RAO Bulletin 15 April 2016

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Bulletin 160415 (HTML)
Veteran Legislation 160415
Vet State Benefits & Discounts – NH 2016
Military History Anniversaries 0416 thru 043016
Joint VSO Ltr to COC dtd 1 APR 2016
OIG Wait time Report Summary
Major Brooks Gruber’s Vindication

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Bulletin 160415 (PDF)
Veteran Legislation 160415
Vet State Benefits & Discounts – NH 2016
Military History Anniversaries 0416 thru 043016
Joint VSO Ltr to COC dtd 1 APR 2016
OIG Wait time Report Summary
Major Brooks Gruber’s Vindication

THIS BULLETIN CONTAINS THE FOLLOWING ARTICLES

Pg Article Subject

* DOD * .

04 == NDAA for 2017 ————————————————— (Timeline)

05 == DoD Disability Retirement [04] — (Severance Pay Wrongfully Taxed)

06 == Navy Shipbuilding Plan ————————- (Five Year | $81 Billion)

07 == POW/MIA [70] —————————– (Status as of March 26, 2016)

09 == POW/MIA [71] ———————– (Bone Fragments Returned to U.S)

10 == POW/MIA Recoveries —————— (Reported 01 thru 15 Apr 2016)

* VA * .

17 == VA Whistleblowers [43] —– (OSC | Inadequate Follow-up In 3 Cases)

18 == VA Appeals [22] ——— (White House Want Congressional Overhaul)

19 == DIC+SBP [07] —– (MOAA to Lobby Congress on Proposed Changes)

19 == VA Commission on Care [02] ——– (Eliminate All VAMCs & OPCs)

21 == VA Commission on Care [03] ————— (Strawman Paper Clarified)

22 == VA Vet Choice Program [37] ———– (Des Moines Vet’s Frustration)

23 == VA Vet Choice Program [38] — (Behind $878M in Vet Care Payments)

25 == VA Structure —————— (Understanding the Divisions & Services)

26 == Agent Orange Diseases [03] – (3 under Review for Presumptive Status)

27 == VA Caregiver Program [33] — (Blindness Not Considered a Disability)

28 == Arizona Vet Cemetery [02] ———————— (Marana Site Opening)

29 == VA Lawsuit ——————— (Wrongful Death | Tom Young Suicide)

30 == VA Lawsuit | Gila River Indians ————— (Withholding Payments)

31 == VA HBPC [01] ——— (Servicing Health Care Needs in Vet’s Homes)

32 == VA Claims Processing [15] —— (14,000 Fiduciary Errors Discovered)

33 == GI Bill [202] —————————— (Stipend for Work Vice School)

34 == Reserve Drill Pay [01] ——— (VA Benefit Impact | Pay Back Option)

35 == VA Agent Orange Claims [06] —– (Inadequate Contractor Screening)

36 == VA Services [01] —————— (Bad Ideas to Improve Them | DAV)

37 == VA Hepatitis C Care [12] —————— (Estimated Cost $1B a Year)

38 == VA Disability Evaluation System [02] ——– (Medical Exam Reports)

38 == VA Reform [03] —————————– (Separating Myth from Fact)

39 == VA Health Care Access [35] ——————— (Initiatives & Progress)

41 == VA Health Care Access [36] —————— (Wait Time Falsification)

41 == VA Fraud, Waste & Abuse ————- (Reported 1 thru 15 APR 2016)

44 == VAMC St. Cloud MN [01] ————— (New Debt Collection Policy)

44v== VAMC Salem VA ———— (Battlefield Acupuncture | Pain Reducer)

45 == VA OPC Youngstown OH —— (Missing Man Memorial Controversy)

46 == VA OPC Youngstown OH [01] ————— (MRFF Director Resigns)

* Vets * .

47 == SGLI/VGLI [15] ——————- (Slayer Rule Effective Immediately)

47 == VetsNet ———- (Vet Assistance for Federal Vet Program Ineligibles)

47 == Army Emergency Relief [01] ——————— (Financial Assistance)

48 == American GI Forum —– (In Need of Younger Members | All Creeds)

49 == Vet Charity Watch [57] ——- (Former WWP Exec’s Media Criticism)

51 == Burn Pit Toxic Exposure [36] ——- (Vet Denied VA Treatment Dies)

52 == Hero Corps ——- (Fighters against Online Child Sexual Exploitation)

54 == Vet Jobs [185] ————————————– (UberMilitary Drivers)

55 == Vet Jobs [186] ———————– (OPM Lacks Vet Advocacy Office)

56 == Veterans in Government [01] ——- (Most Lack Military Background)

57 == Korean War Vets —————————— (Gen. Richard E. Cavazos)

60 == Vietnam Vets [14] ——————————————- (Jim Northrup)

62 == 22Kill Vet Advocacy Gp – (Criticized for Accepting Trump Donation)

63 == WWII Vets 105 ———————————————- (Cole~Richard)

65 == Obit: Crow~Joe Medicine | Last Crow Chief ————- (3 APR 2016)

67 == Obit: Cafferata Hector A | MOH ————————– (12 APR 2016)

68 == Retiree Appreciation Days ————————— (As of 12 Apr 2016)

68 == Vet Hiring Fairs ——————————- (16 Apr thru 14 May 2016)

69 == Vet State Benefits & Discounts —————– (New Hampshire 2016)

* Vet Legislation * .

70 == Vet Omnibus Bill ——- (2016 | Passage by Memorial Day Anticipated)

71 == Path Act ———————————– (S.185 | Antibiotic Drug Access)

71 == Vet Groin Injury Legislation — (H.R.4892 | Loss of Use Compensation)

72 == Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act – (H.R.3870 | Passage Unlikely)

74 == VA Suicide Prevention [31] — (H.R.2915/S.2487 | Female Prevention)

75 == Vet Bills Submitted to 114th Congress ———— (160401 thru 160415)

* MILITARY * .

76 == Military Tattoo Criteria [06] ———————– (Navy Easing Policy)

77 == Military Tattoo Criteria [07] —————– (Air Force Policy Review)

78 == GI Bill [203] ————– (VA Tuition Assistance “Top-up” Program)

79 == Army Appearance Standards ———– (Beard, Hair, Turban Waivers)

80 == Other than Honorable Discharge [04] —————— (All Time High)

80 == ACTUV [01] ————————— (USN Speed Testing Robot Ship)

81 == USS Paul Hamilton (DDG-60) ——- (Leaving Hawaii after 20 Years)

82 == Military Retirement Choice ————- (Updated Calculator Released)

82 == Debt Collection [11] – (Military Members Lodge19,000+ Complaints)

84 == USS Zumwalt [06] – (Reflective Material Added to Increase Visibility)

85 == USMC Osprey Crash Apr 8, 2000 – (Family Finds Truth – And Peace)

85 == Archive Photo of the Day ———- (Suresnes, France September 1952)

86 == Medal of Honor Citations ——————- (Baker, Thomas A | WWII)

* MILITARY HISTORY * .

88 == Civil War Monument Controversy – (New Orleans Removal Backlash)

89 == Bataan Death March ———————————— (74th Anniversary)

91 == The Hump’s Casualties ——————————— (Recovery Efforts)

93 == WWII Little Known Facts —————————- (First German KIA)

93 == Military History ——————————- (Battle of La Drang Valley)

95 == Korean War Remembrances [02] ——————– (William R. Taylor)

98 == Military History Anniversaries ————————— (16 thru 30 Apr)

* HEALTH CARE * .

98 == Hospice Care [04] ————— (Six Beliefs That Are Totally Wrong)

100 == TRICARE Prime [36] ————— (New Urgent Care Pilot Program)

100 == Dietary Supplements [02] – 14 Contain Banned Ingredient Oxilofrine)

101 == PTSD [208] ——————– (Mindfulness Training | A Ray of Hope)

103 == Zika Virus ———————————- (Military Hubs Most At Risk)

104 == Kidney Disease [04] ————————– (Controlling Risk Factors)

106 == TRICARE Use While Traveling [04] —————— (How to Obtain)

107 == TRICARE Nurse Advice Line [04] ———— (Right Choice for Care)

107 == Milk —————————— (Fat Content Study | Recommendation)

108 == Migraines [01] ——————— (Neuromodulation | New Treatment)

109 == Cohen Veterans Network ——————— (Free Mental Health Care)

* FINANCES * .

110 == Costco Credit Card Switch ———————– (Impact on Customers)

111 == Postal Rates [03] ————————— (First Decrease in 100 Years)

112 == Tax Program Leaks —- (Cyberthieves’ latest Target | Your tax forms)

113 == Credit Card Data Theft ————————– (New Ways of Stealing)

115 == Saving Money ———————- (Household Cleaners | $300 a Year)

117 == Closing Cost Scam —————————————– (How it Works)

118 == ATM Scam [01] —————————– (Skimming On the Increase)

119 == Sweepstakes Check Scam ——————————— (How it Works)

120 == Tax Burden for Florida Retired Vets —————— (As of Apr 2016)

* GENERAL INTEREST * .

121 == Notes of Interest ———————————— (01 thru 15 Apr 2016)

122 == DataUSA ——————— (How to Obtain Info on a City of Interest)

123 == Radioactive Bombs — (How the U.S. Made Dropping Them Routine)

126 == Happy Birthday Song ——————————————— (History)

127 == Groceries ————————- (21 Tricks to Make them Last Longer)

129 == Remember When ——————————————— (Nostalgia (4)

130 == Brain Teaser ————————————————– (Date | Phrase)

130 == Have You Heard? ——————— (The Balcony | The Scottish Cop)

131 == Brain Teaser Answer —————————————- (Date | Phrase)

Note:

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

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

* ATTACHMENTS * .

Attachment – Veteran Legislation as of 13 Apr 2016

Attachment – New Hampshire Vet State Benefits & Discounts Apr 2016

Attachment – Military History Anniversaries 16 thru 30 APR

Attachment – Joint VSO Ltr to CoC dtd 1 APR 2016

Attachment – VA OIG Wait Time Report Summary 2016

Attachment – Major Brooks Gruber’s Vindication

* DoD *



NDAA for 2017 ► Timeline

Almost all our top Department of Defense legislative goals will appear (or not appear) in the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act. Because this is an election year both the House and Senate have created very tight timelines to handle the passage of the bill. The House usually is much faster than the Senate so here is their stated schedule. Remember this is just their plan. And many plans do not pan out. But the schedule gives you a feeling of what is happening and how much time we have in the House. The 2017 NDAA Markup Schedule is:

  • Apr 18-22: House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Subcommittees mark-up National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)
  • Apr 25-29: HASC Full Committee mark-up of NDAA
  • May 9-12: Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) mark-up of NDAA
  • May 16-20: House Floor Consideration of NDAA
  • May 23-27: House Defense Appropriations Committee mark-up of Defense Appropriations Bill
  • July 15: NDAA Conference Complete (goal)
  • July 18-21: Republican National Convention in Cleveland, OH
  • July 25-28: Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, PA
  • Oct 1: Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 begins

[Source: TREA Washington Update | April 4, 2016 ++]

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DoD Disability Retirement Update 04 ► Severance Pay Wrongfully Taxed

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. It’s unclear how many veterans have been affected, but the nonprofit National Veterans Legal Services Program estimated it could be close to 14,000 vets who were wrongfully taxed, going back as far as 1991, for a total of $78 million in lost compensation. NVLSP, along with Republican Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas and Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, are working now to pass legislation requiring Defense to fix the problem, and reimburse all those affected.

http://static2.politico.com/dims4/default/0bb702a/2147483647/legacy_thumbnail/91x91%3E/quality/90/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fstatic.politico.com%2Fb9%2F68%2F28985e074fc2aee13188b8ded4e8%2F160404-john-boozman-1160-ap.jpg

Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas is one of the senators working to pass the legislation

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 Thomas Moore, project manager for NVLSP’s Lawyers Serving Warriors initiative. 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 onus should not be on the veteran to unwind and correct the mistake, Moore said. “It should have never been an issue to begin with. They should been paid their full amount without jumping through hoops.”

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,” said DoD spokesman Matthew Allen, 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.” Defense also doesn’t know how many veterans were improperly taxed but “does not believe the problem is as widespread as recent reports might suggest,” Allen said.

The 2016 Combat-Injured Veterans Tax Fairness Act will require the department to identify affected veterans, notify them, and ensure the government pays them back. It also extends 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. Between 10,000 and 11,000 service members are medically retired from duty each year, and that group includes those separated because of combat-related injuries. “DoD has unjustly withheld taxes despite clearly-written federal law and a court opinion to the contrary,” said Boozman. “We have a responsibility to right this wrong and ensure that our nation’s wounded veterans receive the benefits they are rightfully due.” Allen said that the Defense Department “does its best to uphold its legal obligations to withhold taxes for the Treasury absent clear evidence that the payments are not subject to income tax.”

Brandon Davis, an Army veteran discharged in 2005 because of combat-related injuries he suffered while serving in Iraq, lost $8,000 because Defense mistakenly taxed his disability severance pay. “I recall hearing that there was a computer problem related to disability severance payments, but no one ever explained what I needed to do to recover the money that was taken from me,” said Davis, who lives in Arkansas and supports the Boozman-Warner bill. “This money would have helped me and my family as we adjusted to life after being discharged from the military. Because 11 years have passed since the money was taken, now I have no way to get it back unless this legislation is passed.” [Source: GovExec.com | Kellie Lunney | April 07, 2016 ++]

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Navy Shipbuilding Plan ► Five Year | $81 Billion

The U.S. Navy will seek $81.4 billion to buy 38 warships, submarines and support vessels in the next five years, according to new budget figures from the service. The dollar size of the proposal for fiscal 2017 through 2021, which Assistant Secretary for Acquisition Sean Stackley outlined 6 APR to a Senate Armed Services Committee panel, is largely in keeping with last year’s five-year plan. But it cuts 10 vessels, including previously announced reductions to the troubled Littoral Combat Ship. Still, the plan will provide reassurance for Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc., General Dynamics Corp., which owns Bath Iron Works, Lockheed Martin Corp. and Austal Ltd. The five-year figures are of value to investors and analysts who follow shipbuilding companies and their subcontractors, such as Raytheon Co., which specializes in maritime combat electronic systems and self-defense systems. It’s also of note to lawmakers who represent the primary shipbuilding states – including Virginia, Maine, Alabama, Mississippi and Connecticut – and to unions in the industry.

