nevada’s Rep. Joe Heck, New York Rep. Chris Gibson and Arizona Rep. Martha McSally, fellow Republicans and Iraq War veterans. McSally argued that if a draft was needed, women could serve any number of military roles, including but not exclusive to infantry jobs.

The vote came the same day Army officials announced that Capt. Kristen Griest, one of the first women to earn a Ranger tab, will becoming the Army’s first female infantry officer. Defense Department leaders have already backed the idea of adding women to the draft, while also emphasizing they do not see any scenario where a draft will actually happen. No Americans have been pressed into involuntary military service since the last draft ended in 1973. Lawmakers have also included in the legislative language requiring a full review of the Selective Service System and possible “alternatives” to the current system. [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane | April 28, 2016 ++]

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BRAC Update 47 ► DoD Sends Congress Excess Capacity Report

The Pentagon is renewing its controversial push to close some military bases, and a new study suggests the Army could be impacted the most significantly. The Defense Department on 15 APR sent a report to Congress that concludes the military’s current network of installations has about 22 percent more space than is needed. It found that the Army has 33 percent excess capacity, the Air Force has 32 percent more space than it needs and the Navy is over by 7 percent. The Defense Logistics Agency has 12 percent excess, according to the 20-page report, the first of its kind in 12 years. Military Times obtained a copy of the document on Friday. “This level of excess underscores the need for a BRAC round because it is clear that the Department has more infrastructure than force structure plans require,” it states.

The report aims “advance the dialogue” on the Defense Department’s long-standing request for a new Base Realignment and Closure Commission, the mechanism that Capitol Hill uses to identify which military bases to shutter, according to an accompanying letter from Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work. The new study is based on projected force levels in 2019. Implementing a new BRAC would eventually save the Defense Department about $2 billion annually, according to the report, which does not identify specific facilities eyed for closure. Instead, it looks at the services’ aggregate needs by comparing the Army’s maneuver brigades to total training space, the size of the Navy’s fleet to pier space, and the Air Force’s total aircraft inventory to hanger and flight line space.

The last such study in 2004 found an overall excess capacity of 24 percent, suggesting that the 2005 BRAC that called for closing 22 major military bases and shrinking 33 others had limited long-term impact. Congress has convened base closure commissions five times in recent years, in 1988, 1991, 1993, 1995 and 2005. Typically BRACs aim to reduce total capacity by about 5 percent. For years the Pentagon has urged Congress to close bases to save money. The size of the active-duty military has decreased by nearly half since the end of the Cold War and many facilities across the country are underused, unnecessary and require maintenance that is draining the military budget. Yet eliminating military bases — and their well-paying government jobs — is intensely controversial on Capitol Hill because individual lawmakers fight to ensure their own local base is not affected. [Source: Military Times | Andrew Tilghman | April 15, 2016 ++]

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BRAC Update 48 ► Pentagon May Start Unilateral Closures

The Pentagon is threatening to start closing down unneeded military bases unilaterally if Congress continues to refuse to launch a new Base Closure and Realignment Commission. The defiant move would raise a host of legal questions and set the stage for a first-of-its-kind political showdown between the Defense Department and Capitol Hill, which historically have coordinated closely on such controversial issues. Military leaders are eager to save money by shuttering some underused bases. But the move is extremely unpopular on Capitol Hill, where many lawmakers fear the process would jeopardize government jobs in their districts.

For years Congress has refused the Defense Department’s repeated requests to create a bi-partisan commission, known as a BRAC, that would — with help from military officials — identify the bases most appropriate for closure and present lawmakers with a single, comprehensive plan for an up-or-down vote. Last week, the Pentagon dialed up its pressure on Capitol Hill, sending a report to Congress showing that the military currently maintains about 22 percent more installation space and infrastructure than the current force requires. The report was careful to avoid mention of any specific bases, but indicates the Army and the Air Force have the most glut. Coincidentally, on 19 APR House lawmakers introduced legislation calling for 27,000 additional troops — mostly Army guardsmen and reservists. “The alternative to BRAC is either attempting to close individual installations, or making reductions to personnel and shuttering or mothballing parts of installations across the country,” according to the Pentagon’s 20-page report to Congress, which echoes some fine-print in the Defense Department’s 2017 budget request unveiled earlier this year.

That document, released in February, says “the need to reduce unneeded facilities is so critical that, in the absence of authorization of a new round of BRAC, the Department will explore any and all authorities that Congress has provided to eliminate wasteful infrastructure.” Technically, experts say, the Defense Department’s only legal requirement is to notify Congress. However, before it could close a specific base, federal law would require a detailed — and time-consuming — study of the closure’s environmental and socioeconomic impact, giving Congress plenty of time to block the move. “DoD has some authorities. They aren’t great, but they are there, whereby DoD can shutter, reduce or eliminate facilities,” said Mark Cancian, a military force structure expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS, a think tank in Washington.

The threat alone could upend the intense politics surrounding the issue. If the Defense Department put forth a proposal with a list of specific bases targeted for closure, many of the lawmakers unaffected by the specific proposal might breathe a sigh of relief and drop their instinctive opposition. “One of the dynamics around BRAC is that before a BRAC happens, everyone sees themselves as a potential loser. Once people know what the actual proposal is, there are more winners than losers,” said Andrew Hunter, a former Capitol Hill staffer who is now a defense expert with CSIS. “Once a list is out, there is a strong compelling logic for the people on the list to fight it. But there is also a logic for the people who aren’t on the list to support it,” Hunter said.

Cancian said the Pentagon’s threat may be a strategic effort to convince Congress to approve a BRAC for fear that military officials will take unilateral action. “I think DoD’s purpose is to use this as a way to get a BRAC … the department trying to move the Congress along,” he said, noting that a similar threat was floated about 25 years ago by then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney. Military officials say implementing a new BRAC would eventually save the Defense Department about $2 billion annually. The size of the active-duty military has decreased by nearly half since the end of the Cold War, and many facilities across the country are underused, unnecessary and require maintenance that is draining the military budget. Congress has convened base closure commissions five times in recent years, in 1988, 1991, 1993, 1995 and 2005. Typically BRACs aim to reduce total capacity by about 5 percent. [Source: Military Times | Andrew Tilghman | April 19, 2016 ++]

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BRAC Update 49 ► HASC Democrat Seeks Base Closures Law

In the wake of a Pentagon report that says 22 percent of military bases will be unneeded by 2019, the House Armed Services Committee’s top Democrat is introducing legislation that would let the military close and consolidate its domestic installations. Rep. Adam Smith of Washington State plans to offer an amendment during his committee’s markup of the 2017 defense policy bill which would remove a ban on a new round of military base closures and replace it with a process for the Pentagon to consolidate bases. Such a measure, which comes at the start of a lengthy process to hammer out the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, would face an steep uphill fight in Congress and is likely an opening salvo in the latest battle for base closures.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA)

After offering the amendment, Smith will have to withdraw it for procedural reasons, though Smith may file an amendment to the NDAA on the House floor, and if that fails, later introduce it as a stand-alone bill. Smith, in an interview with Defense News last week, expressed support for this draft of the NDAA, but criticized lawmakers for skirting hard, fiscally responsible decisions to limit Pentagon spending, which would include a round of the politically unpopular base realignment and closure process, known by the acronym BRAC. Lawmakers, Smith said, “could do a better job of making choices on our national security strategy, and BRAC is the biggest example of that. We have some potential to save some money there.”

A recent Defense Department report pointed to 22 percent excess capacity across DoD, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work urged lawmakers in an accompanying letter to consider a new BRAC round. It would be the first since 2005, though the Pentagon has been asking for years. That document, released in February, threatened that the Pentagon has the authority to start closing unneeded military bases unilaterally. The “need to reduce unneeded facilities is so critical that, in the absence of authorization of a new round of BRAC, the Department will explore any and all authorities that Congress has provided to eliminate wasteful infrastructure,” it reads. Lawmakers arguing against a BRAC say the 2005 round was more expensive than expected. According to analysts, it cost more than all previous rounds combined but its scope included the realignment of organizations. “That BRAC was more of a realignment than outright closures, and realignments are much more expensive than clean kills,” said Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “What DoD is proposing now is more like previous rounds and not at all like that.”

Smith’s planned amendment includes a few Congress-friendly provisions, including an additional opportunity to stop BRAC early on, a prohibition on DoD recommendations for BRAC that do not yield savings within 20 years and a cost cap on each recommendation based on the estimates of the recommendations submitted by a BRAC commission.

Existing language in the defense policy bill, if passed, would deny a round of BRAC in the next fiscal year but authorize the Pentagon to conduct studies to answer lawmakers’ questions about it. House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) has condemned the Defense Department study as not providing the data Congress requested, but he expressed openness toward a future BRAC round, if justified. “You say you have enough infrastructure, well give us the data that leads you to believe that, and they haven’t given that to us yet,” Thornberry said. “We can take it a step at a time. … I’m willing to have a rational conversation about this, but we’re not there this year.” [Source: Defense News | Joe Gould | April 26, 2016 ++]

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Toxic Exposure | Wurtsmith AFB ► PFC Tainted Water

For years, Tammy Dumaresq and her family spent time at a family cabin on Alvin Road, about 2 miles from the now shuttered Wurtsmith Air Force Base, swimming nearby in the pond created by the Foote Dam. In 1991, Dumaresq and her family moved to Oscoda, just a few miles from picturesque Lake Huron. “That was part of the reason to come to town, because the house values dropped after the base closure and made it so affordable,” she said. Both Dumaresq’s son, who was a year old when they moved to the area, and a daughter born in 1997, were later diagnosed with problems with their thyroids, glands in the neck that secrete important hormones related to growth and metabolism. Dumaresq said her daughter was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disorder causing chronic inflammation and ultimate failure of the thyroid gland. “The doctors said both of their thyroids were fried out,” she said.

A definitive source of their illness remains a mystery. But Demaresq, along with former Wurtsmith personnel and other current and former neighbors of the base, say they have a prime suspect for the health ailments they have endured over the years: As area residents now are forced to seek alternative water supplies and uneasily await a resolution to the latest discovery of groundwater contamination emanating from the former air base about 170 miles north of Detroit, some are wondering whether the base’s toxic history is the source of their current health problems. The most recent revelation about the contamination at Wurtsmith, which closed in 1993, is that perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs — a legacy of firefighting foam used at the base for many years — have migrated from groundwater under the base to pollute nearby residential wells.

Water faucet slowly drips. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Staff Sgt. Christopher Marasky)

Last month, the local health department suggested residents near the base with elevated levels of PFCs in their wells find an alternative water source as a precautionary measure, as the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Air Force continue to test the scope and severity of the spreading contamination. The DEQ also issued an advisory against eating fish caught in nearby ponds or the nearby section of the Au Sable River because of PFC contamination in 2012. But that’s just the latest in a history of harmful surface and groundwater pollution at the base that goes back decades. In the 1990s, trichloroethylene, or TCE, a solvent used to clean airplanes, also was found in the base’s water wells. Both TCE and PFCs have been found in scientific studies to potentially affect thyroid function. And when a state Department of Health and Human Services official mentioned last month that PFCs can affect the thyroid, “I felt like, ‘There is finally an answer,'” Dumaresq said.

But getting conclusive proof of a link between their ailments and the water contamination at the base has been problematic because no one at the federal or state level has ever done what it would take to answer that question: comprehensive health surveys and scientific research on the health condition of Wurtsmith base veterans and their families, and those who live or lived close by.

Leaking Chemical

According to the Air Force’s account, in October 1977, a Wurtsmith base housing resident complained about a peculiar odor and taste in the drinking water. The suspected source of contamination was Building 43, the jet engine repair shop, where a 500-gallon underground storage tank was used to temporarily store trichloroethylene after it had been used to degrease engine parts. Excavation of the tank showed that a leak occurred at the connection between the filler pipe and the tank. How long it had existed was unknown. The leak was repaired, but by the following year, nearby residents off the base were asking questions about the contamination and its potential health impacts to them. The U.S. Geological Survey investigated groundwater at the base and identified plumes of TCE; dicholorethane, or DCE, another potentially harmful chemical; and benzene, a petroleum-based solvent and known carcinogen.

The State of Michigan announced its intent to sue the military over the contamination in 1979, in an effort to speed up the cleanup. By 1980, a private residence off-base was found with TCE contamination in its drinking water well. In January 1994, the EPA moved to add Wurtsmith to its National Priorities List, essentially making it a Superfund site — the worst of the worst, most problematic contaminated sites in the U.S. The base was evaluated by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) created by Congress in the Superfund law with a mandate to conduct a public health assessment for every site on the priorities list. “ATSDR concluded that past exposures to groundwater may have posed an increased risk of developing adverse health effects,” the agency wrote in its 2001 report on the Wurtsmith base.

But the report lacked critical data: While noting TCE existed in on-base drinking water supplies and at least one off-base well at levels high enough to warrant concern, it added, “it is unknown whether the concentrations persisted at high enough levels for long enough durations to actually pose a public health hazard.” Regarding public worries of whether there were increased cancer incidences in the Oscoda community, ATSDR stated, “No health outcome studies were available to address this community concern.” The report concluded that future exposures to groundwater were not expected to cause a public health hazard — not because the water was clean, but because the community switched to the Huron Shores Regional Utility Authority for drinking water piped in from nearby and unaffected Lake Huron.

When asked why no health studies have been conducted with former base residents or those living nearby, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Jennifer Eisner noted that as a federal facility, it is the Air Force and ATSDR’s purview to provide public health evaluations. She cited the agency’s 2001 reports and added, “The ATSDR’s Public Health Assessment did not recommend a health study at the time.” But following the relatively recent discovery of migrating PFCs in groundwater, the state health department “is currently evaluating how people could be exposed to contamination from the former Air Force Base,” Eisner said. Before any large-scale health study, a determination would need to be made of who may have been exposed to what chemicals, at what levels, for how long, she said. “These in-depth investigations would ultimately be led by ATSDR or a state and federal partnership,” she said.

Inquiries to the U.S. Air Force were directed to a spokeswoman at the Pentagon, who in turn directed them to the Air Force Civil Engineer Center in San Antonio overseeing base decommissioning, which did not respond by Friday afternoon.

Symptom Connection

For decades, Roger Arvo said he never made the connection. Not as his stress attacks and nearly blinding, immediate onset headaches drove him to early retirement from a successful career as an infrastructure architect. Not as his wife developed thyroid problems, or as he had surgery to remove lumps in his breasts — a relatively unusual malady in men. Not as he developed hormonal deficiencies that will require supplemental therapy for the rest of his days. But as Arvo described his ailments to his boss one day, he got an unexpected response. “‘You’ve got the same symptoms as me,’ he said,” Arvo recalled. “He was at Camp Lejeune.” That military base in North Carolina was discovered to have harmful chemicals in its water supply over decades — and many former base residents believe their health problems are connected. In 2012, President Barack Obama signed a law to begin providing medical care to those affected by the toxins there. In 2014, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tied the Camp Lejeune water contamination to increased risk for several cancers including liver, kidney and ALS.

Arvo had served all of his four years in the Air Force outside of basic training, from 1974 to 1977, at Wurtsmith Air Force Base. His wife lived on the base with him. His son was born while they lived there. “We noticed the water tasted funny,” he said. “Other relatives would visit and say, ‘Your water tastes weird,’ but nobody knew why.” For seven decades, Wurtsmith served as an aviation facility for the U.S. military before it was closed in 1993 as part of a military consolidation following the end of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. But before that happened, in the mid-1980s, another threat was discovered. Trichloroethylene was found in Wurtsmith’s drinking water wells at startling levels — 6,000 parts per billion, according to a 1992 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report. In another portion of the groundwater plume throughout the base — and extending into the neighboring community — TCE levels were above 10,000 parts per billion. The federal Safe Drinking Water Act now puts the TCE standard above which a health risk can be expected at 5 parts per billion. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, acute TCE exposure can harm a person’s nervous system, kidneys and heart, it can cause birth defects and is tied to a host of different cancers.

As Arvo sought assistance from the Veterans Administration for his ailments, his physician provided him with a letter indicating her belief that his potential exposure to TCE could have contributed to his health conditions. But the VA wouldn’t even look at the letter as it rejected his claims, he said. “I’ve been trying — myself and I’m sure other veterans who were stationed at the base — trying to get some kind of acknowledgement that the exposure ever even happened,” said Arvo, who now lives in Beaverton. The military has records of who was stationed at the base and when. It should start finding those men and women and examining their health histories, he said. “I come from a scientific background; I know how this works,” he said. “I don’t have proof that I was specifically poisoned. But you can’t find that proof when nobody’s ever done a study.” And he’s not alone in wondering.

Brenda Gronefeld’s home on East River Road is less than a half-mile from the former base. Three drinking water wells on the property have been determined to be contaminated with “diesel fuel, firefighting foam and arsenic,” she said. State officials have told her not to even bother attempting to drill a fourth well. Gronefeld drank the home’s water for more than a year before learning of the contamination. Over that time, two of her dogs died, and a third has permanent liver damage, she said. “I’m watching these dogs die and I’m wondering, how long do I got?” she said. Gronefeld recalled a night last year, before she learned of the contamination, where she staggered from her bed, called her son on the phone and said, “I think I’m dying.” “My son said, ‘Ma, the only common denominator between you and the dogs is the water. Stop drinking the water,'” she said.

Tests she had conducted on her well water came up clean. But subsequent tests conducted by the DEQ and Air Force found the elevated contaminants. She wonders why there was a difference. Now Gronefeld must pay for alternative water to drink, cook and bathe. She’s considering action against the property management company that sold her the house for not disclosing the contaminated wells. “I’m stuck in the middle of nowhere with no water — here in a house that’s not worth 2 cents,” she said.

Staggering Cost

According to a 2010 federal report, nearly 900 Superfund sites in the U.S. are abandoned military facilities or facilities that provided materials to or otherwise supported the military. The potential liability from connecting people’s health disorders to the toxic pollution they were exposed to at those hundreds of facilities could mean a staggering cost. Still, a duty is owed to people like Arvo, he said. “I would ask that all of us who served our country be recognized for all of the things we’ve gone through,” he said. “Being patriotic and joining up and volunteering. And a lot of us have suffered from the exposure. But there is no active research to find out if there is a link. “I’m not saying the Air Force did this on purpose. But geez, man, it’s just not right.”

[Source: Detroit Free Press | Keith Matheny | Apr 19, 2016 ++]

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State Sponsored Terrorism ► State Linked to Act Can be Sued

The Supreme Court on 20 APR upheld a judgment allowing families of victims of the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut and other terrorist attacks to collect nearly $2 billion in frozen Iranian funds. The court ruled 6-2 in favor of more than 1,300 relatives of the 241 U.S. service members who died in the Beirut bombing and victims of other attacks that courts have linked to Iran. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the opinion for the court, rejecting efforts by Iran’s central bank to try to stave off court orders that would allow the relatives to be paid for their losses.

MAR MSGs Beirut Reaction 01.jpg

Iran’s Bank Markazi complained that Congress was intruding into the business of federal courts when it passed a 2012 law that specifically directs that the banks’ assets in the United States be turned over to the families. President Obama issued an executive order earlier in 2012 blocking the Iranian central bank’s assets in the United States. The law, Ginsburg wrote, “does not transgress restraints placed on Congress and the president by the Constitution.” Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented. “The authority of the political branches is sufficient; they have no need to seize ours,” Roberts wrote. More than 1,300 people are among the relatives of the victims of the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, the 1996 terrorist bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 service members, and other attacks that were carried out by groups with links to Iran. The lead plaintiff is Deborah Peterson, whose brother, Lance Cpl. James C. Knipple, was killed in Beirut.

Congress has repeatedly changed the law in the past 20 years to make it easier for victims to sue over state-sponsored terrorism; federal courts have ruled for the victims. But Iran has refused to comply with the judgments, leading lawyers to hunt for Iranian assets in the United States. The decision comes as controversy swirls over pending legislation in Congress that would allow families of the Sept. 11 attacks to hold the government of Saudi Arabia liable in U.S. court. The Obama administration opposes the bill. Obama met with King Salman in Riyadh on 20 APR at the start of a brief trip to the country. Liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans in Congress, as well as the Obama administration, supported the families in the case. The case is Bank Markazi v. Peterson, 14-770. [Source: Associated Press | Mark Sherman | April 20, 2016 ++]

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Arlington National Cemetery Update 58 ► 38-acre Expansion Assessment

The Army is beginning a yearlong environmental assessment of a proposed 38-acre expansion of Arlington National Cemetery that it hopes will extend the life of the facility by 20 years. More than 400,000 people are buried at the cemetery, with as many as 30 new burials a day. Without the proposed Southern Expansion Project, the cemetery will run out of room in the mid-2030s, even with the strict eligibility standards in place for burial there. On 27 APR, cemetery officials briefed the public on the southern expansion, which hinges on a land swap with Arlington County and the Virginia Department of Transportation.

The negotiations have been ongoing for several years and the broad outline of the swap is in place but no deal has been reached. The Army would get land adjacent to the existing cemetery to use for burials, while the county and state would get land to improve transit and traffic on its bustling Columbia Pike corridor, which serves the Pentagon and other commuter hotspots. County officials say the Army is worried that mass-transit operations adjacent to the cemetery would be aesthetically incompatible with the cemetery itself. County officials say they will design and build any new facilities in a way that addresses those concerns. At Wednesday’s hearing, Army and county officials both expressed optimism about reaching a deal that will be beneficial for all involved. “To me, this is a good opportunity not only for Arlington National Cemetery but for the region as well,” said Col. Doug Guttormsen, the cemetery’s engineering director.

Greg Emanuel, Arlington County’s director of environmental services, said the cemetery is one of the county’s jewels and the county has every interest in protecting it as it seeks to redevelop the land and transportation network adjacent to it. “All parties are moving in the right direction,” he said. The Army Corps of Engineers will conduct its environmental assessment of the proposed expansion over the next year and will solicit public input. In addition to permits and environmental assessments, the Army will eventually need to obtain funding from Congress for the expansion. Guttormsen said the cost is currently estimated at $274 million. Guttormsen said that if all goes well, construction on the project could begin in 2018. [Source: The Associated Press | Matthew Barakat | April 27, 2016 ++]

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POW/MIA Update 72 North Korea Hands Over 17 Remains

The remains of 15 South Koreans and two Americans who were killed more than 60 years ago in North Korea were officially handed over 28 APR.. The repatriation of South Korean soldiers killed while fighting in the North is relatively rare, as the bitter enemies remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice. However some remains were accidentally excavated by U.S. teams searching for their own dead under a now-defunct agreement with North Korea. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, U.S. Forces Korea commander, said it is important to not forget the servicemembers killed during the war. “Because of their sacrifice, the Republic of Korea is a thriving democracy and a prosperous economy,” he said as he presided over the handover ceremony at U.S. Army Garrison-Yongsan’s Knight Field that was attended by the South Korean defense minister and the head of the U.S. agency overseeing the search for POW-MIAs. “As we stand in their shadow, we hope that their return brings a sense of peace and closure to their families.”

Pallbearers carry the remains of South Korean soldiers during a Korean War repatriation ceremony at U.S. Army Garrison-Yongsan, Thursday, April 28, 2016. <br>U.S. Forces Korea

Pallbearers carry the remains of South Korean soldiers during a Korean War repatriation ceremony at

U.S. Army Garrison-Yongsan, Thursday, April 28, 2016.

After a 21-gun salute and the sounding of taps, an honor guard reverently carried a casket, covered with a U.N. flag, containing the American soldiers’ remains to a black hearse. South Korean soldiers then collected the 15 boxes draped with their nation’s flag from a long table and carried them to a white bus decorated with a yellow wreath. South Korean search teams found the two sets of American remains last year in Yanggu province near the Demilitarized Zone, the site of fighting involving the 9th Infantry Division in the summer and fall of 1951. More than 7,800 Americans who fought in the war are still listed as missing. The South Korean soldiers’ remains were recovered by teams with the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency operating in North Korea in 2000-04. They were found in several places, including Kujang, Unsan and on the eastern side of the Chosin Reservoir, an area that saw some of the fiercest fighting of the war, the military said.

Forensic investigators in Hawaii determined the remains were not American and later confirmed they were South Korean, officials said, adding they were still working to identify individuals. Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael S. Linnington, DPAA director, said the repatriation stems from a memorandum of agreement signed last November confirming cooperation on recovering remains of soldiers from both countries. The head of the South Korean Defense Ministry’s excavation mission said the remains of some 40,000 South Koreans are believed to be buried in North Korea. “We are ready to bring them home if only North Korea would agree to it,” he said in an earlier statement. Joint U.S.-North Korea teams conducted about three dozen recovery operations between 1996 and 2005, but they were stopped after Washington expressed safety concerns. Talks to restart the effort began in 2011 but broke off after North Korea launched a rocket despite a ban on ballistic missile technology. Tensions also have risen this year with the North staging its fourth nuclear test in early January and a long-range missile launch a month later, leading to a fresh round of harsh U.N. sanctions. [Source: Stars & Stripes | Kim Gamel | April 28, 2016 ++]

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POW/MIA Recoveries ► Reported 16 thru 30 Apr 2016

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

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

Vietnam – None

Korea

The Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced that the remains of the following U.S. servicemen, missing from the Korean War, have been identified and returned to their families for burial with full military honors:

Army Cpl. Dudley L. Evans, 24, of Greenville, Mississippi, will be buried April 23 in his hometown. In mid-February 1951, Evans was assigned to Company G, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, which was engaged in a battle against enemy forces in the vicinity of Chipyong-ni, South Korea. Evans was reported missing in action Feb. 15, 1951. In late 1953, as part of a prisoner of war exchange, known as “Operation Big Switch,” returning U.S. soldiers told debriefers that Evans was captured by enemy forces and died in March 1951, during the march to the Suan POW Camp. His remains were not among those turned over to the U.S. by communist forces after the Armistice. Between 1990 and 1994, North Korea returned to the United States 208 boxes of commingled human remains, which when combined with remains recovered during joint recovery operations in North Korea, included the remains of at least 600 U.S. servicemen who fought during the war. North Korean documents included in the repatriation indicated that some of the remains were recovered from the area where Evans was believed to have died.

In addition, in June 1999, a joint U.S./D.P.R.K. team recovered remains believed to belong to U.S. servicemen in the vicinity of Tare Dong Village, North Korea. To identify Evans’ remains, scientists from the DPAA and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used circumstantial evidence and forensic identification tools, to include two forms of DNA analysis including mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome Short Tandem Repeat DNA, which matched his nephew.

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Army Cpl. David J. Wishon, Jr., 18, of Baltimore, will be buried May 6 in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington D.C. On Dec. 1, 1950, Wishon, assigned to Medical Company, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, was declared missing in action after his unit was heavily attacked by enemy forces in the vicinity of the Chosin Reservoir, North Korea. Due to a prolonged lack of information regarding his status, a military review board amended his status to deceased in 1953. Between 1990 and 1994, North Korea returned to the United States 208 boxes of commingled human remains, which when combined with remains recovered during joint recovery operations in North Korea, included the remains of at least 600 U.S. servicemen who fought during the war. North Korean documents included in the repatriation indicated that some of the remains were recovered from the area where Wishon was believed to have died. Additionally, in October 2000, a joint U.S./North Korea recovery team recovered human remains from an alleged burial site in Kujang, North Korea. To identify Wishon’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used circumstantial evidence and forensic identification tools, consisting of two forms of DNA analysis, including mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome Short Tandem Repeat DNA, which matched his sisters.

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World War II

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains of three servicemen who had been missing in action since World War II. Being returned home for burials with full military honors on a date and location yet to be announced are:

  • Navy Fireman 3rd Class Kenneth L. Jayne, of Suffolk County, N.Y., had been missing since Dec. 7, 1941, when the battleship USS Oklahoma he was aboard suffered multiple torpedo hits and capsized as it was moored off Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
  • Army Cpl. George G. Simmons, of Hamilton, Mont., had been missing since Nov. 19, 1942, while fighting in the Philippines. It would be later learned he died in a Japanese prison camp. He was assigned to Battery H, 60th Coastal Artillery Regiment.
  • Army Pvt. John P. Sersha, 21, of St. Louis County, Minn., had been missing since Sept. 27, 1944, while fighting in the Netherlands. He was assigned to Company F, 325th Glider Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division.

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The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced on the identification of remains of four sailors who had been unaccounted for since Dec. 7, 1941, when the battleship USS Oklahoma suffered multiple torpedo hits as it was moored off Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack capsized the ship, resulting in 429 casualties. Thirty-five sailors would be subsequently recovered and identified; the rest would eventually be buried as unknowns in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, better known as the Punchbowl. Being returned home for burial with full military honors on a date and location yet to be determined are Ensign Joseph P. Hittorff Jr., 25, of Westmont, N.J.; Chief Storekeeper Herbert J. Hoard; Fire Controlman 1st Class Paul A. Nash, 26, of Indiana; and Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Alfred F. Wells.

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Navy Lt. Julian B. Jordan, 37, from Georgia, and Seaman 2nd Class Rudolph V. Piskuran, of Ohio, had been missing since Dec. 7, 1941, when the battleship USS Oklahoma they were aboard suffered multiple torpedo hits and capsized as it was moored off Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. They will be buried on dates and locations yet to be announced.

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The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced today that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, missing from World War II, have been identified and are being returned to his family for burial with full military honors. Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Leonard R. Farron, 23, of Tacoma, Washington, will be buried May 4 in his hometown. On Oct. 15, 1942, Farron was the pilot of a P-39 aircraft with the 67th Fighter Squadron, 347th Fighter Group, 13th Air Force, when he failed to return from a strafing mission over Tassafaronga, Guadalcanal. His squadron mates reported they last saw Farron 10 minutes before landing, but there was heavy anti-aircraft fire and enemy fighters swarming the area at the time. No one reported seeing Farron crash.

On Dec. 30, 1942, a soldier from the 25th Infantry Division (ID) located a crashed P-39 with a tail number closely matching Farron’s plane, and with the body of the pilot still in the cockpit. However, the remains of that pilot were not recovered at that time. On Jan. 28, 1949, a military review board declared Farron non-recoverable. In January and February 2013, an investigation team with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) searched on Guadalcanal for information relating to Farron’s crash, but no wreckage consistent with a P-39 was found. In July 2013, a JPAC historian located relevant information regarding Farron’s P-39 crash while researching Guadalcanal ground losses associated with the 25th ID. Based on that information, another JPAC investigation team traveled to Guadalcanal, interviewed local citizens, and located an aircraft crash site with wreckage consistent with a P-39 in an area matching the 25th ID record. From January to February 2015, a DPAA recovery team excavated the crash site and recovered wreckage, human remains and personal military gear. To identify Farron’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used circumstantial evidence, mitochondrial DNA analysis, which matched two maternal cousins, and dental analysis, which matched his records.

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Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war. For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for Americans who went missing while serving our country, visit the DPAA website at www.dpaa.mil or call (703) 699-1420. [Source: http://www.dpaa.mil | April 14, 2016 ++]

* VA *


National Salute to Veteran Patients Logo

VA Prosthetics Update 14 A Giant Step for Veteran Amputees | POP

What started as scribbled ideas on posted notes all over the wall of a research lab is now a reality that could impact the lives of these two Veterans and countless others in the future. The device is called a percutaneous osseointegrated prosthesis or POP. It features a titanium rod surgically implanted into the bottom of the thigh bone. The rod allows a prosthetic leg to be securely attached without the need for a socket. This team has worked years to get to this day. Peter Beck, an attending orthopedic surgeon for VA and an adjunct professor for the University of Utah, has been invested for over a decade. He says the big barrier for years was preventing infection and perfecting the surgical procedures for inserting the rod into the femur bone. “I’m really excited. This is going to be a game changer for him,” said Bart Gillespie, VA Salt Lake City physical therapist.

Male Veteran with prothesis implant

Black and white image of Veteran Patient standing with a implanted prosthetic, a close up of the legs and wheel chair.

A Male Veteran patient wearing a hat and standing with a prosthetic implant

Ed Salau The muscle grows stronger as the rod fuses with the bone Bryant Jacobs

Researchers and physicians held their collective breath as Veteran Ed Salau above clicked his new prosthetic leg into place and stood on it for the first time. “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe this day is here, it’s so surreal, I have goosebumps,” said Dr. Sarina Sinclair, a key researcher on the team. And then fist pumps all around as Ed jokes about the Hokey Pokey dance being a whole lot easier now. In 2004, Salau’s platoon was ambushed by the enemy while out on patrol in Iraq. Two rocket propelled grenades penetrated his patrol vehicle and his left leg was so badly damaged it later had to be amputated just above the knee. “It’s so weird. I can feel the ground again. I haven’t had that sensation in eleven years,” said Salau. “It’s perfect. I’m stoked” Ed hopes to be able to climb Kilimanjaro one day, but in the near future, a long walk on the beach with his wife is a good start.

“Bryant, you’re up”, said Gillespie. Veteran Bryant Jacobs was also injured in Iraq in 2004. He sees himself as a trailblazer willing to take this risk for other Veterans that may follow. He wife is right by his side as he stands on the POP for the first time. “It’s perfect. That’s what we want. I’m stoked” Bryant wants to be able to use the rowing machine without a prosthetic sleeve jabbing him in the groin. He also wants to snowboard again in the Utah Mountains. After voluntarily having his leg amputated two years ago, Bryant begged to be a part of the clinical study.

The pair is the first ever in the United States to receive the POP implant. Their first surgery was on December 7, 2015, to insert the metal rod. In a follow-up procedure on Feb. 8, 2016, doctors attached a docking mechanism, extending from the implanted rod and through the skin, to which the leg is attached. Both Veterans are already raving about the comfort and fit of the new device. Initial first steps have now become longer stretches of walking and stair climbing. Each day the muscle grows stronger as the rod fuses with the bone, and each day the Veterans feel a little more confident and comfortable with their new legs.

But researchers and physicians warn this is just the beginning of a long process and there may be more barriers to overcome along the way. “As researchers we are anxious to gather our results and allow for future improvements. The thing about research is we don’t have all of the answers when we start,” says Dr. Larry Meyer, Director of Research, VA Salt Lake City Health Care System. This is a VA-funded clinical trial, approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It will assess the feasibility and safety of the new implant in ten VA patients over the course of several years. It could be five years or more before the technology is widely available. [Source: VHA Update | Tom Cramer | April 19, 2016 ++]

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VA Appeals Update 23 COA Rules in Favor of Staab | $48K

A three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims has ruled unanimously that the Department of Veterans Affairs ignored “plain language” of a 2010 statute meant to protect VA-enrolled veterans from out-of-pocket costs when forced to use non-VA emergency medical care. The panel ordered the Board of Veterans’ Appeals to vacate its decision to deny Air Force veteran Richard W. Staab roughly $48,000 in health care costs he was forced to pay following open-heart surgery in December 2010. The board “failed to properly apply the statute and relied on an invalid regulation” to deny Staab’s claim, the court ruled.

The decision benefits only Staab, for now. But hundreds of other VA-enrolled veterans who had alternative health insurance, and so got stuck paying some of their outside emergency care costs since Feb. 1, 2010, when the ignored law took effect, have new legal ground on which to re-file claims for VA reimbursement, said Bart Stichman, one of Staab’s attorneys. These vets should cite the appeals courts’ April 8 Staab v. McDonald decision to argue “clear and unmistakable error” in deciding previous claims, said Stichman, forcing VA claim adjudicators to determine if there was error. Stichman also is joint executive director of the National Veterans Legal Services Program, a nonprofit veterans service organization that brought Staab’s case to the appeals court as it often does on critical benefit issues.

The court, in effect, agreed Staab had been victimized by VA’s convoluted interpretation of a law regarding its obligation to cover non-VA emergency care costs when veterans have other health insurance, including Medicare. VA long has maintained it is obligated to pay emergency costs only for veterans who have no alternative health coverage. The consequence of that logic is that VA-enrolled veterans are better off having no other insurance when a health emergency arises than in having some coverage. For those without insurance, VA agrees it must cover all costs. For those with insurance, VA will cover no costs, forcing veterans to pay whatever expenses Medicare or their health insurance plans will not pay. Recognizing how unfair that is, Congress voted in 2009 to clarify the law, specifically to “allow the VA to reimburse veterans for treatment in a non-VA facility if they have a third-party insurance that would pay a portion of the emergency care.”

To be sure colleagues understood the purpose of the change, Sen. Daniel Akaka, then-chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, made a floor speech that it would “modify current law so that a veteran who has outside insurance would be eligible for reimbursement in the event that the outside insurance does not cover the full amount of the emergency care.” The clarifying statute took effect in February 2010. Yet while rewriting regulations to implement the law, VA officials opted for language that would preserve their former interpretation. Reimbursements for emergency care would be allowed under the revised rule only if the “veteran has no coverage under a health-plan contract” for payment of such care.

In a notice of final rulemaking published April 20, 2012, VA reinforced the point, stating that any entitlement to care or services under an outside health plan, “even a partial one, bars eligibility” for VA reimbursement. That was wrong, the appeals court found. The “plain language” of the revised statute, it wrote, shows Congress “intended VA to reimburse a veteran for that portion of expenses not covered by a health plan contract.” Given the clear meaning, the appeals court deemed the 2012 regulation invalid and ordered it set aside. It also remanded Staab’s case to the appeals board to be re-adjudicated by “properly” applying the law. Staab, 83, learned of the decision Monday. “I thought it was great,” he said in a phone interview

A resident of St. Cloud, Minn., Staab only enrolled in VA care a decade ago after a foot and ankle injury sustained while offloading cargo in the Pacific in 1953 worsened. The VA rated him 30-percent disabled. Staab suffered his 2010 heart attack while helping his wife, who had multiple sclerosis, out of their specially equipped van. He recalled being unable to catch his breath and agreed to get in an ambulance only if someone would tend to his wife. He had emergency heart surgery and soon also a stroke that would require a long rehabilitation. He was six months in hospital and nursing home, learning to speak again, as medical bills piled up. Because Medicare Part A covered only a portion of the rising costs, Staab went home months sooner than his doctors had advised. He forwarded unpaid bills to VA but it denied payment, explaining that because Medicare had paid some of the cost, VA couldn’t cover what remained. “I don’t think that made any sense,” Staab told me. He was forced to draw down his savings, but he did pay all his medical costs, what he estimated for the court totaled $48,000. “That puts a lot of strain on you,” he recalled. His wife died last May.