The plan calls for spending about $14.7 billion on seven vessels next year, $16.8 billion on eight in fiscal 2018, $16.2 billion on seven in 2019, $16.9 billion on eight in 2020 and $16.8 billion on eight vessels in 2021. Separately, Stackley disclosed that the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier – the most expensive warship ever at a projected $12.9 billion – will be delivered in September, one year later than was projected in 2014 and two years later than the original schedule. The new Navy plan proposes bankrolling one new frigate each in fiscal 2019 and 2020 and two in 2021, for a total of $3 billion. These are the first of as many as eight better-armored and more survivable versions of the Littoral Combat Ship that Defense Secretary Ash Carter and his predecessor Chuck Hagel directed to be built. The Navy plans to hold a competition for the frigate program, selecting between Lockheed and Austal, which both currently build versions of the Littoral Combat Ship.

The five-year plan also updates funds earmarked to start work on replacing the Ohio-class nuclear missile submarine. The service plans to spend $9.25 billion through fiscal 2021, up from the $5.7 billion it planned to spend through 2020 in last year’s plan. The boost comes from $3.6 billion earmarked in 2021 to begin construction. The Navy last week announced that General Dynamics will be the prime contractor, with Huntington Ingalls the subcontractor. General Dynamics will receive a contract later this year to produce the diagrams, drawings and information necessary to start construction. [Source: Portland Press Enterprise | Tony Capaccio | April 06, 2016 ++]

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POW/MIA Update 70 Status as of March 26, 2016

There are 1,621 Americans are now listed by DoD as missing and unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War: Vietnam – 1,264 (VN-466, VS-798); Laos–301; Cambodia-49; Peoples Republic of China territorial waters–7. (These numbers occasionally fluctuate due to investigations resulting in changed locations of loss.) The League seeks the fullest possible accounting for those still missing and repatriation of all recoverable remains. The League’s highest priority is accounting for Americans last known alive. Official intelligence indicates that Americans known to be in captivity in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were not returned at the end of the war. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, it must be assumed that these Americans could still be alive, and the US Government should not rule out that possibility.

Vietnam established comprehensive wartime and post-war processes to collect and retain information and remains; thus, unilateral efforts by them offered significant potential. Vietnam has since taken many unilateral actions that are welcome and appreciated, plus announced that there are no obstacles to full cooperation. Recently, Vietnam has increased implementation of commitments to provide long-sought archival records with relevant, case-related information, thanks in part to improvement of working-level efforts, but primarily due to increased bilateral relations across the board. The early 2015 League Delegation brought commitments that offered real promise for increased success. First undertaken in northern Vietnam in 1985, joint field operations have dramatically changed and are now much more effective. Vietnamese officials are participating with greater seriousness and professionalism, achieving increased results, including both US-led Joint Excavation Teams and Vietnamese Recovery Teams (VRTs), led by Vietnamese and supported by a few US personnel. This formula allows a greater number of teams to “increase the pace and scope of field operations,” as requested by Vietnam during discussions since 2009. Due to increased military-to-military cooperation, US Navy assets are now allowed to participate in underwater survey and recovery operations, when requested. These steps, long advocated by the League, are now coming to fruition and are routinely raised by US officials at all levels.

After a rough period, joint field operations in Laos are now increasingly productive, even though more difficult than elsewhere. Accounting efforts had slowed due to Lao Government inflexibility, attempting to over-price payment for helicopter support and denying permission for ground transport to accessible incident sites. Laos is now showing greater flexibility, earlier having increased the number of US personnel permitted in-country, now allowing ground transport to accessible sites, and has renewed a business license to a foreign company to provide reliable, small helicopter support. When helpful, Vietnamese witnesses are also allowed to participate in joint US-Lao operations. The Lao Government permits DIA’s Stony Beach POW/MIA specialist to full time incountry; however, is still far too limited in terms of operating outside the confines of scheduled DPAA field operations. Also, despite strong support from, and interventions by, US Ambassador Dan Clune, there are still challenges that must be addressed and resolved.

Related to DIA’s Stony Beach Team, one Cambodia specialist works full time at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, and research and field operations in Cambodia have received excellent support. Two Stony Beach personnel have for years rotated on temporary duty in and out of Vietnam, collecting information via archival research and interviews of potential witnesses. Vietnam was long ago requested to permit, and is still reportedly considering, permanent status for these two POW/MIA specialists. Successive US Ambassadors have strongly supported this important move, but increases in bilateral military relations should be sufficient to overcome any reluctance. The US Ambassador to Laos has also supported full use of the Lao specialist. It is hoped that the expanded bilateral relationships with Laos and Vietnam will mean these positive decisions will not be further delayed. The Stony Beach specialists are sorely needed to augment the investigation process while witnesses are still living and to facilitate locating additional incident sites for follow-up DPAA recoveries.

The greatest obstacles to increased Vietnam War and worldwide accounting efforts are 1) too few qualified scientists to lead recovery teams; and 2) unreliable funding that has caused US cancellation of scheduled operations, thus sending mixed, negative signals to foreign governments and counterparts. These challenges are being addressed by Mr. Michael Linnington, named to lead the “complete reorganization” of the accounting community directed by former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Since over 80% of US losses in Laos and 90% in Cambodia occurred in areas where Vietnam’s forces operated during the war, Vietnam’s expanded provision of helpful records, improved and increased archival research, interviews and field operations are the core means to expand accounting for Vietnam War missing personnel.

Live Sightings: As of February 22, 2016, 1,996 first-hand live sighting reports have been received since 1975, none recently. 1,941 (97.24%) were resolved: 1,340 (67.13%) equated to Americans previously accounted for (i.e. returned POWs, missionaries or civilians detained for violating SRV codes); 45 (2.25%) correlated to wartime sightings of military personnel or pre-1975 sightings of civilians still unaccounted-for; 556 (27.86%) were determined to be fabrications. The remaining 55 (2.76%) unresolved first-hand reports are the focus of continuing analytical and collection efforts: 48 (2.40%) concern Americans reported in a captive environment; 7 (0.35%) are non-captive sightings. The years in which these 55 first hand sightings occurred are listed below:

Pre-1976 1976-1985 1986-1995 1996-2005 2006-2013 Total

36 3 1 14 1 55

Accountability: At the end of the Vietnam War, there reportedly were 2,583 unaccounted-for American prisoners, missing or killed in action/body not recovered. As of March 26, 2016, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency lists 1,621 Americans as missing and unaccounted-for, 90+% of them in Vietnam or in areas of Cambodia and Laos where Vietnamese operated during the war. A breakdown by year of recovery for the 962 Americans accounted for from Vietnam War-related losses since the end of the war in 1975 follows:

  • 1965-1974 War years: (recently identified) – 2
  • 1974-1975 Winding down USG effort – 28
  • 1976-1978 US/SRV normalization negotiations – 47
  • 1979-1980 US/SRV talks break down – 1
  • 1981-1985 1st Reagan Administration – 23
  • 1985-1989 2nd Reagan Administration – 168
  • 1989-1993 George H.W. Bush Administration – 128
  • 1993-1997 1st Clinton Administration – 326
  • 1997-2001 2nd Clinton Administration – 57
  • 2001-2004 1st George W. Bush Administration – 64
  • 2004-2008 2nd George W. Bush Administration – 62
  • 2008-2012 – 1
  • 1st Obama Administration – 48
  • 2012-2015 2nd Obama Administration – 8

According to the DPAA Lab, unilateral SRV repatriations of remains with scientific evidence of storage have accounted for less than 200 of the 654 from Vietnam; two were mistakenly listed as KIA/BNR in Vietnam in 1968, but remains were actually recovered at that time. All but eight of the 265 Americans accounted for in Laos since the end of the war have been the result of joint recoveries. The seven were recovered and turned over by indigenous personnel, six from Laos and one from Vietnam. In addition, three persons identified were recovered in Vietnam before the end of the war. There follows a breakdown by country of the 962 Americans accounted for since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975

  • Vietnam – 654
  • Laos – 265
  • China – 3
  • Cambodia – 40

An additional 63 US personnel were accounted for between 1973 and 1975, a grand total of 1,025. These Americans were accounted for by unilateral US effort in areas where the US could gain access at that time, not due to government-to-government cooperation with the post-war governments of Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia. For the latest information, call the League’s Office (703) 465-7432 or log onto the League web site: www.pow-miafamilies.org

[Source: National League of Families Of American Prisoners And Missing in Southeast Asia | Status Report | March 26, 2016 ++]

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POW/MIA Update 71 Bone Fragments Returned to U.S.

Tiny bone fragments carry a world of significance and perhaps closure for at least one American family who lost a loved one over the mountains of India in World War II. During a solemn ceremony 13 APR, U.S. military members paid final respects to what they believe may be the remains of one to two crew members from a B-24 bomber that crashed on a supply run from India to China over the Himalayan Mountains. Eight people on the plane were killed in the crash. For the first time, the Defense Department’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency is bringing home remains of missing military members from India. Two bone fragments — small enough to fit inside a sandwich bag — along with some other artifacts were found during a U.S. excavation in the rugged mountain. Their discovery and return gives hope to families that the remains of the estimated 350 U.S. service members still classified as missing in India may someday find their way home.

India US War Dead Returned

U.S. military members pay final respects to what they believe may be the remains of one to two crewmen from WWII downed B-24

According to Gary Stark, the India desk officer for the POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the B-24 — known as Hot As Hell — went missing with its crew of eight in January 1944. The aircraft was one of many that ran supplies from China to India, flying people and parts back and forth over what they called the Hump. After Wednesday’s ceremony at the airport in New Delhi, the remains, which were put in ceremonial boxes and then into flag-draped caskets, will be sent to a lab in Hawaii for DNA testing. Only then will officials know if the fragments belong to one or two crew members.

The crash site is one of many in the mountains where U.S. aircraft went down as they tried to negotiate the harsh and jagged terrain. Teams have tried to excavate sites before, but in 2008-2009 they found no remains. This time, experts aided by mountaineering adventurers identified four areas to search. Two were in terrain that was too dangerous for crews to work in because of possible landslides. High on the steep mountains of Arunachal Predesh, along India’s northeast border, the recovery team climbed more than 9,000 feet. According to Marine Capt. Greg Lynch, the team hiked for three days to set up a base camp, then climbed to the crash site every day, carefully sifting through dirt to find remains. “It was very physically grueling to go to this particular area and to conduct this recovery,” said Lynch, a team leader who was not on this project. He said the team included 12 mainly military members, along with another dozen or so contractors.

Along with the bone fragments, the team found other items associated with the crash but no personal effects, such as dog tags or watches, that could identify the crew. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who has been traveling in India, watched as taps was played and the remains were placed in the caskets and loaded onto a C-17 aircraft for the flight home. The Pentagon has restated its commitment to families of the thousands of servicemen still unaccounted for from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. Many of those families have, over the years, complained bitterly of delay and even neglect from the Pentagon agencies charged with finding, recovering and identifying remains from overseas wars.

Carter’s predecessor at the Pentagon, Chuck Hagel, ordered the MIA accounting bureaucracy to reorganize and consolidate as part of an effort to improve its performance, which also has come under criticism in Congress. Under increased scrutiny, the POW/MIA office has increased the number of remains that were identified last year, to nearly 100, and expects to exceed that number this year. No more excavations in India are planned for the fiscal year that ends on Sept. 30, and officials said they didn’t know the schedule for next year. [Source: Associated Press | Lolita C. Baldor | Apr. 13, 2016 ++]

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POW/MIA Recoveries ► Reported 01 thru 15 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 Sgt. Wilson Meckley, Jr., 22, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania was buried 4 APR in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C. In November 1950, Meckley was assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, and was assembled with other soldiers into the 31st Regimental Combat Team, historically known as Task Force Faith. While operating along the eastern banks of the Chosin Reservoir, elements of his unit were overwhelmed by Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces and were forced to withdraw to more defensible positions at Hagaru-ri. During this withdrawal, Meckley was reported missing on 2 DEC.

Sgt. Wilson Meckley, Jr.
Arlington burial

Urbana Mae Warfel places a rose on the casket of her brother, U.S. Army Sgt Wilson Meskley, Jr. during burial services at Arlington April 4, 2016

In 1953, during the prisoner of war exchanges historically known as “Operation Little Switch” and “Operation Big Switch,” returning American soldiers who had been held as prisoners of war did not have any information concerning Meckley. In 1954, a military review board amended his status to deceased. Between 1990 and 1994, North Korea returned to the United States 208 boxes of commingled human remains, which when combined with remains recovered during joint recovery operations in North Korea, account for the remains of at least 600 U.S. servicemen who fought during the war. North Korean documents included in the repatriation indicated that some of the remains were recovered from the area where Meckley was lost. To identify Meckley’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used circumstantial evidence and two forms of DNA analysis, including mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome Short Tandem Repeat DNA analysis, which matched his brothers.

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Army Cpl. Robert P. Graham, 20, of San Francisco, was scheduled for burial April 8 in Colma, California. In February 1951, Graham was assigned to Company A, 13th Engineer Combat Battalion, 7th Infantry Division, which was engaged in a battle near Hoengsong, South Korea. Under heavy enemy attack, his unit was ordered to withdraw south to Wonju. During the withdrawal, they fought continuously with the enemy and encountered numerous roadblocks. Upon arrival at Wonju, Graham was reported missing on Feb. 13, 1951.

In 1953, during the prisoner of war exchanges historically known as “Operation Little Switch” and “Operation Big Switch,” repatriated U.S. soldiers told debriefers that Graham had been captured by enemy forces and died in March 1951 at Suan POW Camp. His remains were not among those returned by communist forces in 1954, however.

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 between 1996 and 2005, 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 Graham was believed to have died. To identify Graham’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used circumstantial evidence and forensic identification tools, to include mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome Short Tandem Repeat DNA analysis, which matched his nephews.

Army Cpl. Robert P. Graham MIA Korean War Will Be Laid to Rest April ...

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Army Pfc. Roy A. Henderson, 18, of Newark, Ohio, was scheduled for burial April 8 in Follansbee, West Virginia. On July 27, 1950, Henderson was assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, when his unit set up a defensive position near Anui, South Korea, in an attempt to stop invading North Korean forces. The troops were forced to withdraw south, and found the road blocked. This required Henderson’s company to abandon most of its equipment and withdraw over mountains to friendly lines. Following the withdrawal, Henderson was reported missing. He was subsequently declared deceased on Dec. 31, 1953.

Pfc. Roy A. Henderson

In October 1950, 60 sets of remains from Anui were sent to the Army Graves Registration Service mortuary in Kokura, Japan. Fifty-seven sets of those remains were resolved, but three sets, including Unknown X-218, were declared “unidentifiable” and were interred at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. In October 2014, the Disinterment Cell of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (now DPAA), determined that dental, anthropological and historical evidence indicated it was highly probably that Unknown X-218 could be identified during a reanalysis of the remains. The remains were exhumed May 18, 2015. In the identification of Henderson’s remains, scientists from DPAA used dental and chest radiography comparison analyses, which matched Henderson’s records, as well as circumstantial and material evidence, and anthropological analysis.

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Army Pfc. Aubrey D. Vaughn, 20, of Union, South Carolina was scheduled for burial April 12 in his hometown. On April 23, 1951, Vaughn was assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, 5th Regimental Combat Team, when his company’s position was overrun by the Chinese Communist Forces near Undamjang, North Korea. After the battle, Vaughn was reported missing in action. Repatriated American prisoners of war reported that Vaughn died while in captivity at POW Camp 1 in 1951. The U.S. Army subsequently declared Vaughn deceased on July 7, 1951. In 1954, United Nations and communist forces exchanged the remains of war dead in what came to be called “Operation Glory.” All remains recovered in Operation Glory were turned over to the Army’s Central Identification Unit for analysis. The remains they were unable to identify were interred as unknowns at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii, known as the “Punchbowl.”

Pfc. Aubrey D. Vaughn

In 1999, due to advances in technology, the Department of Defense began to re-examine records and concluded that the possibility for identification of some of these unknowns now existed. The remains designated X-14176 were exhumed on May 18, 2015 so further analysis could be conducted. In the identification of Vaughn’s remains, scientists from DPAA used anthropological analysis, circumstantial evidence, as well as dental and chest radiograph comparison analysis, which matched Vaughn’s records. Repeat DNA analysis, which matched a brother and a sister; anthropological analysis; as well as circumstantial evidence.

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Army Cpl. Dennis D. Buckley, 24, of Detroit, is schooled for burial April 14 in Rittman, Ohio. On Feb. 5, 1951, Buckley was assigned to A Battery, 15th Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, which was supporting the South Korean Army attacks against units of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces (CPVF) in the area known as the Central Corridor in South Korea. The CPVF launched a counterattack, overwhelming neighboring units and leaving the 15th Field Artillery Battalion behind enemy lines. As the unit conducted a fighting withdrawal south toward Wonju, Buckley went missing near Hoengsong and was reported missing on February 13. Buckley’s remains were not located after the CPVF units withdrew north in March 1951, nor by the U.S. Army Graves Registration Service during organized searches in 1953. Additionally, his name never appeared on any list of Americans who were in custody of the North Koreans or the CPVF. However, a repatriated American prisoner of war provided information that Buckley was captured by the CPVF and died in their custody at the Suan POW camp. Based on this information, the U.S. Army declared Buckley dead on June 30, 1951.

Between 1990 and 1994, North Korea returned to the United States 208 boxes of commingled human remains, which when combined with remains recovered during joint recovery operations in North Korea, account for the remains of at least 600 U.S. servicemen who fought during the war. North Korean documents included in the repatriation indicated that some of the remains were recovered from the area where Buckley was believed to have died. To identify Buckley’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used dental comparison analysis, which matched his records; mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome Short Tandem

Today, 7,819 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Korean War. Using advances in technology, identifications continue to be made from remains that were previously turned over by North Korean officials or recovered by American teams.

World War II

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

Navy Chief Petty Officer Duff Gordon, 52, of Hudson, Wisconsin, was scheduled for burial March 30 in his hometown. On Dec. 7, 1941, Gordon was assigned to the USS Oklahoma, which was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when the ship was attacked by Japanese aircraft. The USS Oklahoma suffered multiple torpedo hits, which caused it to quickly capsize. The attack on the ship resulted in 429 casualties, including Gordon. From December 1941 to June 1944, Navy personnel recovered the remains of the deceased crew, which were subsequently interred in the Halawa and Nu’uanu Cemeteries.

In September 1947, tasked with recovering and identifying fallen U.S. personnel in the Pacific Theater, members of the American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) disinterred the remains of U.S. casualties from the two cemeteries and transferred them to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks. The laboratory staff was only able to confirm the identifications of 35 men from the USS Oklahoma at that time. The AGRS subsequently buried the unidentified remains in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP), known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu. In October 1949, a military board classified those who could not be identified as “non-recoverable,” including Gordon. In April 2015, the Deputy Secretary of Defense issued a policy memorandum directing the disinterment of unknowns associated with the USS Oklahoma. On June 15, 2015, DPAA personnel began exhuming the remains from the NMCP for analysis. To identify Gordon’s remains, scientists from DPAA used circumstantial evidence and laboratory analysis, to include dental comparisons, which matched Gordon’s records.

Duff Gordon

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Marine Corps Sgt. John C. Holladay, 31, of Florence, South Carolina, was scheduled for burial April 4 in his hometown. In July 1943, Holladay was assigned to Company B, 1st Marine Raider Battalion, 1st Marine Raider Regiment, which fought in a joint U.S. Army-U.S. Marine Corps battle against Japanese positions in Bairoko as part of the invasion of New Georgia Island, British Solomon Islands, near the present-day village of Mbaeroko. As a result of the battle, 34 U.S. service members were killed, including Holladay, although there is little specific information on the circumstances of his loss. In the days following the battle, U.S. patrols returned to the battlefield to recover their dead. Several Marines were buried in graves in the area, but there was no record of Holladay’s remains being recovered. From November 30 to December 2, 1947, the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company conducted an intensive area search in an attempt to recover human remains between Bairoko Harbor and Enogai Inlet. However, no remains were found. Holladay was declared non-recoverable.

In 2015, a DPAA investigation team took custody of osseous remains that were unilaterally turned over by a local resident. The resident took the team to the location where the material was discovered and additional remains and evidence were also recovered. To identify Holladay’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used circumstantial evidence; two types of DNA analysis, including mitochondrial DNA, which matched a maternal cousin, and Y-chromosome Short Tandem Repeat DNA, which matched a paternal nephew; as well as dental comparison and anthropological analysis, which matched his records.

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John C. Holladay

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Army Air Forces Flight Officer Dewey L. Gossett, 23, of Spartanburg, South Carolina, was scheduled for burial April 11 in Wellford, South Carolina. On Sept. 27, 1943, Gossett was assigned to the 527th Fighter Squadron, 86th Fighter Group, 12th Air Force, and was the pilot of a single-seat A-36A “Apache” aircraft, in a flight of four aircraft searching for targets of opportunity on a strafing mission. Within 10 minutes of departing Sele Airfield in Italy, the aircraft encountered bad weather and poor visibility, leading them to fly into a ravine under cloud cover. Upon exiting the ravine, three planes turned left, while Gossett’s turned right and disappeared near Acerno, Italy. There was no enemy activity in the area and a search failed to identify a crash site. Following the loss incident, and with no further information on the whereabouts of Gossett, he was declared dead on Sept. 28, 1944.

The American Graves Registration Service, charged with the recovery and identification of fallen U.S. service members, conducted a search and investigation near Acerno in March, 1945. The investigation revealed that a plane had crashed and the pilot was buried in the Civil Cemetery in Acerno. The remains were disinterred, but were later found to be part of a B-17 loss in the same area. The AGRS declared Gossett non-recoverable on May 29, 1948.

In June 2012, U.S. investigators contacted a private group of Italian historians and enthusiasts, Association Salerno 1943, who discovered the crash of an A-36 type aircraft in the mountains near Acerno, Italy. In November 2014, Association Salerno 1943 again visited the crash site and found human remains, which were returned to the custody of U.S. personnel. DPAA is grateful to Association Salerno 1943 for their vital help in this recovery mission. To identify Gossett’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used mitochondrial DNA analysis, which matched two nieces and a great niece, circumstantial evidence, and dental analysis, which matched Gossett’s records.

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— Marine Corps Pfc. John F. Price, who was lost fighting on Tarawa on Nov. 20, 1943, will be buried with full military honors on a date and location to be determined. He was assigned to Company F, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division.

— Marine Corps Pfc. Anthony Brozyna, of Hartford, Conn., who was lost fighting on Tarawa on Nov. 20, 1943, will be buried with full military honors on a date and location to be determined. He was assigned to Company G, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division.

Anthony Brozyna

Anthony Brozyna,

— Army Air Forces Capt. Arthur E. Halfpapp, 23, of Steelton, Pa., is scheduled for burial April 14 with full military honors in Annville, Pa. On April 24, 1945, Halfpapp was assigned to the 87th Fighter Squadron, 79th Fighter Group, and was the pilot of a P-47 aircraft that crashed during an armed reconnaissance mission southeast of Alberone, Italy. After the crash, the mission flight leader circled the burning wreckage, and did not see any signs of life. Following the war, the Army Graves Registration Service searched for Halfpapp’s crash site; however, his remains were not located.

On May 24, 1948, a military board amended his status to non-recoverable.

In 2014, members of the Italian association Archeologi Dell’Aria reported they had excavated a crash site potentially associated with Halfpapp and recovered possible human remains and personal effects. DPAA is grateful to Archeologi Dell’Aria for their vital assistance in this recovery mission. To identify Halfpapp’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used circumstantial evidence and mitochondrial DNA analysis, which matched his maternal niece and nephew.

http://image2.findagrave.com/photos/2015/105/56363964_1429217541.jpg

Arthur E. Halfpapp

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 ++]

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National Salute to Veteran Patients Logo

VA Whistleblowers Update 43 ► OSC | Inadequate Follow-up In 3 Cases

In the latest in its continuing scrutiny of the Veterans Affairs Department, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) on 8 APR reported that it was faulting the department’s managers for inadequate follow-up on three whistleblower cases affecting health and safety. The findings reported to the White House and Congress involve medical facilities in West Virginia, upstate New York and Washington, D.C.

  • In one case, based on alerts from an anonymous whistleblower, the Beckley VA Medical Center in West Virginia was “found to have improperly substituted prescribed antipsychotic medications in order to save money,” OSC said in a statement. The VA’s Office of Medical Inspector found that these actions created a threat to the health and safety of mental health patients in Beckley and violated VA policy. The whistleblower’s other allegations were not substantiated, and VA officials decided not to discipline the managers for the drug substitutions because the managers were “unfamiliar with VA policy” and their actions were not knowing and willful. But “in other cases, including in formal litigation, the VA has sought disciplinary action against senior officials who failed to exercise appropriate oversight,” OSC said. The Special Counsel concluded that “this is a more appropriate standard,” and that discipline should have been considered in response to the medical inspector’s findings.
  • In Canandaigua, N.Y., employees at a veterans crisis line and call center volunteers were found to be inadequately trained, as evidenced by delayed responses to vets who may be suicidal. “The VA Office of Inspector General found that back-up call centers routed some veterans seeking help to voicemail, and sometimes neither the crisis line nor back-up center volunteers immediately called veterans back,” OSC said. The problems were disclosed by VA employee John Giunta, and managers took steps to improve training and responsiveness. “However, the Special Counsel concluded these actions do not adequately address the VA’s lack of oversight of its back-up call centers,” the OSC said, noting that some case outcomes were not tracked.
  • In a Washington VA Medical Center, staff registered nurse John Leahy in 2014 disclosed to the Special Counsel that the facility had failed to test flexible endoscopes for leaks before 2008. “Using a leak testing method, Mr. Leahy discovered leaking endoscopes and, in response, developed new procedures for the clinic,” asserting that VA should have notified the patients of the faulty equipment, OSC said. “The VA maintains that visual leak inspections and the use of disinfects were sufficient to identify and address any biohazards in its endoscopes before reusing them,” OSC’s statement said. But the whistleblower provided endoscope manufacturer guidelines and other information that appears to contradict the VA, according to OSC. VA also said it did not need to notify patients because it had found no evidence of an “adverse event.” OSC said VA should have convened a clinical review board and the Special Counsel’s office remains unconvinced that VA’s position is “reasonable and supported by the facts.”

[Source: GovExec.com | Charles S. Clark | April 8, 2016 ++]

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VA Appeals Update 22 White House Want Congressional Overhaul

White House officials are pushing Congress to overhaul the appeals process for veterans benefits claims this year, noting the shrinking legislative window and calling the system a disaster. “We’re failing veterans,” said Veterans Affairs Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson. “This process is failing veterans. Nobody can defend the status quo here.” More than 440,000 veterans have appeals cases pending in the benefits system, a caseload that has risen steadily in recent years as officials have focused on pulling down the number of backlogged first-time claims. But VA officials have insisted the two aren’t connected, noting the percentage of cases appealed has remained steady. Instead, the problem has been the rising number of total claims from veterans, as more troops deal with issues from the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Vietnam.

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Veterans Affairs Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson says the current process of handling claims appeals is failing vets.

Today, the average completion time for appeals cases decided by the Veterans Benefits Administration is three years, the average for cases decided by the Board of Veterans Appeals is five years. Officials have not seen increases in the rate of success among the appeals, but have noted that the process is frustratingly cumbersome for both veterans and staff. VA leaders have floated a plan to get that process down to under a year and a half for most cases, but they need congressional intervention to rework filing timelines and evidence submission rules. They’re hoping the veterans omnibus looming in the Senate will include those changes, and are making another lobbying push this week for its inclusion. That includes a new White House explainer on Medium on Wednesday morning that states “it has become obvious that this is the time for change” and reminds lawmakers that VA can’t fix the problem without their help.

Gibson said he worries that with the short legislative schedule this summer and impending change of presidential administrations next year, the momentum built within the veterans community for change could easily be lost. “Today, we have appeals that have been iterating for 25 years, that have been decided 25 or 30 different times over that process,” Gibson said. “That’s not right. It’s not right for veterans and it’s not right for taxpayers.” Earlier this week, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-GA) said that appeals reform will be included in the pending omnibus, but warned it might not be the comprehensive plan floated by VA officials in recent months. The omnibus already is expected to include sweeping new changes to hiring and firing rules for VA employees, changes to the department’s outside care programs, caregiver provisions and several dozen other pieces of veterans legislation.