Jacqueline M. Schuh, a former military attorney in St. Cloud, began to help Staab on a pro bono basis through three levels of administrative appeals. By the time the Board of Veterans’ Appeals rejected their case, Stichman and the NVLSP also were involved. Stichman said he has three other cases before the appeals court that, based on the precedence now set by the three-judge panel, are also likely to be decided for the veteran. “They could have taken any of them but picked Staab first. It’s not uncommon that this [faulty regulation] is used as grounds for denial. As you can imagine, a lot of people are partly covered by some other insurance.”

“Partly our job is to try to get word out to veterans who were denied in the past on this ground that there is a pathway” to reimbursement, Stichman added. “It’s not a-100-percent-certain pathway. But if they file a claim challenging the previous denial based on clear and unmistakable error, then the VA is required to take a look…[T]here’s a very good argument that the regs were clear and unmistakably wrong, given the forcefulness of the court’s decision. “I hope it will help a lot of people,” Staab said. The VA can appeal, Stichman said, but he suggested that would be an embarrassment for the department. [Source: Military.com Advantage Blog | Tom Philpott | April 14, 2016 ++]

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VA Commission on Care Update 04 ► VA Leadership Updates Commission

On 18 APR Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald and Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan D. Gibson updated the Commission on Care laying out the current state of VA and the transformation that is underway to deliver better customer service and results for America’s Veterans. In laying out the key pieces of the transformation underway Secretary McDonald said, “MyVA is our framework for modernizing our culture, processes, and capabilities – combining functions, simplifying operations, providing Veterans a world-class, customer-focused, Veteran-centered enterprise. I know transformational change is not easy but it is our commitment to the Veterans we serve in order to bring them the customer service and the care and benefits they have earned.”

Secretary McDonald outlined the five MyVA strategies focused on customer-service excellence: improve the Veteran experience, improve the employee experience, improve internal support services, establish a culture of continuous improvement, and expand strategic partnerships. He also provided updates on progress made to date of VA’s 12 breakthrough priorities. “We have challenges in VA and we own them, but the transformation that Bob talked about is well underway and already delivering measurable results for improving access to care and improving the Veterans experience,” said Deputy Secretary Gibson. Deputy Secretary Gibson laid out the roadmap for VA to transform from a loose federation of regional systems to a highly integrated enterprise and integrated provider and payer model and presented the following metrics showing that transformation is underway and having positive impact on Veterans care.

  • In a nationwide, one-day Access Stand Down VHA staff reviewed the records of more than 80,000 Veterans to get those waiting for urgent care off of wait lists and into clinics. They identified just over 3,300 patients waiting for more than seven days on the Electronic Wait List (EWL) for an appointment in a Level One clinic. By the end of the day, 80 percent were given an appointment immediately, and 83 percent were given an appointment within two-and-a-half weeks.
  • Real-time customer-satisfaction feedback collected in our medical centers through VetLink—our kiosk-based software—tells us that about 90 percent of Veterans are either “completely satisfied” or “satisfied” getting the appointment when they wanted it.
  • Annual clinical work has increased among VA providers seeing Veterans by almost 18 percent in the last three years; 20 percent when VA and non-VA providers are calculated together.
  • With changes already underway to leverage our scale and build a world class end-to-end supply chain, we have already redirected $24 million back towards activities providing better Veteran outcomes.

These results build on the elements of excellence already in place in VA’s health care system that must be maintained and, in many cases, expanded upon.

  • According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, VA has outperformed the private sector in customer service for a decade.
  • According to a February article in the Journal of American Medicine, 30-day risk-standardized mortality rates are lower in VA than those of non-VA hospitals for acute myocardial infarction and heart failure.
  • The American Journal of Infection Control found that in five years methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections declined 69 percent in VA acute care facilities and 81 percent in spinal cord injury units thanks to VA’s aggressive MRSA prevention plan.
  • The Independent Assessment found that VA performed the same or significantly better than non-VA providers on 12 of 14 effectiveness measures in the inpatient setting.
  • The Independent Assessment also found that VA performed significantly better on 16 outpatient HEDIS measures compared with commercial HMOs and significantly better on 15 outpatient HEDIS measures compared with Medicare HMOs.
  • A 2015 study found that VA mental health care was better than private-sector care by at least 30 percent on all seven performance measures, with VA patients with depression more than twice as likely as private-sector patients to get effective long-term treatment.
  • Another 2015 study found that outcomes for VA patients compared favorably to patients with non-VA health insurance, with VA patients more likely to receive recommended evidence-based treatment.

Secretary McDonald and Deputy Secretary Gibson were joined by VHA’s Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Community Care, Dr. Baligh Yehia, who outlined the history and evolution of VA’s partnering with medical providers in the community to include the Department of Defense, Indian Health Service, several academic medical partner hospitals, and a growing number of private sector providers. He outlined the path forward for the Veterans Health Administration to become an integrated payer and provider, much of which depends on a legislative proposal currently working through Congress.

VA offered demonstrations of three management tools showcasing new technology to improve the way Veterans schedule appointments and how VA health care practitioners can see and interact with patient data, all of which improve outcomes for Veterans and take into account feedback from Veterans and employees. This includes a cell phone app currently in development that will allow Veterans to schedule their own appointments as well as a program that has existed in all VA medical centers for a year-and-a-half that allows VA physicians to view a patient record that integrates information from VA, the Department of Defense and community health partners in one screen. VA’s presentation to the Commission on Care follows a presentation less than a month ago from VA’s Under Secretary for Health, Dr. David Shulkin who laid out actions already underway at the Veterans Health Administration and the vision to move it into the future that embraces an integrated community care model. [Source: VA News Release | April 18, 2016 ++]

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VA Commission on Care Update 05 ► MOAA | Fix, Don’t Dismantle VA

The Commission on Care is wrapping up its report to Congress on how best to organize the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) for the next generation of veterans. With roughly two months left for the Commission to write its recommendations, the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) joined several veteran organizations at a meeting with commissioners on 18 APR to discuss the Commission’s work, but more importantly to convey what type of health system veterans want, need, and deserve. The veterans panel offered stories, survey data, and viewpoints on four critical topic areas:

  • The role of the VHA
  • The role of non-VA (community care) health care providers
  • How veterans will need to access care in the future
  • How to strengthen veterans’ health care programs

MOAA reiterated many of the points outlined in a letter sent earlier this month, disagreeing with some who say the VHA is “broken beyond repair.” MOAA acknowledged that the system is in need of immediate attention and reform, but urged the commissioners to find a way to fix the problems and not simply migrate the system to community-based services. MOAA is concerned such a move would lose the best aspects and most critical functions of the system, such as spinal cord and polytrauma care. The group praised VA Secretary Robert McDonald’s MyVA transformation efforts, asking the commissioners to keep this in mind as they formulate their recommendations. “The integration and coordination of care is critical in any health system,” said MOAA Deputy Director of Government Relations Cdr. René Campos, USN (Ret). “Not just veterans, but American medicine relies on VHA work, and these linkages are important, unlike any health system in the public sector.”

Campos reminded commissioners in the aftermath of the 2011 tornado in Joplin, Mo., and Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy in 2005 and 2012, the VA was able to support thousands of displaced veterans to ensure continuity of medical care and benefits because of VA’s electronic health record. Panelists talked about the importance of talking and listening to other veterans, citing a recent Veterans of Foreign Wars survey. The survey also showed quality of care, availability of appointments, travel distance, and cost as the top four reasons for veterans using VA health care. “If you are going to eliminate the functionalities of the VA, you actually are reducing choice, not adding choice,” said Bill Rausch, Executive Director of Got Your Six.

At www.vfw.org/uploadedFiles/VFW.org/VFW_in_DC/IB_AFrameworkforVeteransHealthCareReform.pdf can be seen all the recommendations the VFW presented to the Commission for improving access to quality health care. The Top VA leaders spoke to the commission later in the day, providing a progress report on changes in the health system to date. Many of these changes have had a positive impact on veterans care, such as: a new employee and leadership training program; one-day stand downs to reduce the backlog of urgent care appointments; real-time customer satisfaction feedback; and expansion of clinical hours to see more patients-all with a focus on care that is veteran-centric. MOAA recognizes the tough job ahead for commissioners as they craft their report to the President and Congress. We greatly appreciate the significant amount of time commissioners gave to hearing our concerns and recommendations. [Source: MOAA Legislative Update | April 22, 2016 ++]

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VA Privatization Update 03 ► Evidence Does Not Support Need

There are few areas where there is more bipartisan support than the need to provide adequate health care for the country’s veterans. While many of us opposed the war in Iraq and other recent military adventures, we still recognize the need to provide medical services for the people who put their lives at risk. This is why it is especially annoying to see right-wing groups invent scandals around the Veteran Administration’s hospitals in order to advance an agenda of privatizing the system. If there was a real reason to believe that the current system is badly hurting our veterans, and that they would be better cared for under a privatized system, then it would be reasonable to support the transition. But this is the opposite of the reality. All the evidence suggests that a privatized system would make worse any problems veterans now face in getting care — and it is likely to cost more money.

To back up a step, we actually have a great deal of evidence on the quality of care provided by the VA system. In an outstanding book, The Best Care Anywhere, Washington Monthly editor Phillip Longman documents how the VA’s system of integrative care outperforms the models used by private insurers. The key point was that the VA system effectively tracks patients through their various contacts with doctors and other health care professionals. This reduces the likelihood that they will get unneeded treatment, but more importantly, ensures that the patient’s doctors are aware of the other treatments their patient is receiving. A major problem for patients seeing multiple doctors is that none of them may have full knowledge of the set of conditions afflicting the patient or the drugs they might be taking. By keeping a central system and having a general practitioner assigned to oversee the patient’s care, the VA system minimizes this source of mistakes. In fact, this model is so successful that most providers have tried to move in the same direction in recent years.

Longman was writing about the VA system of the 1990s, which had undergone a remarkable turnaround under the leadership of Kenneth Kizer who President Clinton had appointed to head up the health care system as Under Secretary of Veterans Affairs. The quality of care established by Kizer deteriorated somewhat under President Bush. This was partly a result of the large inflow of new veterans associated with the administration’s wars. It was also partly due to the fact that Bush’s political appointees showed the same sort of commitment to veterans’ health as his appointees to the Federal Emergency Management Agency did to preparing for disasters like Hurricane Katrina. Nonetheless, as Alicia Mundy points out in a recent Washington Monthly piece, the VA system still did quite well by most measures. An analysis done for the VA in 2010 found that nearly all the studies comparing the quality of VA care with its counterparts in the private and public sector found that the VA provided care that was as good or better than what was available in its competitors.

Given this reality, the proponents of privatization had to invent a scandal to push their case, and they got one. They found evidence of substantial waiting lists at the VA hospital in Phoenix. According to accounts promoted in the media, 40 patients died while they were waiting to see a doctor. This of course sounds horrible. In reality, a report by the VA’s Inspector General found that six, not forty patients had died while waiting for appointments. And it wasn’t clear that in any of these cases the death was related to lack of treatment. But the reality didn’t matter, the right had their story and they were determined to push it everywhere they could. The Koch brothers funded a new veterans organization, Concerned Veterans of America (CVA), which made attacking the VA health care system the major goal of its work. While full-fledged privatization is clearly a step too far at this point (most veterans really value the health care they get through the VA system), their goal is to piecemeal privatization through a process of gradually outsourcing more and more services.

As this process gains momentum, full-scale privatization may look like less of a lift. The outsourcing is likely to undermine the quality of care, most importantly by making the VA system’s practice of integrative care more difficult It is also likely to increase costs, since the privatized services will almost invariably cost more than the services provided through the VA. In short, the practice of outsourcing more services from the VA and eventually privatizing it is likely to be a really bad deal from the standpoint of the country’s veterans. It is also likely to be a bad deal from the standpoint of taxpayers, who will be getting a larger bill for lower quality care. But, it is likely to be a very good deal for the contractors making profits on VA business, and for that reason privatization of the VA is a very real threat. [Source: Huffpost Politics Blog | Dean Baker | April 25, 2016 ++]

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VA Medical Marijuana Update 19 ► DEA Approves PTSD Study

The Drug Enforcement Agency has given its blessing to a study on the effect of medical marijuana on post-traumatic stress disorder, the first randomized, controlled research in the U.S. for PTSD that will use the actual plant instead of oils or synthesized cannabis. According to the research’s nonprofit sponsor, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, the DEA’s approval gives researchers the go-ahead to buy the marijuana for the study from the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Once the marijuana has been secured, the group will begin recruiting and enrolling participants, perhaps as early as June, MAPS spokesman Brad Burge said.

“The contract with the state of Colorado was signed on April 20 — an unofficial national holiday in some circles — meaning the funds are en route to MAPS. We are now preparing to place the order for the marijuana for the study,” Burge said in an email to Military Times. Colorado in 2014 awarded a $2 million grant to MAPS for the research and at the same time gave an additional $5.6 million to several other organizations to support medical marijuana studies. The research first received approval in March 2014 from the Health and Human Services Department and was set to get underway at the University of Arizona and other locations within a year. But the program was delayed after the Tucson, Arizona, school terminated the contract of Dr. Sue Sisley, who was then the primary researcher on the program. Marcel Bonn-Miller with the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine is now overseeing the project, with Sisley running half the study in Arizona and Ryan Vandrey overseeing the other half at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Work also will be conducted at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Participants will include 76 veterans who have treatment-resistant PTSD. The study will use marijuana of various strains and potency for comparison purposes.

The use of medical marijuana to treat PTSD remains controversial because while some veterans say the plant eases their symptoms and has allowed them to stop using prescription medications, very little scientific research supports these claims. Advocates say the research will fill a much-needed gap in medical literature. “This is a critical step in moving our botanical drug development program forward at the federal level to gather information on the dosing, risks, and benefits of smoked marijuana for PTSD symptoms,” said Amy Emerson, director of clinical research for the MAPS Public Benefit Corporation. [Source: Military Times | Patricia Kime | April 21, 2016 ++]

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VA Women Advisory Committee Update 04 5 New Appointments

Five new members were recently appointed to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Advisory Committee on Women Veterans (Committee), an expert panel that advises VA’s Secretary on issues and programs impacting women Veterans. Established in 1983, the Committee makes recommendations to the Secretary for policy and legislative changes. “The Committee’s guidance is instrumental in shaping VA policy for women Veterans, and providing insight on their diverse needs,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald. “VA anticipates the important contributions and fresh perspectives the newest members will offer to this invaluable Committee.” The new members appointed to the VA Advisory Committee on Women Veterans are:

  • Kailyn Bobb, Plumas Lake, CA. A U.S. Air Force Veteran; currently pursuing a doctoral degree in clinical psychology from California School of Professional Psychology, Alliant International University.
  • Keith Howard-Streicher, Alexandria, VA. A Veteran of the U.S. Army; currently serves as Assistant Director, Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division, at The American Legion.
  • Edna Boyd Jones, Norcross, GA. A retired U.S. Army Colonel, with service in the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom; currently serves as the Assistant Professor of Nursing at Albany State University.
  • Leslie N. Smith, King George, VA. A retired U.S. Army Captain; currently serves as co-founder and spokesperson for Fatigues to Fabulous, a non-profit women Veterans organization.
  • Janet M. West, Jacksonville, FL. An active duty U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander, with service in Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom; currently serves as senior medical officer at Jacksonville Naval Air Station Branch Health Clinic.

Mary Westmoreland (Retired U.S. Army Colonel), who has diligently served on the Committee since 2012, was appointed as the Committee’s new chair. Committee members Sara McVicker (U.S. Navy Veteran) Washington, DC, and Tia Christopher (U.S. Navy Veteran), Dallas, TX were reappointed for an additional term. For information about VA’s benefits and services for women Veterans, visit www.va.gov/womenvet or contact the Women Veterans Call Center at 1-855-829-6636. The Women Veterans Call Center is available to address concerns of women Veterans, their families and caregivers, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., ET, and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., ET.

Note: People wishing to receive e-mail from VA with the latest news releases and updated fact sheets can subscribe to the VA Office of Public Affairs Distribution List at http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/opa_listserv.asp

[Source: VA News Release | April 18, 2016 ++]

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VA Pain Management Update 07 ► Patient Marijuana Use Impact

Vietnam veteran Gary Dixon was denied prescription medication by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The reason: they found marijuana in his bloodstream. “I went in to get a refill on my pain medication and they refused to let me have it because I have marijuana in my blood,” he told KSNT news station. Dixon is suffering from terminal lung cancer, stage four. As a result, his wife Debbie takes him to the Topeka, Kansas VA for stroke treatment and medication refills. On Sept. 8, 2015, instead refilling his prescriptions however, the VA had him fill out an opiate consent form and take a urine test, which showed he had marijuana in his bloodstream.

Air crew members from Georgia's Army National Guard Counter Drug Task Force patrolled the skies north of Rome looking for marijuana grows today.

Exposed to Agent Orange during his time in the service, Dixon admits to smoking marijuana to combat the physical pain and emotional trauma of the Vietnam War. The 65-year old added that he has been using marijuana since 1972. “I have always had marijuana in my blood and will continue to have it in my blood,” Dixon said. Dixon’s case highlights a larger issue with VA guidelines. Under these provisions, veterans can fill out an opiate consent form, which tells them the negative effects of mixing painkillers and marijuana. Though marijuana isn’t federally legal, in 21 states it can be used for medicinal purposes. As a result veterans, have started turning to their states for medicinal marijuana. But for many it comes at the cost of their VA prescriptions for painkillers.

USA Today reported that “veterans who have admitted to participating in a state marijuana program say the VA has forced them to choose between their prescription narcotic painkillers — such as Vicodin, Oxycontin and Percocet — or marijuana,” according to Michael Krawitz, president of Veterans for Medical Marijuana Access. While the VA can’t actually take away benefits for marijuana use, it will oftentimes alter medical treatment for veterans by eliminating their access to painkillers until they test negative for it. Krawitz added that when forced to choose, veterans usually pick marijuana. Dixon, like many veterans, said he will continue to smoke marijuana and try instead to find $400 for his monthly painkiller prescription. [Source: Task & Purpose | Sarah Sicard | April 20, 2016 ++]

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VA Claims Processing Update 16 ► Related Document Shredding | Systemic Problem

The Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (OIG) says the VA is improperly shredding documents related to veterans benefits claims, and says the problem is “systemic” throughout the VA. The OIG released a report 14 APR that said the controls put in place by the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) are “not effective,” and aren’t stopping VA regional offices, or VAROs, from “potentially destroying claims-related documents.”

The report was done after complaints that VA officials in Los Angeles were shredding mail related to claims. After making recommendations to the Los Angeles office, the OIG examined 10 VA offices around the country to see if there were similar problems. “VBA’s controls were not fully effective in preventing VARO staff from destroying claims-related documents at six of the 10 VAROs, where we performed unannounced inspections,” it said. “We found that 69 of 155 claims-related documents (45 percent) — which VARO staff had not matched to veterans’ claims folders — were improperly scheduled for destruction.” “As we identified problems at six of the 10 VAROs, we concluded this is a systemic issue within VBA,” it said.

The OIG said that of the 69 claims documents that were about to be shredded, 11 either affected or had the potential to affect benefits claims. While the rest didn’t, the report said those documents were still required to be included in veterans’ claims folders. The OIG said the problem shouldn’t be underestimated. “[T]he potential effect on veterans should not be minimized,” its report said. “Considering that there are 56 VAROs and if weekly shredding is conducted, it is highly likely that claims-related documents at other VAROs are being improperly scheduled for destruction that could result in loss of claims and evidence, incorrect decisions and delays in claims processing.”

The OIG blamed “unclear and confusing” policies for the scheduled destruction of documents. Concerned Veterans for America said the problem is just the latest piece of evidence that the VA’s internal problems are causing real problems for vets. “What this report makes clear is that these systemic issues plaguing the Veterans Benefits Administration, and the agency as a whole, have very real impacts on veterans across the country,” CVA spokesman John Cooper told the Washington Examiner. “Many veterans are waiting months, even years, for their benefits, and now we learn that even more of them may be at risk of delayed benefits because VA employees are improperly handling, or just flat-out destroying, their claims documents,” he said. “At what point will VA leadership get serious about fixing these problems?” [Source: Washington Examiner | Pete Kasperowicz | April 15, 2016 ++]

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VA Privatization Update 02 ► Not What Veterans Want

When it comes to how to strengthen the Department of Veterans Affairs, candidates, Congressmen and pundits need to stop talking and start listening—specifically, listening to veterans. Privatized health care is not what veterans want, yet just last week a congressionally-authorized Commission was discussing whether to shut down the entire VA health care system over the next twenty years.

In a recent survey of America’s 22 million veterans conducted by global research firm GfK for the DAV (Disabled American Veterans), 87 percent of veterans said the federal government should provide a health system dedicated to the needs of ill and injured veterans. The same message came from veterans surveyed by the well-respected and bipartisan survey team of Lake Research and Chesapeake Beach Consulting. Their survey found that regardless of political party, branch of service or geography, America’s veterans strongly oppose privatizing VA health care. Eighty percent oppose turning VA health care into a system of private sector vouchers, and more than half of the veterans surveyed said that they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supported privatization, including 53% of veterans who identified as Republicans, 57% of independents and 67% of Democrats.

Looking at how privatization proposals would radically change veterans health care shows why so many strongly oppose this idea. For example, moving all veterans out of the federally-run VA health care system and into private sector hospitals or insurance programs would result in a shift from veteran-centric health care to financially-driven medical care. In all likelihood, the same economic pressures forcing private doctors to see more patients per hour by shortening appointment times will negatively affect veterans health care. Corporate imperatives to increase profit margins could become as important as clinical considerations about how to treat PTSD, TBI and other complex medical conditions. And millions of veterans might have to choose whether they can afford to get all the care they require if they have to pay more out-of-pocket in copayments and deductibles for private care.

Even proposals that call for only privatizing the leadership of the VA health care system, by converting it from a public system to a private nonprofit corporation similar to Amtrak or the U.S. Postal Service, would make it run more like a for-profit business. Such a change would put management of the VA in the hands of an unaccountable entity driven by corporate considerations, with little oversight by Congress or veterans themselves. This would allow the Board to close VA hospitals, determine which veterans are eligible for care and how much care they can get.

There’s no question that the VA health care system needs to change—dramatically—to meet the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s veterans. But that can’t be accomplished by ripping apart the VA and forcing veterans to navigate health care on their own in the private sector. Instead, the way to improve veterans health care is by building upon the strengths of VA, which includes unparalleled expertise treating the unique conditions of ill and injured veterans, while working to fix systemic problems hindering the delivery of care. As the RAND Corporation has recently confirmed, when veterans get access to VA care, the quality is high. In fact, RAND found that on 12 of 14 objective measures, VA health care performed the same or significantly better than non-VA health care systems.

In order to create the health care system veterans have earned and deserve, VA needs to remain focused on providing high-quality, accessible, comprehensive and veteran-centric medical care. That will require the creation of local veterans health care networks that seamlessly integrate community care into an improved VA system to ensure veterans get the best health care, when and where they need it. At the same time, VA should take advantage of private sector expertise in nonmedical support services like construction, maintenance and development of IT infrastructure. VA must continue to push forward with its MyVA initiative designed to improve veterans’ experience and satisfaction with VA health care based on the best practices in the private sector. And Congress must ensure that VA has the resources needed to hire sufficient medical personnel, expand treatment space, and update technology and systems.

The federal government has a responsibility to make sure veterans have access to quality health care. America’s 22 million veterans need—and have every right to expect—the government to live up to this responsibility. That certainly won’t happen if Uncle Sam hands some unqualified, private entity the keys to every VA medical facility and clinic. [Source: Military Advantage Blog | Garry J. Augustine (DAV) | April 12, 2016 ++]

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VA Health Care Enrollment Update 06 Disciplinary Action Pending

Seven Veterans Affairs employees, including two senior executives, face disciplinary action for their involvement in a scandal surrounding the department’s health care enrollment system, which last year was found to contain the names of 300,000 deceased veterans. VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson said 15 APR the employees, from the VA’s Health Eligibility Center in Atlanta, Georgia, and VA Member Services, and two Veterans Health Administration senior executives with “responsibility for enrollment and eligibility programs,” have received disciplinary notices. They have 30 days to respond and remain at work while the process unfolds, Gibson added. “This is a process that has not served veterans well. It’s been broken for a long time,” Gibson said. “I have not seen the evidence, but my presumption is the charges are associated with management negligence and failure to take appropriate action.”

The VA Office of Inspector General last year found that the VA’s health enrollment system contained 847,882 pending applications, some dating back 20 years, and more than 300,000 from veterans who had since died. The investigation also found that roughly 10,000 applications may have been deleted from the system and veterans not notified of the error. VA has been under fire for the past year over its handling of holding employees accountable for mistakes and misconduct. Congress in 2014 passed legislation that allowed VA to accelerate the disciplinary process but said VA officials have been slow to react or to terminate employees when appropriate.

In December, Gibson said VA was making its own changes to the process, no longer waiting for outside investigations to be completed before moving ahead with punishment and stopping placing employees on paid leave during disciplinary investigations. Regarding the actions proposed against employees overseeing the health enrollment system, Gibson said he would not “get into specifics,” but would announce any “conclusive actions,” when they are done. Since December, VA has been chipping away at the health applications backlog, starting with 34,000 combat veterans who should have automatically qualified for health care but wound up in the application system accidentally. According to Gibson, VA has since enrolled 6,500 of those veterans and continues to work to contact the remaining.

VA also has started to reach out to the remaining 500,000 veterans in the system, having enrolled 11,000 veterans in the past two weeks and reaching a decision on care for another 10,000 former service members. VA in March announced that post 9/11 combat veterans who have applied for health care but have not heard from the department could enroll by phone. On 15 APR, Gibson said starting on Memorial Day, veterans will be able to apply for health care online, through a new portal, www.vets.gov . VA will abolish a requirement that all veterans provide a signed application for health care on 5 JUL, he added. [Source: Military Times | Patricia Kime | April 15, 2016 ++]

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Non-VA Facility Care Update 03: Emergency Medical Expenses Claim Clarification

In early APR Stars and Stripes reported that the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims ruled that the Department of Veterans Affairs “ignored ‘plain language’ of a 2010 statute meant to protect VA-enrolled veterans from out-of-pocket costs when forced to use non-VA emergency medical care.” The case revolved around a Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) decision to deny Air Force veteran Richard W. Staab’s request for a $48,000 reimbursement after he was forced to pay out of pocket following emergency open-heart surgery in December 2010. The board “failed to properly apply the statute and relied on an invalid regulation” to deny Staab’s claim; the Court of Appeals for VA Claims ordered the BVA decision vacated.

For now, the decision only applies to Staab. There are possibly hundreds of other VA-enrolled veterans who had alternative health insurance, and so got stuck paying some of their outside emergency care costs. The decision does not apply to medical claims that occurred prior to Feb. 1, 2010, when the law took effect. Those veterans who have had claims for reimbursement denied since then, however, have new legal ground on which to re-file their claims for VA reimbursement. These vets should cite the appeals court’s April 8, 2016 Staab v. McDonald decision. Make sure you argue “clear and unmistakable error” in deciding previous claims. This should force VA claim adjudicators to determine if there was error.

The problem arose from VA’s interpretation of a law regarding its obligation to cover non-VA emergency care costs when veterans have other health insurance, including Medicare. Traditionally, VA has claimed that it is obligated to pay emergency costs only for veterans who have no alternative health coverage. The perverse incentive of that position is that VA-enrolled veterans are better off having no other insurance when a health emergency arises than in having some coverage. For those without insurance, VA has always agreed it must cover all costs. For those with insurance, VA decided long ago that it would cover no costs, forcing veterans to pay whatever expenses Medicare or their health insurance plans, will not pay. Recognizing how unfair that is, Congress voted in 2009 to clarify the law, specifically to “allow the VA to reimburse veterans for treatment in a non-VA facility if they have a third-party insurance that would pay a portion of the emergency care.”

Make sure you tell every veteran you know about this decision! There are hundreds of people who have been wrongfully denied reimbursement for emergency medical care by the VA; the news needs to be spread! [Source: TREA Update | April 18, 2016 ++]

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VA Appointments Update 14 MASS Contract Put on Hold

A Department of Veterans Affairs contract to modernize the VA’s system for managing medical appointments has been put on hold, pending the outcome of an internal initiative to update its legacy system. Last year, the VA awarded Lockheed Martin’s Systems Made Simple the worth $624 million Medical Appointment Scheduling System (MASS) contract, with the goal of replacing the system by 2017 with commercial off-the-shelf software through a series of incremental upgrades. However, despite Congress concern, the agency has decided to put the acquisition on the backburner for now while it takes a homegrown technology approach. “VA planned to conduct an initial pilot of MASS in Boise, Idaho, through 2016 but it was never started, and activity on MASS has apparently been suspended,” said Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, during a 14 APR hearing. “This decision is a dramatic about-face. It means sticking with the government-developed technology indefinitely.”

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Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI) MD, chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health, agreed, saying that VA’s IT projects often have “progressed to a critical decision point and then been abandoned in favor of another initiative or plan.” Benishek warned that “maintaining manual systems and deferring to archaic operating systems as a default cannot continue—we need a sense of urgency.” The MASS procurement was supposed to fix inefficiencies at VA facilities, many of which have struggled to provide timely healthcare services to veterans by inaccurately recording the required dates for appointments and inconsistently tracking new patients waiting for outpatient medical appointments, resulting in delays in care delivery.

“The wait time crisis in Phoenix highlighted the VA’s antiquated scheduling system and how difficult it was to use,” added Rep. Ann Kuster (D-NH), ranking member of the Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. “Modern IT systems and processes are critical to ensuring that patients receive quality coordinated care…VA’s outdated and cumbersome patient scheduling system was a major contributor to the patient access crisis and remains a challenge.” Kuster stated that MASS was a “promising response to the clear inadequacies of the current system.” Yet, despite the VA spending $27.5 million on a pilot for the new scheduling system, she argued that the VA’s putting the acquisition on hold “seems like déjà vu all over again” and in the process has “wasted nine years and $127 million without an update to its scheduling system after finding a commercial product and abandoning that for an in-house solution that could not deliver an adequate update.”

VA’s change in direction on MASS comes at a time when department is also re-considering its planned modernization of the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA). The agency is re-evaluating future clinical needs to determine whether it should move forward with VistA or follow the lead of the Department of Defense and procure a commercial EHR system. “We want to be certain that continuous modernization of a 40-year-old electronic medical record is an appropriate decision as well as our approach to modernizing scheduling,” David Shulkin, MD, under secretary for health at the Veterans Health Administration, told lawmakers. “We will share this vision with you this summer.”

Currently, the VA is piloting homegrown “Microsoft Outlook-type” scheduling solutions in two facilities, ramping up to 11 other centers shortly, with an eventual national rollout possible, according to Shulkin. While the department might ultimately decide to implement its own technology, he quickly reiterated that they “have not ruled out MASS” but have merely paused the contract which they “can execute on at any time.” From a cost perspective, Shulkin asserted that its national-level pilot of its own in-house technology this summer will cost $6.4 million, compared with about $152 million for a MASS pilot at three sites over 10 months. “That’s if VA stays on schedule with its pilots,” he concluded. LaVerne Council, VA’s CIO and assistant secretary for IT, testified that MASS is based on “a capacity scheduling and work planning system” within the Epic electronic health record system. Systems Made Simple, the prime contractor for MASS, was unavailable for comment. A senior Epic official declined to comment. [Source: Health Data Management | Greg Slabodkin | April 18 2016 ++]

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VA Health Care Access Update 37 GAO | Wait time Problem Not Fixed

The Department of Veterans Affairs has not done enough to prevent schedulers from manipulating appointment wait times, and wait-time data remains misleading and underestimates how long veterans wait for care, according to a nonpartisan watchdog report released 18 APR. “Ongoing scheduling problems continue to affect the reliability of wait-time data,” the Government Accountability Office found. The GAO said the VA has taken a “piecemeal approach” to addressing the problems since the wait-time scandal broke in 2014 in Phoenix, where schedulers falsified wait times and at least 40 veterans died awaiting care. But the agency needs to take comprehensive action, the GAO concluded in its audit, which stretched from January 2015 through last month.

Auditors found schedulers at three of the six medical centers they reviewed had improperly changed dates so the VA system falsely showed shorter or zero wait times. In a review of scheduling records for 60 individual veterans at those three centers, they found improper scheduling in 15 — or 25% — of the appointments. While the system showed average wait times of between four and 28 days in the cases reviewed, the actual averages were between 11 and 48 days. The audit characterized the schedulers’ actions as mistakes rather than deliberate falsification. “Until a comprehensive scheduling policy is finalized, disseminated, and consistently followed by schedulers, the likelihood for scheduling errors will persist,” the GAO said in its draft report.

The findings bolster recent claims by VA whistle-blowers that schedulers across the country are still falsifying wait times. And they cast doubt on the effectiveness of corrective actions VA officials touted as recently as 10 days ago. USA TODAY reported April 7 that the VA inspector general found schedulers at 40 VA medical facilities in 19 states and Puerto Rico regularly “zeroed out” veteran wait times and supervisors at seven of those facilities instructed them to do so. VA officials at the time said many of those probes had been finished more than a year ago and they had already imposed discipline in some cases and instituted refresher training for all schedulers. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest acknowledged Monday the pace of reform has been slow, but that President Obama has made the issue a priority and the administration is making progress. “There is no denying that the problems that the VA has encountered for more than a decade now have been deeply entrenched,” he said. “ We have made important progress in ensuring that veterans are getting the benefits that they have so richly earned. That said, work remains to be done.”

In response to the new GAO report, VA spokeswoman Walinda West issued a statement saying the agency “agreed with its conclusions” but adding that it has “built a strong system of checks and balances to detect scheduling errors and potential manipulation since the GAO findings.” The VA said it also is working on a new national scheduling directive and is in the process of testing and deploying a new scheduling program to make it easier to book appointments. That’s not good enough for Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL),chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, who has been pushing the VA to do more to hold employees accountable. “This report proves what we’ve long known: wait-time manipulation continues at VA and the department’s wait-time rhetoric doesn’t match up with the reality of veterans’ experiences,” Miller said. “But given the fact that VA has successfully fired just four people for wait-time manipulation while letting the bulk of those behind its nationwide delays-in-care scandal off with no discipline or weak slaps on the wrist, I am not at all surprised these problems persist.”

The GAO audit focused on primary care for newly enrolled veterans and said its findings should not be generalized, but it did not limit its conclusions to those patients. Auditors selected six centers with varying sizes and geographic locations for their sample. They are in Leeds, Mass.; Nashville, Tenn.; Fayetteville, N.C.; Charleston, S.C.; Leavenworth, Kan.; and San Diego, Calif. The GAO did not identify which three locations showed false wait times. Local VA officials overseeing five of the six centers told the GAO their own internal audits also found schedulers continuing to enter dates improperly. At one of the medical centers — the GAO didn’t say which one — an audit of 1,200 appointments between January and June 2015 found scheduling problems with 205 of them. The local VA officials blamed national VA officials for confusing directions about changes to scheduling policies that had been “ineffective and may be contributing to continued scheduling errors,” the GAO report states.

The VA, in its response to the report, said it will review the situation and make improvements where necessary by the end of the year. “While we know we can do more to improve our access to care, we are aggressively implementing changes in our systems, training and processes to improve access,” the statement said. “We are doing everything we can to rebuild the trust of our veterans who depend on VA for care.” [Source: USA TODAY | Donovan Slack | April 18, 2016 ++]

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VA HBPC Update 02 ► Sharing Advantages of VA Home Based Care

“How inconvenient and needlessly expensive it is for a chronically ill patient who cannot walk to be brought to a clinic by an ambulance crew. “How much more sense it makes for medical people to go to them. In the patient’s home I am in their milieu, and can better understand how they cope with their illness day to day’ Dr. Milton Havron is describing VA’s Home Based Primary Care program. He is the director of the program at the Martinsburg, WV, VAMC and one of VA’s proudest proponents of the program. In a recent letter to the Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/personalized-medicine-meets-technology-in-home-based-care-programs/2016/02/16/d4febd5c-d433-11e5-a65b-587e721fb231_story.html, Dr. Havron agreed with a doctor who says “In today’s corporatized, professionally fragmented medical landscape, it is almost impossible for a primary-care doctor to take the time to truly connect with patients and their families.” Dr. Havron’s friendly rejoinder was, “I am blessed, however, to work in a setting that allows just that: the Veterans Health Administration.”

A doctor visits a patient in his home and takes his hand.

Dr. Milton Havron treats a Veteran patient in his home.

Home based primary care (HBPC), pioneered in the VA system in the mid-1970s, started with a few major centers. Today it has expanded to about 150 programs at VA centers around the country. It is designed to take care of patients with serious chronic illnesses for whom routine clinic-based care is difficult to get due to geographic barriers or severe physical disability. As Dr. Havron describes HBPC, “I can spend time getting to know their principal caretakers. I can spot things going on in their homes which may impede their progress. The design of VA’s HBPC program allows me and my staff time to do a comprehensive assessment which is very difficult in the private sector due to time pressure. “HBPC also serves as an alternative to institutionalized assisted living, allowing the infirm Veteran to stay home. Without regular easily accessible medical care, many of these frail patients will get sick and get admitted to the hospital for prolonged stays. “While HBPC cannot prevent all such hospitalizations, the statistics tell the story that patients admitted to VA HBPC programs have fewer and shorter hospitalizations, saving on inpatient expenses and sparing the patient much suffering and inconvenience.”

Dr. Havron says that there are many HBPC medical directors around the country doing the same thing he does. “HBPC is a team concept with multiple players, from our head of geriatrics Dr. Elisabeth Sethi, to the midlevels, the RNs, the allied professionals, and our staff.” Dr. Sethi points out that, “Under Dr. Havron’s leadership, our HBPC program has been one of the fastest growing nationally, supported by VHA rural health grants, by our facility and the VISN (Veterans Integrated Service Network).” HBPC programs generally offer these core services to patients in their homes:

  • A medical provider (physician, nurse-practitioner, or physician assistant) to take a history, examine the patient and prescribe a course of treatment
  • A registered nurse to act as the provider’s eyes and ears in between provider visits
  • A psychologist if counseling is required
  • A social worker to untie many a bureaucratic knot
  • A pharmacist to help providers prescribe medications in the safest and most effective way
  • A physical or occupational therapist to check the home for safety and prescribe exercises for musculoskeletal ailments.