Isakson said he is committed to helping overhaul the process this year — either through the omnibus or in separate legislation — but conceded that passing any comprehensive legislation after June 1 will be difficult, given the shift in attention to the fall elections. Both Gibson and Isakson said one point of difficulty now is the cost of the proposed reforms. The Congressional Budget Office is expected to put a price tag on the ideas in coming days. Gibson said he does not expect the costs of the changes to be overwhelming, given that most of the changes deal with placing tighter timelines on new case submissions and decision deadlines. But clearing out the current caseload will require more staff and resources, which means more money.

The White House has support from veterans advocates for the change, and Gibson said congressional staffers have been generally supportive of the plans thus far. Crafting the new guidelines has been a speedy process for department officials, who consulted with outside groups in recent months to create a more customer service-centered proposal. Now the question is whether that support can translate into congressional action. “We’re determined to get this done,” Gibson said. “We understand the process is broken. The challenge we have now is that our window is closing.” [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane | April 13, 2016 ++]

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DIC+SBP Update 07 ► MOAA to Lobby Congress on Proposed Changes

The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), an advocacy group based in Alexandria, Virginia, is sending about 160 representatives to Capitol Hill on 13 APR to lobby U.S. lawmakers. “In the past we’ve gotten a lot of traction by sending letters, but we do find that it is compounded by actually informed constituents in the office of the legislators to reinforce the points we are trying to make,” said Steve Strobridge, the organization’s director of government relations. They intend to argue about proposed changes to:

  • The Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP)
  • Tricare fees
  • Accessing Health Care

At the top of the list of concerns is a proposal that would all but eliminate the value of the Survivor Benefit Plan. The plan (SBP) a life insurance policy troops can purchase at the time of their retirement and the monthly payment is automatically given to spouses of those who die while on active duty. If a service member dies while on active duty or a retiree dies of a service-connected condition, their survivors also qualify for dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC). But due to a decades-old law that bars survivors from receiving both payments, the SBP is reduced dollar-for-dollar by the amount of DIC, known as the “widow tax.” A temporary measure passed by Congress set to expire in 2017 allows survivors to receive a partial rebate to make up for that loss. MOAA officials said they want Congress to, at a minimum, extend that measure past next year so military survivors don’t see a payment reduction. But ideally, they said, lawmakers would move to repeal the offset law entirely. “In an ideal world we’d persuade congress to find the money to eliminate the SBP/DIC offset,” Strobridge said.

Also on the group’s lobbying day docket is a request that lawmakers reject a series of Defense Department Tricare proposals that would hurt retirees by increasing prices. Currently, retirees using Tricare Prime pay $282.60 per year for a single person or $565.20 for a family, while Standard requires no enrollment fee. The proposed system, however, would require retirees pay an up to $900 annual enrollment fee for families. Strobridge said his organization is looking for lawmakers to push through Tricare reforms that ease access to care and referrals among other things before instituting any price increases. “On the healthcare side we’d like to win Congress’ support that before we start raising fees significantly we should fix the problems that are documented,” he said. [Source: Military.com | Amy Bushatz | Apr 06, 2016 ++]

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VA Commission on Care Update 02 ► Eliminate All VAMCs & OPCs

A blue-ribbon panel created to evaluate the Veterans Affairs health system is weighing a radical proposal to eliminate all VA medical centers and outpatient facilities in the next 20 years and transition 9 million veterans to the private sector for health care. A 34-page “strawman document” floated last week by seven of 15 members of the VA Commission on Care calls for giving all veterans immediate access to private health services and closing VA health facilities gradually, starting with those that are obsolete or underutilized in a process similar to a base realignment and closure. VA eventually would become “primarily a payer,” much like Medicare, under the proposal.

Of the seven commission members whose names appear on the document, three are from the private sector and one is a board member of a veterans advocacy group that has proposed its own plan to expand privatized health care for veterans. Commissioner David Blom, president and CEO of the OhioHealth system, is credited as author of the report, with input from the six other members. Blom wrote that the health care needs of veterans are not being met under the current system and that the goal is to “meet the needs of every veteran.” “The commission finds the current VA health care system is seriously broken, and because of the breadth and depth of the shortfalls, there is no efficient path to repair it,” Blom and other commission members wrote in the report, created as part of an overall effort to explore VA health reform options.

Under the proposal, veterans would be able to receive care at any provider that accepts VA payments or Medicare. Doctors would be reimbursed at rates 5 percent to 10 percent higher than Medicare rates to encourage them to participate. The proposal, introduced at the commission’s March meeting, earned immediate condemnation from some veterans organizations as well as VA officials, who say the VA health system performs significantly better on outpatient measures than civilian, Medicare and Medicaid health maintenance organizations.

Eight veterans organizations — including Disabled American Veterans, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America — sent a letter 3 MAR to Commission Chairwoman Nancy Schlichting denouncing the document. “We are greatly alarmed by the proposed strawman document that was developed and drafted outside the open commission process … without the input or even knowledge of the other commissioners,” wrote organization officials. “What is most unsettling about the ‘proposed strawman document’ is the utter lack of consideration that veterans would want to improve and expand the VA health care system.” A copy of their letter is available in the attachment to this bulletin titled, “Joint VSO Ltr to the CoC”.

VA Undersecretary of Health Dr. David Shulkin told commissioners 23 MAR that VA already is undergoing a “bold transformation” to improve care at in-house health facilities and streamline the Veterans Choice program to improve services. He added that the VA has an “understanding of the consequences of military exposure, PTSD, polytrauma care, prosthetics and other types of care unrivaled by any other health care system” and said any reform recommendations must not impede the “contract VA has with veterans” to provide state-of-the-art care. Commission chairwoman Nancy Schlichting, CEO of the Henry Ford Health System, told syndicated columnist Tom Philpott that she asked Blom to create the document. She said that by definition, “it’s to be evaluated, criticized and considered as part of our discussion.”

Disabled American Veterans executive director Garry Augustine said the veterans services organizations that oppose the plan sense that the commissioners who developed this particular proposal also believe it. “In this regard, there was a lot of discussion leading up to this document that makes us believe the people who put this together are very serious about pushing this agenda,” Augustine said during an interview 1 APR. American Legion officials questioned the motives of the commissioners whose names are on the document, noting medical industry executives, in a release 24 MAR. “Members of a congressionally appointed Commission on Care … are reportedly pushing lawmakers in Washington to support long-term plans to accelerate privatization of VA health care,” American Legion officials wrote. A final report from the commission is due by June. The commission was created by the 2014 Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act to make recommendations on reorganizing the Veterans Health Administration and delivering health care to veterans in the next two decades.

The report recommendations echo some proposals set forth by veterans advocacy group Concerned Veterans For America in a VA health reform plan, “Fixing Veterans Health Care,” introduced last year. That plan calls for consolidating VA medical facilities under a nonprofit organization chartered by the government and providing care for veterans in the private sector through a government-subsidized health care program similar to the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan. CVA Vice President of Legislative and Political Action Dan Caldwell said 1 APR that the straw man document — which he characterized as an “incomplete proposal designed to generate debate” — is important to any discussion of VHA reform.

“We are happy to see that more people are looking to expand Choice and give the Veterans Health Administration the tools it needs to better serve our veterans,” Caldwell said. “Our proposal makes clear that we do not mandate shutting down VA facilities.” Augustine said the straw man devalues a health system that serves the unique needs of veterans. “We look forward to working with the commission to come to consensus with good ideas that will help resolve the issues that VA has. We are not trying to be obstructionist; we are trying to work with the commission. But we are dead-set against getting rid of the VA,” Augustine said. [Source: Military Times | Patricia Kime | April 1, 2016 ++]

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VA Commission on Care Update 03 ► Strawman Paper Clarified

Members of a blue-ribbon panel studying VA health care defended the group’s work last week, deflecting charges they want to shutter all Veterans Affairs medical facilities in favor of government-paid private care for veterans. Commission on Care member Darin Selnick and chairwoman Nancy Schlicting said last week that a “strawman” paper drafted by seven commissioners “was created to jot down initial ideas” and did not represent a final report from the congressionally mandated group. “The scenario presented is one of several that have been proposed. As the term strawman implies, the document was created by a subset of commissioners to describe their personal ideas … it represents options on a range of possibilities the commissioners are evaluating,”

Schlichting wrote in a statement on the commission’s website https://commissiononcare.sites.usa.gov, “We are going to continue to take input, continue to shape [our views] … No one is going to fully understand our position until we understand our position, and that’s not going to happen until we create the final report. And that comes out in June,” Selnick said. The 34-page document proposes giving all veterans access to private health services and closing VA health facilities gradually over 20 years, starting with those that are obsolete or underutilized in a process similar to a base realignment and closure. The report also calls for VA to become “primarily a payer,” much like Medicare, to provide health care for veterans.

During an interview 8 APR, Selnick, an Air Force veteran and former VA employee who serves as senior adviser to Concerned Veterans for America, said the charges of secrecy simply aren’t true. “This [paper] was created at Nancy’s direction because a lot of us have ideas. None of the [commission’s] working groups know what the others are doing until they present, which is what we did. Nothing was done in secret. This is a normal process,” Selnick said. The Commission on Care was created by the 2014 Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act to make recommendations on reorganizing the Veterans Health Administration and delivering health care to veterans in the next two decades. Members were appointed by President Obama or a bipartisan group of congressional members. Veterans service organizations expressed concerns about the professional background of many commissioners — at least six come from nonprofit private health care organizations — or, in the case of Selnick, played a role in drafting a report released last year by CVA, “Fixing Veterans Health Care.”

Selnick said “no one on the commission represents the agencies they work for” and noted that 11 of 15 commissioners are veterans, and six of the seven commissioners who drafted the strawman are former service members. “This media-veterans organization-VA-whoever-else-is continuing to talk about the strawman, which is not going to be, in any way shape or form, the final document, is doing a disservice to the commission and to the veterans,” Selnick said. “Please come to our meetings and hear what’s going on and let us do our job.” The commission has held eight meetings in Washington and one in Dallas. It has another scheduled for April 18-19 in Washington. Schlichting said interested parties, including veterans, families, veterans service organizations, VA employees, elected officials and taxpayers are encouraged to provide input, either in person or through the commission’s website. “The Commission is committed to a vision of transforming veterans’ health care to enhance access, choice, quality, and well-being,” Schlichting said. [Source: Military Times | Patricia Kime | April 11, 2016 ++]

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VA Vet Choice Program Update 37 ► Des Moines Vet’s Frustration

It’s hard to say which irritates Vietnam War veteran Martin Wines more — his chronic, itchy skin condition or the government’s botched attempt to help him get it treated. The Des Moines veteran says regular sessions in a special ultraviolet light booth are the only thing that provides relief from the scaling and itching of his severe eczema. The local Department of Veterans Affairs hospital doesn’t have such a booth, so a VA dermatologist referred him several years ago to Iowa Methodist Medical Center for treatment. The arrangement worked well, until Congress ordered the VA to make it easier for veterans to obtain private care if services weren’t immediately available at the VA. The 2014 move to create the Veterans Choice program was a response to a national scandal over waiting lists for VA care.

Sen. Chuck Grassley and other officials say the program’s intentions are good — but red tape, long waits and difficulty accessing services have led to mounting frustrations for veterans. A national administrator for the VA says she hopes some recent changes will lead to improvements. For Wines, it suddenly took months instead of days to get an appointment for treatment at Methodist. “I don’t see what the problem was in the first place. It wasn’t broken,” Wines said of the method for referring VA patients to private care. The outside company hired to run the new program told him he had to go to a new dermatologist in the western suburbs, even though a VA dermatologist had already ordered the regular light booth treatments at Methodist. “They didn’t have a clue about what I was actually getting,” he said. “They were completely disconnected. Nobody likes this. The veterans aren’t getting served and the people at the VA who are trying to help people are totally frustrated.”

Wines, 67, went around and around with the contractor, getting nowhere. He finally called Grassley’s office for help. A funny thing happened after the Iowa Republican got involved: The contractor suddenly saw the wisdom of letting Wines continue the treatment he’d already been obtaining at the private hospital. He’s back to getting it up to three times a week. A spokeswoman for Methodist said the hospital receives $6.80 from the VA for each session.

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Army veteran Martin Wines undergoes narrow band ultraviolet

Army veteran Martin Wines undergoes narrow band ultraviolet B photo therapy at Methodist hospital to treat a skin condition.

Grassley said in an interview that he’s frustrated that the program got off to such a poor start. He has heard from several other veterans who have gotten the runaround, and he has demanded improvements. He still supports the program’s goal, which is to give veterans the right to seek private care if a comparable VA service is more than 50 miles away or would require waiting more than 30 days. “It sounded reasonable,” the senator said. The VA flubbed by hiring a contractor to set up veterans’ appointments for private care, Grassley said. “This company wasn’t doing its job right. In other words, holding people up on the phone or not getting any answers, not even talking to people. It’s been major frustration for veterans.” He said VA leaders have assured him their staff soon will be handling such calls.

Gary Carter, the American Legion’s department service officer for Iowa, said numerous veterans have complained to him about the situation. “It’s a broken program all the way around,” he said. “It’s unfortunate, because it had good intentions. It just became a quagmire.” Kristin Cunningham, a national administrator for the VA, said the agency scrambled to follow Congress’ orders to create the program in 2014. “It was enacted very quickly. (The law) only gave us 90 days to implement the program,” she said. Cunningham said Congress has since passed several measures giving the VA more flexibility to run the program, and another such bill is being considered at the Capitol. She said the department is taking back some of the tasks, including scheduling private-care appointments, from contractors who were hired to handle those duties in 2014. Local VA staff members who know their patients should be in a better position to set up private appointments, she said. “Our goal is to make sure veterans get the care they’ve earned and deserve.”

David Shulkin, who leads the VA health system nationally, said he had heard suggestions that his agency wants the Veterans Choice program to fail. “I will emphatically say there simply is no truth to that,” he told a group of health care journalists attending a conference in Cleveland on Friday. “… We are absolutely committed to working with the private sector.” Shulkin said it makes perfect sense to use outside providers for services that aren’t VA specialties. For example, he said, the VA contracts with private hospitals to provide maternity services for the growing number of female veterans. There’s no point for the VA to add birthing units to its hospitals when good options are readily available at community hospitals, he said.

VA officials said they couldn’t immediately estimate how many Iowa veterans are obtaining private care in lieu of VA services under the new program. Jennifer Ellis, a spokeswoman for UnityPoint Health, which owns Iowa Methodist Medical Center, said her company has not seen much of an increase in VA-paid visits since creation of the Veterans Choice program. Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines said it has received just a few referrals under the program. But Broadlawns Medical Center, which is Polk County’s public hospital, has seen a significant increase in VA-financed visits. The number of such patients climbed to 139 in 2015 from 21 in 2013, a spokeswoman said. Wines said he hopes the VA straightens out the cobbled-together program. “I guess they don’t really look into these things before they decide,” he said. “They just do a knee-jerk reaction.” [Source: Des Moines Register | Tony Leys | April 10, 2016 ++]

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VA Vet Choice Program Update 38 ► Behind $878M in Vet Care Payments

va choice program

When news broke in 2014 that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was covering up dangerously long wait times at VA clinics, the administration was quickly buried in an avalanche of bad press. Congress responded by creating the Choice Card program, which allows veterans facing long wait times to seek care from private doctors. Now that program, too, has encountered a serious problem. The VA reportedly hasn’t been paying these out-of-network doctors. Despite the program’s $10 billion budget, the VA is behind on $878 million in payments for emergency services rendered at non-VA hospitals throughout the nation, according to testimony delivered to Congress by Vince Leist on behalf of the American Hospital Association (AHA).

That’s giving these hospitals pause when it comes to working with the VA to treat veterans. “While we are very dedicated to serving the veterans in our community, and we accept each and every one who walks through our doors, we have decided against contracting with the VA due to slow or no payment for claims and the bureaucracy involved with getting claims through the payment process,” Leist, the chief executive officer of an Arkansas healthcare system, told Congress last June. Some have reported being hounded by bill collectors, while many others find the program too confusing to navigate. Part of the problem is the speed with which the program was introduced, according to the private companies contracted by the VA to handle referrals and process payments. The program began on Nov. 5, 2014, just a few months after President Obama signed the Choice Act into law. “Within record time, we created the infrastructure, hired and trained hundreds of staff, and mailed Choice Cards to the four million veterans in our area of responsibility,” a public relations team from Triwest, the firm that administers the program in the West and parts of the South, told Healthline in an email. “We continue to work alongside the VA to refine the program to help improve upon its original structure as the program is matured,” they wrote.

Since its inception, the Choice Card program has been adjusted in several ways in response to user complaints. Originally, veterans were eligible to use the program if they had to wait more than 30 days past the time a doctor recommended they be treated, or if they lived more than 40 miles from the nearest VA clinic as measured by a straight line. Now, veterans are eligible if they have to wait any amount of time longer than what the doctor recommends, or if they live more than 40 miles away in terms of driving distance. Most recently, the VA eliminated the requirement that veterans’ medical records must be received in order to process claims. The move was meant to streamline payments, and was applauded by Triwest and Health Net, the other health insurance company contracted by the VA. But Carlos Fuentes, a policy advisor with the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), is skeptical that decoupling medical records from payments is the right approach. “We’re actually supportive of tying payment and medical documentation and we don’t completely agree that that was what was causing the delay,” he told Healthline.

One of the benefits of the VA system is that it provides “integrated care,” he said, meaning that doctors can track a patient’s medical history and progress even if different doctors at different places saw that patient. Keeping track of medical records is an important part of such care, he said. Indeed, of the recommendations that Leist made to Congress last year, removing the medical records requirement was not among them. He suggested that the VA commit to accepting or denying a claim within seven days and paying approved claims within 30 days. The administration should also be clear about why it denies claims. Fuentes also cited poor communication as a major roadblock to processing claims, as well as an outdated paperwork system that relies heavily on actual paper rather than electronic records.

In a press release, the VA said it “is moving forward on two paths to further improve timely payment.” First, VA officials are working toward a single community care program that is easy to understand, simple to administer, and meets the needs of veterans, community providers, and VA staff. Secondly, VA officials plan to pursue a claims solution that moves to a more automated process for payment. Marilyn Park, a lobbyist with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), a union that includes VA employees, says the Choice Program took resources away from the already underfunded and understaffed VA hospital network. We want the veterans to get the care they prefer and we want veterans to get the comprehensive and integrated care that they were promised.

“It’s simple physics,” Park told Healthline. “Demand’s going up and resources for staff are not meeting it at all.” Veterans themselves prefer the VA, she said, citing polling commissioned by the Vet Voice Foundation, a nonprofit. That poll found that 64 percent of veterans oppose privatizing their healthcare. “We want the veterans to get the care they prefer and we want veterans to get the comprehensive and integrated care that they were promised,” she said. When the Choice Card program expires in 2017, it will likely be folded into a new program consolidating the eight private payer programs administered by the VA. The union supports that plan, Park said. Payment woes are “another example of why the VA needs to reassert control and do a smart version of contract care,” she said. [Source: Healthline News | Rose Rimler | April 11, 2016 ++]

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VA Structure ► Understanding the Divisions & Services

The Veterans Administration is a branch in the federal government, and like most federal organizations it can be quite confusing. Most people do not understand the structure of the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA). It is made up of three divisions that are responsible for specific activities — VA Health Care, Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), and Burial and Cemeteries. Each division is independent and are like stove pipes where communication does not necessarily exist.

VA Health Care. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) handles all health care for veterans. It is responsible for the medical centers, outpatient clinics, community based outpatient clinics, and the vet centers. They provide care, medications, and prosthetic devices as needed. They are responsible for setting the veteran’s health care priority and eligibility based on information provided by the benefits section. To enroll and receive treatment, the veteran must fill out VA Form 10-10EZ, enclose their DD 214, and send them to the nearest VA facility. There are certain basic eligibility requirements.

  • A person who served in the active military, naval, or air service and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable may qualify for VA health care benefits.
  • Reservists and National Guard members may also qualify for health care benefits if they were called to active duty (other than for training only) by a Federal order and completed the full period for which they were called or ordered to active duty.
  • Unless the veteran has a service connected disability, had boots on the ground in Vietnam, or served in the mid-east, that person’s annual income, less out-of-pocket medical expenses, must be low enough to enable them to pass a means test to qualify. At http://nationalincomelimits.vaftl.us can be found the VA’s current income thresholds.

After the veteran is enrolled, he/she will be assigned to a priority group, scheduled for a blood test, assigned a primary care person and required to attend an orientation class. Veterans are encouraged to keep their private insurance plans if they can afford to do so. The VA will bill the insurance companies for their care and the veteran can continue to use the services of private doctors or hospitals if they choose. However, in order to stay enrolled in the system, the veterans must use the VA facilities at least once a year.

Veterans Benefits Administration. The VBA is responsible for the payment of all VA gratuitous benefits. It handles claims for compensation, pension, and education, including vocational rehabilitation, burials, home loans, life insurance and just about any other monetary benefit that comes from the VA. The VBA field operations are located in regional offices (VAROs) where all benefits claims are handled. Each state has at least one regional office (except Wyoming), plus offices in San Juan, Washington D.C., and Manila. Each office varies greatly in size depending on the population served. Each office is guided by a director. The functions are then split among the divisions. The largest division in each office is the Veterans Service Center. This division handles all compensation and pension claims from receipt of the claim to the decision. There are three Pension Maintenance Centers located at Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Philadelphia regional offices. Education claims are handled in Regional Processing offices in four locations.

Every regional office has the capability of handling public contact for their area, both for walk-in clients and telephone calls. When a veteran is not satisfied with the decision made on his claim, he has the right to file an appeal. Appeals are decided on questions regarding all veteran’s benefits by the Board of Veteran Appeals (BVA), which is completely independent from the VBA. As with most bureaucracies, there are contingencies and qualifications in filing claims for compensation. The veteran must have a service connected disability. As an example, if a Vietnam veteran has type II diabetes, the VA recognizes that type II diabetes could be a direct result of being exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam and therefore could be compensated. Each county has a trained Veteran Service Officer (VSO) to help veterans to file claims.

Burial and Cemeteries. The National Cemetery Association operates the National Cemetery system. It is responsible for the establishment and construction of new cemeteries and the care and maintenance of existing cemeteries. It provides flags for burials of veterans and issues the Presidential Memorial Certificates.

[Source: Churubusco News Indiana | Richard Eckert | April 05, 2016 ++]

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Agent Orange Diseases Update 03 ► 3 Under Review for Presumptive Status

The Veterans Affairs Department is weighing whether to add several diseases to the list of health conditions presumed in Vietnam veterans to be caused by exposure to Agent Orange. A VA working group is studying a report issued in March by the Institute of Medicine to determine whether bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinson’s-like symptoms — illnesses the IOM said may be more strongly linked to exposure than previously thought — should automatically make a Vietnam veteran eligible for VA disability benefits and health care.

According to Dr. Ralph Erickson, VA’s chief consultant for post-deployment health services, the group will make a recommendations to VA Secretary Robert McDonald on whether the diseases should be added to a list of 15 already in place. “We are in the midst of a deliberative process, carefully looking at all the IOM committee put in the report and additional information that has come out since,” Erickson said. “We will be putting tougher a VA response that will be brought before senior leaders and ultimately brought before the secretary.” The process could take up to two years, a VA spokeswoman added.

Roughly 1 million Vietnam veterans are enrolled in the VA health system, according to the department. Based on a review of data for one year, 5,484 of these veterans have been diagnosed with bladder cancer, 15,983 suffer from hypothyroidism and an estimated 1,833 have Parkinson’s-like symptoms. The working group also is looking into the role, if any, Agent Orange exposure has played in the development of hypertension in Vietnam veterans. According to VA, 307,324 Vietnam veterans in the Veterans Health Administration have high blood pressure. “Hypertension has been a question that has been asked,” Erickson said. “The cohort of men and women who heroically served their country in uniform and went to Vietnam are in their 60s, 70s and 80s, and these individuals, merely because of their age, are starting to accrue chronic diseases that come with aging. It’s a delicate matter to tease out whether someone has hypertension because of their age or whether it would be related to an exposure to Agent Orange.”

VA began recognizing diseases associated with herbicide exposure in Vietnam beginning in 1991, naming 15 diseases as presumed to be related, including Hodgkin’s disease, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, early-onset peripheral neuropathy, porphyria cutanea tarda, prostate cancer, respiratory cancers, soft-tissue sarcoma, chloracne, type-2 diabetes mellitus, light chain amyloidosis, ischemic heart disease, chronic B-cell leukemias, Parkinson’s disease, and spina bifida in offspring of veterans. The most recent IOM report actually downgraded spina bifida in the children of Vietnam veterans, saying research does not support a previously held belief that the disease occurred in offspring of exposed veterans at higher rates. But the change of spina bifida from “limited or suggestive evidence” it is related to exposure to “inadequate or insufficient” evidence should not affect disability payments to the 1,153 descendants of Vietnam veterans who receive them, Veterans Benefits Administration senior adviser for compensation services Brad Flohr said.

VA recommends that veterans who have an illness they believe is related to Agent Orange exposure file a claim; they are considered on a case-by-case basis if the illness is not on the presumptive condition list. Should new diseases be added to the list, the regulation would go into effect 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register. If a veteran dies of a condition determined to be a presumptive condition after the veteran’s death, VA will provide dependency and indemnity compensation benefits to eligible spouses, children and parents of that veteran. [Source: Military Times | Patricia Kime | April 8, 2016 ++]

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VA Caregiver Program Update 33 Blindness Not Considered a Disability

Army Sergeant Major Jesse Acosta has received notification from the VA that his benefits for a caregiver are ending in 90 days, at the end of May 2016. The letter he received from the VA states “he is no longer appropriate for the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers.” They say they are pleased to inform him of this. According to the VA, even though Acosta, blinded by a mortar attack in Iraq, is still blind, they are excited (with an exclamation point to prove it) to let him know they have determined he’s “graduated,” and no longer needs a caregiver.

http://www.gloucestercitynews.net/.a/6a00d8341bf7d953ef01901df1be46970b-250wi

Acosta served with distinction from 1975 until his retirement in 2010. In 2003 he joined the Individual Ready Reserve program until he was recalled to active duty in 2005. He deployed to Iraq in August. Everything changed on January 16, 2006 when he was struck by a mortar. His injuries included the loss of both eyes, injury to the frontal and temporal lobes of his brain, loss of part of his jaw and teeth, a back injury, a herniated calf muscle that won’t heal and loss of a kneecap so that one knee is bone on bone. He was not expected to survive when he arrived at the military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. But survive he did. Over the course of forty surgeries his jaw and eye sockets were reconstructed but his vision was lost forever. Today he’s a fine-looking man. In good shape, fit, his service dog by his side. You wouldn’t know looking at him that he’s been rated, in addition to his blindness, 70% disability from PTSD and 100% disability from TBI.

Jesse Acosta returned to his employer after Iraq, but he needs some assistance to do his job. Likewise, at home he needs some help. That’s what the caregiver provides: help getting to medical appointments, managing medication refills, help with paperwork and shopping. The daily things that sighted people take for granted. His service dog helps both with mobility and with PTSD. But the caregiver fills an essential need. Whether or not the VA agrees. When National Veterans Foundation representatives Shad Meshad spoke with Jesse, he was told, “When the VA representative called to tell us the caregiver benefit had been canceled, we were told verbally that ‘the VA does not consider blindness a disability’.” You can understand how the VA might look at him…he’s employed, he has a service dog…and think his blindness does not completely disable him. But how humane is it not to take into consideration the effects of PTSD and TBI? The VA has treated him for both and they have complete records. He can appeal his case, of course. Based on a 2012 VA report that will take about two and a half years. The eligibility criteria from the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act,” Public Law 111-163 Section 1720G (a) (2) states:

“(2) For purposes of this subsection, an eligible veteran is any individual who—

(A) is a veteran or member of the Armed Forces undergoing medical discharge from the Armed Forces;

(B) has a serious injury (including traumatic brain injury, psychological trauma, or other mental disorder) incurred or aggravated in the line of duty in the active military, naval, or air service on or after September 11, 2001; and

C) is in need of personal care services because of—

(i) an inability to perform one or more activities of daily living;

(ii) a need for supervision or protection based on symptoms or residuals of neurological or other impairment or injury…”

The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act, was intended, among other things, to assist members of veterans’ families who have left careers to care for veterans with catastrophic disabilities. However, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is failing to implement the law (Public Law 111-163) as Congress intended. Paralyzed Veterans of America testified on this point on 11 MAR before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health. Carl Blake, Legislative Program Director for Paralyzed Veterans of America, said, “(VA) said the only way a caregiver will be eligible for this is if the veteran would have otherwise been institutionalized. Blake explained that such an interpretation would lower the number of families eligible for these benefits, such as monthly stipends and health-care benefits through the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA), to about 840. According to Blake that number is less than 25 percent of what Congress intended.