Dr. Thomas Edes, Executive Director of VA’s Geriatrics & Extended Care Clinical Operations, adds, “HBPC is an important part of the future of health care, demonstrating that for those who have the greatest need for frequent care yet face the greatest challenges in access to care, we can increase access, improve quality, and lower total costs of care. The success of VA HBPC contributed to the successful implementation of the Medicare demonstration of

HBPC called “Independence at Home.”

HBPC also works alongside home hospice services for terminal patients and with specialized home care nurses providing wound care or short-term intravenous drug therapy in the home. In recent years VA has also been developing telemedicine as a way to bring at-home patients and specialist doctors together. Home-based primary-care programs can be a refuge where doctors, and their nurse-practitioner and physician-assistant colleagues, can practice traditional personalized medicine while enjoying the benefits of modern communications technology. “I am proud that the VA has been a leader in this concept,” he said. [Source: VHA Update | Hans Petersen | April 26, 2016 ++]

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VA Fraud, Waste & Abuse Reported 16 thru 30 APR 2016

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Boston MA – Pharmaceutical company Warner Chilcott was sentenced 15 APR in U.S. District Court in Boston to pay $125 million to resolve criminal and civil liability arising from the illegal promotion of various drugs. “Doctors’ diagnoses must be based on the best interests of the patient, and not swayed by lavish meals or cash incentives,” said United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz. “Today’s sentence sends a message to the health care industry: the government will take action and hold companies accountable when they prioritize profits over patient care.”

  • “Today’s sentencing sends a firm message that pharmaceutical companies will be held accountable when they commit fraud and put profit over patient care,” said Harold H. Shaw, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Division. “This investigation demonstrates the FBI’s commitment to aggressively investigate pharmaceutical companies who pay kickbacks to physicians to prescribe their products”
  • “Pharmaceutical companies and employees that provide physicians with kickbacks will be held accountable for their deplorable conduct,” said Special Agent in Charge Phillip M. Coyne of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. “We will continue to crack down on kickback arrangements, which can undermine drug choices for patients, cause spikes in health care costs, and erode the public’s trust in our health care system.”
  • “VA spends billions of dollars on medical care, so pursuing health care fraud investigations with our Federal law enforcement partners is a priority for VA OIG,” said Jeffrey G. Hughes, Special Agent in Charge, Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General. “The importance of pharmaceutical cases such as this one is magnified because VA civil damages are returned to the VA’s Pharmaceutical Supply Fund for the direct benefit of our Nation’s veterans.”
  • “The illegal marketing of pharmaceuticals and the payment of kickbacks puts patients at risk of receiving inappropriate treatment purely for profit motives,” said U.S. Office of Personnel Management Acting Inspector General Norbert E. Vint. “We appreciate the efforts of all the investigating agencies and the Department of Justice that have held this company accountable for its actions and thereby protected the patients, including those insured by the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.”

Warner Chilcott was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor, IV, to pay a criminal fine of $20,742,054, forfeiture of $2 million, and $197,946 in restitution to two insurance companies. The company also agreed to pay $102,060,000 to resolve related civil claims. In October 2015, Warner Chilcott pleaded guilty in connection with a multi-pronged health care fraud scheme involving the illegal promotion of the drugs Actonel®, Asacol®, Atelvia®, Doryx®, Enablex®, Estrace®, and Loestrin®, and various formulations of these drugs. From 2009 to 2013, Warner Chilcott paid remuneration to physicians in order to induce those physicians to prescribe Warner Chilcott drugs, which is illegal. Warner Chilcott provided payments, meals, and other remuneration associated with so-called “Medical Education Events.” These events, which were often held at expensive restaurants, frequently contained minimal or no educational component, and were instead used to pay prescribing physicians in an attempt to gain a competitive advantage over other pharmaceutical companies. Warner Chilcott also paid numerous high-prescribing physicians to be “speakers” for the company for the primary purpose of obtaining prescriptions.

During the same period of time, Warner Chilcott submitted false, inaccurate, or misleading prior authorization requests to federal health care programs for the osteoporosis medications Atelvia® and Actonel®. A prior authorization request contains protected health information, including biographical data and information concerning a patient’s medical condition. Warner Chilcott falsified and manipulated prior authorizations by providing false medical justifications for the prescriptions, often filling out the prior authorizations themselves. The fraudulent requests were provided to certain insurance companies in order to overcome restrictions that favored less expensive osteoporosis drugs. In some instances, Warner Chilcott sales representatives submitted these prior authorizations directly to insurance companies, holding themselves out to be physicians. In addition, Warner Chilcott made unsubstantiated superiority claims when marketing the drug Actonel® even though the claim was not supported by clinical evidence. Physicians that were told Actonel® was superior to other bisphosphonates due to its supposedly unique “mechanism of action.”

The civil settlement resolved illegal remunerations that Warner Chilcott paid to prescribing physicians for the “Medical Education Events” and submission of false prior authorization requests for Atelvia® and Actonel®. The federal share of the civil settlement is approximately $91.5 million, and the state Medicaid share of the civil settlement is approximately $10.6 million. Warner Chilcott cooperated with the government’s investigation into culpable individuals, which has led to several individual prosecutions. Among them are:

  • Former district manager Jeffrey Podolsky pleaded guilty to health care fraud in connection with manipulating prior authorizations;
  • Former district manager Timothy Garcia pleaded guilty to health care fraud in connection with manipulating prior authorizations; and
  • Former district manager Landon Eckles pleaded guilty to wrongful disclosure of individual identifiable health information, a criminal violation of the HIPAA law.

[Source: DoJ | U.S. Attorney’s Office District of Massachusetts | April 15, 2016 ++]

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Huntington, WV — Acting United States Attorney Carol Casto announced that a federal jury sitting in Huntington returned a guilty verdict yesterday in the trial of a Kentucky veteran for defrauding the Veterans Health Administration. Phillip M. Henderson, 50, of Olive Hill, Kentucky, was convicted following a five-day jury trial. The jury required only an hour of deliberations before finding Henderson guilty. Henderson served in the United States Army from 1983 to 1986. After he was discharged, Henderson filed multiple claims for benefits with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In 1995, Henderson received a diagnosis from the VA of Retinitis Pigmentosa, an inherited and degenerative eye disease which can lead to total blindness. After this diagnosis, Henderson continued to undergo VA eye examinations through 2013, during which time VA medical staff continued to conduct tests to determine the extent of his vision loss. The results of these tests relied significantly, if not completely, on Henderson’s cooperation and accurate reporting of his vision levels.

Witnesses for the United States, including four medical doctors, testified that Henderson falsely responded to the vision testing and significantly misrepresented his vision loss. Witnesses further testified that Henderson pretended he could barely read the letters on the eye charts and pretended that his peripheral vision was severely reduced. As part of his scheme to defraud the VA, Henderson did not reveal that he had a Kentucky driver’s license and that he could and did drive. Henderson received the maximum disability and healthcare benefits he could get for his claimed disability and vision loss. VA benefits representatives testified that from 1996 to 2015, Henderson received approximately $697,000 in disability compensation.

In addition to this monthly monetary compensation, Henderson also received an $11,000 grant to purchase an automobile in 2006, which was intended for another person to drive Henderson, and another $10,000 grant towards the installation of an in-ground swimming pool, which was intended for his exercise and to maintain his well-being as a blind veteran. Further, Henderson received the maximum healthcare benefits possible for him and his family based upon his claimed diagnosis and vision loss. During the same time period, Henderson received the highest priority in getting medical treatment from the VA, free medical and dental services, free prescriptions, reimbursement for travel from his home in Kentucky to the VA Medical Center in Huntington for medical appointments, free training for the blind in Connecticut and Alabama for extended periods of time, and free equipment designed to assist the blind, such as canes, computers, talking telephones, and night vision goggles. In sum, Henderson received over $75,000 in VA healthcare benefits to which he was not entitled. Henderson faces up to 10 years in federal prison, a fine of up to twice the gain or loss that resulted from his conduct, and an order of restitution when he is sentenced on August 1, 2016. [Source: Southern District Of WV | U.S. Attorney’s Office PR | April 19, 2016 ++]

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Newark, NJ — A Harrisburg, Pennsylvania man was charged on 21 APR for defrauding the Post-9/11 GI Bill in a $35 million scam. David Alvey, 49, reportedly tricked veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill into thinking they had enrolled in accredited classes at New Jersey’s Caldwell University, when they instead were taking unapproved online courses. Alvey was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense, the U.S. Department of Justice reported in a press release. According to U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman, “Alvey and others allegedly sought to pillage those well-earned benefits as part of a complex $35 million scam that targeted veterans and enrolled them in unapproved online courses without their knowledge.”

The criminal complaint reads, “From November 2009 through August 2013, Alvey and others engaged in a conspiracy to defraud the United States by obtaining tuition assistance and other education-related benefits under the Post 9/11 Education Assistance Act, more commonly known as the Post 9/11 GI Bill.” Alvey set up a company called ED4MIL, a for-profit firm that marketed and sold educational materials to members of the military, through which Alvey was able to pitch the idea to Caldwell University in 2007 as a money-making scheme. The university employees have since been named as conspirators. Alvey and ED4MIL employees pretended to enroll the veterans at Caldwell while actually enrolling them in unapproved online correspondence courses. According to the criminal complaint, a handful of veterans enrolled in the online courses found the link to a correspondence school, and then reported it to the VA.

According to the criminal complaint filed by Jenny Walenta, a special agent for the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General, the university charged between approximately $5,000 and $26,000 per course — between 10 and 30 times the prices of the online classes that were actually being taken. [Source: Task & Purpose | Sarah Sicard | April 25, 2016 ++]

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Bangor, ME — A judge has ruled that a Glenburn man will spend two years on probation for stealing a package belonging to the Veterans Administration while he was employed as a delivery man. The judge sentenced 38-year-old Chad Bitgood in federal court on 27 APR. Court records say Bitgood stole the package because he believed it contained narcotic medications. Investigators confronted him and he admitted stealing the package with the intent of consuming any narcotics inside. Bitgood was convicted of theft of government property and attempted possession of a controlled substance. He pleaded guilty on Jan. 26 and must also pay a $1,000 fine. [Source: The Associated Press | April 27, 2016 ++]

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Columbia, SC — A federal judge on 27 APR sentenced a Blythewood man to three years and five months in prison for claiming $1.6 million in Veterans Administration and Social Security disability benefits while pretending he suffered extreme impairments from advanced multiple sclerosis. Dennis Paulsen, 45, who was indicted last year and convicted after a trial in January, was not taken into custody immediately. He will report to prison at a later date. “This is the largest single Veterans Administration fraud case that the VA has ever had,” assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Day told U.S. Judge Margaret Seymour just before Seymour sentenced Paulsen at the U.S. courthouse in Columbia.

Dennis Paulsen leaves federal court in a wheelchair in January.

In all, Paulsen, who started getting fat monthly checks from the VA in 1993, collected some $1.5 million over the years in fraudulent VA disability payments and an additional $133,000 in all in fraudulent Social Security disability payments, Day and his co-counsel, prosecutor Jay Richardson, said. The $112,000 a year in tax-free government payments gave him, his wife and two sons a well-to-do life at their Blythewood home, prosecutors said. In South Carolina, the median household pretax income is around $45,000, according to the U.S. Census. Actually, Paulsen did have multiple sclerosis – but only a mild case of it and not the incapacitating case that he claimed, prosecutors said. Or, if he did have a severe case, it was in remission most of the time. Multiple sclerosis, known by its initials MS, is a fatigue-inducing nervous system disease that can affect the brain, spinal cord, vision and balance.

Just before sentencing Paulsen told the judge that he hadn’t defrauded anyone. “I don’t believe I am guilty,” Paulsen said in a shaky voice. “I deal with my sickness every day.” Although he often looks normal to most people, Paulsen went on, he has no feeling in his hands and he tires easily. On three occasions in the late 1990s, he said to the judge, he told VA doctors that his disease was in remission and he didn’t need such large disability checks. But when the VA kept sending him the checks, Paulsen said, he supposed it was because the VA believed his disease might come back. Paulsen’s lawyer, Melvin Bannister, told the judge that Paulsen is a ruined man. His disability payments have been cut, his wife has divorced him and his two sons won’t speak to him. “He is also very depressed about going to prison.”

In January, a federal jury took less than two hours to find Paulsen guilty of defrauding both the Veterans Administration and the Social Security Administration. Evidence presented at Paulsen’s six-day trial showed that Paulsen had for years led a highly active life around Blythewood, playing multiple sports at a high level and even running in the Marine Corps Mud Run in 2008. On the last leg of that mud run, he picked up a stretcher with a person on it and lugged it to the finish line, evidence showed. Key evidence at the trial was from an Internet blog, written by Paulsen’s ex-wife, Kristine Paulsen, who had inserted photos of her husband playing numerous adult sports and being highly active. She also had written glowing notes about how proud she was of him. Kristine Paulsen also testified, telling the jury Paulsen had told her he was exaggerating his symptoms to game the system, prosecutor Richardson said.

The Paulsens divorced in 2014. After getting a tip that year from a family member of Paulsen’s ex-wife, government investigators looked into the case. They began secretly following him, using a variety of techniques, including surveillance video and undercover agents, and developing human sources to bring what prosecutors said was overwhelming evidence to the trial. Some video was played to the jury, too. Cases like Paulsen’s are rarely uncovered. After the government diagnoses someone with a disability, the government seldom investigates to verify that someone’s disability is what they claim. In the early 1990s, Paulsen was diagnosed with 30 percent disability because of multiple sclerosis. He had his impairment rating sharply increased in the late 1990s by the VA. He still gets VA disability checks, only greatly reduced.

“Everyone is entitled to benefits, but what you are not entitled to do is lie, cheat and steal to get them,” assistant prosecutor Richardson told the jury in January. According to evidence in the case, Paulsen joined the Navy in the late 1980s, hoping to become a SEAL. But Navy doctors determined he had MS and mustered him out. As a veteran, he began getting disability checks. Later, the Social Security Administration joined in the diagnosis and began sending him an additional monthly check. [Source: The State | John Monk | April 27, 2016 ++]

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VARO Roanoke VA ► Claim Management Plan Not Followed

Employees at a Roanoke Department of Veterans Affairs Regional Office focused on more-recent benefits appeals, leaving thousands of older, more-complicated claims dating as far back as 2008 to linger, according to an inspector general’s report released 19 APR. The inspector general, working from an anonymous tip, found that appeals staff focused their work largely on “newer appeals with fewer issues,” according to the report. As of June 4, 2015, the Roanoke office had 12,890 appeals pending at various stages. Of those, 3,350 dated from October 2008 through fiscal-year 2013.

Roanoke VARO employees failed to follow a workload management plan that required them to prioritize appeals with the longest delays, further exacerbating the wait, the report said. That came as a directive from a southern area director who implemented a plan to reduce the number of appeals by working new ones first. The director stated “that if all you work is the old appeals then all you have is old appeals,” according to the report. “The lack of priority placed on older appeals caused already significant delays to worsen for the thousands of veterans who had been waiting the longest for a decision on their appeal,” the report said. As of June 2015, the average age of the region’s appeals was nearly three years. The Roanoke director agrees with the report’s recommendation to focus first on appeals pending the longest. The office also added 11 employees for that purpose, the report said. [Source: The Virginian-Pilot | Courtney Mabeus | April 19, 2016 ++]

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VARO San Juan PR ► Action Taken on Convicted VACHS Employee

The VA Under Secretary of Health released the following message to clarify how the VA deals with employees charged with criminal offenses related to off-duty conduct but not related to their jobs:

MESSAGE FROM THE VA UNDER SECRETARY FOR HEALTH

On April 19, I testified before the House Veteran Affairs Committee during a hearing related to delays in Veteran’s Access to Healthcare. In the course of that hearing, a member of the Committee said that it was his understanding that the Department of Veterans Affairs refused to fire a VA Caribbean Health Care System (VACHS) employee who was convicted of an armed robbery in Puerto Rico. The member further asked what VA was doing to “take care of the situation.” My response to the member was “If I misspeak on this, I will commit I will get back to you by the end of the day, but it is my understanding that person is not currently working at the VA in San Juan.” I have clarified my statement, and will be formally responding to the Committee, but it is equally important to me that I provide the facts and set the record straight for our Veterans, employees and the general public who entrust us with the care of the Nation’s Veterans and who expect us to be open and honest with them.

On June 15, 2015, an employee of the VA Caribbean Health Care System was arrested and charged with aggravated robbery. The facility’s management took appropriate administrative action during the pendency of the criminal proceedings. The criminal matter was resolved in November 2015 and resulted in a misdemeanor charge and probation only. The employee was not convicted of armed robbery and was subsequently returned to work as a clerk at VACHS following administrative processes and court approval. There was never any indication that the employee posed a risk to Veterans or VA property.

When it is learned that an employee has been charged with a criminal offense, VA takes action within the scope of the law and its Federal authority to implement appropriate disciplinary actions. In accordance with Federal law, criminal prosecution or conviction for off-duty misconduct does not automatically disqualify an individual from Federal employment. As is true in private-sector employment, a Federal employee generally cannot be terminated for off-duty misconduct unless there is a clear connection between the misconduct and the individual’s employment. We want to assure the public and the Veterans whom we serve that the Department of Veterans Affairs and its Veterans Health Administration is diligent in its efforts to protect the safety of Veterans, visitors and employees in our facilities – nothing is more important to us.

David J. Shulkin, M.D.

VA Under Secretary for Health

-o-o-O-o-o-

The Regional Office presence in San Juan began in 1926, during the days of the Veterans Bureau. VA has operated out of many locations in the San Juan metropolitan area since then, including Old San Juan, Puerta de Tierra, Santurce, as a co-tenant of the VA Hospital in Rio Piedras and the Federico Degetau Federal Office Building in Hato Rey. In December 2010, they moved to their present location in the “Amelia Industrial Zone” in Guaynabo. VA’s jurisdictional area includes the entire Island of Puerto Rico (along with its two sister islands of Vieques and Culebra) and, the United States Virgin Islands, which includes St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John. Locations are separated by up to 125 miles of open sea. The Puerto Rico facilities are approximately 1,500 air miles from Washington, DC.

The VA staff serves approximately 150,000 Spanish and English-speaking Veterans. The benefits and services administered total nearly $350M in annual benefit payments. Personnel are located in three out-based locations: the Satellite Clinics located in Ponce, Mayagüez and Arecibo. Personnel also conduct patient visits at the VA Medical Center in Rio Piedras twice a week and provide monthly itinerant service to the U.S. Virgin Islands. In addition to a VA Regional Office and a VA Hospital there is also a National Cemetery in Bayamon.

[Source: VA News Release & http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=2781 | April 22, 2016 ++]

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VAH Hines IL ► Cockroach Infestation Complaints

Vermin infestation has overrun the kitchen of a suburban Chicago Veterans Affairs hospital and is reportedly so severe that cockroaches routinely crawl across countertops as cooks prepare meals. The insects have even found their way into patients’ food, employees say. The bug invasion has attracted the attention of a U.S. senator who is demanding to know how the VA is fixing the problem. It’s just the latest scandal at an agency rocked by allegations of abuse, incompetence and the needless deaths of veterans who wait years for medical appointments. “The workers try to brush the cockroaches off the counters, but the bugs get in the food,” said Germaine Clarno, a social worker at the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital in the Chicago suburb of Hines, Ill. Clarno is the local AFGE union president and has been working with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel as a whistleblower exposing secret appointment wait lists.

At left, American cockroaches in a Brussels laboratory; at right, Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital

At left, American cockroaches in a Brussels laboratory; at right, Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital

Clarno said she witnessed the problem firsthand three years ago when she saw roaches crawling on a dinner plate brought to a patient’s room. She recalled sending the food back before the veteran had a chance to see it and paying for a pizza delivery from an outside restaurant. “It’s been like this for years, ever since anyone can remember,” Clarno said. Dietetic technician Kelvin Gilkey has been a VA employee for 33 years. He recounted how PTSD-traumatized veterans in the mental health unit were served cockroaches on food trays on three different occasions last year. One veteran, in his 20s, became enraged and started swearing in disbelief, demanding to be discharged. But he would languish there another 28 days, sickened every time he had to eat a meal.

“I apologized and said I would provide him with a special tray but he refused to eat,” Gilkey said. “He went hungry for a couple of days until I convinced him to eat. He even refused to come out of his room and socialize with anyone. I told him I would take care of him.” A second veteran didn’t eat for a few days either, but was lucky enough to be discharged within a week. The third man just accepted his fate that cockroaches were in his food, Gilkey said. Kitchen employees have reportedly refused to come to work, afraid that they would inadvertently bring bugs home. The staff is already down 25 positions – food service funding was diverted toward overtime in the medical ward to fix a secret medical wait list scandal two years ago, said Gilkey, the SEIU union steward for the food service employees. “There’s no one in the kitchen to clean,” he added. “A lot of times you have the cook, in his uniform, going upstairs to serve the meals in the hospital. He’s walking into rooms with MRSA, infections, and everything else.”

Kitchen workers have been told not to take photos of the bugs, Gilkey said. So Clarno visited the kitchen Friday to document the filth. She said her fact-finding visit was not welcomed by a food manager who called the VA police to escort her out of the area. “The employees were saying, ‘Can you please help us, this is crazy! We don’t have the resources to deal with this,’” Clarno said. She noted that the floors and equipment appeared to be covered with a layer of grime. Workers said they have never seen a health inspector, but once in a while, the VA will do a cursory bug spray in the area. Gilkey said he reported the cleanliness and pest issue to the Joint Commission, a non-profit medical accreditation agency. Also on Friday, Joint Commission inspectors were at the VA, handing down numerous citations. The Commission would not immediately provide any inspection reports to Conservative Review.

In addition, a complaint was filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which opened an inquiry on 4 MAR, documents show. One report stated that a veteran reported a cockroach in his food on two occasions in December. The case was closed on 6 APR without an onsite visit by OSHA because the VA had shown proof that the problem was addressed, said Kathy Webb, area director of OSHA’s Calumet City office. One of the most vocal critics of the VA is Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) who has demanded the firing of employees involved in the wait list scandal. He sent a letter to the VA last week, wanting to know what the agency has done “to ensure that veterans’ food is handled with the highest standards of cleanliness.” The letter reads in part: “The dining environment … operations are of a questionable level of sanitation. In fact, reports of contamination, including but not limited to the persistent presence of roaches in and around the food service area, have been circulated by staff with facility leadership for years. “I understand that these concerns have been brought to your attention, but that a resolution has yet to be reached,” he wrote.

Kirk told Conservative Review that “a veteran should NEVER be served food with a roach on their tray. It’s not only deplorable to find out that a roach infestation in the veteran’s kitchen has been allowed to knowingly exist for years without remedy, but once again we learn that the merry-go-round of bullied silence and cover-up continues at Hines VA with impunity.” The VA admitted that bugs were a problem but said it was under control: Due to the nature of the work in the kitchen, there is a higher risk of pest activity. With that knowledge, the Nutrition & Food Services area at Hines VA Hospital has weekly inspections, and if needed, treatments from the exterminator. If there are any concerns outside of the weekly inspection, the exterminator is contacted and comes in to address any identified issues.

A Hines spokesperson added that exterminators were summoned six times a month during February, March and April.

Excessive spraying with no apparent end to the problem is evidence that the cockroaches have built a resistance to the poison and millions of bugs are likely hiding out in places like the wall and kitchen machinery, said Ron Harrison, a Ph.D. entomologist with Orkin pest control. “To have these exterminators come back on a weekly basis, something is not quite right,” he said. “It looks like they never got (the bugs) under control in the first place.” If the extermination is done correctly, follow-up visits would be required only once a month, Harrison said. Roaches love darkness and forage at night, so given that they’re brazenly crawling about during work hours shows that the nests are full and can’t accommodate all the bugs, Harrison said. The only way to eradicate the problem is to set up sticky paper to catch which direction the bugs travel, then opening up adjoining walls to vacuum them out. Kitchen machinery needs to be taken apart as well and reproduction-killing bait placed in all areas. All of this involves shutting down the kitchen for hours, he said.

Gilkey’s voice cracked as he relayed his frustration at trying to get help for the veterans. “Senior management is hiding the fact that this kitchen is infested with roaches and nothing has been done with it,” he said. “I have spent 33 years here and never would I imagine that we’d treat the veterans like we’re treating them. While we are lying in bed at night, they are out protecting the world. This hurts me.” [Source: Conservative Review | Tori Richards | April 27, 2016 ++]

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VAMC Providence RI ► Long-Term Care Research Funded

Researchers at the Providence VA Medical Center have been awarded funding to look for new ways to provide long-term care for veterans. The medical center says the VA Center of Innovation in Long-Term Services and Supports for Vulnerable Veterans will receive $550,000 per year for five years to continue its research. Dr. James Rudolph, the research center’s director, says there’s a critical need for innovative ways to provide long-term care that meets veterans’ needs and promotes their independence. He says researchers are focused on keeping veterans in their homes as long as possible because it’s cost-effective and what the veterans prefer. The goal of the research is to improve the access, quality and value of long-term care programs. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs awarded the funding [Source: – Associated Press | April 16, 2016 ++]

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VA HCS Portland ► Kidney Transplant Study Ethics Complaint

A consumer advocacy group has filed an ethics complaint against the VA Portland Health Care System over a clinical trial involving kidney transplants. Public Citizen accused the Portland medical center and the University of California, San Francisco of violating the rights of kidney recipients by enrolling them in the study without their consent. The study was led by Dr. Darren Malinoski of the Portland VA and the university’s Dr. Claus Niemann. “A review of the New England Journal of Medicine article presenting the trial’s results reveals that the trial, as conducted, was unethical and failed to materially comply with key requirements of (Department of Health and Services) and VA regulations for the protection of human subjects,” the Public Citizen letter said. The group has demanded that Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services investigate and sanction the institutions. A spokesman for Veterans Affairs in Portland declined to comment. He referred questions to Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C., which did not immediately comment.

The study involved the transplantation of kidneys from 370 brain-dead donors to about 570 recipients between March 2012 and October 2013. About half of the donor bodies were cooled slightly to 93 to 95 degrees while the others were kept at 98 to 100 degrees, which is the standard renal transplant protocol. The study aimed to test whether kidneys from cooler bodies helped the transplants take more quickly. Transplanted kidneys don’t work immediately in about 50 percent of the cases, requiring the recipients to undergo dialysis the first week. That increases health care costs and curtails the longevity of the donor kidney. The trial was evaluated by the institutional review board at the University of California, San Francisco before it was conducted, according to standard protocol.

The review noted that the donors were at least 18 years old when they died and had signed an authorization allowing their bodies to be used for research. It said donor consent wasn’t needed because the trial involved dead people. Recipients weren’t informed that they were enrolled in the trial, however. The report in the New England Journal of Medicine said their consent wasn’t needed because the study posed minimal risks to the recipients. But Public Citizen disagreed. It said “the human subjects enrolled in the trial were not afforded the important protections that they deserved.” The trial was ended sooner than expected because the results showed that transplantation from cooler bodies was more successful. Seventy-nine recipients of kidneys from the cooler group had to go through dialysis in the first week compared with 112 in the other group. [Source: The Oregonian/OregonLive | Lynne Terry | April 26, 2016 ++]

* Vets *

Vet Cremains Update 32 ► Nine Laid to Rest

Veterans came together 29 APR at the Brigadier General William C. Doyle Memorial Cemetery to honor nine veterans from World War II and Korea on their final tour. The cremains of servicemen from the Army, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard were orphaned or abandoned, sitting forgotten on the shelf of a funeral home somewhere in New Jersey. Now, each of them is being laid to rest with full military honors. “You can’t leave veterans on shelves that received Purple Hearts, fought in World War I, fought in the Spanish-American War,” said Frank Carrasco, New Jersey Mission of Honor. “That’s unacceptable.” “It’s a shame that they are left unattended, unclaimed, and this is just our part to say, ‘Thank you for your service,’ ” said Anthony Gladden, Ocean Co. American Legion.

http://njsmissionofhonor.org/attachments/Image/urns.jpg

Thursday’s committal ceremony was the 23rd since 2009 for New Jersey Mission of Honor, a nonprofit organization that works with funeral directors to identify, retrieve and bury forgotten vets. “A lot of funeral homes, they have them on the shelf, and we go in and find out where they’re at, get the proper paperwork and give them a proper burial,” said Donald Mohr, Bordentown, New Jersey. Mission of Honor has buried 197 veterans, some of the remains abandoned for 70 years. Because of the work of this group, the servicemen are no longer forgotten. “You know your family members die off and there’s nobody there,” said Suzanne Malecki, N.J. AMVETS. “They think there’s nobody there for them, but there is.” “It’s just the proper thing to do to me,” said John Mason, Southampton, New Jersey. “They all deserve it.” 273 of the cremains the group has found have been returned to their families. But for those who have no one, Mission of Honor, and the veterans, are there to honor their service. [Source: Wrightstown, N.J. (WPVI-ABC 6) | Nora Muchanic | April 28, 2016 ++]

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Vet Fertility Treatments Update 02 ► VA Appropriations Bill Amendment

An amendment added to the Veterans Affairs appropriations bill 14 APR would allocate $88 million to VA to cover fertility treatments and counseling for veterans who can’t have children as a result of wartime injuries. Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat who has introduced similar legislative language four times since 2012, said the amendment was needed to ensure that VA isn’t “denying veterans their dream of starting a family.” “Here’s the reality, thousands of men and women in uniform — many in their early 20s — have suffered injuries on the battlefield that left them unable to have children naturally,” Murray said during a Senate markup of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. “They have testified here in the Senate about the sacrifices they made, and the extreme cost barriers they face to do the one thing they want most — start a family,” she said.

http://media.breitbart.com/media/2015/08/ap_patty-murray_ap-photo-640x492.jpg

Sen. Patty Murray

The amendment would provide $18 million in fiscal 2017 for fertility treatments provided by VA and $70 million in fiscal 2018. “The fact is assisted reproductive technology like in vitro fertilization is medically sound and widely used. … The Defense Department has been providing this care to service members for some time now,” Murray said. Nearly 1,400 troops in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars experienced injuries to their pelvises, groins or spinal cords that make it difficult or nearly impossible to have children without medical assistance. Others have been injured in accidents that have rendered them infertile as a result of paralysis or traumatic brain injury. The Defense Department covers the cost of in vitro fertilization and other fertility services for some wounded troops on active duty and also covers the cost of medications, such as erectile dysfunction medicines, for troops with head injuries that affect fertility. VA provides fertility assessments, counseling and some treatment, such as surgeries, medications and intrauterine insemination, but does not cover in vitro fertilization or fertility services for the spouses of the injured. [Source: Military Times | Patricia Kime | April 14, 2016 ++]

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Vet Toxic Exposure | Lejeune Update 58 ► VA Claim Documents Lawsuit

Two veterans groups are suing the VA in the case of illnesses caused by exposure to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The organizations — The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten and Vietnam Veterans of America — filed suit 26 APR for documents related to disability claims and the Veterans Affairs Department’s use of subject-matter experts to weigh in on them. The water was tainted by organic solvents and other cancer-causing chemicals from 1953 through 1987. The groups filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the documents in December but say the VA has not responded. “Our FOIA, which has gone unanswered, is to find out who the subject-matter experts are, what kind of credentials they have … the VA doesn’t want us to know that,” said Jerry Ensminger, a founder of The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten and a retired Marine master sergeant whose 9-year-old daughter died of leukemia in 1987.

635973632393792066-lejeune.jpg

Under the Camp Lejeune subject-matter expert program, all documents related to a claim, including medical records and physician recommendations, are reviewed by a designated expert who recommends whether to accept or reject it. Since the subject-matter program was introduced in 2012, Camp Lejeune claim approvals have dropped from 25 percent to 8 percent, according to the groups. The Camp Lejeune subject-matter expert program is the only disability claims process within the VA that requires the third-party review. “All of the pronouncements about this being the most open and transparent administration in history don’t reflect what is happening at VA, in this instance and many others,” said Rick Weidman, director of government relations for Vietnam Veterans of America. “It’s time for the White House to make VA clean it up.”

Nearly a million people, including troops, family members and civilian employees, may have been exposed to volatile organic compounds and other chemicals such as benzene and vinyl chloride in the drinking water at the coastal Marine Corps base, from 1953 until at least 1987, when the water treatment facilities supplying the contaminated water were closed. Roughly 10,000 disability claims have been filed to the VA related to Camp Lejeune water toxicity. Democrat Richard Blumenthal, who sits on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and represents the state of Connecticut, where the lawsuit was filed on behalf of the groups by the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic, said Tuesday that the VA should expedite its response to the groups’ FOIA. “The VA’s lack of response to these brave men and women is utterly and completely unacceptable … The subject-matter expert program deserves real searching, penetrating scrutiny. The lawsuit makes this point very, very well,” Blumenthal said. [Source: Military Times | Patricia Kime | April 27, 2016 ++]

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Vet Health Care Update 02 ► Government-Funded Health Insurance Proposal

Every time you turn around, a member of Congress is criticizing the Veterans Administration health care system. What you don’t hear lawmakers say: We are responsible for a good share of the problems. But they are. In response to a national scandal over waiting lists for care at VA clinics, in 2014 Congress created the Veterans Choice program. The goal was to make it easier for veterans to get care at private facilities if no care was quickly available at a nearby government one. Except the “fix” is creating more problems for veterans, according to a recent story by Register reporter Tony Leys.

Martin Wines of Des Moines is a Vietnam War veteran with severe eczema. The only treatment that provides relief is a special ultraviolet light booth the local VA does not have. So several years ago a VA doctor referred him to Iowa Methodist Medical Center, which has a light booth. The arrangement worked fine for Wines until the Choice program was implemented. The private company contracted to run it told Wines he had to go to a new dermatologist in a different location. It took months instead of days for him to get treatment. “The veterans aren’t getting served and the people at the VA who are trying to help people are totally frustrated,” said Wines.

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Eczema

Sen. Chuck Grassley has also heard several complaints. Yet in classic congressional fashion, he blames someone else. The VA messed up by hiring this company, he said. “The company wasn’t doing its job right.” Of course, it was lawmakers who added an additional layer of bureaucracy that must be navigated by vets and federal workers. It was lawmakers who insisted it be implemented in three months. Over the years, it has been lawmakers who expanded eligibility and benefits in the VA system, ushering in a flood of patients it was not equipped to handle. Congress refused until 19 APR to hold a confirmation vote on a candidate who President Barack Obama nominated in October to fill the vacant position of VA inspector general — an independent watchdog charged with rooting out problems and recommending improvements. When there are complaints about access to care, lawmakers expect the VA to wave a magic wand and thousands more health workers will suddenly appear to work in government facilities.

If Congress really wants to reform the VA health system, it should do what this editorial board has been recommending for nearly a decade: Give vets health insurance and allow them to get care at any of this country’s thousands of private-sector hospitals and health clinics. They won’t have to travel to a VA facility or obtain permission from a federal agency or its private contractor. It makes no sense to operate 1,300 government hospitals and clinics to serve 9 million veterans living in every corner of the country. No matter how many more are built (at the expense of taxpayers), some vets would still need to drive long distances to obtain specific care. With government-funded health insurance, they could visit private health facilities close to their homes. [Source: The Des Moines Register | Editorial | April 20, 2016 ++]

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Veterans in Government Update 02 ► Where We Stand

A veteran will likely be on your election ballot this fall, but maybe not in the race you expected. The study is the first comprehensive look at veterans’ political involvement on a state level and indicates that despite years of declining veteran representation in Congress, the pipeline of potential candidates for national office may be refilling. New research from the American Enterprise Institute found that roughly one in seven lawmakers serving in state legislatures is a veteran, totaling more than 1,000 former military members nationwide. “I think it’s fair to think that we’ll see an increase in the number of veteran candidates at the federal level in coming years,” said Rebecca Burgess, manager of AEI’s Program on American Citizenship and the report’s author. “For some, state offices are like getting their feet wet.”

With 23 percent, New Hampshire has the strongest veteran representation in a state legislature, followed closely by Nevada, Alabama, North Dakota and Tennessee. Utah, where only 5 percent of the state’s elected leaders have military experience, ranks last. California, Minnesota, Massachusetts and Illinois round out the report’s “Bottom Five,” each with single-digit veteran representation in their state legislatures. Numerous groups have raised concerns in recent years about the declining numbers of veterans seeking and winning congressional seats, especially as Congress deals with ever-more complex issues surrounding national security and military policy. In 1971, veterans made up 72 percent of House seats and 78 percent of the Senate. In the latest Congress, only 20 percent of senators had served in the military, and only 18 percent of House members claimed military service. Much of that decline is due to the all-volunteer force and the shrinking number of veterans in the country as a whole.

The state legislature survey found about 14 percent of the nearly 7,400 elected individuals nationwide have served, an even smaller percentage than in Congress. Veterans make up about 9 percent of the American population. But Burgess said she sees the new numbers as a positive development, since they show steady involvement by veterans in politics across in a variety of positions. In some cases, individuals can be more effective at passing policy at state and local levels. “Often [advocates] are so focused on the federal level that they don’t think about the importance and impact of work at the state and local offices,” she said.

AEI’s research found the majority of veterans in state legislatures are Republican, at more than a two-to-one ratio. That mirrors Congress, where 70 percent of veterans in the Senate are Republican and 75 percent of veterans in the House hail from the GOP. Burgess said she hopes to build on the findings with more historical data, to track connections between veterans in state office and federal elections. The most important takeaway, she said, is that many veterans are continuing their service in elected office. Many of them just don’t have the national platform or attention, at least for now. [Source: NCOA Advocate | Leo Shane | April 18, 2016 ++]

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Veterans’ Preference Update 09 ► Many Do Not Really Understand It

Many veterans still do not understand how vets’ preference works in federal hiring – and it’s a factor in complaints filed over application of the benefit designed to help former service members find jobs and increase diversity in government. “There is a myth [among veterans] that vets’ preference is a guarantee for any job that you apply for in the federal government,” said Aleks Morosky, deputy director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ national legislative service, during a Wednesday House Veterans’ Affairs subcommittee hearing. “People are upset that they didn’t get hired, but they also don’t really understand the system.” The myth persists despite the Labor Department’s effort to educate service members leaving the military about vets’ preference during the transition assistance program.