An article in the Illinois Statesman on Feb. 23, 2016 states that about 7,000 veterans who were receiving caregiver benefits are no longer getting them. “About a third were cut because VA staff members determined that they did not meet medical criteria for the support.” The program, passed into law in 2010, was never intended to be a permanent benefit. Only last year did the VA publish an official rule on how the program should be run. Stipends were to be provided to families as long as the veteran’s health met certain criteria. If the situation improved, the VA might remove patients from the financial part of the program.

Based on his experience, Jesse says, “I have never been VA friendly, and because I question and challenge the VA process, I truly believe I have been targeted in having this benefit canceled.” He was also quick to say he’s not the only one receiving this kind of treatment by the VA, and he launched into a story about another vet in the LA area whose VA care came from six different VA facilities (i.e. Long Beach, West Los Angeles, San Diego, Loma Linda, East Los Angeles and downtown LA). This is Southern California. That’s miles and miles of driving, not to mention hours of car time because of traffic, and then the expense on top of that. It’s no wonder that so many vets suffering from PTSD and TBI also have anger management problems. Meshad can’t help but think the run-around treatment, some of it looking like harassment, that these vets experience from the VA is a factor in the 22 veteran suicides a day.

Sergeant Major Acosta served with distinction in the U.S. Army from 1975 until 2010. Among his many awards are The Legion of Merit, The Bronze Star, The Purple Heart, the Meritorious Service Medal and six Army Commendation Medals. The VA’s budget for fiscal year 2016 is $163 billion. The proposed 2017 budget includes an increase for VA funding. Maybe money isn’t the problem. Maybe it’s the structure of the VA, how large and unwieldy it is. Maybe it’s the entrenched culture of no accountability. Meshad grants that changes are being made. But how do you explain to the Jesse Acostas who served this country that it’s just too much trouble to take their cases individually? That in order to get through the number of cases, there’s more investment in blocking treatment than in authorizing it? Because that’s how it looks. The National Veterans Foundation personnel wish that Acosta’s case was out of the ordinary. Unfortunately, it’s not. If you know a vet who needs help, their LifeLine for Vets is 888.777.4443. It’s vet-to-vet, the only one of its kind. [Source: HuffPost Impact | The Blog | March 30, 2016 ++]

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Arizona Vet Cemetery Update 02 Marana Site Opening

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced the opening of the 100th VA grant funded Veterans cemetery. An $8.9 million grant from the VA funded the new Arizona Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery in Marana, Arizona. The cemetery is the 100th Veterans cemetery funded with a VA grant awarded to a State or Tribal organization. “This significant milestone underscores the importance of our partnerships with State and Tribal organizations to increase Veterans access to benefits, said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald. “This grant helps VA fulfill its goal of providing at least 95 percent of Veterans and spouses with access to an open national, state or tribal cemetery within 75 miles of their home,” McDonald said

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VA’s Veterans Cemetery Grants Program complements VA’s 134 National Cemeteries across the country. Since 1980, the Veterans Cemetery Grants Program has awarded grants totaling more than $665 million to establish, expand, and improve 100 Veterans cemeteries in 47 states and territories including tribal trust lands, Guam, and Saipan. These VA-funded Veterans cemeteries provided more than 35,000 burials in 2015. The new cemetery opened on March 14, 2016 and was dedicated on March 26, 2016 with a public ceremony with remarks by George D. Eisenbach Jr., Director, Veterans Cemetery Grants program. The cemetery, on approximately 20 acres, includes 1,802 pre-placed crypts, 1,638 cremains gravesites and 1,920 columbarium niches and will help serve the needs of approximately 105,000 Arizona Veterans and their families.

Veterans with a discharge issued under conditions other than dishonorable who have completed a period of active duty service as required by law, their spouses and eligible dependent children may be buried in the Arizona Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery at Marana. The closest VA national cemetery to the new Arizona cemetery is VA’s National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona in Phoenix, approximately 91 miles away. The nearest VA grant-funded state Veterans cemetery is Southern Arizona Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery in Sierra Vista, which is located at a distance of about 107 miles from the new site. For more information on VA’s Veterans Cemetery Grants Program, visit: www.cem.va.gov/cem/grants. For more information on Arizona’s Veterans Memorial at Marana, visit: https://dvs.az.gov/arizona-veterans-memorial-cemetery-marana. [Source: VA News Release | April 07, 2016 ++]

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VA Lawsuit ► Wrongful Death | Tom Young Suicide

The family of a suburban veteran is suing the Veterans Administration and its suicide hotline, claiming Army veteran Tom Young’s calls to the hotline were mishandled, resulting in his suicide. On 5 APR, his widow and two daughters filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Cook County claiming the VA was negligent. The $18 million lawsuit essentially claims that the VA and the contractor hired to help run its suicide hotline had abandoned the Iraqi War veteran. The I-Team first reported about Young’s suicide last month, after learning that he had been sent to voicemail when he needed help.

During two tours of duty in Iraq and seven years in the service, Young learned the military mantra: No Man Left Behind. However, the family claims that the VA left him behind by failing to respond to Young’s calls to its crisis hotline in a timely and proper manner. When Young, 30, was seeking help in dealing with suicidal thoughts, his call was instead routed to voicemail. “We are alleging that Mr. Young contacted the veteran crisis hotline as he was supposed to do, and his call was placed into a voicemail system, and not responded to until after he had taken his own life on 23 JUL of last year,” said Kenneth Hoffman, an attorney for the Young family. Last July, Young sat in the way of a Metra train the day after he was put off by the VA hotline and after he was put on the waiting list at Hines VA Hospital because there was no available beds in the suicide unit. “He took his life and the day after, we got a call from the VA that a bed was available and then about 20 minutes later, we got a call from the suicide hotline returning his call,” said Will Young, his brother.

On 6 APR, a similar federal claim laying out a suicide hotline fiasco is expected to be filed in Chicago by Young’s estate, claiming that an outsourced contractor mishandled Young’s call. The claim states that Young was sent to voicemail and that the VA failed to provide help, as well as improperly trained its staff to help veterans in need. “Tom Young put his life on the line for his country and when he needed his country’s help we weren’t there for him,” Hoffman said. VA has blamed contractor and says similar call are no longer transferred. The New York-based contractor that handles the crisis hotline did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The contractor’s other big crisis hotline client is the National Football League. [Source: ABC-7 Eyewitness News | Chuck Goudie, Christine Tressel, and Barb Markoff | April 05, 2016 ++]

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VA Lawsuit | Gila River Indians ► Withholding Payments

The Gila River Indian Community is suing the Department of Veterans Affairs, accusing the agency of withholding payments for veteran care. The largest minority veteran group in the Valley, the Community is demanding the VA reimburse Indian tribes for tens of thousands of dollars in care they honorably deserve. “The VA just totally disregards us,” David Anderson, a veteran of the U.S. Army Special Forces, said. He said his brother Gary, also a veteran, required more than $100,000 worth of surgeries and specialty care for service-related injuries. According to Anderson, the Department of Veterans Affairs has refused to pay any of it. “Any specialty care the VA is disputing that and does not want to fight that; they want us to sign away our rights to send people to specialty care and send them back into the VA,” he said.

Anderson argues the surgeries and specialty care his brother received at Hu Hu Kam Memorial Hospital in the small reservation town of Sacaton should be covered like an outside clinic. But it’s not. “It’s convenient; it’s here within the community; it’s well-staffed, and we get treatment,” he said. It’s treatment he argues would take too long to wait for at the Phoenix VA. “They want us to bring that veteran back to an overcrowded system that would take anywhere from eight months to a year to start their treatment,” Anderson said.

Release from Gila River Indian Community:

The Gila River Indian Community claims in court that the Department of Veterans Affairs is illegally limiting and conditioning reimbursement for care provided to veterans who go to a reservation hospital rather than the scandal-plagued VA facility in Phoenix. In a complaint filed in federal court on Tuesday, the Gila River Indian Community and Gila River Health Care Corporation, claim the department owes them for health care provided to veterans going back to March 2010. Under President Barack Obama’s health care law, the VA must reimburse Indian tribes for health care services to veterans who seek care from tribal clinics or hospitals instead of a VA facility.”

“Despite this plain and mandatory language directing the Department of Veterans Affairs to reimburse Indian tribes and tribal organizations for health care services provided to veterans, the VA refuses to do so unless Indian tribes and tribal organizations agree to conditions well beyond the plain language of the law and which reduce the reimbursements that Indian tribes are entitled to under the law,” the complaint says. “Those conditions include limiting reimbursements to direct care services only and excluding purchased or referred care; excluding reimbursement for non-Native veterans, such as non-Native spouses of tribal members; and requiring the Gila River Health Care Corporation to “submit disputes with the VA for resolution by the VA’s own contracting officer.”

The Gila River Health Care Corporation operates Hu Hu Kam Memorial in Sacaton, which is about a 40 miles south of Phoenix. The hospital has seen an increase in veterans in recent years because patients are “unable to secure timely appointments through the VA” and because “the Phoenix VA, in particular, has been plagued by well-publicized health care scandals alleging poor quality of care and long waits for appointments,” the lawsuit states. Gila River officials say they have tried for years to negotiate with the VA over these issues, even sending a delegation to meet with department officials in Washington, D.C.

In 2013, a lawyer for the department “confirmed that VA’s position will not change unless it is required to change by the Department of Justice or unless the Community sued the federal government and prevailed in court,” the lawsuit states. “All Community efforts have been rejected, and from March 23, 2010, through the date of this complaint, VA has provided no reimbursements to GRHC,” the lawsuit says. In addition to an order for reimbursement, the tribe wants the court to declare that the VA is violating the Affordable Care Act by “conditioning reimbursements on a separate agreement by VA,” and by limiting reimbursements to Native American veterans and direct care services only. It’s unclear from the lawsuit how much the VA allegedly owes the Gila River Indian Community. Attorneys with the tribe’s Office of the General Counsel did not immediately respond to an email on Tuesday. The Department of Veterans Affairs also did not respond to a request for comment. [Source: Sacaton, AZ (KPHO/KTVK) | Ashleigh Barr | Apr 12, 2016 ++]

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VA HBPC Update 01 ► Servicing Health Care Needs in Vet’s Homes

Home Based Primary Care (HBPC) is a VA health care program provided to Veterans in their home for those who have complex health care needs for which routine clinic-based care is not effective. It is one of VA’s programs that ensure the right care, at the right time, in the right setting is available to veterans all over the nation. It offers long-term patients this kind of care an alternative to nursing home placement; minimizes the amount of follow up in an Ambulatory Care Clinic; prevents premature admissions to long-term care institutions; maintains optimal physical, cognitive, and psychosocial functioning; and allows the patient the option of dying at home rather than in an institution.

The HBPC team at the Durham VAMC in North Carolina is comprised of physician, physician assistant/nurse practitioner, social worker, occupational/physical therapy team, pharmacist, dietitian, psychologist and access to chaplain services. Occupational Therapy Month (April) provides an opportunity to learn more about this important profession that helps Veterans across the lifespan do the things they want to do and live life to its fullest. Occupational therapists focus on “doing,” using occupations and meaningful life activities to help individuals maximize their potential.

Today, comprehensive primary care requires a coordinated team-based approach that promotes shared decision-making, sustained relationships with patients and families, and quality improvement activities. In contrast to services reimbursed by other funding mechanisms such as Medicare, HBPC provides comprehensive care of the patient often for the remainder of their life. It targets frail, chronically ill Veterans who require interdisciplinary health care teams, continuity, coordination of care, and the integration of diverse services to cover their complex medical, social, rehabilitative, and behavioral care needs. To manage the complex health problems of chronically or terminally ill patients, HBPC is provided directly by an interdisciplinary team. This team promotes collaboration and coordination among all team members. The team members work interdependently in assessing, planning, problem solving, and decision-making to meet the complex needs of Veterans.

A man in a wheelchair shows a wooden dollhouse to another man.

A Veteran in a wheelchair poses next to an accessible ramp to his house

OT David Benthall (left) visits with Veteran proudly demonstrating woodworking project. Benthall assisted with proper lighting and adaptive visual aids needed for the project. OT Jim Mathues (right) coordinated a Home Depot Grant project to improve accessibility in the home of this Veteran who had been limited to living in his basement due to environmental barriers but now can enjoy his upstairs patio with door widening and ramp installation.

The use of Occupational Therapy within the HBPC at the Durham VAMC is a non-traditional approach for the use of OT services with a proactive focus on prevention, education and wellness. This contrasts from traditional home therapy services which have a short-term, rehabilitative or restorative focus. Occupational Therapists contribute to the team by performing the initial and ongoing assessments of the Veteran’s functional status in the home environment. This allows them to monitor and support clients as they go through the natural aging process and into the end-of-life.

Occupational Therapists also evaluate the Veteran’s home for safety and structural modifications needed to make the home environment safe and accessible, including adaptive equipment needs. Occupational Therapists maximize function and safety in the home environment supporting Veterans’ goal to remain in their home during the aging process.

Other important interventions include helping with lifestyle modification to minimize the impacts of chronic conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and dementia. They also focus on safety and falls prevention within the home environment. There are numerous other unseen tasks involving a lot of important details such as educating the Veteran and their families about access to VA or community resources including grants to assist with modifying their home and automobile for accessibility, home repair resources and community transportation options. As the largest health care system in the nation, VA is the single largest employer of occupational therapists, whose primary goal is to help Veterans optimize their functional performance in areas that are meaningful to their lives. [Source: Veterans Health | Hans Petersen | April 5, 2016 ++]

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VA Claims Processing Update 15 ► 14,000 Fiduciary Errors Discovered

The Veterans Affairs Department has discovered claims processing errors affecting about 14,000 veterans and survivors — a problem that goes back as least 15 years. The errors occurred when veterans and survivors filed claims but, because of disability or age, were deemed unable to manage their benefits without assistance, VA officials said. The VA then failed to appoint a representative for the veteran, a family member in most cases. The department became aware of the issue when it received inquiries in June and July from affected beneficiaries or their families, said VA spokeswoman Meagan Heup.

In a 14 MAR statement, VA officials said they caught the error using an information technology system called the Beneficiary Fiduciary Field System that was first deployed in 2014. Until then, they used an “antiquated, stand-alone database that did not interact with any other VA programs and allowed for only minimal workload management with virtually no oversight.” Before then, regional officers were relying on “manual processes, including email correspondence,” to transfer cases to its fiduciary staff, Heup said. The VA has since modified its system to eliminate the manual elements and “better track this workload.” A review of affected veterans’ cases by the Veterans Benefits Administration was completed in November. It is working to determine how much is due to beneficiaries. “We sincerely apologize to these veterans and their survivors for this regrettable delay,” VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson said in the statement.

It’s unclear how long the problem has been going on, Heup said, because the VA is not able to collect data prior to 2000. Additionally, the VA has yet to conduct a review to identify beneficiaries who died waiting for their cases to be processed. VA officials said they have set up a team dedicated to reviewing the cases immediately, with a plan to complete the claims processing steps and appoint an appropriate representative as soon as possible. However, the process could take as long as six months to complete because the law requires the VA to meet with fiduciary representatives face-to-face and check their qualifications, officials said. In the meantime, beneficiaries will receive their monthly benefits.

The development comes on the heels of a joint study between Harvard University and veterans advocacy groups that reported the VA had wrongfully denied services to approximately 125,000 post-9/11 veterans who received other than honorable discharges. A few weeks prior to that, members of Congress proposed a bill to return approximately $78 million erroneously deducted from combat-wounded veterans’ severance pay for 25 years by the Pentagon, an error that may have affected upwards of 13,000 troops. For more information, veterans and survivors may call 1-888-407-0144. [Source: Stars and Stripes | Matthew M. Burke | April 1, 2016 ++]

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GI Bill Update 202 ► Stipend for Work Vice School

For those leaving the service who want to go to work instead of school, the GI Bill can help pay the bills for a training position as an apprentice or on-the-job learner, through a union or training for certification. At the VA website http://www.benefits.va.gov/GIBILL/resources/benefits_resources/rates/ch33/ch33rates080115.asp the details of the program can be found. Following is a snapshot of what is available to vets:

Image result for 1 us dollar

To use the on-the-job stipend, you need to find an employer with an approved

apprenticeship or on-the-job training program

1. It’s not just for education. For apprentices, the Post-9/11 GI Bill stipend will supplement your entry-level wage with the equivalent of the Basic Allowance for Housing of an E-5 with dependents. Just as the benefit is used to offset tuition costs, these funds will help on-the-job trainees and apprentices to supplement the wages from your employer, which must be at least 50 percent of journeyman wage. You won’t get rich, but the benefit will help get you to a livable situation.

2. Payment rates. Monthly Housing Allowance dollars diminish as your training progresses. The Post-9/11 GI Bill payment rates are as follows:

  • 100 percent of your applicable MHA during the first six months
  • 80 percent of your applicable MHA during the second six months of training
  • 60 percent during the third six months of training
  • 40 percent during the fourth six months of training
  • 20 percent during the remainder of the training

All other GI Bill programs:

  • 75 percent of the full-time GI Bill rate for the first six months of training
  • 55 percent for the second six months of training
  • 35 percent for the remainder of the training program

3. The reward. But the dollars also rise over time, with wages increasing even as your GI Bill benefit is winding down. As you advance in your learning, you’ll earn your way into higher-paid skill sets, so that by the end of your apprenticeship, you should be getting paid at least 85 percent of the wage for a fully trained employee. That’s a VA requirement for employers. The VA expects a “reasonable certainty” the job you’ve trained for will be available after your training.

4. Finding a program. To use the on-the-job stipend, you’ll need to find an employer with an approved apprenticeship or on-the-job training program. VA keeps a list of qualified employers. Employers can be private companies or government agencies. They must issue a job certification or journeyman status at the end of training. The State Approving Agencies approve programs in their states. On-the-job training can be found in a range of industries and professions: firefighting, plumbing, hotel management, to name a few.

5. Prepare for heavy lifting. While apprenticeship requirements vary, most unions expect a trainee to put in 2,000 hours for every calendar year of their apprenticeship, along with 100 to 200 hours of classroom training each year, according to the AFL-CIO. In addition, there are written and practical hands-on exams.

6. Plan to make the money last. The average starting wage for an apprentice is approximately $15 per hour, according to the Department of Labor, and the GI Bill pays only once a month, after VA receives certification of hours worked from your employer or union, so you’ll have to budget thoughtfully. The up side: The average wage for a fully proficient worker who completed an apprenticeship is roughly $50,000 a year.

7. “Certain restrictions apply.” As the saying goes. To claim the stipend, you’ll need to work full time in an entry-level job. You must be new to the job and new to the field, a true beginner, and the position must require at least six months of training. Your work must be supervised at least half the time, and your employer has to document what you do. Once all these pieces are in place, you’re ready to start working toward a new career, with help from your military benefits.

[Source: Military Times | Adam Stone | March 28, 2016 ++]

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Reserve Drill Pay Update 01 ► VA Benefit Impact | Pay Back Option

At the urging of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) the Department of Veterans Affairs has modified a policy that had been causing a financial hardship for many reserve-component members who receive both VA benefits and drill pay. Because they are not permitted to receive the VA benefits and drill pay for the same days, reserve-component members have to return the money received for one of them. However, because the VA has been slow processing the paperwork, the repayment has often built up over multiple years making it a struggle to make the repayment, which is done in the form of deductions from benefit checks.

In response to a letter Wyden wrote to VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald, a VA official said the department will offer service members several options in how they repay the money they received. Options include paying the debt in full at one time or submitting a suitable payment plan. In Wyden’s letter, he said hundreds of National Guardsmen and Reservists in Oregon have told him about the hardship of paying several years of overpayment through deductions in VA benefits. One told of losing his entire VA benefit for a year to make several years of repayments. None of them are unwilling to pay what they owe, Wyden wrote, but simply asked for a better system of repayment. In a MAR letter from the VA’s acting under secretary for benefits, Wyden was told of the new policy. He said in a press release announcing the plan, “This commonsense solution means that Americans depending on VA compensation or drill pay can replace the fear of being walloped by a sudden crushing debt with the certainty that they will have a reasonable repayment schedule.” [Source: NGAUS Washington Report | March 29, 2016 ++]

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VA Agent Orange Claims Update 06 ► Inadequate Contractor Screening

The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is looking into whether a contractor thoroughly reviewed the files of Vietnam veterans who might deserve benefits for illnesses linked to exposure to Agent Orange. A contractor that pre-screens veteran files for evidence of those illnesses often spent just minutes reviewing each file, internal company documents show. The contractor, QTC Medical Services, reviewed files for 160,000 veterans. They were paid approximately $300 for every file reviewed under 2 inches thick and $350 for files more than 2 inches thick. The suit alleges that QTC — a Lockheed Martin company — did not give their employees the necessary training to spot evidence of illnesses linked to Agent Orange and pressured employees to work at a pace that made it impossible to thoroughly review the file. “This lawsuit raises a number of serious questions,” said Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, in a statement to McClatchy. “Every veteran’s VA claim deserves a thorough and objective review. Our investigation will continue until we are satisfied that’s the case in this situation.” QTC Medical Services and Lockheed Martin, citing ongoing litigation, declined to comment.

Agent Orange benefits are a moving target for the Department of Veterans Affairs. An ongoing class-action lawsuit — Nehmer v. Department of Veterans Affairs — requires the VA to review old veteran claims when new illnesses are linked to Agent Orange exposure. That gives veterans who were previously denied benefits an updated review. QTC reviewed 65,000 files for ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease and hairy cell leukemia potentially linked to herbicide exposure in Vietnam, as well as 95,000 files for peripheral neuropathy. Only the files flagged by QTC as potentially eligible were sent back to the VA for a final decision. The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP), who filed the class-action suit, told McClatchy that since 2010, they’ve identified more than 1,600 cases in which the VA failed to recognize and pay the required retroactive Agent Orange compensation, resulting in an additional $42 million being paid to veterans and their survivors.

Barton Stichman, NVLSP’s joint executive director, said they are paying close attention to the allegations against QTC to see if pre-screening is where veterans are falling through the cracks. “If the contract or QTC did not ensure a process that was compliant with the Nehmer Court Orders, then the cases that were not flagged by QTC would have to be reviewed again.” Stichman said. The lawsuit against QTC, brought by former claims file analyst David Vatan, was dismissed on grounds that Vatan did not know the terms of the contract, so whatever evidence he presented about how QTC performed the reviews, he could not prove the company misrepresented its work. Vatan and his attorneys have appealed. McClatchy obtained the full contract (https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2775783-VA798-11-D-0003-P00006-Redacted.html) with QTC through a Freedom of Information Act request.

QTC’s contract stipulates the company must train its employees before they review files for Agent Orange-related conditions based on a guide provided by the VA. Vatan’s lawsuit alleges he and other analysts were not formally trained and were never given the VA’s training guide. Instead, analysts were given a “reference manual” from QTC that omits much of the background information on relevant medical conditions included in the VA’s guide, as well as details about what supporting evidence for benefit eligibility might look like in a veteran’s file. The contract also states that QTC must review each veteran’s entire file. But QTC’s reference guide permits analysts to abbreviate the process, using summaries of prior benefit decisions printed on colored sheets of paper.

QTC’s senior vice president of operations, Dr. Margie Shahani, testified to Congress in 2008 that it would take a qualified analyst 60 to 90 minutes to review each claim file, an equivalent of seven or eight files per day. Internal documents show QTC’s analysts worked much faster under a competitive performance rating system. Some analysts averaged nearly 30 claims per day and those who reviewed fewer than 12 to 15 were reprimanded for poor performance. In the response to Vatan’s complaint, Lockheed Martin’s lawyers argued the contract did not spell out how much time they should spend on each file. “There is nothing inherently wrong with QTC encouraging people to work quickly,” the motion reads.

When one of his colleagues reported reviewing 50 files in a day, Vatan complained to a Lockheed Martin ethics officer. Vatan pointed out that 50 files a day would leave the analyst just 12 minutes per file if he or she worked two hours of overtime and took no breaks. “It takes 10-12 minutes for an experienced (analyst) to process one file in the computer system alone,” Vatan said. “How was the review conducted?’ Both the Department of Justice and the VA Office of the Inspector General investigated the allegations in the lawsuit, but neither chose to intervene and neither would comment on their investigation. In fiscal year 2015, QTC’s various contracts with the Department of Veterans Affairs exceeded $175 million. [Source: The charlotte Observer | Frank Matt | March 31, 2016 ++]

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VA Services Update 01 Bad Ideas to Improve Them | DAV

Operation: Keep the Promise (OKTP) is a yearlong effort to mobilize DAV and supporters behind their legislative agenda. In 2016, DAV will focus on veterans health care reform. Given the current policy debates about veterans health care, and proposals being put forward, we believe this is a defining moment for America’s veterans. Many of the ideas for reform have not been clearly defined by the people and organizations espousing them, so DAV has performed their own analysis of the impact on veterans. They encourage people to take a deeper look at the current proposals and ask thoughtful questions about how some reform ideas would affect veterans who choose and rely on VA for their care. They believe that many of these proposals are not good for veterans. “The real solution for veterans health care is to seamlessly integrate community care into an improved VA system to form local networks that ensure veterans get the best health care, when and where they need it.” Following is what DAV has to say about what they feel are five bad ideas for Vets:

1. Bad idea for veterans… Reducing VA to just “centers of excellence” will shrink the number of VA medical centers and clinics, putting them farther apart and primarily in urban areas. Hundreds of thousands of disabled veterans would be forced to travel farther or wait longer to access care. A better solution… Expand access and improve timeliness by creating a nationwide system of urgent care for veterans and expanding telemedicine and web-based health services. Listen to: https://support.google.com/youtube/?p=report_playback

2. A bad idea for veterans… Having the VA only treat combat or service-related injuries to reduce the demand for care is completely contrary to best practices in medicine – treating the whole patient. It will fracture care between VA and private providers, leading to less coordinated and lower quality care. A better solution… Ensure that VA resources are properly aligned with demand for necessary medical services, and are available when and where veterans need them. Listen to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zAOjbFELwc

3. A bad idea for veterans… Turning the VA into an insurance program to pay for private sector care will just create a new government bureaucracy, and get rid of all the expertise VA medical staff has regarding the unique needs of veterans. A better solution… Seamlessly integrate community care into the VA system to create veterans health care networks in every local market, providing a continuum of care for veterans and new, high-quality care options. Listen to: https://youtu.be/bY5Ir8KG1Ko.

4. A bad idea for veterans… Giving veterans plastic cards or vouchers to go buy health care in the private sector assumes that private providers are ready and able to take on the care of millions of veterans. They are not. A better solution… Empower veterans by eliminating arbitrary access standards, like the current 30-day and 40-mile standards for “choice,” and allow veterans and their doctors to decide when and where to get care, without bureaucrats in the middle. Listen to https://youtu.be/WXKthCMwtDo.

5. A bad idea for veterans… Privatizing VA health care or transferring governance of VA to an independent entity, similar to Amtrak or the U.S. Postal Service, will shift management of the VA to an unaccountable entity driven by corporate considerations, with little oversight by Congress or veterans themselves. A better solution… Transfer more of VA’s nonmedical support services, like construction, facility maintenance and IT infrastructure, to the private sector. Allow the VA to focus on its core mission of providing high-quality care to injured and ill veterans. Listen to: https://youtu.be/KXrw8z6q-IU.