And veterans aren’t the only ones who don’t understand the complicated patchwork of laws and hiring authorities governing the practice, which has been around in some form since the 19th century. It continues to confuse many hiring managers and human resources specialists, which can lead to misapplication. Those errors persist despite the Office of Personnel Management’s extensive training materials and agencies’ own internal guidance on how to correctly apply vets’ preference.

Michael Michaud, assistant secretary of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, and a former Democratic congressman from Maine, said the statutes governing veterans preference should be consolidated to make things simpler.

Michael Michaud, assistant secretary of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, and a former Democratic congressman from Maine, said the statutes governing veterans preference should be consolidated to make things simpler.

The statutes governing vets’ preference should be consolidated so it’s easier for people on both sides of the federal hiring process – agency staff and the veteran – to understand the process, according to Michael Michaud, assistant secretary of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, and a former Democratic congressman from Maine. Michaud on Wednesday said that of the 590 cases related to complaints over vets’ preference that his office closed in fiscal 2015, just 5.4 percent, or 32 cases, were found to have merit. So, that means there is a lot of confusion on both sides when it comes to vets’ preference. “Just because a case was filed does not mean the hiring manager violated the law,” Michaud told his former colleagues, some of whom wanted specifics on who was at fault in these interactions, and whether it was intentional or not. Michaud said he thinks the complexity of understanding how vets’ preference works “is driving the unmeritorious cases.”

There are several ways veterans can be hired into the federal government. The competitive service requires that eligible vets receive an extra 5 to 10 points under the “category rating” system that allocates points to job candidates, resulting in a list of the most qualified applicants that HR specialists send to hiring managers. So, if a veteran and a non-veteran are equally qualified for the job, the veteran will prevail because of the extra points allocated as a result of vets’ preference. But not all applicants have the necessary basic qualifications for a job, and sometimes you might have two qualified vets competing against one another for a job that only one of them will get. There’s also the Veterans’ Recruitment Appointment, which allows agencies to hire eligible vets for certain jobs without competition. That falls under the umbrella of “veterans’ preference” but is actually separate from the veterans’ preference scoring system used in competitive hiring.

The Pathways program includes three tracks: current students, recent graduates and Presidential Management Fellows. Participants are classified under Schedule D within the excepted service, and each Pathways program honors veterans’ preference. Disabled vets also can be hired under Schedule A, the authority used to hire people with disabilities. “There are so many factors about the person applying, the position for which he or she is applying, the authorities being used, and the agency in which the positions exist, that the system is beyond unwieldy,” the Merit Systems Protection Board wrote in an August 2014 report on veterans’ preference laws. That study surveyed federal employees, finding that 4.5 percent of workers said an official in their agency knowingly violated veterans’ preference laws, and 6.5 percent “inappropriately favored a veteran.” Those were perceptions, not actual findings of misconduct. “If Congress chooses to examine hiring laws in the future,” MSPB wrote in that report, “we recommend that it consider the benefits of creating a simpler system that would be easier to manage, apply, and explain to those who will be affected by the decisions made under that system.”

The federal government overall has increased the number of veterans it has hired from 25.8 percent of the total workforce in fiscal 2009 to 30.8 percent in fiscal 2015. President Obama in 2009 issued an executive order directing agencies to do a better job recruiting and retaining veterans as part of his multi-pronged effort to make the federal government a model employer. OPM has provided training to hiring managers and HR staff on vets’ preference through its HR University, and the site fedshirevets.gov tries to help vets and federal managers navigate the government’s hiring process, among other federal efforts to educate people on the topic. “Not only is hiring veterans the right thing to do, it makes good business sense,” said Mark Reinhold, OPM’s associate director for employee services.

But the frustration over how vets’ preference is applied, and speculation over whether it sometimes results in poor hires or favoritism remain problems. Something more nefarious also could be afoot, though proving it could be very difficult. “I have heard the anecdotal comment that they keep them there to say they hired them, and then let them go during the probationary period,” Michaud said in response to a lawmaker’s question over whether some agencies were hiring veterans simply to satisfy vets’ preference and administration hiring goals – and then firing them before the end of the probationary period for new federal employees. [Source: GovExec.com | Kellie Lunney | April 20, 2016 ++]

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Centurion Marine ► Former WMA President Turns 100

It was not her first birthday celebration of 2016, and it wasn’t going to be the last. Gladys “Ruth” Gallivan of San Diego turned 100 on April 1, and if people want to keep throwing her parties, she is not inclined to stop them. “She loves it,” daughter-in-law Maya Pring said during Saturday’s birthday fete thrown by the San Diego County chapter of the Women Marines Association, where Gallivan served as president for more than 10 years. “She really does,” added daughter-in-law Daphne Gallivan. “She’s been looking forward to this since she turned 99.”

Gladys “Ruth” Gallivan, left, speaks at her 100th birthday celebration with the San Diego County Women Marines Association at the Veterans Village of San Diego. At right are daughters-in-law, Daphne Gallivan, middle, and Maya Pring.

Gladys “Ruth” Gallivan, left, speaks at her 100th birthday celebration with the San Diego County Women Marines Association at the Veterans Village of San Diego.

Born 100 years ago in Darlington, Wis., Gladys Ruth Tresner enlisted in the Marines in 1943, one of the many women who took over military jobs on the homefront so men could head for the front lines. After boot camp at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and a stint at the Cherry Point Air Station (also in North Carolina), she volunteered to head out to what is now San Diego’s Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. Gallivan was honorably discharged in 1945, but the Marines had her for life. She went on to have a civilian career at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, retiring from her job as a general’s assistant in 1986 after decades of service.

Sandwiched between an April 1 surprise party at MCRD and a celebratory dinner with friends, the Women Marines Association’s lunchtime event at Veterans Village of San Diego served pots of tea and trays of finger sandwiches in honor of Gallivan’s love of a tea party. There was also a surplus of respect and admiration in honor of the pioneering woman she was and the role model she continues to be. “I am in awe of Ruth,” said Maria Rodriguez Callejas, current president of the San Diego County Women Marines Association. “I think I have it easy compared to what women like her went through. Back then, you were supposed to be home raising a family. When you look at these women who went out and did something adventurous and have some stories to tell, they are inspiring to me. She is a trailblazer.”

Ruth Tresner married Navy man Jim Gallivan in 1955, and the couple raised two sons, Michael and Daniel. The family settled in Serra Mesa, and Mike and Dan both graduated from Kearny High School. Mike married Daphne, and Dan married Maya. There are now three granddaughters in the family mix. Ruth Gallivan’s time as an enlisted Marine was short, but the fighting spirit seems to have settled in for good. She has survived a heart attack and breast cancer, and she has outlived her husband (who died in 1992) and both her siblings. Gallivan still cooks and cleans for herself and bakes cakes for family birthdays. She avoids all medications, but she will not say no to a beer or a glass of white Zinfandel. She didn’t give up driving until two years ago. “She is amazing for being 100,” said daughter-in-law Pring, as she and her fellow attendees waited for Gallivan to make her entrance. “To me, she embodies what I think of as the military. She is very pro-America. She is very engaged. And she is very proud of her military time.”

Gallivan entered the auditorium with a jaunty spring in her step and many hugs to share on the way to her table, which was decorated with a gold “100” balloon and a dainty china tea service. She was given a blue birthday sash and a flowered hat, along with a stack of birthday cards sent by admirers. Then it was time for questions from the crowd. Her favorite memory? That would be the time in Cherry Point when she threw up on the floor of the plane taking her up to check the data from the weather balloon. (“They soon transferred me to Miramar,” she said with a grin.) Her secret to a long life? “Forget about getting old.” Any good memories from boot camp? “No.” And what about her 101st birthday? How might she celebrate that one? “I’m sure it won’t be as good as this,” she said. “This is perfect.” [Source: San Diego Union-Tribune | Karla Peterson | April 16, 2016 ++]

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Louisiana Vet Cemeteries Update 06 ► Burial Fee Legislation | $745

House lawmakers have agreed to authorize a $745 fee for burials in Louisiana’s veterans cemeteries, but veterans won’t be expected to pay the price. The Department of Veterans Affairs says the federal government has been paying the $745 toward the cost of each burial. But the agency says a recent attorney general’s opinion suggested the fee rate needed to be set by state lawmakers. The same charge would be set for a veteran’s spouse or relative to be buried in the veterans cemetery. That fee, too, already has been charged by the state veterans department. The department could waive the fee if the family member can’t afford it. The bill by Rep. Jerry “Truck” Gisclair was sent to the Senate with an 87-2 vote 25 APR. [Source: The Associated Press | April 26, 2016 ++]

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Stolen Valor ► Reported 160415 thru 160430

NY Legislation. Navy Reserve officer in his first term as a New York state senator wants his state to join several others that have targeted those who seek to profit from false claims of military service. Sen. Tom Croci, a Republican whose district covers part of Long Island, sponsored a bill that will make such stolen valor a felony, and will require those convicted to pay a $250 fee as part of their punishment to a state fund that maintains and establishes veterans cemeteries. The bill passed the state senate 11 APR, but may have an uphill fight toward becoming law.

Croci, a commander who served as an active-duty intelligence officer from 1999 to 2007 before joining the Reserve, said he comes at the issue from two perspectives: One, as a service member who supported Navy SEALs during Operation Enduring Freedom. “It got a lot of attention in the Naval Special Warfare community, the SEAL community, when individuals were out there claiming that they were ‘operators,’ Croci told Military Times. “I understand what those men go through to earn their Trident, and also what they endure in combat. … That has an effect on you, even though you’re in a support capacity.” A second vantage point: Croci said his home county has the most veterans in New York state, and that his bill ensures former service members get the respect they’ve earned — and that others don’t get ripped off. “You don’t want the uniform or the decorations, in any way, disgraced,” he said. “And you certainly don’t want the hard-earned taxpayer dollars that they think are going to veterans to be abused by people impersonating veterans.”

The bill needs to clear the state assembly and the governor’s office before becoming law. Croci said he was “cautiously optimistic, but realistic” about that happening, saying “there’s a strand of New York legislator in Albany that doesn’t want to see any increased criminal penalties for anything.” If passed, the bill would make stolen valor as a Class E felony, the state’s lowest classification, which includes a wide swath of illegal activity from fixing sporting events and forgery to low-level insurance fraud. Penalties rarely involve jail time, relying instead on probation and/or fines. The federal Stolen Valor Act of 2005 made it a crime to claim unearned military honors, regardless of the benefits obtained by such claims. The Supreme Court ruled that law unconstitutional in 2012, with some justices citing First Amendment protections for false statements. A 2013 federal law made it illegal to make the claims only if they came “with intent to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit.” Those convicted face fines and up to a year in jail.

Several states have weighed in since the Supreme Court’s ruling, including some with actual or proposed penalties more severe than those offered by Croci’s legislation. Last year, for instance, New Jersey passed a law that brings a fine of at least $1,000 for those who wear unearned military uniforms or awards to obtain benefits. A 2015 Wisconsin law makes false statements regarding military service, to include wearing unearned uniforms or awards, a Class A misdemeanor that can come with a max fine $10,000 and up to nine months in jail. A bill making its way through the Maryland state senate would punish valor thieves with up to a year in jail and a max fine of $2,500.

Croci began his term in January 2015 and is up for re-election this year. He said finding political rancor in areas he didn’t expect it, including veterans issues, was one of the more difficult parts of his transition from his time in uniform to serving as an elected official. “I’m not naive,” he said, “and I understand that’s the way our system of government works, but there are a few issues, like veterans issues, like counterterrorism and homeland security issues, national security, taking care of people when they come home from combat operations, those should transcend” politics.” [Source: Army Times | Kevin Lilley | April 16, 2016 ++]

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Senior Vet Care ► Caring For A Hero | Lyle Bouck

Lyle Bouck Jr. grew up tough in south St. Louis County. So tough that he joined the National Guard at 14 and stayed on as an instructor at the famed Army infantry school in Fort Benning, Ga. He became one of the youngest commissioned officers to serve in World War II. Lots of close calls at the Battle of the Bulge and as a prisoner of war, it seemed nothing could stop him. And nothing has. “I am alive,” Bouck, the recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, said the other day from his home here. But the old war hero knows mortality nips at his heels. About five years ago, he progressively started to stumble, until he once spent the whole night on the floor, unable to get up. Eventually he needed 24-hour companion care.

Today, at 92, his status is DNR, do not resuscitate. A pacemaker keeps his heart in rhythm. He’s had at least one stroke. A hand is twisted. He’s hobbled by Parkinson’s disease and needs assistance bathing, eating, getting in and out of a wheelchair and on and off the toilet. All this, though, plays out in the comfort of his own space and rules. “We are bound and determined that he is not going to end up in a nursing home,” said Diane Bouck Simcik, 66, of Colorado, one of Bouck’s four surviving children. “After what he went through in prison camp, it would be torture to him.” It has taken more than determination to keep Bouck in his home.b When faced with the steep costs and daunting complexities of elder care, Bouck’s family rolled the dice. Their gamble paid off, with an arrangement that has paired their father with a most unlikely caregiver.

Caring for a hero

Lyle Bouck (left) shown speaking at a 1945 rally for war bonds (left), at his wedding to Lucy Zinzer on April 27, 1946 in St. Louis (center), and (right) being helped by Nick Miller to his chair to view TV on 29 March 2016 as he can only bear his own weight for 5-7 seconds.

The vast majority of the elderly are navigating similar waters and hoping for the best. Just 5 percent of people 65 and older reside in nursing homes. The rest remain in private residences, cobbling together in-home assistance when needed. More often than not, that long-term care is offered free from family members. In fact, 78 percent of elders benefit from such services, at a value estimated in a report by the National Alliance for Caregiving and Evercare of $375 billion a year. That’s nearly twice as much as the $158 billion spent on in-home and nursing home services. Bouck, a widower, is from the other 22 percent. The former chiropractor pays for in-home care, though his family is also involved. They went through a few senior service agencies before finally settling on a hire of their own to take the helm: a 29-year-old former landscaper, without any companion care experience, named Nick Miller.

Miller looks like the men Bouck served with decades ago. The wiry former wrestling standout moves Bouck around with ease. He gained Bouck’s trust by treating him with dignity in personal situations. In turn, Miller amassed the confidence to launch his own small business. As an independent provider, his rates are more affordable than large agencies that provide 24-hour in-home care, which can charge about $20 an hour or $14,000 a month. Those agencies tend to have established track records, more thorough background checks and benefits for employees. But there’s also high turnover among low-paid aides, which can be stressful for seniors who don’t like surprise changes.

Finding the right fit among the various care options is agonizing, experts say. “Thank God my parents had eight kids; it took all of us to take care of them,” said Jamie Opsal, of the regional awareness organization Seniors Count. “This family, I give them credit, they are trying to think outside of the box.” She praises the family for its due diligence to find care for their father, yet cautioned others from using an unconventional provider. “The chances of finding a Nick,” Opsal said, “that’s rare.”

Nick Miller met Lyle Bouck under unusual circumstances in late 2013. Diane Bouck Simcik knew her family needed more help. There are 168 hours of care in a week to account for, and they were cutting it too close between shifts. She crafted a job description about needing a strong, able-bodied person to help care for a military veteran, then cast out into the social media stream. Amazed by 60 quick bites, she reeled in. “Most gave me a résumé,” she said. “Nick wrote me this beautiful letter describing himself.” He didn’t have any experience; however, he was fascinated by military history. In fact, he said the reference to World War II in the job notice caught his eye. After a phone interview, he was among four finalists. Bouck asked each to bring a copy of their driver’s license to coffee at a public place so she could launch a background check through the state. As they left the parking lot, she jotted down their license plate numbers. “I didn’t make it obvious,” she said.

The meeting with Miller only sealed her interest. He was young, strong, polite and had the quiet demeanor her father prefers. It would be a new mission for Miller. He would need to be engrossed in a large family going through the emotions of watching a loved one wither away and have the intimate job of caring for the dying man. “He didn’t know what he was getting himself into,” Diane’s sibling, Dwight Bouck, a pilot based in Chicago, said with a smile. The Bouck family ended up hiring two people from the internet search — Miller and a woman in her 50s who had experience. She showed up late a few times and didn’t last more than a few weeks. Miller started out part time and learned pointers from a few hospice workers and other trained caregivers on how to best take care of his hygiene. After a year or so, he took over the entire in-home care program and founded his own firm, Miller Senior Services.

Caregiver Nick Miller and Lyle Bouck have formed a close bond. They share routine intimate tasks and stories from the past. Showers, can be a vulnerable time and are given weekly. They require a heater to keep Bouck warm and the help of a second caregiver. Bouck cannot stand on his own weight for more than 5-7 seconds. In the photo on the right, Miller and Bouck look at an old photo during a recent ceremony to honor Bouck with a Sunset Hills city proclamation.

“As a society, we are going to have to find better solutions for our seniors,” said Miller. “It’s a messy situation for a lot of people. Everybody needs something different.” Bouck is his primary patient. He hired three trusted friends to spread out the workload. He still spends at least 80 to 100 hours a week at Bouck’s home, if not more. “He’s an angel,” said Diane Bouck Simcik. “It’s powerful that he’s been so taken to this, the dedication he has to my dad.” Bouck hasn’t fallen or gotten a bedsore since Miller took over, family said. Miller sleeps right across the hall from him on a foldout mattress, just in case Bouck wakes up in the middle of the night. Bouck honks a bicycle air horn if he needs something. Miller seems to have the response time of a beagle when it goes off.

Most days it’s routine caring for Bouck. He’s tired of talking about the war, but one time he asked Miller to read a letter from a surviving member of his unit — the 99th Infantry Division’s 394th Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon. It wasn’t until Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s son, John, interviewed Bouck years later that he realized his grossly outnumbered but strategically positioned I&R Platoon held up a major part of Germany’s legendary offensive. The 2004 book, “The Longest Winter,” suggests that the platoon eventually became the most decorated of any that fought in the war. And Bouck had been its leader. While the Distinguished Service Cross is second only to the Medal of Honor in distinction for members of the Army, Bouck was a good sport when Sunset Hills officials honored him last month with a proclamation naming March 22 “Lyle Bouck Jr. Day.” Miller had him fed and dressed in time for a small ceremony held in Bouck’s living room. All of his children were on hand, as well as two D-Day survivors from the area.

Bouck didn’t say much at the ceremony. He ended up parked in front of a board of photographs taken of him when he was young, strong and could speak into a microphone about the war. The family called on Miller to help navigate his wheelchair over the carpet to the center of the room. The mayor read the proclamation. Scores of photographs followed. Miller was right there smiling next to Bouck for many of them until, following a few toasts of apple liqueur, he knew it was time to exit. Miller quietly wheeled Bouck to his room, where a humidifier was already pushing a soft mist into the air. A sign on the wall from when his wife was still alive read: “Always kiss me goodnight.” Miller stripped Bouck down and laid him out on the well-made bed while making brief conversation about the ceremony. “There’s plenty of time to rest,” Miller assured him. Air horn within reach, Bouck fell asleep — another awards ceremony, another afternoon alive behind him. [Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch | Jesse Bogan | April 18, 2016 ++]

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WWII Vets 106Ernest Andrus

Veterans and staff members at the Biloxi VA Medical Center hosted a special visitor earlier this year. Ernest Andrus stopped by the hospital at the end of January, one of his days off, to attend a reception in his honor. These days it’s not so easy to get on Andrus’ calendar as the 92-year-old WWII Veteran runs across the country four days a week to raise awareness of the sacrifices the men and women of the military made during World War II and the many conflicts since that time. “Freedom isn’t free,” Andrus said. “We can’t forget our comrades that were injured or killed serving and protecting our country. That’s what I hope I can achieve with this run. Plus I always wanted to do this.”

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Once Andrus made up his mind to run across the country, he spent several months planning the trip. In October 2013 he touched the Pacific Ocean near San Diego, turned east and began jogging. He’s been running ever since, and in January, as he ran along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, VA staff jumped at the chance to invite him over. “As you can see from this large turnout,” said Anthony Dawson, the director of the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System, “we are all in awe of what you are doing and honored to have you here today for a visit. If we switched the numbers of your age making you 29 it would still be an amazing accomplishment. But at 92, wow!” Here’s how Andrus came to running across the country at age 92.

Ernest Andrus was a corpsman in the Navy, joining at the start of the war. He left the Navy when the war ended in 1945, and enrolled in college on the VA GI Bill, found a job and went on with his life. He didn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on his experiences during the war, as some did. He said it was too hard to do. “I wasn’t right in the middle of the action,” Andrus said, “but I saw enough. I found it easier to just not spend a lot of time thinking about those that didn’t come back. Not like some of my crewmates did. Not for a long time.” As a corpsman aboard a LST (Landing Ship, Tank), Andrus said he stayed busy tending to the wounds and illnesses associated with war. He assisted in surgeries, and to this day recalls an amputation that was performed aboard his ship. As the surgeon began the procedure, the patient needed blood. Andrus was the same blood type so he rolled up his sleeve, while he was holding the IV bag (they didn’t have a pole), and gave blood. He had to do this several times throughout the night. He remembers feeling light headed and weak. “We all did what we had to do,” Andrus said. “I didn’t do anything that any other man in our crew wouldn’t have done.”

Andrus’ life ticked along at a normal pace for the next 60 years or so. One day he received a phone call from some of his former crew members, to include the skipper, and nothing was ever the same after that. “We were at a point in our lives when our families were grown, our careers were over and now we had time to think. So we began reminiscing about our time in the service. And one thing we all agreed on was we wanted the younger generations to understand the sacrifices so many made which made America the country it is today,” he said. “We wanted the younger generations to understand the sacrifices so many made which made America the country it is today,” Andrus said.

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So the group of about 30 got together and decided they could preserve the memories of life aboard a Navy LST by finding and refurbishing a decommissioned ship and turning it into a floating memorial. They located the USS LST-325 in Greece, got it back to America and it now is available for tour in Indiana. The refurbishment took years of red tape, fundraising and countless hours of coordination, but the group persevered. The effort serves as a testimony to Andrus’ sheer grit and determination as he treks across the country to share the message that America should acknowledge and appreciate all that Veterans have done to preserve freedom. “We have a great country,” Andrus said. “We can’t forget how we got here.” If all goes as planned, Andrus will arrive on the east coast of Georgia, near Brunswick, on Aug. 20, 2016, one day after his 93rd birthday. [Source: VAntage Point | Mary Kay Gominger | March 3, 2016 ++]

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Obit: Frederick Mayer ► 15 APR 2016

Frederick Mayer, the real “Inglorious Bastard” who served in World War II, has died. He was 94. Mayer, a Jewish refugee from Germany and a naturalized U.S. citizen, was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services, the World War II predecessor to the CIA. He then volunteered to lead Operation Greenup, one of the most daring and successful missions behind German lines. Mayer’s actions were portrayed in the award-winning documentary “The Real Inglorious Bastards,” and in Patrick O’Donnell’s book, “They Dared Return: The True Story of Jewish Spies Behind the Lines in Nazi Germany.” Mayer, “beloved father, companion, uncle, neighbor, friend and bridge partner, died peacefully in his own bed with family at his side at 4 a.m.” 15 APR, his daughter Claudette Mayer wrote in an e-mail. “At 94, Fred had stayed fully engaged mentally and physically until very recently,” Claudette Mayer wrote. “At 94, Fred had stayed fully engaged mentally and physically until very recently,” Claudette Mayer wrote.

Frederick Meyer (far right) served as a Jewish spy

Real ‘Inglourious Basterd’ has died

Frederick Meyer (far right) and right served as a Jewish spy behind enemy lines in Nazi Germany.

The OSS Society, a nonprofit organization that celebrates the accomplishments of the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, mourned Fred Mayer’s passing. “When OSS founder Gen. William Donovan said that OSS personnel ‘performed some of the bravest acts of the war,’ he must have had Fred Mayer in mind,” said Charles Pinck, president of the OSS Society. The society also continues to push for Fred Mayer to receive the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor, for his actions during World War II. Mayer was first nominated for the Medal of Honor on Sept. 17, 1945, for knowingly and willingly risking his life almost daily to gather “secret intelligence of great value to the United States,” according to the OSS Society.

The War Department rejected the nomination, recommending him for the Legion of Merit instead. His commander then asked the Army to submit a new recommendation for the nation’s top award or for the Distinguished Service Cross, but this request also was rejected, according to the OSS Society. “For his bravery during World War II, Mayer was nominated for the Medal of Honor. He never received it,” Pinck said. “When the White House presented the Medal of Honor in 2014 to 24 veterans who did not receive it because of discrimination, Fred Mayer, a Jewish refugee from Germany, should have been included in this group.”

On March 18, 2014, 24 soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor — 21 of them posthumously — for their actions during World War II, Vietnam or Korea. The men, dubbed the Valor 24, were recognized after a sweeping review to ensure those who deserved the Medal of Honor were not overlooked because of their race or ethnicity. On the eve of the White House ceremony, the OSS Society sent a letter to then-Army Secretary John McHugh, urging him to take another look at Fred Mayer’s case. Fred Mayer, when reached by Army Times, said the OSS Society contacted him about their efforts. “They told me they’re not giving up,” he said at the time. “I appreciate that, but it’s been turned down twice. I don’t expect anything to happen.” The soft-spoken man also said he was not motivated by medals or awards. “I did my job, and that’s all that really mattered,” he said. “I didn’t do it to get a medal, that’s for sure.”

Fred Mayer was born in Freiburg, Germany, on Oct. 28, 1921, according to his daughter. He and his family moved to Brooklyn, New York, in 1938 to escape the Nazis. Trained as a mechanic, Fred Mayer enlisted in the Army after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He went on to lead Operation Greenup, which some have said helped shorten the war by six months and saved the Austrian city of Innsbruck from destruction, according to Claudette Mayer. Mayer and his comrades parachuted into Austria in 1945 and spent months organizing elements of the anti-Nazi resistance, collecting vital intelligence about German troop movements, spying on war factories and infrastructure, and tracking the whereabouts of Mussolini and Hitler, according to an account on the website of then-West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who before he retired wrote to President Obama urging him to recognize Fred Mayer’s actions.

In the two months he spent behind enemy lines, Mayer often dressed in a German officer’s uniform. Intelligence collected by him allowed the Army Air Corps to bomb 26 Nazi military trains, blocking the Brenner Pass, a key passage used by the German military to move supplies across the Alps and throughout Nazi-occupied Europe to the war front, according to Rockefeller’s former website. He eventually was captured by the Gestapo and tortured for three days, but he refused to give them any information. While in German hands, he actually convinced a top Nazi to surrender Innsbruck, Austria, and all German forces in the area. He then met the advancing U.S. Army, crossing German and American lines in a combat zone at great risk to himself, to inform the Americans of the surrender. Fred Mayer’s actions are credited with saving “countless lives” on both sides, according to the OSS Society.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin called Fred Mayer “a true American hero and an emblem of courage.” “While deployed, he posed as a German officer behind enemy lines,” Manchin said in a statement. “When he was later captured, he exemplified what it is to be a true American hero. Mr. Mayer refused to give up sensitive information and instead convinced his captors to arrange a meeting with senior Nazi leaders. The subsequent meeting led to the surrender of a key Austrian post. His valor is an example to all who serve.” After the war, Fred Mayer served as a power plant supervisor until his retirement in 1977, according to his daughter. He settled in Charles Town, West Virginia, and was a volunteer driver for Meals on Wheels for 38 years, right up until three weeks before his death.

“He told us he felt lucky to have lived this long and happy life,” Claudette Mayer wrote. “Although he sought no additional recognition for his wartime service, he and his family were thankful to all those who told his story and helped to memorialize his daring, courage and strength. Everyone who knew him appreciated his positive can-do attitude, his kindness and generosity, as well as his cooking and baking. Fred’s good humor shone through the twinkle in his eyes.” Fred Mayer directed there be no funeral, his daughter said. He donated his body to medical research at the West Virginia School of Medicine. He is survived by his life-partner Virginia Nash, his daughters Claudette and Irene, his grandson Shane, his sister Rush, and many nieces, nephews and cousins. [Source: Army Times | Michelle Tan | April 15, 2016 ++]

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Obit: Luta McGrath ► 14 APR 2016

World War II retired Lt. Col. Luta “Cornie” McGrath – one of the oldest known women Veterans, passed away April 14 in her home in Annandale, Virginia. She was 108 years old. Last November, McGrath was featured as VA’s #VeteranOfTheDay. McGrath entered military service by enlisting in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in January 1943. She completed her basic combat training at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia and served at bases in Massachusetts, Florida, and Texas. Following World War II, she was assigned to Griesheim Ordnance Depot in West Germany, and later reassigned to the German capital city of Berlin during the time of the Berlin Airlift – an assignment she considered to be a highlight of her Army service. She served in a number of WAC leadership roles, which included her role as the Military District of Washington WAC staff adviser, before retiring in 1961. At that time in the WAC, lieutenant colonel was the highest rank available (excluding WAC director). In 1985, she became the first woman elected to the Ordnance Corps Hall of Fame. funeral services were scheduled to be held in Alexandria, Virginia Friday, 22 APR. McGrath will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, with full military honors at a later date.

http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Luta-McGrath-e1461239966365.jpg

[Source: VAntage Point Blog | April 21, 2016 ++]

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Obit: Henry Mustin ► 11 APR 2016

Retired Vice Adm. Henry Mustin, a combat veteran and fleet boss renowned for his tactical brilliance and demanding leadership style and who hailed from one of the Navy’s most storied families, has died. He was 82. Mustin died of congestive heart failure April 11 and will be mourned Thursday at the Naval Academy, where he graduated as a fifth generation naval officer in 1955. A career surface warfare officer, Mustin oversaw the development of many of the ship and guided missile systems that are at the heart of the fleet’s power. Nicknamed “Hammerin’ Hank,” he was known for his fierce intellect and had a tough demeanor to match it, said Capt. Rick Hoffman, a retired cruiser captain who interacted with him when Mustin was head of the Atlantic Fleet. “He was very highly regarded on the waterfront as a war-fighter,” Hoffman recalled, adding that when briefing Hammerin’ Hank on a program or upcoming exercise, you had to be on your game or risk a tongue-lashing.

Capt. John Mustin said his father expected excellence from subordinates and that if an officer knew his or her business, he’d be the first to praise them. But if he didn’t think the officer was bringing his or her best, he could be hard to work for, a statement Hoffman agreed with. Those who brought their “A” game loved working for him. Mustin was named for his grandfather, the pioneering aviator Capt. Henry C. Mustin, naval aviator No. 11 who developed the catapult launch concept and was the first aviator to be launched from the deck of an underway warship. He founded Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., and was the first head of Naval Air Forces Pacific. He was the son of Vice Adm. Lloyd Mustin, who fought in the battle of Guadalcanal and who helped develop the lead-computing anti-aircraft gun sight, which made a huge impact in the battles of World War II.

A Vietnam veteran, Hammerin’ Hank was a pioneer in his own right. As head of Navy’s Surface Combat Systems division in the Pentagon, he led the development of the Tomahawk missile, the Standard missile, the Light Airborne, Multi-Purpose System helicopters, and the Ticonderoga-class cruisers. He also worked on the early development of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. John Mustin recalled his father was happiest at sea and commanding sailors. Mustin commanded the minesweeper Bunting, destroyer Henry B. Wilson, Destroyer Squadron 12, Cruiser Destroyer Group 2 and 2nd Fleet. He served in Vietnam with Delta River Patrol Group. “His favorite job was destroyer CO,” John Mustin said. “He felt it was the perfect level combining his tactical proficiency and capability while still maintaining a relationship with his crew. When he was a fleet commander, he didn’t feel he had the integration with the sailors that he did when he commanded the Henry B. Wilson.”

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Retired Vice Adm. Henry Mustin, left, prepares to set

Retired Vice Adm. Henry Mustin, left and right preparing to set the first watch aboard the destroyer Mustin in 2003, a ship named in his family’s honor.

During his 34-year career, Mustin received two Distinguished Service Medals, three Legions of Merit, three Bronze Star Medals with Combat ‘V,’ the Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Medal with gold star and Combat ‘V,’ and the Combat Action Ribbon, as well as many other personal awards and campaign and service medals. Mustin graduated from the Naval Academy in 1955 and was active in the leadership of the alumni association. “The Navy was a huge part of him,” his son said. “His service in uniform really defined him and he continued that work even after he retired.”

John Mustin, who has been selected for promotion to rear admiral, isn’t the only Mustin from more recent generations to have served. His brother and sister-in-law are retired captains and his nephew is a lieutenant. The destroyer Mustin is named for the family’s remarkable legacy. The Navy’s top officer praised his extraordinary service. “From as far back as the 1800’s, the Mustin family name has been synonymous with a legacy of service in our Navy,” said Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, in a statement. “His forward-leaning approach to warfighting was instrumental in the development of numerous shipboard and weapons technologies. … Vice Admiral Mustin took strong hold of the naval legacy passed to him by both his father and grandfather, cementing into history a continued family drive for ingenuity and service to country. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Lucy, the entire Mustin family and the countless shipmates that mourn his loss. He will be greatly missed,” Richardson said.

Funeral services will be held at the Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis, Maryland on Thursday, April 28. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the USNA Foundation for the Athletic Excellence Fund, 25 Maryland Avenue, Annapolis, MD 21401, or The Sentara Foundation – Hampton Roads, Sentara Heart Fund, 6015 Poplar Hall Drive, Suite 308, Norfolk, VA 23502. [Source: Navy Times | David Larter | April 27, 2016 ++]

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Retiree Appreciation Days ► As of 26 Apr 2016

Retiree Appreciation Days (RADs) are designed with all veterans 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 updated schedule for 2016 is available at:

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. To get more info about a particular event, mouseover or click on the event under Event Location. (NOTE: Attendance at some events may require military ID, VA enrollment or DD214. “@” indicates event requires registration\RSVP.) For more information call the phone numbers indicated on the schedule of the Retirement Services Officer (RSO) sponsoring the RAD.

To quickly locate events in your geographic area just click on the appropriate State\Territory\Country listed at the top of the schedule. They will look like this:

AK AL AR AS AZ CA CO CT DC DE FL GA GU HI IA ID IL IN KS KY LA MA MD ME MI MN MO MS MT NC ND NE NH NJ NM NV NY OH OK OR PA PR RI SC SD TN TX UT VA VI VT WA WI WV WY Belgium Germany Italy Japan Korea Netherlands Thailand

[Source: RAD List Manager | Milton Bell | April 26, 2015 ++]

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Vet Hiring Fairs ► 01 thru 31 May 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 .

Pittsburgh, PA – Pittsburgh Hiring Expo with Pittsburgh Pirates Details Register

May 3 – 11:00 am to 2:00 pm

San Diego, CA – Caregiver Flexible Workplace Conference Details Register

May 4 – 8:45 am to 12:00 pm

San Diego, CA – San Diego Wounded Veteran & Caregiver Employment Conference Details Register

May 5 – 8:30 am to 2:30 pm

Fort Leonard Wood, MO – Fort Leonard Wood Transition Summit Details Register

May 10 – 1:00 pm to May 11 – 4:00 pm

Dallas, TX – Dallas Hiring Fair Details Register

May 17 – 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm

Charleston, SC – Charleston Hiring Fair Details Register

May 18 – 8:30 am to 1:30 pm

Fort Worth, TX – NAS JRB Fort Worth Hiring Fair Details Register

May 21 – 10:00 am to 1:00 pm

Boston, MA – Boston Hiring Expo with Boston Red Sox Details Register

May 24 – 9:30 am to 2:00 pm

Seattle, WA – Seattle Hiring Expo with Seattle Mariners Details Register

May 25 – 10:00 am to 1:00 pm

Fort Belvoir, VA – Military Spouse Event Details Register

May 25 – 7:00 pm to May 26 – 1:00 pm

Pensacola, FL – Pensacola Hiring Fair Details Register

May 26 – 8:30 am to 1:30 pm

[Source: U.S. Chamber of Commerce Assn April 28, 2016 ++]

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State Veteran’s Benefits & Discounts ► Alabama 2016

The state of Alabama provides several benefits to veterans as indicated below. To obtain information on these plus discounts listed on the Military and Veterans Discount Center (MCVDC) website, refer to the attachment to this Bulletin titled, “Vet State Benefits & Discounts – AL” for an overview of the below benefits. Benefits are available to veterans who are residents of the state. For a more detailed explanation of each of the below refer to http://militaryandveteransdiscounts.com/location/alabama.html & http://www.va.state.al.us/default.aspx.

  • Financial Assistance Benefits
  • Employment Benefits
  • Veterans Business Benefits
  • Education Benefits
  • Other State Veteran Benefits
  • Discounts

[Source: http://www.military.com/benefits/veteran-state-benefits/alabama-state-veterans-benefits.html?comp=7000022835803&rank=2 | April 2016 ++]

* Vet Legislation *

SBP DIC Offset Update 45 ► Time to End the Military “Widows Tax”

No servicemember, active or retired, likes to contemplate their possible death. But those with families do exactly that to shield their loved ones from the financial consequences of losing the head of household. The significant majority of retiring members purchase the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) to provide their surviving spouse 55 percent of retired pay. But what if the servicemember dies of a service-caused condition? Shouldn’t the spouse get something extra in that circumstance? In theory, they do, because the VA provides Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) — currently a little over $15,000 a year — in such cases. But there’s a catch: If the deceased servicemember had SBP coverage, the law requires DIC to be deducted from it. That’s right — the SBP the retiree purchased gets cut by up to $15,000. For most enlisted retirees, that wipes out most or all of the survivor’s SBP. Is the government entirely unfeeling about this? No, they kindly refund a pro-rata share of the member-paid SBP premiums (without interest) for the lost SBP amount.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) have introduced bipartisan legislation to end this so-called SBP-DIC widows tax and authorize payment of both SBP and DIC when military service caused the member’s death. Nelson, a former Florida insurance commissioner, has said, “It would be illegal for any insurance company to say it wouldn’t pay on a life insurance policy because the policyholder had other coverage.” That’s not the only irony SBP-DIC widows face. Several years ago, a court ruled dual SBP- and DIC-eligible survivors can receive both benefits — provided they remarry after age 57. So — incredibly — current law punishes these survivors financially for remarrying before age 55 (they lose both SBP and DIC in that case) and also punishes them financially (by continuing the widows tax) if they don’t remarry after age 57.

Congress long has recognized the unfairness of the widows tax. Several years ago, Congress authorized a Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA) as a partial rebate for SBP-DIC widows. The SSIA is $275 a month this year, and will rise to $310 next year, when it will make up for about 25 percent of the widows tax. The intent, as expressed by previous House Armed Services Committee Chair Ike Skelton (D-MO) was to continue raising the SSIA as a means of eventually phasing out the widows tax. But the authority to pay SSIA ends as of Oct. 1, 2017 — which means Congress has to act this year to keep SBP-DIC widows from losing the current $310 monthly allowance. MOAA stormed the Hill last week to urge legislators to end the widows tax or, at the very least, extend and continue increasing the SSIA.

The vehicle to do that is the FY2017 defense authorization bill, which the House and Senate will be considering over the next month. You can help protect these most deserving survivors by sending your House and Senate legislators a MOAA-suggested message urging inclusion of a provision in the defense bill to end the SBP-DIC widows tax. This can be done by going to http://capwiz.com/moaa/issues/alert/?alertid=71639626&PROCESS=Take+Action and completing the blocks indicated. [Source: MOAA Director, Government Relations | Steve Strobridge | April 22, 2016 ++]

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SBP DIC Offset Update 46 ► Pivotal Legislative Year for 60K+ Widows

This could be a pivotal legislative year for more than 60,000 surviving spouses of service members who either died in retirement from service-connected ailments or injuries or died while serving on active duty. The armed services committees will be deciding whether to continue to ease a sharp loss of survivor benefit payments for these widows by extending or even bolstering their Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA) which is due to expire on Oct. 1, 2017. At the other end of the spectrum of options, this one perhaps requiring a budget miracle given its projected cost of $7 billion over the next decade, Congress could decide to protect these surviving spouses more fully by ending the so-called SBP-DIC offset, which the SSIA was created to ease.

“Congress never passes the [defense] authorization bill by the first of October. So if we’re going to avoid expiration [of the SSIA], something has to be in this year’s bill either to eliminate the offset, phase out the offset or at least extend, if not increase, the SSIA,” explained Steve Strobridge, director of government relations for Military Officers Association of America. The survivors, most of them widows, believe that for more than a decade they’ve been mistreated by Congress and the White House because their Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) payments continue to be reduced, dollar for dollar, by the amount they receive in Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Any justification for the SBP-DIC offset disappeared, they argue, when Congress voted to lift a similar ban on “concurrent receipt” of both full military retirement and VA disability compensation, at least for the most seriously disabled retirees and those with rated combat-related conditions. By treating so many retirees fairly and at great cost, how can Congress continue to ban concurrent receipt for those survivors drawing DIC because they lost spouses to service-connected ailments or injury?

The two payments, they argue, have separate purposes. SBP is an insurance-like annuity purchased either by dying on active duty or, more typically, by having premiums withheld from retired pay for up to 30 years. DIC, on the other hand, is a tax-free benefit, currently set at $1254 a month, which VA pays to survivors for the economic loss if members die in the line of duty or if veterans die later of service-related conditions. As of Sept. 30 last year, 63,182 surviving spouses were eligible for SBP and DIC and thus subject to the offset. For 38,798, SBP was wiped out. Lawmakers have had an easier time ignoring this since 2008 when they acknowledged the inequity and began to ease it by creating for survivors the SSIA. Like any entitlement pay, it is categorized as mandatory spending and, under House budget rules, can only be funded by shifting the dollars required from other mandatory spending accounts.

That’s why SSIA initially was set at only $50 a month, to be raised annually by $10 a year. But then-chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), found enough of the right type of dollars to boost SSIA. It’s now $275 a month and will rise Oct. 1 to $310, enough to effectively replace a quarter of the maximum SBP-DIC offset. But SSIA is to expire Oct. 1, 2017, leaving the armed services committees to debate what to do next. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) would like them to adopt his bill, H.R.4519, which would extend SSIA for five years, and raise it steadily to reach $800 a month by 2022. Awaiting a cost estimate on his bill from the Congressional Budget Office, Grayson also has a second bill to extend SSIA for only a year, raising it to $400 a month. That cost is easily calculated at roughly $300 million. “We still think the right thing to do is repeal the offset,” Strobridge said. “The second choice if we can’t do that is to try to find a cheaper way to phase out the offset over time. And if we can’t get that, we have to at least do something to extend the SSIA and hopefully increase it.”

Janet Snyder, president-elect of the Society of Military Widows, said her first thought was to oppose both Grayson bills because the SSIA means applying another band-aid to what is a deep and unjust financial wound. But she also understands that some can’t risk losing the SSIA. There’s also the argument that the more SSIA grows, the more likely over time that ending the offset will seem affordable to lawmakers now balking at the cost. Snyder said her husband died 100-percent disabled in 2010, having paid SBP premiums 30 years. Though a portion of premiums were refunded, her SBP has been reduced an average of $1000 a month ever since. “It’s like paying into an insurance policy. You’re supposed to get the benefits!”

Chris Kinnard, whose term as government relations co-chair for Gold Star Wives of America ended last week, said lawmakers recognize that it’s money alone keeping them from doing what’s right for surviving spouses. “This is very sad, because the whole point of SSIA was to get the offset eliminated by this time. And we’re not any closer now, I think, than we were before, unfortunately,” said Kinnard. Given what surviving spouses lost because loved one chose to serve the nation, this lack of progress “is disgraceful,” she said. “I think we take better care of refugees than our surviving spouses.”

In written testimony last month to a Senate armed services subcommittee, Edith G. Smith, a long-time advocate for surviving spouses, reviewed the legislative history of failed attempts to end offset, noting that “co-sponsors of these bills have numbered from 44 to 352 in different sessions of Congress.” With a few exceptions, like Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), she called the “inconsistency” of support by lawmakers “mind-boggling.” Smith also recalled testifying before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in 2005 with freshmen Senator Barack Obama attending and later co-sponsoring two bills to end the SBP-DIC offset. And yet as president, even after White House staff convened meetings on the topic, Smith wrote, no Obama budget request ever included funds to end to the widows’ offset. [Source: Military.com Advantage Blog | Tom Philpott | April 7, 2016 ++]

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Vet Fraud & Abuse Update 01 H.R.4676 | House Vote 411-0

Two members of the Florida congressional delegation scored a win on 12 APR as their bill to safeguard veterans against fraud passed the U.S. House without opposition. U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL) and U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) brought out the “Preventing Crimes Against Veterans Act” back in March. U.S. Rep. David Jolly (R-FL) was also a co-sponsor of the bill. The House passed the bill 411-0 on 12 APR. The bill proposes increasing penalties on conmen targeting veterans by charging illegal fees for help in appealing a claim with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. If the bill becomes law, violators would face fines and prison sentences up to five years.

  • “These criminals have to pay the price for their despicable actions, which include deliberately targeting and stealing from the most vulnerable, and it is our job as legislators to give law enforcement the tools they need to punish them,” Rooney said. “I am hopeful this law will help start adequately protecting veterans and their families from these deceitful individuals and entities and bring those who prey on our communities to justice.”
  • “It is a testament to the pressing and bipartisan nature of this issue that Congress swiftly considered and unanimously passed this legislation into law,” Deutch said. “Defrauding vulnerable veterans by going after their well-deserved pensions with false claims of additional benefits is a despicable act, and this law now makes it a punishable offense. The next step is making sure veterans are aware of these scams and know the services available to protect themselves.”

Currently, the bill does not have any companion legislation in the U.S. Senate. Back in March, the bill was sent to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee which cleared it. It now goes to the Senate for consideration. Rooney, who sits on the House Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, taught at West Point and served in the Army, brought out bills last year which called for increasing penalties on criminals who target veterans with other frauds. [Source: Sunshine State News | Kevin Derby | April 13, 2016 ++]

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Vet Toxic Exposure | Marshall Islands ► H.R.3870 Sent to Senate

With its ring of verdant islands surrounding a deep sapphire lagoon, the Enewetak coral atoll was a beautiful place to launch the world’s first hydrogen bomb. After capturing the atoll from the Japanese during World War II, the U.S. evacuated the islands, exhumed its fallen soldiers to send them home for reburial, and conducted a series of nuclear tests. Between 1948 and 1958, 43 weapons exploded over Enewetak. Among these was Ivy Mike, a world-first hydrogen bomb, 500 times bigger than Hiroshima’s Little Boy, that destroyed the entire island of Elugelab. By the time testing ceased, the entire atoll was highly radioactive, its reefs and islands dotted with craters that each measured several hundred feet in diameter.

http://www.legion.org/sites/legion.org/files/styles/scalecrop800x479/public/marshall%20islands%20nuclear%20fallout16.jpg?itok=KespP8xf

Off the coast of Runnit what looks like a natural blue hole is the Lacrosse Crater, the results of an earlier fission test.

Evacuated residents began returning to Enewetak during the 1970s. It was at this time that the U.S. government determined it ought to decontaminate the islands. In 1979, a military team arrived to gather up contaminated soil and debris, mixing it with cement and piling the sludge into a 350-foot-wide blast crater on Runit Island in the atoll’s east. When the mound reached 25 feet high, army engineers covered it with a saucer-shaped concrete cap. It was dubbed the Cactus Dome, after the Cactus bomb that caused the crater. The U.S. declared Enewetak safe for habitation in 1980. Currently, about 900 people live on the atoll though none live on the Cactus Dome. A 2008 field survey of the Cactus Dome noted that 219 of its 357 concrete panels contained defects such as cracks, chips, and vegetation taking root in joints.

American Legion National Commander Dale Barnett welcomes a bill introduced in the Senate in April that would provide benefits to veterans exposed to radioactive fallout while serving in the Marshall Islands. “The American Legion Magazine recently reported on the enormous health toll environmental exposure has had on clean-up workers who served at Enewetak Atoll and other areas that conducted nuclear testing,” Barnett said. “Many of the workers, particularly those involved in operations conducted after the actual testing, are routinely denied benefits. Plutonium has a half-life of 24,000 years. The fact that testing ended in the 1960s is irrelevant to those who had to clean up the waste in the following decades. The cancer rate among these veterans far exceeds those in similar age groups. Delegates at our 2014 National Convention in Charlotte unanimously passed a resolution calling for VA to examine and treat veterans exposed to environmental hazards. As one veteran said, ‘invisible bullets entered out bodies.’”

Barnett commended Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Rep. Mark Takai (D-HI) for introducing the Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act (H.R.3870), which provides for the treatment and service-connection presumption of certain disabilities that could be related to service in the cleanup operations of Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands during the period January 1, 1977 thru December 31, 1980. “Many of these veterans waited long enough to receive the benefits that they deserve,” Barnett said. “Unfortunately, some have died while waiting. I urge our members and other concerned Americans to contact their congressional delegations and ask that they pass this bipartisan legislation and put an end to this wait.” [Source: The American Legion | Online Update | April 21, 2016 ++]

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Vet Deportations Update 07 ► Bill Introduced to Waive Action on Vets

A bill to protect immigrant veterans of the U.S. military from deportation was introduced in the House 20 APR. “If we’re [deporting] one veteran, that’s one too many,” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), who introduced the legislation, told The Hill. The bill would allow authorities to waive action against veterans who are documented immigrants. To be eligible, veterans must have served at least 180 days in the armed forces and have no convictions for felonies, significant misdemeanors or more than three non-significant misdemeanors. Gallego explained the veterans’ combat experience, combined with the limitations of permanent residence, can lead to unjust deportations. “They’re committing deportable offenses — largely because of PTSD — and being thrown out of this country, sometimes the only country they know. And the only VA benefit they get to retain is to be buried in the veterans’ cemetery, but they cannot cross into the United States unless they’re dead.”

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), a co-sponsor of the bill and a foreign-born veteran, said “it is incomprehensible” to treat service members like criminals. “Any immigrant, documented or otherwise, who puts their life on the line to serve the United States in uniform should be entitled to their VA benefits and a peaceful life in our great nation,” Lieu said. Immigration authorities currently have leeway to readmit deported aliens based on humanitarian, health or similar grounds. The proposed law would specifically add military service as an exception for removal procedures. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), another of the bill’s co-sponsors, said, “As a veteran, I know that one’s skin color or immigration status is the last thing that matters on the battlefield. We cannot turn our backs against our immigrant service members who fought to defend our freedoms.”

The number of deported veterans is uncertain, as is the number of veterans subject to removal. Gallego said inspiration for the bill came from his experiences with Deported Veterans Support House, an institution in Tijuana, Mexico that provides temporary lodging to veterans after deportation. There are no official statistics on the number of veterans who have been deported. The Department of Homeland Security doesn’t specifically track that data, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. But Hector Barajas believes at least a thousand veterans, and perhaps several thousand, have been deported since 1996. He runs the Deported Veterans Support House in Tijuana. There are about 50 deported veterans living in Tijuana, south of San Diego, he said. He has been contacted by veterans who have been deported to at least 25 countries. The majority have been deported to Mexico, Canada, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, he said. Most of the deported veterans were legal residents, but a few were undocumented immigrants who used fake documents to join the military. [Source: The Hill | April 20, 2016 ++]

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VA Medical Marijuana Update 18 ► Senate Amendment for Vet Access

The Senate Appropriations Committee on 14 APR passed an amendment that would let Veterans Affairs doctors discuss and recommend marijuana as a potential medical treatment in states where it is legal. An addition to the fiscal 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies appropriations bill, the bipartisan amendment sponsored by Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) would let VA doctors discuss marijuana as a potential medical treatment, similar to the allowances given civilian physicians in medical marijuana states. The move marks the second time senators have tried to improve access to medical marijuana for veterans who are treated at VA medical facilities and want to use marijuana for medical purposes. The provision was approved by the full Senate last November in the fiscal 2016 VA appropriations bill but was stripped from the final law.

https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/e1akUIc7SJFRMHFcPQ7Prduzs7zmM-rfCk4Ygy1zDHjyGd3iWI7u-APaABMwkVfKHe0Z7Ds=s114

Under the amendment, VA would be prohibited from using funds to “interfere with the ability of veterans to participate in medicinal marijuana programs approved by states or deny services to such veterans.” In January, 21 lawmakers wrote VA Secretary Bob McDonald urging him to allow doctors to discuss and recommend marijuana. The group, including 19 Democrats and two Republicans, wanted VA to abandon a policy that prohibits physicians from discussing the drug, which is still illegal under federal law. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, and 17 states have laws allowing physicians to prescribe oils derived from marijuana plants. Daines emphasized that the amendment would not change any laws preventing the possession or dispensing of marijuana on VA property. It was adopted by the committee in a 20-10 vote.

The VA recommends that its physicians use “evidence-based” practices — therapies proved by scientific research to be effective — to treat mental and physical health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and pain. There has been no research in the U.S. on the effectiveness of medical marijuana for relieving symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or other conditions, although some veterans groups and marijuana legalization advocates say it does help relieve symptoms of combat-related PTSD and anxiety. [Source: Military Times | Patricia Kime | April 14, 2016++]

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Vet Legislative Issues 2016 ► AL Testifies in Support of Pending Bills

The American Legion recently presented written and oral testimony addressing positions on pending legislation before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability and Memorial Affairs. Legislation highlighted in the Legion’s statements included pending legislation to distinguish Medal of Honor (MoH) recipients buried in private cemeteries (H.R.4757), the Medal of Honor Legacy Act (Draft), the Veterans Engagement Teams Act (H.R.3936) and the Compensation Cost of Living Adjustment Act of 2016 (H.R.4782). Edward Lilley, the Legion’s assistant director of health, amplified the Legion’s position on these key pieces of pending legislation, placing emphasis on the bills regarding recipients of the Medal of Honor – the highest military honor awarded for valor in action against an enemy force.

http://www.legion.org/sites/legion.org/files/styles/scalecrop800x479/public/DSC_1743.jpg?itok=wpeCGFSh

Edward Lilley

H.R. 4757 directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to furnish at private cemeteries, and upon request, a headstone, marker or medallion that signifies the status of an eligible veteran who served in the armed forces on or after April 6, 1917, as a MoH recipient. If VA previously furnished a headstone, marker or medallion for a deceased veteran that does not signify his or her status as a MoH recipient, the VA shall upon request replace that headstone, marker or medallion with one that signifies the status of the deceased as a MoH recipient. If enacted, another piece of draft legislation – the Medal of Honor Legacy Act – would direct the Secretary of the Army to reserve 1,000 of the remaining 60,000 burial plots at Arlington National Cemetery for individuals who have been awarded the Medal of Honor. “The American Legion fully appreciates the service of those awarded the Medal of Honor and by resolution supports any legislation that would expand the benefits to Medal of Honor recipients,” Lilley expressed to committee members.

Also aimed at helping veterans receive the benefits they are fully entitled to, H.R.3936 would give the Secretary of Veterans Affairs the authority to create a pilot program addressing the barriers between the VA and the veterans they serve by sending VA employees into the field to assist with their claims processing. Similar to The American Legion’s Veterans Benefits Centers (VBCs) established as a result of the VA health care crisis in Phoenix, the program would allow VA to provide one-on-one assistance to veterans and their families at community events. “During these VBCs, we were able to assist more than 3,000 veterans and their families with scheduling outpatient appointments, enrolling in the VA health-care system and applying for compensation, pension, disability indemnity compensation benefits, and other services veterans and their families needed assistance with,” said Lilley. Lilley also shared specific examples with the members of Congress on how Legion VBCs impacted veterans’ lives.

For nearly 100 years, The American Legion has advocated on behalf of our nation’s veterans, to include the awarding of disability benefits associated with chronic medical conditions that manifest related to selfless service to this nation. Current pending legislation has the potential to affect the compensation amounts veterans receive in conjunction with their VA disability benefits. Annually, veterans and their family members are subjects in the debate regarding the annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) for disability benefits. For these veterans and their family members, COLA is not simply an acronym or a minor adjustment in benefits; instead, it is a tangible benefit that meets the needs of the increasing costs of living in a nation that they bravely defended, Lilley stated. H.R.4782 will increase the rates of compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities, and the rates of dependency and indemnity compensation for the survivors of certain disabled veterans effective Dec. 1, 2016.

During The American Legion’s 2014 national convention in Charlotte, N.C., Resolution No. 18 was adopted to support legislation “to provide a periodic cost-of-living adjustment increase and to increase the monthly rates of disability compensation.” Section 2 of the proposed bill notes that “each dollar amount increased under paragraph (1), if not a whole dollar amount, shall be rounded to the next lower whole dollar amount.” The American Legion does not support the rounding down of any benefit; its position is to allow veterans to receive the full benefits they were awarded due to their service.

During his closing remarks, Lilley thanked the committee for the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Legion and urged lawmakers to consider revising sections of H.R. 4782 to prevent any negative impact the legislation may have upon the veteran community. Refer to http://www.legion.org/legislative/testimony/232408/pending-veterans-affairs-legislation to read the Legion’s written statement in its entirety. [Source: American Legion | Online | April 21, 2016 ++]

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VA Bonuses Update 31 MilCon Bill Prohibits 2017 Senior Exec Awards

Senior executives at the Veterans Affairs Department would not receive bonuses in fiscal 2017 under a major House spending bill approved by the Appropriations Committee on 13 APR. The fiscal 2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations measure now heads to the House floor, and includes a provision that prohibits the department from using any funds in the legislation for VA senior executives’ performance awards. It’s the first time the language has been included in the base MilCon-VA spending bill. An amendment banning bonuses for all VA senior executives was successfully added to the fiscal 2016 MilCon-VA legislation, but was not included in the eventual omnibus package Congress had to pass at the end of last year to avoid a government shutdown. There have been other legislative efforts over the past few years to limit or prohibit VA’s senior executive corps from receiving annual performance awards, which they are eligible for under Title 5.

Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) offered and then withdrew an amendment that would have limited the provision, banning bonuses only for those VA senior executives the inspector general verified as “being accountable for inappropriate scheduling practices at a facility for which the individual performed supervisory or management functions.” Farr said his amendment would prohibit performance awards to “people who’ve screwed up, but release it for the rest of them.” Pennsylvania Republican Charlie Dent, who chairs the MilCon-VA appropriations subcommittee, opposed Farr’s amendment, saying that while he understood its intent, “in the current climate, we felt we had to send a signal.” From Philadelphia to Cincinnati, the VA has tried to punish senior executives for alleged wrongdoing. The department’s inspector general regularly has been investigating multiple allegations of misconduct related to scheduling, management and patient care at VA facilities across the country since the 2014 patient wait times scandal erupted at VA’s facility in Phoenix.

Rep. Charles Dent, R-Pa., said lawmakers felt they had to "send a signal."

Rep. Charles Dent, R-Pa., said lawmakers felt they had to “send a signal.”

“We felt banning SES bonuses in committee might deter broader bans on the floor,” said Dent. “Anything we do to weaken this will likely produce pushback on the House floor.” Jennifer Hing, spokeswoman for the majority on the House Appropriations Committee, said in March that the panel “had many member requests for similar language,” when asked who had pushed for inclusion of the measure prohibiting performance awards for all VA senior executives. Farr ultimately withdrew his amendment during Wednesday’s markup. “I don’t want to put it to a vote if it’s going to be controversial, and not going to be bipartisan,” he said.

Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA) said during Wednesday’s markup that he was “not particularly pleased” about the measure’s inclusion in the overall bill. “As I’ve stated over the last three years, this language will not provide any solution in the short term, and in fact may have more long term consequences and compound the very problem it attempts to address,” said the ranking member of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee. “All the language will do is make the VA a less attractive option than other agencies when it comes to recruiting and retaining quality executive leaders.”

The Senior Executives Association, which supported Farr’s amendment, opposed the bill’s provision. “A universal ban would only serve to increase the already taxing difficulty the VA is currently facing when it comes to attracting and retaining talented senior executives,” wrote SEA Interim President Jason Briefel in a 12 APR letter to the full committee. “Ending the pay-for-performance system entirely—which is what this provision would essentially do for VA senior executives—would have a harmful effect on employee morale and agency performance.” Briefel also pointed out that the VA secretary “already has ultimate authority to raise, lower, or concur with an SES performance award, and limiting the ability of the secretary to reward the VA’s best executives will be detrimental to the agency’s mission delivery.”

The fiscal 2017 MilCon-VA bill appropriates money for housing, training and equipment for military personnel and funds vets’ benefits and programs. The legislation provides $81.6 billion in discretionary funding, $1.8 billion more than the fiscal 2016 level. That discretionary funding figure includes $73.5 billion for the VA alone; adding mandatory funding to the number, the legislation includes a total of $176.1 billion for the VA. [Source: GovExec.com | Kellie Lunney | April 13, 2016 ++]

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Vets First Act SVAC VA Omnibus Bill

Senators took fresh steps in late April in the slow effort to reform the beleaguered Veterans Affairs Department and hold it more accountable just as news broke of a new scandal — cockroaches in food at a VA hospital in Chicago. “Almost every morning there’s a story on the news about some other failure at a VA hospital,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), who chairs the Veterans Affairs Committee. He said the Chicago story was “just another failure of care for our veterans that we need to see stopped.” Nearly every member of Isakson’s committee joined him on 28 APR to unveil the Veterans First Act, the product of nearly a year of negotiations stemming from scandal over patient care at VA hospitals.

The bipartisan bill combines other pieces of legislation aimed at increasing accountability, including lowering barriers to hire and fire senior executives, expanding health care programs, protecting whistleblowers, reviewing the use of prescription drugs, increasing access to disability compensation and expanding access to education. Isakson said leaders from both parties were aware of the legislation but declined to say when it might be considered, especially in light of the constrained congressional calendar in an election year. He also could not recall the cost of the legislation, but said savings are included in the bill and veterans benefits would not be cut. The committee’s announcement came a day after a group of Republican senators announced plans to introduce legislation of their own — the Care Veterans Deserve Act, which would seek to address the persistent problem of lengthy wait times for health care.

Two years ago, alarming shortcomings centered around delayed care and administrative oversight at some VA hospitals were uncovered. The scandal led to the resignation of Veterans Secretary Eric Shinseki, and prompted hearings and congressional action to address the problems. But a 2014 reform law has not been effectively implemented, prompting the new legislative efforts. “It’s a little bit like fixing a plane while you’re flying it,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the Veterans Affairs panel. “This system can be and must be improved and this measure will help advance its efficiency and its fairness,” he said of the committee proposal. [Source: Sub Herald | Bridget Bowman | April 28, 2016 ++]

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Vet Bills Submitted to 114th Congress ► 160416 thru 160430

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.4909 : National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017. A bill to authorize appropriations for fiscal year 2017 for military activities of the Department of Defense and for military construction, to prescribe military personnel strengths for such fiscal year, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep Thornberry, Mac [TX-13] (by request) (introduced 4/12/2016)
  • H.R.4916 : Authorize VA Qualifying Non-Department Health Care Providers. A bill to reauthorize the program of the Department of Veterans Affairs under which the Secretary of Veterans Affairs provides health services to veterans through qualifying non-Department health care providers. Sponsor: Rep Poliquin, Bruce [ME-2] (introduced 4/12/2016)
  • H.R.4977 : VA Scheduling Accountability Act. A bill to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to ensure that each medical facility of the Department of Veterans Affairs complies with requirements relating to scheduling veterans for health care appointments, to improve the uniform application of directives of the Department, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep Walorski, Jackie [IN-2] (introduced 4/18/2016)
  • H.R.4994 : Veterans Pensions Protection Act of 2016. A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to exempt reimbursements of certain medical expenses and other payments related to accident, theft, loss, or casualty loss from determinations of annual income with respect to pensions for veterans and surviving spouses and children of veterans, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep Hastings, Alcee L. [FL-20] (introduced 4/19/2016)
  • H.R.5047 : Inform Vets on Articulation Agreements Between Institutions Of Higher Learning. A bill to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the Secretary of Labor to provide information to veterans and members of the Armed Forces about articulation agreements between institutions of higher learning, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep Hice, Jody B. [GA-10] (introduced 4/25/2016)
  • H.R.5057 : VA Medication Prescriber Education. To amend title 38, United States Code, to provide for a continuing education requirement for employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs authorized to prescribe medication. Sponsor: Rep Keating, William R. [MA-9] (introduced 4/26/2016)

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

  • S.2791: Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act. A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to provide for the treatment of veterans who participated in the cleanup of Enewetak Atoll as radiation exposed veterans for purposes of the presumption of service-connection of certain disabilities by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Sponsor: Sen Franken, Al [MN] (introduced 4/13/2016). Related Bills: H.R.3870
  • S.2806 : Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017. An original bill making appropriations for military construction, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2017, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen Kirk, Mark Steven [IL] (introduced 4/18/2016) Related Bills: H.R.571, H.R.2981, H.R.4974, S.2291, S.2772

[Source: https://beta.congress.gov & http: //www.govtrack.us/congress/bills April 27, 2016 ++]

* Military *

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

POW/MIA Displays ► WPAFB Bible Removal

An Ohio congressman said it’s unacceptable that a Bible was removed from a POW display at a military base medical center. U.S. Rep. Mike Turner sent a letter 13 APR to the top general at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base objecting to the Bible’s removal from a POW/MIA table display in the hospital’s dining facility, The Dayton Daily News reported. The Bible was removed last week after the Military Religious Freedom Foundation complained, base spokeswoman Marie Vanover said in an email. The foundation received more than 30 complaints, 10 of which came from people identifying as Christians, according to Mikey Weinstein, the organization’s founder and president.

Michael Turner

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner

Turner’s letter to Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski said he’s concerned that “similar efforts to restrict religious freedom” may be made at other military sites. “It’s a very dangerous precedent to have a group that has an issue campaign to effect policy on a government installation merely by complaining,” the congressman said. Weinstein said the foundation had constitutional concerns about the Bible’s display. He called Turner’s letter “ridiculous” and “absurd.” “He’s grandstanding in an election year, throwing red meat to the conservative electorate that’s out there,” Weinstein said. Air Force Materiel Command spokesman Ron Fry said the command and the Air Force said military leaders have to balance constitutionally protected religious freedom with the constitutional separation of church and state. The foundation has opposed the placement of Bibles in POW/MIA Missing Man displays at VA facilities in Akron and Youngstown. Those Bibles have also been removed. [Source: The Associated Press | April 14, 2016 ++]

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Disability Separation Pay 14k Vets Wrongly Taxed

Lawmakers have advanced legislation that would reimburse veterans with combat-related injuries potentially thousands of dollars in lost severance pay. The Senate Finance Committee approved the 2016 Taxpayer Protection Act on 20 APR, which included an amendment requiring the Defense Department to pay back all veterans affected by the accounting error, going back as far as 1991. Veterans who had to medically retire from the military because of combat-related injuries during the last two decades have lost out on thousands of dollars in severance pay because the Defense Department improperly taxed those payments. “We’re pleased that this bill is one step closer to becoming law,” said Tom Moore, attorney and manager of the Lawyers Serving Warriors project at the nonprofit National Veterans Legal Services Program. “This bill will right an inexcusable wrong for thousands of veterans who served their country and were discharged for combat-related disabilities.”

Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas is one of the sponsors.

Sens. John Boozman

Sens. John Boozman (R-AR) and Mark Warner (D-VA) recently introduced a stand-alone bill directing Defense to identify affected veterans, notify them, and ensure the government pays them back. It also extended the statute of limitations on amended tax returns for affected veterans so that “those who were wronged long ago can still receive their full and proper payments,” Warner said. Senators on the Finance Committee decided to incorporate the legislation into the Taxpayer Protection Act, which now heads to the Senate floor. It’s unclear how many veterans have been affected, but NVLSP estimated it could be close to 14,000 vets who were wrongfully taxed for a total of $78 million in lost compensation.

Since 1991, federal law has stipulated that the government is not supposed to withhold taxes from the one-time lump sum disability severance pay given to veterans forced to leave the service because of combat-related injuries. But that’s what has happened, costing vets on average roughly $5,000 in lost pay, according to NVLSP estimates. The amount of lost compensation, though, could vary widely among individual vets, depending on the amount of the lump sum received, said Moore. NVLSP uncovered the decades-old, systemic problem during an unrelated review of some combat-injured vets’ financial documents, which revealed the discrepancy. Defense has known about the problem for years, but has yet to come up with a comprehensive solution that prevents it from happening in the first place. Basically, it’s up to veterans to figure it out for themselves and recoup the money. They can either request a direct tax refund from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, if it occurs during the same tax year as their separation, or file an amended tax return with the Internal Revenue Service if the disbursement is within the three-year statute of limitations for filing amended tax returns.

The accounting error related to taxes and disability severance payments might stem from the system’s shortcomings when identifying DSP categories. While combat-injured vets receiving DSP aren’t supposed to be taxed on that payment, the government does withhold taxes on disability severance payments for service members who are separated because of non-combat-related injuries. “Going forward, the department is working on a process to allow tax withholding decisions to be made with respect to the second group of members based on information available prior to separation,” DoD spokesman Matthew Allen said earlier this month over email. “In addition, the department is working on improving the process to ensure that members separated for combat-related disabilities do not have taxes withheld from their separation pay. When implemented, these process changes should greatly reduce the risk of tax withholding errors.” Allen said Defense doesn’t know how many veterans were improperly taxed but “does not believe the problem is as widespread as recent reports might suggest.” [Source: GovExec.com | Kellie Lunney | April 22, 2016 ++]

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C-130J Fatal Crash Cause | Forgotten Night-Vision Goggle Case

The pilot of a C-130J jammed a control yoke in place by propping it up with a night-vision goggle case, but forgot it was there when he tried to take off again 2 OCT 2015, causing the crew to lose control of the plane and crash, killing 14 service members, contractors, and allied troops, according to an Air Force Air Mobility Command accident report released 15 APR.

C-130J_Afghan_Crash_2

Herks take to the sky

When the crew landed at Jalalabad Airfield in eastern Afghanistan and began offloading cargo, the pilot “raised the elevators mounted to the horizontal stabilizer by pulling back on the yoke,” according to the report. That “provided additional clearance to assist with offloading tall cargo.” After holding the yoke by hand for a while, the pilot decided to keep it in place with a night vision goggle (NVG) “However, because the pilots were operating in darkened nighttime flying conditions and wearing NVGs, neither pilot recognized and removed the NVG case after loading operations were complete or during takeoff,” the Air Force said in a statement. Once airborne, the aircraft started to pitch upward. The co-pilot thought the problem was a trim malfunction “resulting in improper recovery techniques,” the service said. “The rapid increase in pitch angle resulted in a stall from which the pilots were unable to recover,” according to the report. “The aircraft impacted approximately 28 seconds after liftoff, right of the runway, within the confines of Jalalabad Airfield.”

The crash killed all 11 people onboard the C-130J. The plane also hit a guard tower, which killed three Afghan troops working there. “Our hearts go out to the family members and friends of those killed in this accident,” said Brig. Gen. Patrick Mordente, the head of the accident investigation board. In October, the Air Force identified the six airmen killed in the crash: Capt. Jordan B. Pierson, 28, the aircraft’s pilot, and Capt. Jonathan J. Golden, 33, the co-pilot; as well as Staff Sgt. Ryan D. Hammond, 26, and Senior Airman Quinn L. Johnson-Harris, 21, the two loadmasters. All four were members of the 39th Airlift Squadron at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. Senior Airman Nathan C. Sartain, 29, and Airman 1st Class Kcey E. Ruiz, 21, of the 66th Security Forces Squadron at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., were also onboard as fly-away security team members to guard the aircraft, cargo, crew and passengers. The other five individuals killed aboard the plane were civilian contractors.

The aircraft itself was from the 317th Airlift Group at Dyess, the Air Force said. While operating in Afghanistan, the airmen were assigned to the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing. “We are all mourning the loss of these incredible young men, but no one more than those who lost their loved ones,” said Col. Stephen Hodge, the 317th Airlift Group commander, in a statement shortly following the crash. “These airmen were our friends and our family, and the halls of the group and the skies overhead will never be the same without them. Though they are no longer with us, the memories of those whose lives they touched will remain forever.”

President Barack Obama said the crash was a reminder of the “sacrifice brave Americans and our Afghan partners make each and every day in the name of freedom and security.” “Their willingness to serve so selflessly will not be forgotten,” Obama said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims’ families and loved ones during this difficult hour. May God bless their souls.” [Source: Air Force Times | Phillip Swarts | April 18, 2016 ++]

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Army Honorary Sergeant Major Retired Gen. Gordon Sullivan | 1st Named

A former Army chief of staff has just been named the service’s very first honorary sergeant major of the Army. Retired Gen. Gordon Sullivan was honored in April by Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey and five of his predecessors at Fort Bliss, Texas. The ceremony took place 12 APR during the first International Training and Leader Development Symposium, which brought together American noncommissioned officers and senior enlisted leaders from about 55 countries.

Sullivan served as the Army’s top general from 1991 to 1995. Since 1998, he has been the president of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), advocating for soldiers and the Army. “I’m kind of speechless, to tell you the truth,” Sullivan said about the award, according to the NCO Journal. “A sergeant major of the United States Army? Are you kidding me? I wasn’t always a four-star, and some of the best [mentors] I ever had were noncommissioned officers in the United States Army in some really bad places.” As Army chief of staff, Sullivan’s contributions to the NCO education system include overseeing the establishment of the Battle Staff NCO Course in 1991 and taking the Sergeants Major Course from six months to nine months, according to NCO Journal.

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Image result for army

Retired Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, the 32nd Chief of Staff, has been honored for his long

history of supporting NCOs.

Sullivan’s selection, which had been announced during the AUSA annual meeting in October but hadn’t been formally recognized until this week, was a no-brainer and a unanimous decision, Dailey said. Sullivan is “a great mentor, a great leader and a great soldier,” Dailey said, according to NCO Journal. In addition, Sullivan “has spent nearly four decades in service to the Army and has always gone above and beyond to advance the NCO corps,” Dailey said in an e-mailed statement to Army Times.

The honorary SMA title was born when Dailey wanted to honor an individual who had demonstrated lifelong support and commitment to the NCO corps, the Army, soldiers and their families, according to information from Dailey’s office. The honorary title will be bestowed once a year and only with the approval of three acting or former SMAs. “Not only is it important to recognize those who support and advance the [NCO] corps, I hope to bring awareness to the power of a professional NCO corps in the success of an Army and, in essence, of a nation,” Dailey said. The ceremony honoring Sullivan was just one of many events that took place during the International Training and Leader Development Symposium, which was born out of a conversation between Dailey and his senior enlisted counterparts from New Zealand, Australia and Canada.

The goal is to bring together an international coalition of senior enlisted partners at least once a year and build upon those relationships. “This was the largest gathering of senior enlisted NCOs in the world,” Dailey said in his statement to Army Times. “Officers collaborate regularly, but we had never done it.” More than 150 sergeants major from the U.S. Army and around the world attended the symposium, which ran April 11-14 at and around Fort Bliss. The group included the senior enlisted soldiers for the Army Reserve and Army National Guard, sergeants major from almost every combatant command and the 54 states and territories, two senior enlisted advisers to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and five former sergeants major of the Army. “The experience and knowledge being shared was unmatched,” Dailey said. “The true benefit of the symposium was the collaboration and sharing of knowledge between nations from around the world. It was just amazing to see the most senior enlisted soldiers from every corner of the globe working out problems like how to develop or strengthen the training and education of their enlisted force and how to legitimize and demonstrate the worth of the NCO corps.”

Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Dan Allyn spoke during the conference, “It’s an incredible honor to have 55 countries joining us here today,” Allyn said during his speech, according to NCO Journal. “As I have served around the globe, and particularly in combat environments over this last 20 years, it has been our teammates, our partners and our allies that have stuck with us through some pretty tough times. Their nations have signed on and committed with us.” Dailey echoed Allyn’s thoughts in his e-mailed statement to Army Times. “With this event we are building a world-class team of coalition partners ready to work together to tackle whatever this complex and dangerous world has in store for us,” Dailey said. “We don’t fight by ourselves anymore. In fact, we haven’t since the Civil War. We have to rely on our partners to deter, shape and win together.” [Source: Army Times | Michelle Tan | April 16, 2016 ++]

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GI Bill Update 204 ► 50% Dependent Housing Stipend Cut

A coalition of Democratic lawmakers and veterans organizations is vowing to block any legislation that includes proposed cuts to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, even if that means shelving a host of other proposals they authored. At issue is a measure passed without objection in the House earlier this year which would cut in half the housing stipend for dependents of veterans attending school on GI Bill benefits. The move would save the government about $773 million over the next 10 years and help pay for a host of other veterans initiatives. “This goes back on a promise that all of us here are unwilling to break,” said Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN). “In the entire federal budget, there is nowhere else to fund [veterans] programs? That cannot stand.”

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Rep. Tim Waltz, and other members of Congress, hold a rally with IAVA and its members to urge

Congress to defend the Post 9-11 GI Bill

For students in high-cost cities such as San Diego or New York, that cut would total $1,000 to $1,800 a month. It would not affect students already using the transferred benefit but could affect families planning on the extra money in the future. But officials from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said the move goes back on a promise made to those families that the full benefit would be available when they need it, and for the first time pulls money out of the GI Bill to fund outside programs. They painted the legislative proposal as a betrayal of veterans’ service and accused lawmakers of viewing earned benefits as a “piggy bank” for other wants. “This is a whole new level of stupid, to cut the GI Bill in a time of war,” said Paul Rieckhoff, CEO of IAVA. “This is about keeping a promise, investing in the future, about retention and recruiting and morale. “Find the money somewhere else. Either you’re with us or against us.”

Officials from Student Veterans of America pushed back on that ultimatum, saying the issue is more complex than the opposition coalition will admit. “We need to remember who the Post-9/11 GI Bill was intended for: veterans,” said Derek Fronabarger, SVA’s director of policy. He challenged the idea that the legislative proposal amounts to “cuts” in veterans benefits, saying “in reality the changes are a transfer of benefits from dependents, via a 50 percent drop in [housing stipends], to Fry Scholarship recipients and reservists.” Supporters of the cut have also argued that the benefit is overly generous to children of troops, sometimes awarding them housing stipends well beyond their dorm and living costs.

Savings from the change also would go to pay for a host of other programs, leaving other veterans groups with a difficult choice of whether to support the proposal. “The Veterans of Foreign Wars would never actively support any standalone provision that reduces benefits for veterans or service members, but we felt that [this bill], taken in its entirety, contained enough good provisions to support its passage,” said VFW national spokesman Joe Davis. He noted that among those are improvements to postnatal care for female veterans, expanded service animal therapy for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, reauthorization of the veterans work-study programs, and critical changes to VA home loan guarantees. But Walz and others argued that’s a false choice. Michael Little, director of legislative affairs for the Association of the United States Navy, said any cut to the GI Bill benefit risks adding to the stress load of military and veteran families. “If we want to talk about funding veterans’ benefits, the last place we need to look for money is in the GI Bill,” he said. “The discussion about the GI Bill shouldn’t be about where we’ll cut, it should be on sustaining and strengthening it beyond our current military budget situation.”

So far, Senate lawmakers haven’t indicated whether they’ll move ahead with the House proposal or revise it for inclusion in an anticipated veterans omnibus package due out before the end of the month. Opponents hope the latest objections convince them to look elsewhere for money. “When we look troops in the eye and make them promises … they expect us to keep those promises,” said Rep. Tammy Duckworth (R-IL). “It’s not fair to rob one group of veterans to pay for services for another. “We can do better.” Both remaining Democratic presidential candidates this weekend blasted congressional proposals to trim Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits as short-sighted and harmful to veterans, a move opponents of the idea hope gives them new momentum in the legislative fight. None of the Republican presidential candidates have weighed in on the issue yet. House Republicans have largely supported the measure, but Senate Republicans crafting their own veterans omnibus measure have not yet taken a position on the issue. White House officials have also declined comment thus far on the proposed GI Bill cut. [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane | April 14, 2016++]

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Military Sexual Assault ► Pentagon Misled Congress | Civilian Enforcement

The Pentagon misled Congress with inaccurate and vague information about sexual assault cases that portrayed civilian law enforcement officials as less willing than military commanders to punish sex offenders, an Associated Press investigation found. Local district attorneys and police forces failed to act against U.S. service members who were subsequently prosecuted in military courts for sex crimes, according to internal government records that summarized the outcomes of dozens of cases. But in a number of cases, the steps taken by civilian authorities were described incorrectly or omitted. Other case descriptions were too imprecise to be verified.

There also is nothing in the records that supports the primary reason the Pentagon told Congress about the cases in the first place: To show top military brass as hard-nosed crime fighters who insisted on taking the cases to trial. The records were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders, which provided the documents exclusively to AP. Protect Our Defenders was scheduled to release a report 18 APR that criticizes the Pentagon’s use of the cases to undermine support for Senate legislation that would mandate a major change in the way the military handles sexual assault allegations.

The bulk of the cases involved soldiers. Army spokeswoman Tatjana Christian said the case descriptions were written by service attorneys who had “personal and direct knowledge of the circumstances.” She said they contacted the local authorities in each case to ensure the description was accurate, although there is no indication of that in the summaries. The Army declined to make a service official available for an interview. Previously, the more than 90 cases had been discussed publicly only as statistics that underpinned the Pentagon’s objections to the Senate bill, the Military Justice Improvement Act. Three years ago, Navy Adm. James Winnefeld, then the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, used the numbers to warn a Senate panel that if approved, the bill would result in fewer sexual assault cases going to trial. Winnefeld retired from military service last year.

In response to the AP’s reporting, Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman Richard Osial described the information that Winnefeld provided the committee as a snapshot based on data that was supplied by the military services. “He had confidence to go with it,” Osial said. The consequences could be significant if lawmakers believe they were misinformed. A backlash may stoke additional support for the Senate bill (S.1752 (113th): Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013) that’s failed to pass largely because of the military’s strident opposition. Another vote on the legislation could come as early as June. The legislation aims to stop sexual assaults by stripping senior officers of their responsibilities to decide whether to prosecute sexual assault cases and giving that authority to seasoned military trial lawyers. Protect Our Defenders, a nonpartisan organization, supports the bill. “Someone at the Pentagon should be held accountable,” said retired Col. Don Christensen, the organization’s president and the former chief Air Force prosecutor. “Whether you agree or disagree with the policy, every senator — especially those who repeated the claim or based their vote on the claim — should be outraged.”

The often unflattering image of civilian law enforcement projected in the records also runs counter to the close working relationships local prosecutors told AP that they’ve forged with the uniformed legal staffs at military installations in their jurisdictions — far from the contentious political climate in Washington. Civilian prosecutors said it’s not unusual to transfer a sexual assault case to the military for investigation or prosecution, particularly when the incident occurred off post and involved two or more service members. Yet these referrals are routinely depicted as refusals, leaving the impression the charges would not have been pursued had military authorities not stepped in. “It’s offensive that they would say they would prosecute cases that we would not,” said Jaime Esparza, the district attorney for El Paso County, Texas, where the Army’s 1.1 million-acre Fort Bliss is located.

At Fort Drum in upstate New York, the Army took credit for prosecuting a soldier who had been previously convicted for the possession of child pornography but was never discharged from the service. The soldier, whose identity AP could not confirm, also failed to register as a sex offender. After being allowed to stay in uniform, he groped a girl and also sent her sexually explicit messages. He then was court-martialed and sentenced to five years in prison. Kristyna Mills, the district attorney in New York’s Jefferson County, where Fort Drum is located, disputed the Army’s conclusion that her office turned the case down. She said the decision to allow the Army to take it was a “collaborative effort” made with the legal staff at Fort Drum. “It is extremely rare that my office ‘declines to prosecute’ a case unless there are serious evidentiary issues that we feel cannot be overcome,” Mills said.

In another case, the sheriff’s office in Macomb County, Michigan, launched an investigation of Marine Corps Staff Sgt. D.C. Hagler, who was suspected of child pornography and indecent exposure, according to the records. But Hagler was stationed in Iraq. So the sheriff asked the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to take over what had become an international probe. Yet this is among the cases cited by Winnefeld as an instance where the military had to step in after civilian authorities wouldn’t act. Marine Corps spokesman Maj. Clark Carpenter said the service is “not in a position to characterize” Winnefeld’s testimony. Carpenter said the individuals who prepared the summaries “had personal and direct knowledge of the circumstances” and that the Marine Corps does not provide information to Congress unless it’s first been “reviewed by a higher authority.”

The Senate legislation, which is sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) was first introduced in the spring of 2013 and has won the backing of at least 50 senators. But the legislation has twice failed on the Senate floor to meet a 60-vote filibuster threshold. The dispute over Gillibrand’s bill centers on the power that senior officers known as convening authorities have to send charges to trial and select jury members. Gillibrand and the bipartisan group of lawmakers argue that the system is archaic and ripe for bias, particularly for sex crimes. Victims may be reluctant to step forward, fearing they won’t be believed or that they’ll be retaliated against if they file a complaint. But the bill’s detractors have said fewer sex offenders will be caught and convicted if Gillibrand’s bill ever becomes law. And that’s where the sexual assault cases factored into the debate.

Winnefeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee in July 2013 that there were 93 sexual assault cases that military commanders insisted on taking after civilian authorities said no. Of the cases that had gone to trial at the time, more than half ended with a conviction, he said. “I worry that if we turn this over to somebody else, whether it is a civilian DA or a nonentity in the military, that they are going to make the same kind of decisions that those civilian prosecutors made,” said Winnefeld, who was the nation’s second highest ranking military officer at the time. “I worry that we are going to have fewer prosecutions if we take it outside the chain of command.” Opponents of Gillibrand’s bill seized on Winnefeld’s remarks. Sen. Claire (D-MO) has cited the cases several times since the admiral testified, saying each one represents a victim who would never have had their day in court if Congress curbed the authority of commanders.

“The importance of these cases is that they show definitively that commanders don’t sweep sexual assault cases under the carpet,” said Sarah Feldman, McCaskill’s spokeswoman. “On the contrary, the numbers continue to prove that commanders aggressively pursue courts-martial.” But there’s no indication in the records of any direct intervention by commanders in the 93 cases or others listed in the documents. Each appears to have followed the steps mandated by the military’s legal code: Senior officers cannot refer cases to a general court-martial unless uniformed attorneys known as staff judge advocates have first advised them that the evidence warrants the charges. So the argument that excluding commanders from the decision to prosecute will mean less justice for victims is a flawed one, according to proponents of Gillibrand’s bill. “Charges should not be sent to trial to set an example or show a commander is tough,” said Christensen, the president of Protect Our Defenders.

Not all the case descriptions had enough information to independently verify if they were correct. The Army convicted Sgt. Cecil Saddler of raping a 10-year autistic girl in a case Winnefeld singled out as heinous. Saddler, who was stationed at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia, was sentenced to 35 years in prison in August 2011. The Army’s description said that the commonwealth’s attorney in Virginia declined to prosecute Saddler but provided no additional identification. Virginia has 120 commonwealth’s attorneys — the state’s name for its elected, independent prosecutors — but no central database that keeps track of cases. AP contacted the offices of four commonwealth’s attorneys near Fort Eustis, where the crime occurred, and none of them had any record of Saddler’s case. Other descriptions omitted key details about the level of involvement by local authorities.

A case from San Diego County, California, illustrates that point. The summary said the office of the district attorney in San Diego refused to move forward with sexual assault charges against a soldier because of insufficient evidence. But county court records and interviews provide a much different account. Army Sgt. Paul Henson was convicted at Fort Knox, Kentucky, in February 2013 of sexually assaulting a teenage girl in Carlsbad, California. He was sentenced to two years confinement and was released after serving 18 months. The assault occurred in July 2010, but the Carlsbad Police Department didn’t learn of the incident until nearly nine months later when it received a report from a police department in another state. By then, Henson was long gone from California. But the Carlsbad police investigated the allegations and the San Diego County District Attorney’s office issued an arrest warrant for unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. After Henson was found guilty in military court, the district attorney’s office consulted with the victim and her family and elected not to proceed. She had testified at the Army trial in Kentucky and they were concerned about putting her through another one. But the sexual assault charge against Henson in California wasn’t dropped until May 2015.

The imprecision in an Army case description resulted in a serious but untrue accusation against the office of the prosecuting attorney in Pierce County, Washington, where Joint Base Lewis-McChord is located. The summary said the office declined to prosecute a soldier accused of rape and then destroyed forensic evidence that had been collected the day after the assault. John Sheeran, the office’s assistant chief criminal deputy, said Pierce County elected not to prosecute because of concerns the charges couldn’t be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. But he said his office did not destroy evidence. That was done by the local police department — which held the evidence — after it was informed no charges were being filed. That’s a distinction with a difference and one that should have been recognized by the Army attorneys who wrote the summary. “If the implication is that prosecutors are reckless with evidence, it is problematic,” Sheeran said. The Army also did not inform local law enforcement that it needed evidence preserved for a possible prosecution, he said. “Let’s not kid ourselves,” Sheeran said. “Anybody can cherry pick cases.” [Source: The Associated Press | Richard Lardner | April 18, 2016 ++]

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USCG Laser Use Prohibited ► FDA vice DoD Rules Apply

The Coast Guard has heavy-duty sighting equipment for rescuing mariners at night or stopping drug, but bars them from being used to save lives or stop criminals. Because the Coast Guard is not part of the Defense Department, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration makes the rules on how they can use these lasers — and a lawmaker wants that changed. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, demands to know why regulators are hemming in the service. “Illuminators and laser sights stand to provide a clear advantage during use of force operations and other missions, but imposed limits on the use of these tools creates needless challenges and safety risks,” Hunter wrote in a 14 APR letter to the FDA, a copy of which was obtained by Navy Times.

USS Harry S. Truman operations

The equipment in question is the Electro-Optical Sensor System and the PEQ-15, a laser sight with an illuminator. ESS is a turret installed on Coast Guard helicopters, with a laser illuminator that can enhance camera images, while PEQ-15 is a rifle sight with a laser illuminator. The Coast Guard is not allowed to use ESS at all, while PEQ-15 can be used on a low setting. “I don’t know whether they see them as medical devices or something,” Hunter told Navy Times in a phone interview. “We’re going to find out.” The service confirmed that, unlike the rest of the military, they’re barred from using these targeting optics — even on the most dangerous missions. “The regulations limit the use of the ESS because the system was manufactured for DoD use, and is not in compliance with FDA standards,” Chief Warrant Officer 3 Chad Saylor, a Coast Guard spokesman, told Navy Times. “The Coast Guard does not possess the same ability as DoD to self-certify laser systems.”

The FDA is reviewing the letter and will respond to Hunter directly, spokeswoman Lyndsay Meyer told Navy Times on 18 APR. In 2013, the FDA gave the Coast Guard an exemption for ESS, but required them to demonstrate a list of mechanical safety controls to keep it within FDA regulation. “The Coast Guard is in the final stages of testing those mechanical control measures following a lengthy re-engineering process,” Saylor said. Hunter wants to cut that red tape and allow the Coast Guard to certify its own laser systems, like the other military branches, calling the FDA’s process “onerous and burdensome.” “No matter what they think their purview is over lasers, and if there’s a rightful reason that they have it, it doesn’t matter,” Hunter said. “The Coast Guard’s an operational military unit — it should fall under the same rules, regulations and waivers as DoD.” Hunter’s office had not received a response to the letter as of Monday, chief of staff Joe Kasper confirmed. [Source: Navy Times | Meghann Myers | April 19, 2016 ++]

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Military 2017 Pay Raise ► HASC Backs 2.1%

A bigger pay raise for troops next year will be a tough sell in the Senate. Last week, House Armed Services Committee officials unveiled plans for a 2.1 percent pay raise for service members as part of the annual defense authorization bill. The move would be 0.5 percent above the Pentagon’s pay raise request and cost an extra $330 million in fiscal 2017 alone. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee’s personnel panel, said 26 APR he isn’t sure if his chamber will be able to find the money to back the House’s pay plan. “I want to be generous to those who have sacrificed so much, and 1.6 percent or 2.1 percent is not as generous as we need to be,” he said. “But given the constraints of sequestration coming down the road, anything that we do on the personnel side takes away from other areas. “We’ll see.” White House officials have proposed the 1.6 percent pay raise as a way to both boost troops’ take-home pay and save millions for readiness and modernization efforts.

Under law, the annual military pay raise is supposed to be tied to the anticipated rise in private-sector wages for the upcoming year. That estimate is 2.1 percent for 2017, and outside advocates have argued that not matching that figure means a cut in military families’ purchasing power. If the 1.6 percent pay becomes law next year, it would be the highest for troops since 2013 and would continue a six-year streak of military pay hikes below 2 percent. Graham’s counterpart on the House Armed Services Committee — Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV) — said in a statement 25 APR that the higher pay raise is needed for the military to stay competitive in recruiting and retention. “Military families are already under the increased strain of being asked to do more with less, having not received the full increase the past three years,” he said in a statement. “Our troops, by law, are entitled to a 2.1 percent pay increase this year and (the House plan) takes the proper step in ensuring they receive it.”

But the House committee’s plan to pay for the pay raise involves in part taking money from an overseas war account and hoping the next president will add supplementary military funds next spring. Senate officials have already said they do not plan on crafting their defense budget with that funding trade-off. A 1.6 percent pay increase amounts to a $400 yearly pay boost for most junior enlisted troops and up to $1,500 more in annual pay for midcareer officers. For an E-4 with three years of service, the gap between the two pay raise plans totals about $136 a year. For an E-7 with 10 years, it’s almost $228. Among officers, the lower pay raise plan would drop the annual earnings of an O-2 with two years of service by roughly $234 in 2017. An O-4 with 12 years would lose about $425. House lawmakers are expected to advance their draft of the annual defense authorization bill this week. The Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to unveil theirs in the middle of May. [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane | April 26, 201 ++]

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TRADES ► Transformative Design program | Radar

DARPA has announced a project that could embed radars into the skin of an aircraft. The Transformative Design (TRADES) program aims to develop new mathematics and algorithms to exploit recent advances in materials and manufacturing methods. While new materials are much stronger and lighter, incorporating them into actual designs has lagged. “As a result, today’s design technologies are simply not able to bring to fruition the enormous level of physical detail and complexity made possible with cutting-edge manufacturing capabilities and materials,” according to a DARPA news release.

“For example, designing a structure whose components vary significantly in their physical or functional properties, such as a phased array radar, and an aircraft skin, is extremely complicated using available tools,” DARPA said. “Usually the relevant components are designed separately and then they are joined. TRADES envisions coming up with more elegant and unified designs — in this case, perhaps embedding the radar directly into the vehicle skin itself — potentially reducing cost, size and weight of future military systems.” In addition to the classic computer-aided design and physical modeling communities, DARPA is also looking for input from experts in animation, materials science, applied math, data analytics and artificial intelligence. A Proposers Day has been scheduled for 13 MAY in Arlington, Virginia. [Source: C4ISR & Networks | Michael Peck | April 26, 2016 ++]

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Trump Foreign Policy Platform ► Build-Up U.S. Military

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump outlined his “America first” foreign policy platform 27 APR, promising to build up the U.S. military, force allies to invest more in defense and emphasize stability over what he called nation-building overreach. “After the Cold War our foreign policy veered badly off course,” he told a Washington, D.C., crowd just hours after another sizable primary win the previous evening. “As time went on, our foreign policy began to make less and less sense. Logic was replaced with foolishness and arrogance, which led to one foreign policy disaster after another. “Our foreign policy is a complete and total disaster. No vision. No purpose. No direction. No strategy.”

Trump’s own outline was billed as a broad overview of his general philosophy on international relations and security, and stayed away from specifics on spending and diplomatic moves. Critics have blasted that lack of detail throughout his campaign, but so far it hasn’t seriously hurt him among voters. One of the few specifics he did offer was in criticism of President Obama’s military spending strategy, which he repeatedly tied to the policies of Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton. “Our active-duty armed forces have shrunk from 2 million in 1991 to about 1.3 million today,” he said. “The Navy has shrunk from over 500 ships to 272 ships during this same period of time. The Air Force is about one-third smaller than 1991. Pilots flying B-52s in combat missions today. These planes are older than virtually everybody in this room.” The solution, he said, is ensuring that the military is “funded beautifully” but also added “we will look for savings and spend our money wisely.” That includes not just the Pentagon but also “our trade, immigration and economic policies to make our economy strong again.”

Trump also chastised NATO allies for not spending enough on their own defense forces, vowing to make them accept their fair share of the expense and responsibility. “The countries we are defending must pay for the cost of this defense, and if not, the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves,” he said. “We have no choice.” At the same time, he criticized Obama and Clinton for undermining foreign faith in American support. He attacked the Iranian nuclear deal as bad for security and humiliating for the country, lowering the United States’ reputation in the eyes of countries throughout the Middle East. Trump promised that after he becomes commander in chief, he will convene a summit with NATO allies and Asian allies to “discuss a rebalancing of financial commitments” and “take a fresh look at how we can adopt new strategies for tackling our common challenges.” Those will include Islamic State fighters, who he promised to destroy. “I have a simple message for them: Their days are numbered,” he said. “I won’t tell them where and I won’t tell them how. … But they’re going to be gone.”

Trump went even further on the lack of specifics in that strategy, saying that he’ll never reveal troop moments and strategy to the extent Obama has. “We must as a nation be more unpredictable,” he said. “We tell everything. We’re sending troops. We tell them. We’re sending something else. We have a news conference. We have to be unpredictable. And we have to be unpredictable starting now.” A CNBC poll conducted earlier this month found “foreign policy and terrorism” the second most pressing issue among voters, behind only “the economy and unemployment.” [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane | April 27, 2016 ++]

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Archive Photo of the Day Chernobyl Ukraine May 1986

This May 9, 1986 file photo shows the stricken reactor

This May 9, 1986, photo shows the stricken reactor No. 2 of the Ukrainian nuclear power plant of Chernobyl after the explosion caused severe damage and radioactive fallout that spread across Europe. Ukraine’s Health Minister, Andry Serduik, said April 22 that more than 12,500 people put to work clearing up the reactor explosion had died since the disaster. It was the first time such a major figure expressed himself, and foreign experts were quick to shed doubt on it.

[Source: USA Today | April 17, 2016 ++]

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Medal of Honor Citations ► Baker, Vernon J | WWII

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

takes pleasure in presenting the

Medal of Honor

To

Vernon J. Baker

Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army, 270th Regiment of the 92nd Infantry Division, Weapons Platoon, Company C

Place and date: Near Viareggio, Italy, 5 and 6 April 1945

Entered service: St. Maries, ID

Born: 17 December 1919

Citation

For extraordinary heroism in action on 5 and 6 April 1945, near Viareggio, Italy. Then Second Lieutenant Baker demonstrated outstanding courage and leadership in destroying enemy installations, personnel and equipment during his company’s attack against a strongly entrenched enemy in mountainous terrain. When his company was stopped by the concentration of fire from several machine gun emplacements, he crawled to one position and destroyed it, killing three Germans. Continuing forward, he attacked and enemy observation post and killed two occupants. With the aid of one of his men, Lieutenant Baker attacked two more machine gun nests, killing or wounding the four enemy soldiers occupying these positions. He then covered the evacuation of the wounded personnel of his company by occupying an exposed position and drawing the enemy’s fire. On the following night Lieutenant Baker voluntarily led a battalion advance through enemy mine fields and heavy fire toward the division objective. Second Lieutenant Baker’s fighting spirit and daring leadership were an inspiration to his men and exemplify the highest traditions of the Armed Forces.

BAKER, VERNON Photo

Mr. Baker received the Medal of Honor from President Bill Clinton at ...

Vernon J. Baker was orphaned at age four and raised by his grandparents in Cheyenne, Wyoming – a town that had just a dozen other black families. During his adolescence, he spent two years at Father Flanagan’s Boys Home in Omaha, Nebraska. He graduated from high school in Iowa, and began work as a railroad porter.

In the summer of 1941, Baker had finally grown tired of his life on the railroad, and enlisted in the Army that June. He was assigned to the segregated 270th Regiment of the 92nd Infantry Division, the first black unit to go into combat in World War II. After completing officer candidate school, he was commissioned on January 11th, 1943.

In June 1944, the 270th landed at Naples and fought its way north into central Italy. One evening in the fall, Baker, on night patrol, ran into a German sentry. In the duel that followed, Baker killed the German but was wounded so badly himself that he had to be hospitalized for two months.

In the spring of 1945, Baker – the only black officer in his company – was in command of a weapons platoon made up of two light-machine-gun squads and two mortar squads. His unit was near Viareggio on April 5th when it was ordered to launch a dawn assault against Castle Aghinolfi, a mountain stronghold occupied by the Germans. On the second day of the assault, Baker led a battalion that finally secured the mountain for the American soldiers.

Baker earned a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Distinguished Service Cross during his time in service. He remained in the military until 1968, lived through its desegregation, and became one of the first blacks to command an all-white company. He joined the U.S. Army Airborne along the way, and trained to be a military parachutist. He made his last jump at age 48.

In 1996, more than 50 years after the assault on Castle Aghinolfi, he received a telephone call from a man working on a federal grant to reevaluate the heroism of blacks in World War II. During this phone call Baker learned he was to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

On January 13th, 1997, 52 years after Baker’s World War II military service, President Clinton presented him with the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest decoration for battlefield valor. He was one of the most highly decorated black soldiers in the Mediterranean Theater. He was also the only living black World War II veteran to earn the Medal of Honor.

After retiring from the Army, he spent nearly 20 years working for the Red Cross. He lived in Northern Idaho with his wife, Heidy until he died on July 13, 2010 after a long battle with cancer.

In 2008, The National WWII Museum presented its highest honor, The American Spirit Award, to Baker and the other living World War II Medal of Honor recipients. His story was the centerpiece of the galleries on the war in Italy in the Museum’s Campaigns of Courage: European and Pacific Theaters exhibit pavilion, opening in 2014.

[Source: http://www.history.army.mil/moh/wwII-a-f.html Mar 2016 ++]

* Military History *


Military History Discussions ► WWII 106th Infantry Division

On December 16, 1944, the German Army launched a massive offensive in the Ardennes, a battle that would come to be known as the “Battle of the Bulge.” History has not been kind in its treatment of the 106th Infantry Division in this famous battle. To view Historian Phil Naud recount the real story of the unit’s action and the unfair treatment it received in the historical record go to https://vimeo.com/149028414 using the code word MIMTHS. [Source: Michigan Military Technical & Historical Society Newsletter March 2016 ++]

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Military History ► Battle of A-Shau | Vietnam

In the NW corner of South Vietnam, in the Thua-Thien Province lies a narrow valley known as the A-Shau. Running North-South for 25 miles, it’s a mile wide bottom land covered in elephant grass and flanked by deeply forested mountains rising to as much as 5,500 ft. Bisected with a hard crusted dirt road with A-Luoi to the North and the A-Shau Special Forces camp to the South, this valley was the scene of some of the hardest combat between US and NVA throughout the Vietnam war and was one of the strategic focal points of the war.

Because of its importance to the North Vietnamese the A Shau became a major battle ground from the earliest days of the American involvement in South Vietnam. The US Special Forces had established their camp in 1964 at the lower end of the A Shau Valley in Vietnam. It was some two miles from Laos and was a constant problem for the North Vietnamese. From this camp, the Green Berets could observe and impede traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail on the other side of the border. They were also astride the infiltration route toward Hue and Da Nang. Being in a very remote corner of the Central Highlands, the SF camp was extraordinarily reliant on airpower. Material to build the camp had been flown in by Air Force C-123s. Everything, including food and ammunition, came by air. The camp consisted of some barracks buildings, a triangular fort, and an airstrip made of pierced steel planking. The fort had a mortar bunker at each corner. The walls consisted of steel plate and sandbags.

In February 1966, the North Vietnamese Army decided to put the camp out of business and moved a fresh regiment down the trail to join the 325th NVA Division, which was already operating in the vicinity of Hue. To read the out events that occurred as a result of the NVA decision go to the attachment to this Bulletin titled “Battle of A-Shau | Vietnam”. [Source: VFW Post 6756 | Leo Miller | March 27, 2016 ++]

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Military Trivia 120 Japan’s Coup d’Etat

Victories in Midway, Guadalcanal and New Guinea were the beginning of the end for Japan’s supremacy in the Pacific. It would take another two and a half years of bitter, deadly combat, invading island after island held by the Japanese before the Japanese were finally defeated, but not without a great cost to both sides. Steeped in century’s old military tradition, the Japanese fought to the death, many by their own hands in the tradition of the Samurai Bushido honor code known as Seppuku – to die with honor rather than fall into the hands of their enemies. The last battle of the war was fought on the Ryukyu Islands of Okinawa. It was from this island that Americans planned on launching ships, planes and troops for an invasion of the Japanese mainland. Knowing from first-hand experience of how fanatical Japanese warriors had been during every island battle, American planners expected it to be the bloodiest seaborne attack of all time, conceivably ten times as costly as the Normandy invasion in terms of Allied casualties; estimated to over 100,000 Allied troops. The total number of casualties for the entire operation was estimated to be 250,000 – 500,000 Allied troops and millions of Japanese troops and civilians.

In an attempt to avoid the bloody invasion, the Allies issued the Potsdam Declaration, demanding the “unconditional surrender of all the Japanese armed forces.” Failure to comply would mean “the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and just as inevitable the utter devastation of the Japanese homeland.” Totally unaware the United States possessed two nuclear bombs and the threat was real, the response by Japanese Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki was his government was “paying no attention” to the Allied ultimatum. After days with no sign that the Japanese would accept the surrender offer, President Harry Truman ordered that an atomic bomb be dropped on Japan. On August 6, 1945, the B -29 bomber “Enola Gay” dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing an estimated 80,000 people and fatally wounding thousands more. Tens of thousands more died in the following weeks and months from wounds and radiation poisoning. Believing this to have been such a dramatic demonstration of American power, President Harry S. Truman called for Japan’s surrender 16 hours later, warning them to “expect a rain of ruin from the air, the likes of which has never been seen on this earth.” After the Hiroshima attack, a faction of Japan’s supreme war council favored acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration, but the majority resisted unconditional surrender.

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Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki Japanese Emperor Hirohito

On August 9, a second U.S. atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese coastal city of Nagasaki. That same day, Japanese Emperor Hirohito convened the Supreme War Council. After a long, emotional debate, he backed a proposal by Prime Minister Suzuki in which Japan would accept the Potsdam Declaration “with the understanding that said Declaration does not compromise any demand that prejudices the prerogatives of His Majesty as the sovereign ruler.” The council obeyed Hirohito’s acceptance of peace, and on August 10th the message was relayed to the United States. Two days later the United States answered that “the authority of the Emperor and the Japanese government to rule the state shall be subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers.” After two days of debate about what this statement implied, Emperor Hirohito brushed the nuances in the text aside and declared that peace was preferable to destruction. He ordered the Japanese government to prepare a text accepting surrender. But there was a group of high ranking officers and cabinet members who began a coup in hopes of stalling the surrender by plotting to seize the Imperial Palace and to prevent the broadcast of Emperor Hirohito’s surrender speech to mark the end of World War II. They did this in hopes of securing better terms of surrender.

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el ministro de la guerra japonés y general korechika anami 1887 1945 ...

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Major Kenji Hatanaka General Korechika Anami General Torashiro Kawabe

Late on the night of August 12, 1945, Major Kenji Hatanaka, a member of Military Affairs Section of the Japanese Ministry of War, along with Lieutenant Colonels Masataka Ida, Masahiko Takeshita, and Inaba Masao, and Colonel Okitsugu Arao, the Chief of the Military Affairs Section, spoke to War Minister, General Korechika Anami (the army minister and “most powerful figure in Japan besides the Emperor himself) and asked him to do whatever he could to prevent acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration. General Anami, in photo on the left, gave no indication as to whether or not he would help the young officers. Hatanaka and the other rebels decided to continue planning and to attempt a coup d’etat on their own. Hatanaka spent much of August 13 and the morning of August 14 gathering allies, seeking support from the higher-ups in the Ministry, and perfecting his plot. In the meantime, extremists were calling for a death-before-dishonor mass suicide.

Shortly after the surrender was decided, a group of senior army officers including Anami gathered in a nearby room. After a silence, General Torashiro Kawabe, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff, proposed that all senior officers present sign an agreement to carry out the Emperor’s order of surrender – “The Army will act in accordance with the Imperial Decision to the last.” It was signed by all the high-ranking officers present, including Anami. “This written accord by the most senior officers in the Army acted as a formidable firebreak against any attempt to incite a coup d’etat in Tokyo.” That same evening of August 14, Hatanaka’s rebels set their plan into motion.

The Second Regiment of the First Imperial Guards had entered the palace grounds, doubling the strength of the battalion already stationed there, presumably to provide extra protection against Hatanaka’s rebellion. But Hatanaka, along with Lt. Col. Jiro Shiizaki, convinced Colonel Toyojiro Haga, the commander of the 2nd Regiment of the First Imperial Guards, of their cause, by telling him (falsely) that Generals Anami and Umezu, and the commanders of the Eastern District Army and Imperial Guards Divisions were all in on the plan. Hatanaka also went to the office of Shizuichi Tanaka, commander of the Eastern region of the army, to try to persuade him to join the coup. Tanaka refused, and ordered Hatanaka to go home. Hatanaka ignored the order. Originally, Hatanaka hoped that simply occupying the palace and showing the beginnings of a rebellion would inspire the rest of the Army to rise up against the move to surrender. This notion guided him through much of the last days and hours and gave him the blind optimism to move ahead with the plan, despite having little support from his superiors.

Having set all the pieces into position, Hatanaka and his co-conspirators decided that the Guard would take over the palace at 2 AM. The hours until then were spent in continued attempts to convince their superiors in the Army to join the coup. At about the same time, General Anami committed seppuku, leaving a message that, “I – with my death – humbly apologize to the Emperor for the great crime.” Whether the crime involved losing the war, or the coup, remains unclear. At some time after 1 am, August 15, Hatanaka and his men surrounded the palace. Hatanaka, Shiizaki and Captain Shigetaro Uehara went to the office of Lt. General Takeshi Mori, commander of the 1st Imperial Guards Division, to ask him to join the coup. When Mori refused to side with Hatanaka, Hatanaka killed him, fearing Mori would order the Guards to stop the rebellion. Hatanaka then used General Mori’s official stamp to authorize Imperial Guards Division Strategic Order No. 584, a false set of orders created by his co-conspirators, which would greatly increase the strength of the forces occupying the Imperial Palace and Imperial Household Ministry, and “protecting” the Emperor. The palace police were disarmed and all the entrances blocked. Over the course of the night, Hatanaka’s rebels captured and detained eighteen people, including Ministry staff and workers sent to record the surrender speech.

Hatanaka and his rebels spent the next several hours fruitlessly searching for Imperial House Minister Sotaro Ishiwatari and Koichi Kido, Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, and the recordings of the surrender speech. The two men, along with the recording, were hiding in the “bank vault,” a large chamber underneath the Imperial Palace. The search was made more difficult by a blackout in response to Allied bombings, and by the archaic organization and layout of the Imperial House Ministry. The rebels did find Chamberlain Yoshihiro Tokugawa, Emperor Hirohito’s closest personal aide. Although Hatanaka threatened to disembowel him with a samurai sword, Tokugawa lied and told them he did not know where the recordings or men were. During their search, the rebels cut nearly all of the telephone wires, severing communications between their prisoners on the palace grounds and the outside world. At about the same time, another group of Hatanaka’s rebels led by Captain Takeo Sasaki went to Prime Minister Suzuki’s office, intent on killing him. When they found it empty, they machine-gunned the office and set the building on fire, then left for his home. Warned on the attempt on his life, he escaped minutes before the would-be assassins arrived. After setting fire to Suzuki’s home, they went to the estate of former Prime Minister Kiichiro Hiranuma to assassinate him. Hiranuma escaped through a side gate and the rebels burned his house as well.

Around 3 am, Hatanaka was informed by Lieutenant Colonel Masataka Ida that the Eastern District Army was on its way to the palace to stop him, and that he should give up. Finally, seeing his plan collapsing around him, Hatanaka pleaded with General Tatsuhiko Takashima, Chief of Staff of the Eastern District Army, to be given at least ten minutes on the air on NHK radio broadcasting station, to explain to the people of Japan what he was trying to accomplish and why. He was refused. Colonel Haga, commander of the 2nd Regiment of the First Imperial Guards, discovered that the Army did not support this rebellion, and he ordered Hatanaka to leave the palace grounds. Just before 5 am, as his rebels continued their search, Major Hatanaka went to the NHK studios, and, brandishing a pistol, tried desperately to get some airtime to explain his actions. A little over an hour later, after receiving a telephone call from the Eastern District Army, Hatanaka finally gave up. He gathered his officers and walked out of the NHK studio.

At dawn, Tanaka learned that the palace had been invaded. He went there and confronted the rebellious officers, berating them for acting contrary to the spirit of the Japanese army, demanding that the dishonor brought by their treason could only be absolved through seppuku. A number of conspirators committed ritual suicide that morning, on the grounds of the Imperial Palace. By 8 AM, the rebellion was entirely dismantled, having succeeded in holding the palace grounds for much of the night but failing to find the recordings. Hatanaka, on a motorcycle, and Shiizaki, on horseback, rode through the streets, tossing leaflets that explained their motives and their actions. Within an hour before the Emperor’s broadcast, sometime around 11:00, August 15, Hatanaka placed his pistol to his forehead, and shot himself. Shiizaki stabbed himself with a dagger, and then shot himself. In Hatanaka’s pocket was found his death poem: “I have nothing to regret now that the dark clouds have disappeared from the reign of the Emperor.” [Source: Together We Served | Dispatches | Oct 2015 ++]

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M-1 Rifle Not a ‘Gun’

The M-1 was a basic infantry weapon in WWII and the Korean War. It was described in the Soldier’s Manual as a “U.S. Army Rifle, Caliber 30, M-1; semi-automatic, gas-operated, clip-fed, shoulder weapon.” Now don’t hold me to that quote. It’s been a full 50 years since I had to memorize the formal definition of an “M-1.” Point is, I recently got to hold one again after more than half a century. It was at a 4th of July parade my wife and I had attended in Hastings, Minnesota. After the parade, a member of the honor guard was walking to his car carrying two M-l rifles. At my request, he let me hold one, and I marveled at how heavy it seemed now, but how light I thought it was those many years ago when I carried it all over Korea along with my full field pack, shelter-half, loaded cartridge belt, bayonet and sheath, first aid kit, canteen, steel helmet, combat boots, parka, heavy clothing, and lots of other things, too. How did I ever manage to carry so much stuff and march all day long?

http://navy.togetherweserved.com/usn/images/dispatch/0416/4s.jpg

My wife was standing nearby, quietly observing my strange behavior as I reverently held and fondled the shiny M-1 rifle, which I kept turning over and over and examining in all its particulars. Undoubtedly she was thinking I’m crazy, which isn’t an unusual or new thought she’s had about me over the past 63 years of our marriage. Reluctantly I returned the M-1 rifle to its owner, and thanked him for letting me hold it. Then I defensively explained to my wife how sacred the M-1 rifle really is to me. I concluded by telling her that as a soldier I had to sleep with my M-1, clean it daily, and know its serial number by heart. Furthermore, I had to treat my M-1 rifle as though it were my best girlfriend. Instantly my wife responded, “Forget that! Now you’ve got me, and I’m better than any gun!”

There’s no way I could top that, so I let my wife have the last word. But we were threatened with a Court Martial, and given company punishment, if we ever called our M-1 Rifle a “gun.” An M-1 Rifle is called a “rifle” because of its “rifling.” In other words, an M-1 bore consists of ground out lands and grooves that spin a bullet so it holds a more reliable trajectory as it speeds to its target. A smooth bore weapon, such as a cannon, is more properly referred to as a “gun.” However, in spite of all this important knowledge, the fact remains, my wife still got the last word. [Source: Together We Served Dispach | Don Montgomery U.S. Army 1952-195419th IR, 24th ID, Korea | April 16, 2016 ++]

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Military History Anniversaries ► 01 thru 15 May

Significant events in U.S. Military History over the next 15 days are listed in the attachment to this Bulletin titled, “Military History Anniversaries 01 thru 15 May”. [Source: This Day In History http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history | March 2016 ++]

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WWII US Automobile Industry Soup to Nuts

http://usautoindustryworldwartwo.com/images/Job%20is%20being%20done/IMG_4390.jpg

What did the US Automobile Industry make during WWII? The proverbial “Soup to Nuts. Automobile Council for War Production described what the US Auto Industry was doing in the seventh month of war in its June, 1942 in the pamphlet below. This was only the beginning and as more conversion took place war products beyond what is listed below were produced.

http://usautoindustryworldwartwo.com/images/Job%20is%20being%20done/full-inside-cover-128w-1.jpg

[Source: http://usautoindustryworldwartwo.com | April 14, 2016 ++]

* Health Care *




TRICARE Mental Health Care Update 03 ► Day Limits Changes

People in distress may hesitate to reach out for help due to perceived stigma associated with seeking mental health treatment. This perception and the belief that care may be hard to get, may prevent some people who need care from getting it. TRICARE has worked hard to eliminate potential barriers to mental health care by removing day limits for certain mental health services. When a behavioral health condition requires more intensive treatment than outpatient care, partial or full-time hospitalization may be required. Day limits now in effect are:

  • In-patient psychiatric hospitalization benefit was limited to 30 days per benefit year for adults and 45 days for children or adolescents. You could request a waiver for additional treatment days if needed. Now however, inpatient mental health hospital services, regardless of length or quantity, may be covered as long as the care is considered medically or psychologically necessary and appropriate.
  • The psychiatric partial hospitalization benefit previously had a 60 day per benefit year limitation that could be extended with a waiver. This 60 day limitation has been removed to ensure that beneficiaries receive care for as long as needed.
  • The 150 day limit on residential treatment care for beneficiaries under 21 has been removed. Although medical determination is still required, there is no day limit.

If you or someone you know requires mental health care, get help. If you believe emergency care is required, you can get emergency psychiatric care without pre-authorization. However, you must get authorization within 72 hours of admission and the 72 hours starts the day after admission. Medical or surgical care does not and has not historically had day limits on care. Now, thanks to the federal mental health parity law, which requires that mental health benefits be equal to medical or surgical healthcare benefits, the same is also true for mental health care. For more information about mental health coverage, visit www.tricare.mil/CoveredServices/Mental/Treatments.aspx. [Source: MoneyTalksNews | Marilyn Lewis | March 29, 2016 ++]

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Smoking ► TRICARE Program Unfunded for Cessation Treatment

Terry Levesque began smoking cigarettes in boot camp when he started a 20-year stint in the U.S. Navy. He has tried quitting using lozenges, gum and counseling, but found the only one that worked was Chantix, a prescription medication. Last year Levesque sought and received assistance from U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to change the law and fix a gap in military health coverage that prevented him from being reimbursed for the medication. However no funding has been appropriated for the program, meaning at least for now, Levesque is still can’t receive coverage for the medication. He said he smokes about a pack a day now. “It doesn’t last for a couple of seconds or a minute,” Levesque said of his craving during past attempts to quit. “It’s there and it’s constant.”

Urbana veteran fought to change law, frustrated help still not covered photo

Terry Levesque

Statewide about 23 percent of adults in Ohio are smokers, a rate that’s slightly higher than the U.S. average, according to information from the Ohio Department of Health. Health care costs directly associated with smoking are estimated at about $5.64 billion a year, about $1.4 billion of which is paid for through the state’s Medicaid program, according to the ODH. Military members often suffer from the effects of smoking, including veterans, said Dr. Shannon Miller, acting director of addiction services for the Cincinnati VA Medical Center and an expert on smoking cessation programs. For several years, the military even included cigarettes in meal packages.

Levesque contacted Brown’s office after discovering the gap in his medical coverage through TRICARE for Life, a health insurance program for retired military members. Once beneficiaries retire and meet age requirements, Medicare becomes the primary source of insurance and TRICARE for Life fills in gaps in coverage. But at the time, TRICARE for Life didn’t cover the reimbursements for FDA-approved smoking cessation drugs, meaning Levesque had to pay for those medications out of pocket. Brown’s office highlighted Levesque’s case last year after drafting legislation to eliminate the gap and ensure reimbursement for FDA-approved smoking cessation drugs. The rule change has since been signed into law. Brown’s office said in a statement they are now working with the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Department of Defense to pay for the program. They also recommended other avenues to receive at least partial coverage for the medication in the meantime, although Levesque said he has looked into those options and was told he doesn’t qualify.

Officials from the Defense Department couldn’t comment on Levesque’s specific case. But in a statement, they pointed to a section of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act that expanded reimbursement of smoking cessation services for Medicare-eligible TRICARE beneficiaries. “However, Section 713 states the refunds will be paid ‘subject to the availability of appropriations specifically for such refunds.’ As no appropriation has been received, TRICARE has not been able to implement this provision,” the statement says. Levesque said he appreciated the law change but remains frustrated because he still can’t get his medication covered.

Quitting smoking isn’t impossible but real success is often elusive, said Miller, of the Cincinnati VA. As many as 85 percent of smokers try to quit at some point in their life and one-third of smokers try to quit every year. But at the end of the year only about 3 to 5 percent are usually truly successful, he said. “It is biologically in the form of a cigarette, the most addictive substance on the planet in terms of drugs of abuse, probably as or more addictive than crack cocaine or IV heroin,” Miller said. The most effective treatments typically include a combination of methods, including therapy and nicotine replacements such as gum or patches. Drugs such as drugs like Chantix can boost the chances of quitting. But many patients, even those who haven’t smoked for a year or more, can experience cravings and urges to smoke, Miller said. Levesque said he will continue to push for more awareness of his problem in case other veterans face a similar issue. “Whether it helps me or not I have no idea,” Levesque said. “But if it changes things where the word is out and veterans know it’s available maybe I’ve helped somebody out.” [Source: Dayton Daily news | Matt Sanctis | April 19, 2016 ++]

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TRICARE Urgent Care Update 01 ► Non-referral Visits Could Increase

The U.S. Defense Department’s Tricare program may increase over time the number of urgent care visits some beneficiaries can access without a referral, officials said. Starting 23 MAY, users of the health care program under the active-duty and retiree Prime plans, as well as Tricare Prime Remote and Tricare Young Adult users, will be able to access two urgent care visits per person every year without first receiving authorization from a provider or Tricare nurse advice line. The change is part of a three year pilot program ordered last year by Congress. Those who use urgent care more than twice per year must get pre-approval or pay for the visit out of pocket.

Some potential users have criticized the plan, saying that two non-approved visits per year won’t be enough to truly ease the stress seeking a referral can cause. But Tricare officials said they will constantly reevaluate their visit cap, and can expand the program if they see a need. “For the three-year pilot, we do plan to make adjustments on at least an annual basis,” Navy Capt. Edward Simmer, a Tricare deputy director, told Military.com in an interview on 20 APR. “So if we see a lot of people are using up their two visits early in the year, we’re going to adjust that.” Simmer said the cap was based off a pilot program run for the Coast Guard in the south region that ended last May. Users in that trial were permitted four non-referral urgent care visits a year, but less than 5 percent of patients used more than two visits, he said. As that test was wrapping-up, Congress worked to include the new pilot program in legislation for 2016.

Absent of that order, Simmer said, the system would still likely have run the upcoming test. “I think it does make sense now to test this on a much larger scale,” he said. “Let’s learn how it’s going to work best.” Patients are still encouraged to call the Tricare nurse advice line to seek authorization when they can in an effort to help them understand whether or not they actually need urgent care. If they receive pre-approval to visit and urgent care, their visit will not be counted against their allotment. Officials said the regional contractors, which will manage each person’s urgent care use, have been instructed to develop a system that can match urgent care use to a database tracking who has received referrals and who has not. To receive a urgent care referral, users who are seen in military treatment facilities must call the Tricare nurse advice line. Those seen by civilian providers must receive a referral from their primary care provider. Urgent cares used under both the referral and non-referral program must be Tricare authorized.

At http://www.tricare.mil/ContactUs/CallUs/NAL.aspx you can obtain more information about the Nurse Advice Lin. To access the NAL dial 1-800-TRICARE (874-2273) and select option 1. [Source: Military.com | Amy Bushatz | April 20, 2016 ++]

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Prescription Decoding Understanding Key Pharmacy Terms & Abbreviations

Pharmacy terminology can be confusing. To make the most of your TRICARE® pharmacy benefit, it is essential to understand some key pharmacy terms. The following is a list of some of the most common terms you may encounter.

Brand-name drugs

Brand-name drugs are marketed under a trademark protected name. Brand-name medications can only be produced and sold by the company that holds the patent for the drug. If the patent has expired on a brand name drug, there may be generic versions available.

Copayment

A copayment (or copay) is a fixed-dollar amount you pay for a medication. It is usually paid at the time of service. The amount can vary by the type of medication (such as formulary or non-formulary) and place of service (using a Military Treatment Facility, Home Delivery or a retail pharmacy). Copayments are the most common form of out-of-pocket expense for prescription drugs.

Compound drug

A drug that is created by a pharmacist mixing multiple ingredients together to create a prescription drug that is specific to a beneficiary’s needs. Express Scripts screens all TRICARE compound drug prescriptions to ensure each ingredient is safe, effective and covered by TRICARE.

Deductible

The annual amount a TRICARE Standard, TRICARE Extra, TRICARE Overseas Program Standard, TRICARE Reserve Select or TRICARE Retired Reserve beneficiary must pay for covered outpatient benefits, including pharmacy services received at non-network pharmacies, before TRICARE begins to share costs. TRICARE Prime beneficiaries do not have annual deductibles unless they use the point-of-service option.

ePrescription

An ePrescription, or an electronic prescription, is a computer-generated prescription sent electronically from your prescriber’s office directly to a pharmacy. ePrescribing provides accurate and error-free prescriptions.

Explanation of Benefits (EOB)

A statement sent to beneficiaries showing that claims were processed and the amount paid to providers.

Formulary

The TRICARE Formulary is a list of generic and brand name prescription drugs that TRICARE covers.

Generic drugs

Formulary Generic drugs are medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that are clinically the same as brand-name medications. Generic drugs provide the same effective treatment as brand-name drugs and help you save money. The FDA requires that all generic drugs meet the exact same standards for effectiveness, safety and quality as brand-name drugs.

Non-formulary

Non-formulary medications include any drug in a therapeutic class determined to be not as clinically effective or as cost-effective as other drugs in the same class. Non-formulary medications for TRICARE may be either brand or generic drugs.

Maintenance Medication

Maintenance medications are medications that you take on a regular basis and are prescribed for chronic, long-term conditions. Examples of chronic conditions that may require maintenance medications are: high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

OHI (Other Health Insurance)

Any non-TRICARE health insurance that is not considered a supplement. This insurance is acquired through an employer, entitlement program or other source. TRICARE pays last after all other health plans except Medicaid, TRICARE supplements, the Indian Health service or other programs or plans as identified by TRICARE.

OTC Drugs

OTC Drugs are medications sold Over the Counter and can be obtained without a prescription.

Point of Service

Point of Service or POS are designated places that you can have your prescriptions filled. TRICARE beneficiaries have four service options:

  • Military pharmacies
  • TRICARE Pharmacy Home Delivery Program
  • TRICARE retail network pharmacies
  • Non-network pharmacies

Prior authorization

Prior authorization is a process of reviewing certain medical, pharmacy, surgical and mental health care services to ensure medical necessity and appropriateness of care before services are rendered or within 24 hours of an emergency admission.

Specialty medication

Drugs used to treat serious chronic conditions. Specialty medications are usually high-cost, self-administered, injectable, oral or infused drugs. These drugs typically require special storage and handling and are typically not readily available at your local pharmacy. Specialty medications may also have side effects that require monitoring by a healthcare professional.

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These are some of the most common pharmacy terms that will help you better understand your TRICARE benefit. If you have questions about your pharmacy benefit, you can contact Express Scripts Customer Service at 1-877-363-130. [Source: https://www.express-scripts.com/TRICARE/news/decodingPrescriptions.shtml | April 28, 2016 ++]

* Finances *

SSIA Update 01 Set to Expire Without NDAA Legislative Fix

House lawmakers are promising a legislative fix in coming days to prevent military widows from losing thousands of dollars in federal assistance checks next year. Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s personnel panel, said he anticipates next week’s final draft of the annual defense authorization bill will include an extension of the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance, a monthly payout to military widows and widowers. “We’re very close. It has to be done,” he told reporters 20 APR. “I believe we’ll find an offset.” Without an extension, the SSIA is scheduled to expire in October 2017. That would cost recipients up to $310 a month, a sizable sum for surviving spouses living off a single income.

Congress approved the special allowance in 2008 as a way to make up for Survivor Benefit Plan and Dependency/Indemnity Compensation payout problems. Under federal rules, when those dependents qualify for both programs, portions of the payments are offset, costing grieving families up to $15,000 a year. Veterans advocates have lobbied for a change in that calculation for almost 30 years, but a full fix would cost more than $1 billion — money that lawmakers have been unable or unwilling to set aside for a problem that affects about 63,000 military families. Instead, Congress has used the SSIA to cover some of the lost payouts.

Officials at Military Officers Association of America have called repealing the SBP/DIC offset one of their top legislative priorities for the year. But, failing that, they said an SSIA extension is a critical need, to ensure those dependents don’t end up in financial distress. A full offset repeal doesn’t appear likely. But Heck said lawmakers are committed to extending the special allowance, and had hoped to deal with the issue in the subcommittee drafts of the annual defense authorization bill. Budget accounting issues will force it into the full committee draft, set to be marked up 27 APR. Senate lawmakers have not yet weighed in on how they’ll deal with the issue. The annual defense authorization bills typically aren’t finalized until late fall, well into the new fiscal year. Advocates worry that if an extension or fix isn’t passed as part of the fiscal 2017 authorization bill, Congress won’t be able to deal with the issue again until fall 2018, after checks to those military families have already been halted. [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane | April 21, 2016 ++]

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Social Security Sign-Up Update 01 To Delay or Not Delay

The Social Security Administration reports that in 2015, over 59 million Americans received almost $870 billion in Social Security benefits. Social Security is the major source of income for most of the elderly in the United States. According to SSA:

  • Nine out of ten people age 65 and older receive Social Security benefits.
  • Social Security represents 39 percent of the income of the elderly.
  • Among elderly Social Security beneficiaries, 53 percent of married couples and 74 percent of unmarried persons receive half or more of their income from Social Security.

The decision to claim a Social Security retirement benefit can be as simple as logging into Social Security’s website https://www.ssa.gov/retire/apply.html and filing online about three months before you would like to receive your first payment. Or, it can be a lot more complicated. Here are some reasons why:

  • Your benefit is permanently reduced by 20 percent to 30 percent (depending on your full retirement age) if you claim it at age 62.
  • The benefit increases by up to 32 percent if you delay your application to age 70.
  • If you are at your full retirement age and take action before April 30, 2016 you can file, but suspend, receiving your benefit so that your spouse can file on your work record.
  • If you file on or after April 30, 2016, you can file at your full retirement age and choose to suspend receiving your benefit. But during the suspension, your family members will not be able to receive benefits based on your work record (with the exception of a former spouse who is entitled to benefits based on your work record). If your benefit payments are suspended, they will start automatically the month you reach age 70.
  • If you file for Social Security and you are entitled to your own earned benefit as well as a spousal benefit, you will be “deemed” to file on both and will receive the higher of the two benefits. There are exceptions to this rule, however: If you turned 62 before Jan. 2, 2016, you can file on your spouse’s work record (if he or she has filed for benefits) at your full retirement age and delay receiving your own earned benefit in order to receive delayed retirement credits. If you receive a spousal benefit because you are caring for a child who is under 16 or disabled then you also can delay filing for your own earned benefit. But if you receive spouse’s benefits and are also entitled to disability, deemed filing does not apply.

Before you lose sleep over whether and when to claim Social Security, remember that there are some situations when the decision is very simple. Here are a few examples:

  • If you’re working and are over age 62 but under your full retirement age for Social Security, there is an earnings limit that will restrict your ability to receive your benefits. For 2016, the limit is $15,720. That means that if you earn wages, a salary, or have income from self-employment, for every $2 you earn over the annual limit, your Social Security benefit will be reduced by $1. Suppose you’re working and earning a salary of $75,000. That’s $59,280 over the earnings limit. Your Social Security benefit would be reduced by $29,640. Considering that the average benefit is well under this amount, your entitlement to receive it would be eliminated.
  • If you’re working and are over your full retirement age for Social Security, you may begin receiving benefits regardless of the amount of your earned income. If you’re covered under CSRS, but are not yet receiving your retirement benefit because you’re still working, the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset provisions will not apply until after you begin receiving your retirement benefits. Remember, receiving Social Security benefits while you are still fully employed will increase your taxable income. Due diligence is a good idea when it comes to tax planning and claiming Social Security benefits. IRS Publication 915 explains taxation of Social Security benefits.

If you’re not working, you’re past age 62 and you need the income that Social Security will provide, then your options include the following:

  • Claim Social Security retirement so you will have the retirement income you need.
  • Increase your income by taking larger payments from your retirement savings. Later on, you can reduce the withdrawals from your investments when you claim Social Security retirement.
  • Find another source of income to take the place of the value of your Social Security. This way, your retirement savings as well as your Social Security benefits will continue to grow so your future retirement will be more financially comfortable.

It’s worth noting that because the value of delaying Social Security is contingent on how long someone lives, it is clearly not beneficial for those who are in poor health or are otherwise not optimistic about living a long time. If there are two of you, it may be possible to delay Social Security because you both may be contributing income to your household. Consider how that may change if there was only one of you. The decision to delay Social Security will impact the amount of a widow’s benefit. Refer to https://www.ssa.gov/planners/survivors/onyourown5.html to review what your widow(er) is entitled to. [Source: National Institute of Transition Planning | Tammy Flanagan | April 21, 2016 ++]

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IRS Audit Update 06 What to Do if You Get a Notice

It’s the envelope no taxpayer wants to open: an IRS audit notice. What should you do if one arrives? Curl into the fetal position? Run? Freak out? “Don’t panic,” advises Bob Meighan, vice president of online tax preparation service TurboTax®. “The vast majority are correspondence audits. That means the IRS sends a letter and says the income from Bank XYZ does not match what was reported to us.” Those low-level inquiries account for 80 percent of audits. But you should take the notice seriously, Meighan says. Respond within the allotted time frame with the information requested. The next level is the audit where an agent looks at a specific return and questions items. These audits tend to focus on taxpayers with higher incomes. Triggers tend to include travel and entertainment expenses, home office expenses and high donation amounts.

Remember the IRS only audits about 1 percent of returns, Meighan says. Freelancers and “self-employed taxpayers” take note, however: For you, that likelihood nudges up to about 3 percent. While the IRS does some random audits, in part to validate its own statistics and determine the accuracy rate of returns, it tends to select those returns based on the opportunity to collect revenue, Meighan says. “If people are honest in filing returns, there’s really nothing to worry about, provided you keep good records and documentation,” he adds. The statute of limitations for an IRS audit is generally three years, unless there is fraud involved.

If you have questions about the audit process or otherwise need advice, Meighan recommends getting representation from a tax professional, such as a tax attorney who practices in the field. Some states have attorneys who are board certified in tax law. That expert can help you understand your rights and help ensure the IRS stays within the proper scope of the audit. During that process, your attorney can also provide you with legal counsel. If you feel a case was mishandled or the facts don’t support it, you can contact the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service at https://www.irs.gov/Advocate. [Source: Military.com } April 14, 2016 ++]

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IRS Audit Update 07 Budget Cuts Mean Fewer Audits

Over the past couple of tax seasons, IRS security breaches that have put taxpayers’ sensitive information at risk have highlighted an underlying problem of underfunding. But a recently updated report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) says that the rise in cybersecurity problems is just one of several ways the shrinking Internal Revenue Service budget hurts the federal agency — and in turn, taxpayers. Since 2010, the IRS budget has been cut by 17 percent, after adjusting for inflation. That has led to cutbacks in staff and employee training and delays of technology upgrades, according to the CBPP: These steps, in turn, have weakened the IRS’s ability to enforce the nation’s tax laws and serve taxpayers efficiently.

Less enforcement means fewer audits, which means the IRS recoups less money for the federal government. Less efficient service means taxpayers who need to contact the IRS wait longer on hold — or never get through. In response to criticism, Congress recently added $290 million to the IRS budget for fiscal year 2016, but the CBPP argues it was “not enough to make up for the deep funding cuts, and the resulting reductions in personnel, the IRS has experienced since 2010.” As the current IRS commissioner, John Koskinen, testified to Congress last week: “The IRS has been operating in an extremely difficult budget environment for several years, as our funding has been substantially reduced. In FY 2016, our funding level is more than $900 million lower than it had been in FY 2010.” The shrinking number of audits is perhaps the most costly side effect of the shrinking IRS budget.

According to the CBPP report, the number of IRS staff devoted to enforcing tax laws has dropped by 23 percent since 2010. As a result, the number of audits conducted in 2015 was 22 percent lower than it was in 2010. Last year, the IRS audited 0.8 percent of individual tax returns, which is the lowest share in a decade. While fewer audits might sound like good news to taxpayers, it costs the country at large. According to the CBPP, IRS audits have recovered 30 percent — or $30 billion — less in revenue over the past five years compared with the prior five years. [Source: MoneyTalksNews | Karla Bowsher | April 18, 2016 ++]

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Phantom Discounts ► Death of the Price Tag

Buy a pair of boots at an outlet store for $45, when it appears the boots once sold for $180, and you probably think you got a great deal. But what if the $180 price is fake? And the real original price was…..$45? Would you still buy the boots? Or would you feel cheated? Diana DaCorta walked into a Bass Outlet store last fall and saw the price tag pictured below. She bought the boots, thinking she’d found a big sale. Instead, she finds herself as the lead plaintiff in lawsuit that seeks class-action status over phantom discounts at outlet stores. She filed suit in March against AM Retail Group, which operates Bass stores.

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 11.14.51 AM

So-called “phantom discounts” are designed to use a psychological effect known as “framing” to trick consumers into thinking they are getting a steal of a deal. Increasingly, courts and regulators are scrutinizing these kinds of pricing tactics, and you should, too. “Consumers have a reasonable expectation to an honest marketplace. That’s why we have laws prohibiting deceptive and misleading advertising,” Jeff Carton, DaCorta’s lawyer, said. “If a retailer falsely conveys the impression that an item is worth more than it’s being sold for, then consumers are being misled.”

A chief concept of Gotcha Capitalism is could be called the “Death of the Price Tag.” Price transparency is critical for the functioning of a market economy, and when prices become opaque or distorted, markets break. Today, many people are confused by the real price of cable television, or an airplane ticket, or a car repair, or even a house. This is not surprising. The death of the price tag means consumers can’t comparison shop, and it means businesses that perfect the art of misleading consumers succeed while businesses with the best products at the best prices fail. That’s Gotcha Capitalism. One promising trend is a series of regulatory actions and lawsuits around this problem of “comparison” price tags. For years, retailers have tried to convince shoppers that they are getting a steep discount off an “original” price — for example, “$24.99 SALE vs. $79.99 ORIGINAL.” That’s fine, except when the original price never existed. Then it’s an unfair and deceptive trade practice, many courts have recognized. Slowly, retailers are coming around to this notion. You might have noticed, for example, that www.Macys.com now includes the odd-sounding “savings not based on actual sales” next to some prices on its site.

Outlet stores take this problem a bit further. Since outlets have exploded in popularity, sellers have begun making separate (cheaper) lines of clothing that are sold only in outlets. But unless this is made clear to consumers, many mistakenly believe they are buying items that are equal to goods sold in standard retail stores. That’s also a price tag distortion, because consumers are then led to make incorrect comparisons when trying to make purchase decisions. Regulators and courts are starting to side with this point of view, also. Back in 2014, four members of Congress asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the practice. Since then, Michael Kors paid $5 million to settle a class action lawsuit alleging the practice.

Other lawsuits have followed, including the case filed last month in New York against Bass. “This action seeks to redress the unfair and deceptive sales practices by which (Bass) is misleading consumers into believing they are receiving steep discounts on certain merchandise sold through its factory outlet stores…,” the lawsuit says. “In reality… the majority of the merchandise sold at its factory outlet stores is manufactured specifically for sale at the outlet, and is never offered at the Comparison price. Accordingly, there is, in fact, no discount whatsoever.” In an attempt to get Bass’ point of view for this story, emails to AM Retail and the firm’s lawyer went unanswered. In the request for the FTC examination, members of Congress wrote that 85 percent of merchandise sold in outlet stores isn’t what you’d expect — last year’s fashion, or blemished items. Instead, it’s made exclusively for the outlet.

The real deception involves giving consumers the impression that items sold at an outlet store are equal to items sold at retail stores — consumers logically, or at least emotionally, identify with the brand rather than the sign above the physical location. And that’s deceptive, the lawsuit claims. “In doing so, Bass, and other stores like it, deceptively advertise their products at outlet stores by displaying the sale price alongside a purportedly former or original Comparison Price, creating the impression of a bargain,” the lawsuit says. “In fact, this illusion of a discount is wholly false and deceptive.”

Back to psychology. A host of studies have shown that price exaggeration techniques like “framing” or “anchoring” work on casual consumers and professionals alike. One study proved that realtors asked to assess the price of a house could easily be manipulated by the presence of a “list price.” When asked to estimate the real value of a home listed at $119,000, the average “appraisal” was $114,000. When the list price was changed to $149,000, and all else remained the same, the guesses rose to an average of $128,700. In other words, simply by changing the first price suggestion made agents raise their perceived value of a home by more than $14,000. In other words, we can’t just say, “Let the buyer beware.” These techniques are known to work, and often require intentionally falsified information. Stores know this, and they know lawyers and regulators are watching. But for now, the practice continues in many places. Why? “Because until consumers like Ms. DaCorta have the courage to stand up and push back, retailers will continue to prey upon their customers with sales techniques that are effective, albeit unscrupulous,” said Carton, a partner at Denlea & Carton LLP. The firm frequently files class-action suits aimed at getting redress for consumers. “Retailers know the psyche of the average reasonable consumer and the desire to get value for one’s purchase, and they pander to it. Until consumers hold retailers accountable for the basis on which they use comparative pricing, there’s no incentive for retailers to stop.”

While courts and regulators are sorting out the “compare to” or “original” price tag problem, consumers should be suspicious of double-price tags in all stores — but particularly in outlet malls. “Consumers should be wary of whether they’re actually receiving a bargain,” Carton said. “They should ask whether the items they’re purchasing were manufactured specifically for the outlet store, and whether the same item is sold elsewhere. And when there’s a comparison price listed, they should ask more details about the basis on which that comparison is being made.” Or better yet — mentally (or physically, if you must) simply block out the comparison price listed on any price tag. If the item is worth it to you on its own, at the actual price you’ll pay, buy it. If not, put it down and back away. [Source: MoneyTalksNews | Bob Sullivan | April 19, 2016 ++]

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Car Insurance Update 12 ► Impact on Rates

If your driving nickname is “Lead Foot” or “Mario Andretti,” you need to listen up (and slow down!), especially if you don’t want to end up paying an arm and a leg for car insurance. According to new data from InsuranceQuotes.com (http://www.insurancequotes.com/auto/moving-violations-rate-increase-041116) , getting a speeding ticket of 15 miles per hour or less over the speed limit caused car insurance rates to spike by 21 percent on average. If you forget to turn on your blinker or you’re tailgating the car in front of you and you get pulled over for it, you can expect a 19 percent bump in your rate, the data shows. Running late for work is a pain. But it can become an expensive pain if you decide to drive in the carpool lane by yourself and a traffic cop sees you and tickets you. For that offense, your insurance rate will likely jump by 18 percent on average. This probably won’t surprise you, but getting a ticket for a DUI or reckless driving sends insurance rates skyrocketing by an average of 94 percent or 85 percent, respectively. Ouch.

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“Insurers base their rates on experience, so the violations that cause premiums to jump the most are the ones that, over the years, insurers have found are strong indicators that the driver is likely to have an accident in the future,” said Mike Barry, spokesman for the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute. “Seen that way, this study makes a lot of sense.” Rate increases for insurance vary depending on where you live. To see how traffic tickets impact car insurance rates in all 50 states go to http://www.insurancequotes.com/Media/Default/Blog-Images/moving-violations-50-states2.png for speeding, reckless driving, and DUI/DWI. To find out how your part of the country ranks for this expense, check out: “The 10 Most and Least Costly States for Car Insurance” at http://www.moneytalksnews.com/the-10-most-and-least-costly-states-for-car-insurance. “No moving violation stays on your driving record forever,” writes Nick DiUlio on InsuranceQuotes.com. “Most first-time infractions will impact your premium for between three and five years, but precisely how long your finances are burdened depends on the severity of the violation and laws in your state.” [Source: MoneyTalksNews | Krystal Steinmetz | April 14, 2016 ++]

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Pentagon FCU ► Fifth Merger in Five Months

PenFed Credit Union has announced its fifth merger in five months, merging with Fort Belvoir Federal Credit Union on 1 MAY. “By merging with a larger credit union like PenFed, it gives you the scale to do more for the members each of us have,” said T.V. Johnson, spokesman for PenFed. The merger is the largest that Pen Fed has done in recent years. Belvoir Federal has more than 26,000 members and more than $320 million in assets. As of 1 MAY, Belvoir Federal will have the PenFed brand. PenFed, also known as Pentagon Federal Credit Union, has more than 1.4 million members and nearly $20 billion in assets.

“Our number one priority is our members, and together, PenFed and Belvoir Federal can accomplish more for them than if we remain two separate entities,” said James Schenck, president and CEO of PenFed Credit Union, in a statement announcing the merger. As for other mergers planned, Johnson said “mergers are part of our growth strategy, but we don’t discuss future partnership plans.” Other recent PenFed mergers include:

  • Fort Gordon and Community Credit Union, February, 6,200 members
  • NAVFAC Federal Credit Union of Hawaii, December, 2015, 2,000 members and $28 million in assets
  • AAFES Federal Credit Union, December, 2015, 6,500 members and almost $92 million in assets
  • Corps of Engineers Credit Union, November, 2015, 1,900 members and $42 million in assets.

[Source: Military Times | Karen Jowers | April 18, 2016 ++]

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Saving Money 27 More Ways to do It

Transportation

  • Keep your car engine tuned and its tires inflated to their proper pressure. Doing both can save you up to $100 a year in gas.
  • Shop around for gas. Comparing prices at different stations and using the lowest-octane (recommended by the car owner’s manual) can save you hundreds of dollars a year.
  • When driving, avoid fast start-ups and stops. Over time, you will save hundreds of dollars on lower gas and maintenance costs.
  • Take fewer cab rides. Using public transit instead of cabs can save you $5-10 per trip or more. If you’re a frequent cab user, the savings could complete ly fund your emergency savings account.
  • Check all airlines for cheap fares. Since no website lists all discount carriers, also check out the websites of discount carriers like Southwest and Jet Blue, possibly saving you hundreds of dollars.

Housing

  • Don’t pay for space you don’t need. Americans have relatively large houses and apartments. Think about more efficiently using space so you can purchase or rent less square footage.
  • Live relatively near your workplace. While this isn’t always possible, driving 5,000 miles less a year can lower transportation costs by more than $1,000.
  • Refinance your mortgage to lower interest charges. Consider refinancing your mortgage to lower the rate and term. On a 15-year $100,000 fixed-rate mortgage, lowering the rate from 7% to 6.5% can save you more than $5,000 in interest charges over the life of the loan. For each $100,000 you borrow at a 7% rate, you will pay over $75,000 less in interest on a 15-year than a 30-year fixed rate mortgage. And, you will accumulate home equity more rapidly, thus increasing your ability to cover large emergency expenditures.
  • Choose home repair contractors wisely. Favor contractors who have successfully performed work for people you know. Insist on a written, fixed-price bid. Don’t make full payment until satisfactory completion of the work.

Home Heating and Cooling

  • Ask your local electric or gas utility for a free or low-cost home energy audit. The audit may reveal inexpensive ways to reduce home heating and cooling costs by hundreds of dollars a year. Keep in mind that a payback period of less than three years, or even five years, usually will save you lots of money in the long-term.
  • Weatherproof your home. Caulk holes and cracks that let warm air escape in the winter and cold air escape in the summer. Your local hardware store has materials, and quite possibly useful advice, about inexpensively stopping unwanted heat or cooling loss.
  • Use window coverings to block or let in sunshine. In summer, use these coverings to block sunlight, keeping your house cool. In winter, open the coverings to let sunshine warm the house. You could easily save more than $100 annually while being more comfortable.

Clothing

  • Look for sales at discount outlets. There are huge price differences between clothing on sale at discount stores and that sold regularly at many department and specialty stores, though keep in mind that prices at the latter are often deeply discounted.
  • Consider purchasing previously-used clothes from Good Will, second-hand stores, or school or church thrift sales. With a little effort, you can find low-priced, high-quality used clothing items that can be worn for many years.
  • Assess clothing in terms of quality as well as price. An inexpensive shirt or coat is a poor bargain if it wears out in less than a year. Consider fabric, stitching, washability, and other quality related factors in your selection of clothes.
  • Clean clothes inexpensively. Wash and iron clothes yourself. If you use a cleaner, compare prices at different establishments. A 50 cent difference in cleaning a shirt, for example, can add up to $100 a year.

Communications

  • Assess your communications costs. As Internet and wireless use grows, many consumers are overpaying for unneeded communications capacity. For example, if you have a cell phone and two phone lines — one for your computer — consider receiving personal calls on your cell phone so you can give up one of the phone lines.
  • Communicate by e-mail rather than by phone. If you’re on-line, e-mail communications are virtually free. Even for subscribers, landline and wireless calls often carry per-minute charges.
  • Be aware of your cell phone costs and how to reduce them. Cell phone use has dramatically increased communications expenditures in many households. Understand peak calling periods, area coverage, roaming, and termination charges. Make sure your calling plan matches the pattern of calls you typically make.

Entertainment

  • Research free or inexpensive entertainment in your community. Use local newspapers and websites to learn about free or low-cost parks, museums, film showings, sports events, and other places which you and your family would enjoy.
  • Give up premium cable channels or better yet, cable all together. It’s a lot cheaper to rent one film a week than watch one on premium cable channels that may cost more than $500 a year.
  • Borrow books rather than purchasing them. Borrowing books and reading magazines at your local library, rather than purchasing reading material, can save you hundreds of dollars a year.
  • Attend high school rather than college or pro sports events. High school sports events rarely cost more than $5 and are often free, with hot dogs and sodas typically costing $1-2. College and pro football and basketball games rarely cost less than $20, and their concessions are usually several times more expensive.

Family and Friends

  • Plan gift-giving well in advance. That will give you time to decide on the most thoughtful gifts, which usually are not the most expensive ones. And if these gifts are products that must be purchased, you will have the opportunity to look for sales.
  • In families, discuss limits on spending for gifts. These limits not only tend to reduce expenditures; they also be greatly appreciated by the least affluent family members.
  • Socialize at pot-luck meals rather than at restaurants. Because one wants to be generous to friends and family, there may be huge cost savings here.
  • Consider writing letters instead of making frequent phone calls. Thoughtful letters are usually far more highly valued than phone conversations, and they are often saved by recipients for future reading.

[Source: CFA | America Save$ | March 25, 2016 ++]

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Macy’s Delivery Email Scam ► How it Works

Each year, millions of people shop at Macy’s, a huge fashion retailer with customers across North America and the world. Scammers, banking on the store’s popularity, have created a new phishing con that poses as a Macy’s delivery email.

How the Scam Works:

  • You get an email with the subject line with something like: “Macys.com Order #5698 ready for delivery.” You don’t remember ordering anything from Macy’s recently, but you open the message anyway. Inside, there’s no mention of the delivery. Instead, the email tells you that you won a prize in the store’s “monthly give-away.” To collect it, all you need to do is click the link.
  • Emails posing as business giveaways are a popular way to transmit malware or phish for banking or personal information. Be careful of any unsolicited email that promises free gift cards or other too-good-to-be-true perks.

How to Spot a Giveaway or Gift Card Scam:

  1. Don’t believe what you see. It’s easy to steal the colors, logos and header of any other established organization. Scammers can also make links look like they lead to legitimate websites and emails appear to come from a different sender.
  2. Legitimate businesses do not ask for credit card numbers or banking information for coupons or giveaways. If they do ask for personal information, like an address or email, be sure there’s a link to their privacy policy.
  3. When in doubt, do a quick web search. If the giveaway is a scam, this is likely to reveal an alert or bring you to the organization’s real website, where they may have posted further information.
  4. Watch out for a reward that’s too good to be true. Businesses typically give out small discounts to entice customers. If the offer seems too good to be true (a $100 voucher or 50% discount) it may be a scam.
  5. Look for a mismatched subject line and email body. Many of these scams have a email subject line promising one thing, but the content of the email is about something completely different.

Check out a comprehensive list of scams using Macy’s name on their website https://www.customerservice-macys.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/41/~/fraud-alert. Note that most major retailers and consumer product companies have sections such as this on their corporate websites, as well. When it doubt, check with the company first. Find the real website using a search engine; don’t click on links in an email.

To find out more about other scams, check out BBB Scam Stopper (bbb.org/scam). To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker at https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker/us. [Source: BBB Scam Alert | March 28, 2016 ++]

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Internet Connected Car Scam Scammers’ Next Target

Is your car connected? Many cars can now connect to the Internet, enabling drivers to play music, use GPS, and access roadside assistance without their phone. Unfortunately, Internet connection comes with a potential drawback. It opens up your car to the risk of hacking, warns a new Federal Bureau of Investigation alert.

How the Scam Works:

  • You use the dashboard of your connected car to get GPS directions, connect through apps or stream music. But one recent study found that scammers can take advantage of security holes in the Wi-Fi connection to gain access to the car’s computer. Once they get in, hackers can steal data or even take control of your vehicle.
  • Connected car hacking is more of a possibility than an existing issue. But as more people purchase connected cars, con artists are bound to find ways to use them for scams. This just happened with smartphones a few years ago, so the FBI wants consumers to be aware of the potential problem and to treat connected cars like other computer devices.

Tips to Keep Your Connected Car Secure:

  • Treat your car like a computer. Your connected car is a computer, so use the same common sense you would for keeping your laptop safe. Be especially cautious when allowing third-party devices to access your car’s computer for reasons other than vehicle diagnostics and maintenance.
  • Respect recalls. If you receive a recall notice for an issue related to your car’s computer system, treat it as seriously as you would a safety recall and get it taken care of right away. The notification will tell you how to get the problem fixed. Cyber recalls are regulated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and you can check for all recalls at recalls.gov/nhtsa.html
  • Keep your vehicle’s software up-to-date. Manufacturers will do their best to patch security holes. System updates are annoying but vital for protecting your device. Always make sure you have the latest updates, “bug fixes,” and security patches, but only download those officially provided by the manufacturer.
  • Don’t make changes to vehicle software. Making unauthorized changes to the vehicle’s software may introduce new vulnerabilities that could be exploited by scammers.
  • Lock your car. Just as you password-protect your smartphone and laptop, be sure to lock your car and know who has access to it.
  • If you suspect your connected car has been hacked… Contact the vehicle manufacturer or dealer. Provide them with a description of the problem so that they can work with you to resolve any potential cybersecurity concerns.

For More Information read the complete alert from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at http://www.ic3.gov/media/2016/160317.aspx. The public service contains tips to protect your car and additional resources. 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 | April 08, 2016 ++]

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Tax Burden for Georgia Retired Vets ► As of Apr 2016

Note: 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. Following are the taxes you can expect to pay if you retire in Georgia:


Sales Taxes
State Sales Tax:
 4% (food, prescription drugs exempt), local taxes may increase total to 7.05%.

Gasoline Tax: 49.423 cents/gallon (Includes all taxes)

Diesel Fuel Tax: 59.06 cents/gallon (Includes all taxes)

Cigarette Tax: 37 cents/pack of 20

Personal Income Taxes

Tax Rate Range: Low – 1.0%; High – 6%

Income Brackets:   Six. Lowest – $750; Highest – $7,000

Personal Exemptions: Single – $2,700; Married – $5,400; Dependents – $3,000

Standard Deduction: Single – $2,300; Married filing joint return – $3,000; Taxpayer over 65 – $1,300 additional.

Medical/Dental Deduction: Same as Federal taxes

Federal Income Tax Deduction: None

Retirement Income Taxes: Social Security is exempt.  Taxpayers who are 62 years of age or older, or permanently and totally disabled regardless of age, may be eligible for a retirement income adjustment on their Georgia tax return.  Retirement income includes income from pensions and annuities, interest income, dividend income, net income from rental property, capital gains income, and income from royalties.  For married couples filing joint returns with both members receiving retirement income, the maximum adjustment for the applicable year may be up to twice the individual exclusion amount.  Retirement income exceeding the maximum adjustable amount will be taxed at the normal rate.

Retired Military Pay: Same as above.

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

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

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


Property Taxes

A homeowner may pay a combination of county, city, school or state taxes depending on location.  Property tax relief measures are included in the state’s comprehensive property tax credit law that can be viewed on their web site. Homeowners 62 and older who earn $10,000 or less, will find that up to $10,000 of their property’s assessed value is exempt from school taxes.  Persons 62 or older whose family income does not exceed $30,000 may qualify for an exemption from state and county property taxes equal to the amount by which the assessed value of the homestead exceeds the assessed value for the preceding tax year. For those 65 and older who earn $10,000 or less, $4,000 of their property’s value is exempt from state and county taxes as well.  Call 404-968-0778 for details.  Go to http://dor.georgia.gov/search?query=property%20tax%20guide to view additional information about property taxes.

The state offers homestead exemptions to persons that own and occupy their home as a primary residence.  Many counties offer homestead exemptions that are more beneficial to the taxpayer than the exemptions offered by the state.  Homestead exemptions are filed with the county tax commissioner or the county tax assessor’s office.  The homestead exemption is deducted from the assessed value (40% of the fair market value) of the home. Then the millage rate is applied to arrive at the amount of ad valorem tax due.  Individuals age 65 and older get additional deductions. Go to http://dor.georgia.gov/search?query=homestead%20exemptions%20section%20describes for more information on homestead exemptions.

Inheritance and Estate Taxes

There is no inheritance tax or gift tax and only a limited estate tax which is an amount equal to the amount allowable as a credit for state death taxes under Section 2011 of the Internal Revenue Code. In effect, the estate taxes paid to Georgia may be used to reduce the estate taxes due the IRS.

For further information call 404-417-4477 or visit the Georgia Department of Revenue site http://dor.georgia.gov/search?query=georgia%20department%20revenue. [Source: www.retirementliving.com Apr 2016 ++]

* General Interest *

Notes of Interest ► 16 thru 30 APR 2016

  • Warning to America. Great Britain’s Paul Weston at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-hPCnel0qc delivered a warning to America. Something to ponder.
  • USS Carl M. Levin. As the Obama administration this week named another warship after a politician, a new report is circulating in Congress that shows that nearly 200 Navy and Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipients have never been awarded such an honor, contrary to naval guidelines and tradition. Of 318 Medal of Honor recipients in the Navy and Marine Corps, 100 have had a ship named after them; the large majority of them — 186 — have not.
  • Cola. In order for a positive COLA next year, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has to make pretty significant increases. The March CPI is 232.209, and remains .9 percent below the FY 2014 COLA baseline. Because there was not a positive COLA in FY 2015, the FY 2014 baseline is used. The CPI for April 2016 is scheduled to be released on May 17, 2016.
  • Clothes. Check out https://www.facebook.com/encron/videos/10208040372154499/?fref=nf.
  • Music. At http://thenostalgiamachine.com you can select your favorite hit song from 1960 through 2013. For example try https://youtu.be/BGLR25EJtfE?t=31. (one of my favorites)
  • Taxes. At http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2016/04/17/what-could-you-owe-under-next-president-see-our-candidate-tax-calculator/83171348 the USA TODAY/Tax Foundation Candidate Tax Calculator lets you see just how each 2016 candidate could affect your tax burden if he or she became president. The calculator uses calculations and data from the Tax Foundation, a D.C.-based tax policy think tank.
  • PTSD. US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the National Institute of Mental Health, report significant links between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in veterans and accelerated aging. Many vets with PTSD are aging too fast, at a surprisingly young age (i.e. Marie Antoinette syndrome).
  • Safety. To avoid being electrocuted go to https://www.youtube.com/embed/fLVzvMTgGDY to see what you should do if you hit a power pole and the power lines are touching the ground.
  • SEALs. A few women soldiers have earned the Army’s coveted Ranger badge. A female Marine will be the first woman to enter MARSOC’s grueling selection process. But no women have stepped up to join the Navy’s most elite combat units more than a month after they formally opened.
  • New VA IG. Senators confirmed Michael Missal to be the new inspector general for the Department of Veterans Affairs 19 APR, giving the embattled agency a top watchdog for the first time in 28 months.
  • Lawyers. In an order issued 20 APR, the state South Carolina Supreme Court said that spouses of members of the military can receive limited certificates of admission to the state’s bar for up to five years. The court says the spouses must already be attorneys in good standing who are admitted to practice law in any other state, the District of Columbia or a U.S. territory.
  • B-21 Bomber. The Air Force won’t make public the contract value of Northrop Grumman Corp.’s winning bid for the B-21 bomber, saying that would make it “decisively easier” for U.S. adversaries to determine the stealth aircraft’s range and weapons payload.
  • Whales. Check out https://youtu.be/7X0hq0ug9q4 to see what can happen when a dead beached sperm whale sits to long before disposal.
  • TBI Research Program. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald announced that he, along with three-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Nancy Hogshead-Makar and former NFL player and Super Bowl champion Phil Villapiano, have pledged to donate their brains to advance brain research ‎conducted by VA in partnership with the Concussion Legacy Foundation
  • VA Mental Health Care. The journal Psychiatric Services has published a report showing that the quality of mental health care provided by VA is superior to that provided to a comparable population in the private sector (www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/27029/va-mental-health-care-found-superior-care-private-sector).
  • USN. An analysis by Govini, a data analytics company, shows that Navy spending on fixed-wing aircraft rose to $11.4 billion in 2015, with spending on combat ships and landing vessels coming in at $8.8 billion during the same period.
  • USMC. The latest of 30 female Marine to attempt the grueling 84-day Infantry Officer Course was unable to complete training, but she will get a second chance to take the course, the Marine Corps has confirmed.
  • TRICARE Overseas. The Defense Health Agency awarded the new TRICARE Overseas Program (TOP) contract to International SOS Government Services, Inc. (International SOS). This means you will continue to work with International SOS for your health care needs, including getting referrals and prior authorizations, enrollment in TRICARE programs, claims processing and customer service. The new contract begins September 1, 2016.
  • Vets in Office. Nationally, veterans made up 72 percent of the U.S. House of Representatives and 78 percent of the U.S. Senate in 1971. Today, those percentages are 18 and 20 percent, respectively, which still doubles veterans’ representation in Congress despite being only 9 percent of the general population. Veteran status averages about 14 percent in the state legislatures. Refer to https://www.aei.org/publication/serving-after-serving-veterans-in-state-public-office for additional data on veterans in Public Office.

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[Source: Various | April 29, 2016 ++]

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Retirement Planning Update 10 ► Giving Back to your Community

So, you are retired, financially solvent and — finally — have a little time on your hands. If you’re like many people, you are in search of ways to be involved and to have a meaningful impact in your community. Here are some ways to get started exploring your new role:

1. Volunteer at a school – Public schools, in particular, are chronically underfunded and in need of volunteers for a wide array of tasks. There are always kids and teachers who need some help. (To work with kids you will likely need to agree to a background check for obvious reasons.) Here are a few roles to explore:

  • Approach your local school, or school district, and ask where you can help as a tutor: math, science and English lead the list.
  • Become a crossing guard. This is a critical position, especially in high-traffic areas and communities that have early rush hours.
  • Every school can use good mentors. Perhaps you were a software engineer and you find out from school authorities that the field inspires some students. Maybe there is even a club you can supervise.

2. Work at a hospital – According to the American Hospital Association, most hospitals require volunteers to go through a vetting process. This usually includes a background check along with an interview and proof of up-to-date immunizations. Volunteers receive thorough training for the particular positions and annual refresher courses are common, the AHA says. Some typical volunteer roles include:

  • Visiting patients to see if they would like to talk, especially those who don’t have family.
  • Working at the gift shop; most are partly operated by volunteers.
  • Helping to deliver books, newspapers and other reading materials to patients.
  • Assisting in blood drives and health drives.
  • Providing office help.

3. Get involved in politics – Volunteer for a political crusade, grassroots organization or political action committee. You can also work for a candidate you support. Other ways to get involved include:

  • Contact your local city or town hall to see if it has committees that need your help.
  • Work on a board of directors. Find a board in your area on almost any topic.
  • Run for local office.

4. Help on a hotline – There are suicide hotlines in almost every city, manned by volunteers. This is obviously an important — even life-saving — way to help. Here are some other places to volunteer:

5. Contact animal shelters and humane societies – Local animal shelters and humane societies need volunteers to care for animals, organize fundraising events, perform administrative tasks, or help rescue pets in the wake of floods, fires and other natural disasters. In addition:

  • Pet owners can have their pets certified through pet therapy training programs, enabling them to visit patients in nursing homes, children’s hospitals and hospices.
  • You can walk dogs for people who are shut-ins or otherwise unable to take care of their pets.
  • Your local shelter might need someone to foster animals until they can find a permanent home.

6. Check with AARP – AARP has a page on its website (http://www.aarp.org/giving-back) for volunteers: Volunteer — Share Your Experience in Your Community. Some options AARP suggests include helping older drivers stay safe and improve their driving skills, and working to end hunger.

7. Become a docent (Lecturer or tour guide) – Many organizations offer docent programs, including:

  • Museums
  • Learning institutions
  • Planetariums
  • Botanical gardens
  • Equestrian parks

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8. Lift a hammer for Habitat for Humanity – The organization, which addresses the issue of housing for the poor, gives you the opportunity to find a local chapter at http://www.habitat.org/local. Ways to help include:

9. Help Meal on Wheels – The organization, which ensures that shut-ins and the poor have enough to eat, has a web page at http://www.mealsonwheelsamerica.orgto help you find chapters in your area.bSpend part of your day not only delivering the meals, but offering an ear to those who might not have everyday human contact.

10. Check out your local YMCA – The Y offers endless ways to give your community a boost. Perhaps you want to motivate young people to develop education skills and community relationships. Or maybe you hope to help adults to live in a healthier way. You can also coach sports teams and teach classes.

11. Join a choir – Many volunteer their services to hospices, shelters and correctional institutes.

[Source: MoneyTalksNews | Hiram Reisner | April 15, 2016 ++]

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Household Tips Update 04 ► Save time and Money

It’s time to cast aside your cynicism. It turns out that the best things in life ARE free – or darned close — at least when it comes to little touches that make life a little easier and your house a little homier. Doubt it? Try these 10 home hacks and you will believe:

1. Banish odors

Forget the fancy and costly sprays and plug-ins. In a small pan, mix water, vanilla extract and cinnamon, then simmer the concoction on low heat. Your home will smell fresh in no time.

2. Dry clothes faster

Don’t have a lot of time to wait for those jeans or that shirt to dry? Toss a dry bath towel in when you put wet clothes in the dryer. You’ll cut drying time way down (and cut energy costs, too!).

3. Freshen a smelly room

Easy enough: Just place two to four dryer sheets in a spray bottle, fill the bottle with water, and then add 1 tablespoon of rubbing alcohol. Voila! Your own effective, low-cost freshener is ready for you to spray.

4. Keep your pants up

A zipper that won’t stay up doesn’t have to be a constant irritant. Slide a run-of-the-mill key ring through the hole in the zipper’s tab. Then hook the ring to the pant button above the zipper. Instant fix!

5. Solve the toilet brush dilemma

Rather than returning a dripping toilet brush to its holder, tuck it between the toilet bowl and lid (dripping brush inside the bowl, of course). After a few minutes it’ll be dry enough to store.

6. Stop static

Fashion two tin foil balls and toss them in the dryer with your clothes. They will keep your clothing static free.

7. Get at corner dirt

Don’t spend a fortune on extra vacuum attachments. Tape a cardboard tube – the kind that is in the center of wrapping paper – to your vacuum hose to get into tight spaces. Bend and flatten the tube to suit your needs.

8. Triumph over stuck trash bags

You know how, when you try to pull your full garbage bag out of the plastic container, it does not want to come out, because there’s a vacuum? Drill a few small holes in the lower part of your garbage pail and you can remove bags without struggle.

9. Keep trash bags in place

Here’s a way to address another irritation related to garbage bags: Take a few pieces of inexpensive sticky-tape picture hooks and use them to attach garbage bags to the lip of the trash cans to keep them from slipping down.

10. Organize your clothes for easy reach

Do you spend time digging through clothes in your dresser, or even frustrated by a well-organized pile? Try this: Stack your clothes in the dresser vertically (not in horizontal piles as the picture here shows) to find your favorites easier. Bonus – you’ll save space, too.

[Source: MoneyTalksNews | Nancy Dunham | April 18, 2016 ++]

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Calendar Key Dates ► May & June

The following key dates occur in May and June

  • May – National Military Appreciation Month
  • May 1 – Silver Star Service Banner Day
  • May 1 – Loyalty Day
  • May 6 – Military Spouse Appreciation Day
  • May 8 – VE Day (Victory in Europe) 71st anniversary
  • May 13 – Children of Fallen Patriots Day
  • May 14-22 – Armed Forces Week
  • May 21 – Armed Forces Day
  • May 30 – Memorial Day

-o-o-O-o-o-

  • June 6 – D-Day (the Invasion of Europe in WWII) 72nd anniversary
  • June 12-18 – National Flag Week
  • June 14 – U.S. Army’s 241st birthday
  • June 14 – U.S. Flag Day
  • June 27 – PTSD Awareness Day

[Source: Frontlines of Freedom Newsletter | April 22, 2016 ++]

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NATO/Russia Council ► 1st Meeting in 2-yrs | Differences Remain

The first meeting of the in nearly two years failed to bridge differences between Moscow and the alliance, NATO’s chief said 20 APR. The meeting, which ran more than 90 minutes over schedule, was the occasion for a “frank and serious” discussion about the situation in Ukraine, issues related to military activities of the alliance and Russia, and the security situation in and around Afghanistan, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said. “NATO and Russia have profound and persistent differences,” Stoltenberg said. “Today’s meeting did not change that. No decisions were announced as a result of the meeting, the councils first since June 2014. “I expect we will meet again” Stoltenberg said, without announcing or predicting a date.

Russian Ambassador Alexander Grushko, who represented his nation at the meeting with his counterparts from NATO’s 28 member states, was expected to deliver his report on the meeting to journalists later. Before the talks, Stoltenberg said the meeting at alliance headquarters was being held to exchange views on Ukraine and other issues, but also to discuss improving “mechanisms of risk reduction related to military activities.” Last week, U.S. officials accused Russian warplanes of repeatedly buzzing a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Baltic Sea, coming as close as 30 feet (9 meters). Russia’s Defense Ministry rejected the U.S. complaints.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the meeting was not expected to be simple and harmonious. “But given the large number of difficult issues, this dialogue has a value in itself and should be continued,” he said in a statement. The NATO-Russia Council was founded in 2002 as a forum for consultations between the former Cold War foes, but last met in June 2014, when the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine sent relations with the West into a deep freeze. NATO also suspended practical cooperation with Russia due to the Crimean annexation and what it views as Russia’s support for an armed insurgency in eastern Ukraine. But Stoltenberg said it was vital to keep channels of communication with Moscow open. “When tensions are high, I think the need for open channels, for political dialogue, for predictability, for transparency, is even more important,” Stoltenberg said Tuesday while attending a meeting with European Union defense ministers in Luxembourg.

NATO is engaging in the largest reinforcement of its collective defenses since the Cold War, in large part in response to what it perceives as a newly aggressive Russia. Dmitry Peskov, press secretary to Russian President Vladimir Putin, blamed NATO for the resulting “lack of mutual trust.” “We are seeing hostile actions by boosting NATO potential at our borders, it’s a threat to our national interests,” Peskov said 19 APR. “NATO’s recent actions show that the alliance is still working on its original concept: to constrain Russia and confront it. We’re glad there is a dialogue, but it won’t be easy.” [Source: The Associated Press | John-Thor Dahlburg | April 20, 2016 ++]

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Child Pornography ► U.S. Coast Guardsman Gets 20 Years ++

A federal judge sentenced a Key West-based U.S. Coast Guardsman to almost 20 years in prison after he pleaded guilty in December to producing child pornography. Of the three child-porn counts with which a grand jury charged Drew Alexander Young, 24, in August, he pleaded guilty to convincing a 13-year-old girl, who was up front about her age, to send him lewd photographs of herself to his cell phone. He pleaded not guilty to all three counts in September but changed his plea on 7 DEC. He was facing a maximum of 70 years in prison. U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez sentenced Young on 12 APR to 19 years and six months. Young, who was an E-3 fireman in the Coast Guard, was administratively discharged in the months after his August indictment. He enlisted in 2011. In addition to the two decades in federal lockup, Young must serve 10 years’ probation upon release and abide by a number of conditions, including staying away from children in his private life and at work, undergoing sex offender treatment and agreeing to having restricted computer access.

The child pornography case was brought by Coast Guard Investigative Service agents when they were looking into sexual harassment allegations against Young in May 2015. A female Coast Guard colleague said Young assaulted her. Agents seized Young’s cell phone on May 13 looking for messages sent to the alleged victim, including those that contained sexual content or threats. During the search, agents found the text message app Kik Messenger, which contained chats between Young and girls under 18 years old. Most of the girls were between 14 and 16. Online, Young was known to his victims as “dyshizz1” and “Drew Y.”

Agents obtained a second search warrant to look further into Young’s phone and found 30 conversations with girls, some as young as 13 years old, according to court papers. In these conversations, agents say Young directed the girls to take photos of their genitals. Young made six attempts to meet with the girls, but it doesn’t appear that any of them took him up on the offer, agents said. In one of these requests, Young told a 13-year-old girl that he would take her virginity, according to the detention order. In another thread, Young proposed anal sex with another 13-year-old girl. Some of these girls also sent photos of them exposing themselves to Young, Coast Guard investigators say. Young’s phone also had a collection of “explicit videos of underage girls, some as young as 8 years old,” Judge Lurana Snow wrote in a September detention order. [Source: The Reporter (Tavernier, Fla.) | David Goodhue | Apr 18, 2016 ++]

Gavel at rest

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Fruit Flies ► How to Get Rid of

The little flies that frequently appear near unrefrigerated produce in your kitchen are probably fruit flies, which are sometimes called vinegar flies. They are extremely hard to get rid of, but if you use a multiphase plan of attack, you should be able to do it. Fruit flies can lay up to 500 eggs at a time near the surface of fermenting (ripening) foods or other organic materials. The entire life cycle from egg to adult takes only about eight to ten days so they proliferate with great rapidity. They can also lay their eggs in sink drains, garbage disposals, empty bottles and cans, garbage bags, and even damp mops and sponges.

The first step in control is to eliminate the sources of attraction and breeding. Don’t leave ripened fruit or vegetables like onions, tomatoes, or potatoes exposed; keep them in the refrigerator until the problem is resolved. Frequently clean recycling bins that hold empty bottles and cans, and make sure the contents are thoroughly cleaned before discarding. Be sure the bottoms and the sides of garbage cans are free of any small bits of food or spilled juices. Be sure the bottoms and the sides of garbage cans are free of any small bits of food or spilled juices. (See more ways to prevent fruit flies.)

Even when all sources of attraction are removed, those speedy adult flies can scatter and lay eggs in a drain or another hard-to-reach location, so the cycle starts all over again. A pyrethrum-based aerosol insecticide may be used to kill adult flies if you can hit them, but that won’t take care of any eggs or larvae lurking in your kitchen. Traps are important control tools that continue to eliminate new adults as they emerge. Commercial traps can be purchased at hardware stores. Disposable Fruit Fly Traps ($15.50 for a set of two), which are baited with a nontoxic lure, can catch about 2,000 flies each, and last for one month can be found on the Internet.

fruit-flies

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Fruit Flies Commercial and homemade traps.

A homemade trap can be made by forming a cone-shaped funnel with an 8-by-10-inch piece of paper, sealing it with tape, and sticking it into a clean jar or wine bottle. Bait the jar with a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar or a slice of ripe banana. Place one or more of these traps on counters or in pantries where the pests are seen most often. The flies go in easily but can’t fly out. After you trap all visible flies, kill them with spray or pour a mixture of warm water and dish soap into the container. The soap works to reduce the surface tension of the water and cause the flies to drown. Rebait and replace jar traps, if necessary. [Source: Time | Danny Kim | July 29, 2015 ++]

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Honey ► Unexpected Uses

Honey is a lot more than just a sweet treat. It has uses ranging from medicinal to athletic, all of which are rather unexpected when you’re used to just eating the stuff. Sure, we can keep it in our kitchens (and, seriously, who wouldn’t want to do that?), but we can also put it in our medicine cabinets and our gym bags. Intrigued? Here are some ways you can use honey for health and performance.

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1. Boost Athletic Performance – Better performance in endurance athletics — no matter your sport — depends a lot on carbohydrate consumption. You can supplement with expensive glucose formulas, or you can consume honey. Because honey contains a mixture of various natural sugars, it provides your body with the energy it needs to go the distance.

2. Fight Germs – Honey helps sterilize wounds, which seems to indicate that it has bacteria-fighting properties. In non-sterile wounds treated with honey, the area becomes sterile after about a week. Honey is probably as good or better than more common wound treatments, and it is entirely natural. The only time you don’t want to use honey is when the wound is deep or serious — in these cases, it can slow down your healing. But for normal, everyday injuries, it might be one of the best treatments available.

3. Heal Burns – Honey seems to help burns heal faster. Superficial burns are less inflamed and less likely to get infected when honey is part of the treatment. While you never want to try to treat a bad burn by yourself, you can use honey on the less serious ones as part of your treatment regimen. A sunburn might be a great place to try this out, if you happen to get one more before summer is over.

4. Soothe a Hangover – When you drink too much, then realize you’d like to avoid a hangover, most people will tell you to consume a lot of water. That’s excellent advice, and I’ll go a step farther: Add some honey to it. Because honey is high in fructose, it will help you metabolize alcohol faster. Yes, anything high in fructose will help, but honey is easy, sweet, and can mix well in the water you know you need to drink.

5. Ease Seasonal Allergies – Some people find that honey relieves seasonal allergy symptoms. This is somewhat controversial, but many people swear by it, and some studies seem to support its use. If you try this, make sure you are eating raw, local honey. This will still contain the pollen found in your area which, as the theory goes, will desensitize you to it, over time. The pollen is removed from non-raw honey, so it won’t have much of an effect.

6. Get Things… Moving – Constipation sucks. Not only is it uncomfortable, but the medications that are supposed to relieve it can cause equal discomfort. Instead, try some honey. Mix two tablespoons with some water (or take it straight, if you prefer). Many folks find that it keeps them regular and/or helps relieve constipation when that strikes.

7. Improve Your Sleep – If you struggle with insomnia — whether you can’t get to sleep, wake up for a while in the night, or wake up super early — honey can help you rest. A lot of insomnia is caused by low blood glucose, even if you aren’t aware of feeling hungry, and honey can help your body get the glycogen it needs if your own stores get depleted. In addition, honey can help your brain produce tryptophan, which will also help you sleep.

[Source: Wise Bread | Sarah Winfrey | 18 August 2015 ++]

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Gun Control ► Alaska

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Just an ordinary Alaskan housewife out shopping. No permit required in Alaska for either open-carry (must be 18) or concealed-carry (must be 21). Alaska has the lowest crime rate in US. Not a single school shooting in Alaska ever. And the Left claims guns kill people and want to ban them. Settle that issue will be settled November 8, 2016!

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Buying A Better Used Car ► Don’t Let Life Give You a Lemon

With so many vehicles on the market and at higher prices, the pressure is on to make a smart spending decision. Asking the right questions—particularly if you’re buying from a private seller—and knowing the right answers can help. Ask these questions to make sure you’re buying the best possible used car:

1. How many miles has the vehicle been driven? If the answer is less than 5,000 or over 20,000 miles per year, find out why. Keep in mind that a vehicle with higher mileage due to highway commutes may have less wear and tear than a car with lower mileage accumulated in stop-and-start city traffic.

2. How is the car equipped? Even if you already know the car’s features from reading the advertisement, get the owner talking about cruise control, transmission type, upholstery, air conditioning and other features. This may provide insight into how the vehicle has been treated or how it has performed.

3. What safety features does the vehicle have? Anti-lock brake systems, electronic stability control, head-protecting side airbags, seatbelt adjustment features and “smart” front airbags are all life-saving features that may be worth seeking out (and could save you money on insurance!).

4. What is the vehicle’s condition? What the seller doesn’t say may be as telling as what he or she does mention. Follow up with specific questions about any areas the seller hasn’t addressed, such as the body of the vehicle, its interior and its mechanical condition.

5. How many owners has the vehicle had? If there has been only one owner, you’re more likely to get a complete car history. Be suspicious of a vehicle that has changed hands numerous times.

6. Has the vehicle been involved in an accident or flooding? Minor fender benders may not be a concern, but major collisions or flooding can cause serious damage that may be difficult to spot during a casual once-over. Many used car shoppers have gone the route of consulting an impartial third party by ordering a vehicle history report to document any previous major incidents the seller might not want to admit to.

7. Has the vehicle been recalled? Go to www.safercar.gov to find recall information for the make and model you’re considering, or enter the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) of the specific car you’re looking at to find out if it’s been repaired due to a safety recall in the past 15 years.

8. Do you have the vehicle’s service records? Maintenance records will demonstrate how conscientious the owner has been about vehicle upkeep. Even if the seller does have maintenance records, consider taking the vehicle to a mechanic who can tell you if it’s in good repair.

9. Are you the primary driver? Talking to the principal driver can help you decide if the car was handled responsibly or not. If you’re a nonsmoker, you may also want to find out whether anyone smoked frequently in the car.

10. Why are you selling the vehicle? If the answer seems evasive, long-winded or implausible, read between the lines. Ask yourself if the car is truly a smart buy.

[Source: NFCU | Home Port Newsletter | Mar. 3, 2016 ++]

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Brain Teaser Engulfed Tire | Weighing Stuff

Engulfed Tire – There is a vulcanized rubber tire lying on a completely level ground. The tire is not attached to a wheel. It is raining at two inches per minute. If it will take three days of rain to make the water level with the tire, how long will it take for the water to engulf the tire, assuming the tire is five inches tall?

Weighing Stuff – Due to the local Kebab shop being closed, Mad Ade has some spare time on his hands, so he is playing around with a two-plate scale and finds that the scale stays in equilibrium if one plate is filled with two keys, two coins and three toy soldiers OR one apple, one toy soldier and one lemon, and the other plate with a weight of 100 grams. One coin, one key, one soldier and one plum together weigh 50 grams. The lemon, the apple and the plum weigh exactly the same as one coin, one key, one soldier and one pen. How much does the pen weigh?

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Have You Heard? ► Senior Citizens 3

A distraught senior citizen phoned her doctor’s office.

‘Is it true,’ she wanted to know, ‘that the medication you prescribed has to be taken for the rest of my life?’

‘Yes, I’m afraid so,’ the doctor told her.

There was a moment of silence before the senior lady replied, ‘I’m wondering, then, just how serious is my condition because this prescription is marked ‘NO REFILLS’.’

-o-o-O-o-o-

An older gentleman was on the operating table awaiting surgery and he insisted that his son, a renowned surgeon, perform the operation.

As he was about to get the anesthesia, he asked to speak to his son.

‘Yes, Dad, what is it? ‘

‘Don’t be nervous, son; do your best and just remember, if it doesn’t go well, if something happens to me, your mother is going to come and live with you and your wife….’

-o-o-O-o-o-

Aging: Eventually you will reach a point when you stop lying about your age and start bragging about it.

-o-o-O-o-o-

The older we get, the fewer things seem worth waiting in line for.

-o-o-O-o-o-

Some people try to turn back their odometers.

Not me! I want people to know ‘why’ I look this way.

I’ve traveled a long way and some of the roads weren’t paved.

-o-o-O-o-o-

When you are dissatisfied and would like to go back to youth, think of Algebra…

-o-o-O-o-o-

You know you are getting old when everything either dries up or leaks.

-o-o-O-o-o-

One of the many things no one tells you about aging is that it is such a nice change from being young.

-o-o-O-o-o-

Ah, being young is beautiful, but being old is comfortable.

-o-o-O-o-o-

Long ago when men cursed and beat the ground with sticks, it was called witchcraft…

Today, it’s called golf.

-o-o-O-o-o-

Two old guys are pushing their carts around Wal-Mart when they collide. The first old guy says to the second guy, ‘Sorry about that. I’m looking for my wife, and I guess I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going.’

The second old guy says, ‘That’s OK, it’s a coincidence. I’m looking for my wife, too. I can’t find her and I’m getting a little desperate.’

The first old guy says, ‘Well, maybe I can help you find her. What does she look like?’

The second old guy says, ‘Well, she is 27 yrs old, tall, with red hair, blue eyes, long legs, and is wearing short shorts. What does your wife look like?’

To which the first old guy says, ‘Doesn’t matter, — let’s look for yours.’

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Brain Teaser Answer Engulfed Tire | Weighing Stuff

Engulfed Tire – It would never happen. The tire is made from vulcanized rubber, which floats. It could rain for years and the tire would still be floating.

Weighing Stuff – 50 grams.

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Military Motivational                                              Posters - Hoosier Gun                                              Club

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-o-o-O-o-o-

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1. The Bulletin will be provided as a website accessed document until further notice. This was necessitated by SPAMHAUS who alleged the Bulletin’s former size and large subscriber base were choking the airways interfering with other internet user’s capability to send email. SPAMHAUS told us to stop sending the Bulletin in its entirety to individual subscribers and to validate the subscriber base with the threat of removing all our outgoing email capability if we did not. To avoid this we have notified all subscribers of the action required to continue their subscription. This Bulletin notice was sent to the 20,311 subscribers who responded to that notice. All others are in the process of being deleted from the active mailing list.

2. Anyone who no longer wants to receive the Bulletin can use the automatic “UNSUBSCRIBE” tab at the bottom of this message or send a message to [email protected] with the word “DELETE” in the subject line.

3. Bulletin recipients with interest in the Philippines, whether or not they live there, can request to be added to the RAO’s Philippine directory for receipt of notices on Clark Field Space ‘A’, U.S. Embassy Manila, and TRICARE in the RP.

4. New subscribers and those who submit a change of address should receive a message that verifies their addition or address change being entered in the mailing list. If you do not receive a message within 7 days it indicates that either I never received you request, I made an error in processing your request, or your server will not allow me to send to the email addee you provided. Anyone who cannot reach me by email can call (858) 432-1214 to ask questions or confirm info needed to add them to the directory.

5. If you have another email addee at work or home and would like to also receive Bulletin notices there also, just provide the appropriate email addee to [email protected].

6. Past Bulletin articles are available by title on request to [email protected]. Refer to the RAO Bulletin Index alphabetically listing of article and attachment titles previously published in the Bulletin. The Index is available at http://www.nhc-ul.com/BullSentMasterIndex-150101.pdf. Bear in mind that the articles listed on this index were valid at the time they were written and may have since been updated or become outdated.

7. The Bulletin is normally published on the 1st and 15th of each month. To aid in continued receipt of Bulletin availability notices, recommend enter the email addee [email protected] into your address book. If you do not receive a Bulletin check either http://www.nhc-ul.com/rao.html (PDF Edition), http://www.veteransresources.org (PDF & HTML Editions), http://veteraninformationlinksasa.com/retiree-assistance-office.html (HTML Edition), or http://frabr245.org (PDF & HTML Editions) before sending me an email asking if one was published.   If you can access the Bulletin at any of the aforementioned sites it indicates that something is preventing you from receiving my email. Either your server considers it to be spam or I have somehow incorrectly entered or removed your addee from the mailing list. Send me an email so I can verify your entry on the validated mailing list. If you are unable to access the Bulletin at any of these sites let me know.

8. Articles within the Bulletin are editorialized information obtained from over 100 sources. Provided at the end of each article is the primary source from which it was obtained. The ++ indicates that that the information was reformatted from the original source and/or editorialized from more than one source. Because of the number of articles contained in each Bulletin there is no why that I can attest to their validity other than they have all been taken from previously reliable sources. My staff consist of only one person (myself) and it is a 7/10-12 endeavor to prepare and publish. Readers who question the validity of content are encouraged to go to the source provided to have their questions answered. I am always open to comments but, as a policy, shy away from anything political. Too controversial and time consuming.

== To subscribe first add the RAO email addee [email protected] to your address book and/or white list. Then send to this addee your full name plus either the post/branch/chapter number of the fraternal military/government organization you are currently affiliated with (if any) “AND/OR” the city and state/country you reside in so your addee can be properly positioned in the directory for future recovery. Subscription is open at no cost to all veterans, dependents, military/veteran support organizations, and media.

== To change your email addee or Unsubscribe from Bulletin distribution click the “Change address / Leave mailing list” tab at the bottom of the Bulletin availability notice that advised you when the current Bulletin was available.

== To manually submit a change of email addee provide your old and new email addee plus full name.

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RAO Bulletin Editor/Publisher:

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

Bulletin Web Access: http://www.nhc-ul.com/rao.html, http://www.veteransresources.org, http://frabr245.org, and

http://veteraninformationlinksasa.com/emos-rao.html [PDF & HTML Editions w/ATTACHMENTS

RAO Baguio Director:

SMSgt Leonard (Len) D. Harvey, USAF (Ret) PSC 517 Box 4036, FPO AP 96517-1000, Tel: 63-74-442-3468; Email: [email protected]

RAO Baguio Office: Red Lion Inn, 35 Leonard Wood Road, Baguio City, 2600 Philippines

FPO Mail Pickup: TUE & THUR 09-1100 — Outgoing Mail Closeout: THUR 1100