[Source: Disabled American Veterans | April 3, 2016 ++]

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VA Hepatitis C Care Update 12 ► Estimated Cost $1B a Year

The cost to taxpayers of treating Washington, D.C. area military veterans suffering from hepatitis C has eclipsed $64 million per year, according to a review of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs records by the News4 I-Team. The fast-rising cost is attributed to a cutting-edge but expensive medication the agency began dispensing last year to veterans in Virginia, Maryland, D.C. and West Virginia. The new hepatitis C drugs, which are known as Sovaldi and Harvoni, are highly effective and less likely to cause side effects in patients, doctors and government officials said. Multiple reports estimate a full treatment of the medication costs tens of thousands of dollars per patient. Each individual pill costs an estimated $1,000, according to a report from a U.S. Senate panel.

Agency records obtained by the I-Team from regional administrators of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs show 701 patients received the treatment at the Washington DC VA Medical Center in 2015. Those records show more than 200 patients were administered the medications at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center and more than 480 patients at Maryland’s VA medical system last year. In all, the cost of treatment exceeded $64 million, which is a $50 million increase from the cost of Hepatitis C treatment in 2014. All costs are covered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and federal taxpayers.

Nationwide, the VA estimates the new treatment will cost $1 billion in 2016. But the agency said it has secured enough funding to expand the dispensation of the medicine to an increasing number of vets. “We’re honored to be able to expand treatment for veterans who are afflicted with hepatitis C,” VA Undersecretary for Health Dr. David Shulkin said in a statement. “To manage limited resources previously, we established treatment priority for the sickest patients. “ Chris Goldzwig, a military veteran from Brunswick, Maryland, said his treatment of Harvoni saved him from suffering severe liver failure. “It’s a miracle,” Goldzwig said. “If it wasn’t for this medicine, I wouldn’t be here.”

Goldzwig, who received his treatment over the course of 16 weeks at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center, said the Harvoni pills were less rigorous and physically challenging than his previous hepatitis C treatment, an interferon regimen that Goldzwig called nauseating.

Dr. Evelio Bravo, a physician at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center, said the pills have a very high success rate with local patients. “Years ago, the (older) treatment was very complicated with side effects,” Bravo said. “The patient would feel ill during the treatment.” “VA has long led the country in screening for and treating hepatitis C,” a statement from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said. “VA has treated over 76,000 Veterans infected with hepatitis C and approximately 60,000 have been cured.”

Members of Congress have criticized the manufacturer of the medicine for not offering a deeper discount to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “America’s veterans deserve the same affordable access to life-saving medications such as sofosbuvir that Gilead is providing to patients in developing countries. If that’s not happening, the company’s leaders need to explain why,” said Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), chairman of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee. A spokeswoman for Gilead, the manufacturer of Sovaldi and Harvoni, said price discounts are offered for the medication. “Most payers receive substantial discounts off this price, with the steepest discounts going to payers like Medicaid and the VA,” spokeswoman Cara Miller said. “Both the VA and Medicaid currently receive discounts in excess of 50 percent on Harvoni. With these rebates and discounts, the prices today are less than the cost of prior regimens.” [Source: NBC-4 Washington DC | Scott MacFarlane | April 3, 2016 ++]

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VA Disability Evaluation System Update 02 ► Medical Exam Reports

The Department of Veterans Affairs has awarded three companies positions on a potential five-year, $6.8 billion contract vehicle to process medical exam reports in order to help facilitate the delivery of disability claims benefits to retired service personnel. The VA said 29 MAR it awarded 12 contracts to VetFed Resources, Veterans Evaluation Services and QTC Medical Services through the Medical Disability Examination Program in support of the MyVA initiative. Contracts awarded under the vehicle cover work for one base year and up to four option years. “The goal will be to reduce the veteran’s wait times for examinations as much as possible thereby providing faster claims decisions and enhancing veterans’ experience in a positive way,” said Tom Murphy, acting principal deputy undersecretary for benefits at the VA. The Medical Disability Examination Program seeks to consolidate medical examinations contracts into a single contract vehicle that is managed by a central management team with representatives from both the Veterans Health Administration and the Veterans Benefits Administration. A VA strategic acquisition center in Frederick, Maryland will oversee the enterprisewide contract. [Source: GovConWire | Jane Edwards | March 30, 2016 ++]

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VA Reform Update 03 ► Separating Myth From Fact

Hardly a day goes by without another headline about problems in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health-care system and the veterans suffering as a result. But in recent weeks, a number of politicians and journalists have downplayed or even denied the need for reforming the VA, instead accusing those calling for change of “manufacturing or vastly exaggerating” its deficiencies. These denials fly in the face of everything uncovered in the massive wait-list scandal at the VA nearly two years ago, and the tens of thousands of veterans still waiting months for care.

For anyone who thinks these problems aren’t real, consider the story of Barry Coates, a veteran who passed away earlier this year after a long fight with cancer. Barry, a South Carolinian in his mid-40s when he died, testified before Congress in the aftermath of the 2014 scandal, noting that he had waited a full year for the VA to give him a colonoscopy and even had to beg for it to be performed. By the time the VA gave him his appointment, his cancer had already progressed too far. Unfortunately, Barry’s story is far from the only one. And ignoring stories like his won’t improve veterans’ health and well-being. Veterans deserve an honest assessment of the problems within their VA. We must first confront the continued excessive wait times for access to health-care. VA staff were encouraged to manipulate the numbers when patients were waiting too long for treatment, hiding these long waits and allowing them to go unchecked. This most infamously occurred in Phoenix, Arizona, where CNN initially reported that at least 40 veterans died while waiting on secret wait lists. A VA Inspector General’s report later confirmed this, noting that thousands of veterans were at risk.

Far from isolated to Arizona, the VA’s own investigations later revealed these wait lists and excessive delays in treatment were systematic across the nation. The reports produced by these investigations are only now being released, confirming that supervisors and staff at facilities across Texas, Florida, Arkansas, and Delaware—to name a few—falsely indicated that veteran’s wait times were zero. Worse yet, this practice continued at least as far back as 2007. This evidence is damning, yet excessive wait times are hardly the only major problem with veterans’ treatment. Stories abound of VA staff behaving unethically or negligently but receiving little disciplinary action. Just this month, for example, two high-level employees demoted for allegedly exploiting the personal relocation system for their own gain were reinstated with full pay. That’s because bureaucracy makes it almost impossible to fire VA employees who’ve committed wrongdoing—at least not in a timely manner or without a protracted battle.

Outside observers have confirmed the decline in VA quality. An independent assessment mandated by Congress, conducted last year by consulting firms including McKinsey and RAND, found that VA hospitals and facilities provide “strikingly different patient experiences, apply inconsistent business processes, and differ widely on key measures of performance and efficiency.” And if anyone still continues to doubt, they only need to look at the VA’s own data, which show conditions at the VA continue deteriorating. Troubled VA facilities such as Phoenix still have excessive wait times. Over 8,000 appointments for care in Phoenix have wait times of one month or longer. And it’s even worse in Columbia, South Carolina, where Barry Coates failed to get the care he needed. As of March 1st, over 13 percent of appointments made for care there have one-month wait times, with over 1,000 delayed longer than 120 days.

And the problems are still getting worse. Last year the number of backlogged veterans was 50 percent higher than at the height of the wait-list scandal. And as of this past January, over 30,000 more veterans are waiting longer than one month for health care than were in January 2015. This is unacceptable, but how do we fix it? One of the most important changes is ensuring veterans have the freedom to choose how and where they use their health care benefits. That could be accomplished through a strengthened version of 2014’s “Veterans Choice Act” The opponents of VA reform say this is akin to “privatizing” the agency, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s actually like giving veterans a “GI Bill” for their health care. It makes complete sense to take advantage of our country’s well-developed civilian medical infrastructure to supplement veterans’ care when the VA can’t guarantee it.

Those who staunchly defend the VA in light of the indefensible suffering it often causes are putting the federal bureaucracy ahead of the veterans it’s supposed to serve. The VA is a critical institution that serves a noble purpose, but ignoring the need for serious reforms will only hurt more of our nation’s heroes. [Source: The Hill | Peter Gaytan | April 1, 2016 ++]

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VA Health Care Access Update 35 Initiatives & Progress

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) top health care official announced progress and new steps VA is taking to improve Veterans access to health care. Dr. David J. Shulkin, Under Secretary for Health, announced the measures during a briefing to a group of more than 100 journalists attending the Association of Health Care Journalists’ conference 8 APR in Cleveland, Ohio. “We are working to rebuild the trust of the American public and more importantly the trust of the Veterans whom we are proud to serve,” said Dr. Shulkin. “We are taking action and are seeing the results. We are serious about our work to improve access to health care for our nation’s Veterans. We want them to know that this is a new VA.”

During the briefing, Dr Shulkin‎ discussed a new initiative, MyVA Access. MyVA Access represents a major shift for VA by putting Veterans more in control of how they receive their health care. It is a top priority for VA’s Veterans Health Administration (VHA). MyVA Access is a declaration from VHA employees to the Veterans they care for; it is a call to action and the reaffirmation of the core mission to provide quality care to Veterans, and to offer that care as soon as possible to Veterans how and where they desire to receive that care. The initiative ensures that the entire VA health care system is engaged in the transformation of VA into a Veteran-centered service organization, incorporating aspirational goals such as same day access to mental health and primary care services for Veterans when it is medically necessary. At present, 34 VA facilities offer same-day appointments, and as a practicing physician, Dr. Shulkin currently sees Veterans needing same-day appointments at the VA Medical Center in Manhattan. VA is hoping to be able to offer same day appointments when it is medically necessary at all of its medical centers by the end of 2016.

In addition, Dr. Shulkin introduced a new smart phone app called the Veteran Appointment Request App. This app allows Veterans to view, schedule and cancel primary care and mental health appointments as well as track the status of the appointment request and review upcoming appointments. It is currently available in 10 locations and has received positive feedback from the vast majority of Veterans using the app. VA expects to make the app available to all Veterans by early 2017. Other efforts underway include a website enhancement that will allow Veterans to check wait times in real time where ever they live – this includes new and existing patients and a new, easy-to-use scheduling software program. The new program is being piloted in 10 sites and is expected to reduce scheduling errors and enhance VA’s ability to measure and track supply, demand and usage.

MyVA Access is part of MyVA, introduced in 2014 by VA Secretary Robert McDonald following one of the most challenging times in the history of VA. MyVA is centered around the needs of Veterans by putting them first in everything VA does. Since that time, VA has made significant progress in addition to the new initiatives announced by Dr. Shulkin. Among the health care progress made:

  • Nationally, VA completed more than 57.36 million appointments from March 1, 2015 through February 29, 2016. This represents an increase of 1.6 million more appointments than were completed during the same time period in 2014/2015.
  • VHA and Choice contractors created over 3 million authorizations for Veterans to receive care in the private sector from February 1, 2015 through January 31, 2016. This represents a 12 percent increase in authorizations when compared to the same period in 2014/2015.
  • From FY 2014 to FY 2015, Community Care appointments increased approximately 20 percent from 17.7 million in FY 2014 to 21.3 million in FY 2015.
  • VA completed 96.46 percent of appointments in February 2016 within 30 days of clinically indicated or Veteran’s preferred date.
  • In FY 2015, VA activated 2.2 million square feet of space for clinical, mental health, long-term care, and associated support facilities to care for Veterans.
  • VA held two Access Stand Downs, focusing on patients with the most urgent health care needs first. During a nationwide Access Stand Down that took place on February 27, the one-day event resulted in VA reviewing the records of more than 80,000 Veterans to get those waiting for urgent care off wait lists; 93 percent of Veterans waiting for urgent care were contacted, with many receiving earlier appointments.
  • VA increased its total clinical work (direct patient care) by 10 percent over the last two years as measured by private sector standards (relative value units). This increase translates to roughly 20 million additional provider hours of care for our Veterans.
  • VA is also working to increase clinical staff, add space and locations in areas where demand is increasing and extending clinic hours into nights and weekends, all of which have helped increase access to care even as demand for services increases.
  • VA is addressing critical components necessary for the delivery of a seamless community care experience by consolidating all purchased care programs into one Veterans Choice Program (New VCP). The New VCP will clarify eligibility requirements, strengthen VA’s high-performing network, streamline clinical and administrative processes, and implement a care coordination model across the continuum of care.
  • VHA offers an extensive community provider network of over 257,000 providers through the PC3/Choice Programs and more are joining each month.
  • VA Telehealth services are critical to expanding access to VA care in more than 45 clinical areas.
  • In FY2015, 12 percent of all Veterans enrolled for VA care received Telehealth based care. This includes 2.14 million telehealth visits, touching 677,000 Veterans.

[Source: VA News Release | April 08, 2016 ++]

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VA Health Care Access Update 36 Wait Time Falsification

USA Today reports that findings from the VA Inspector General’s report about VA supervisors instructing staff to falsify patient wait times at Veterans Affairs medical facilities in at least seven States to show they met performance measures. The USA Today article reports on the wide-spread scheduling manipulation was throughout the VA in 2014. It said the manipulations gave the false impression that wait times at facilities in Arkansas, California, Delaware, Illinois, New York, Texas and Vermont met agency targets. Refer to VA’s Undersecretary of Health video http://videos.usatoday.net/Brightcove2/29906170001/2016/04/29906170001_4832920198001_4832803806001.mp4

to listen to the importance of having correct data on wait times.

The article is based on 70 reports released following a Freedom of Information Act request from USA Today. About half of the 70 reports are from investigations that were completed more than a year ago. Investigations launched by the inspector general into more than 100 facilities after the Phoenix scandal found that manipulations had been going on in some cases for as long as a decade. In efforts to help resolve the problems Dr. Shulkin, VA Undersecretary for Health says, “We’ve expanded appointments, we have added evening hours and weekend hours, we’ve added 3 million square feet of space, we’ve hired 14,000 new providers.” But VA whistle-blowers say schedulers still are manipulating wait times.

Shea Wilkes, co-director of a group of more than 40 whistle-blowers from VA medical facilities in more than a dozen States, said the group continues to hear about it from employees across the country who are scared to come forward. “Until the VA decides it truly wants to change its corrupt and poor culture, those who work on the front lines and possess the true knowledge relating to the VA’s continued data manipulation will remain quiet and in hiding because of fear of workplace harassment and retaliation,” said Wilkes, a social worker at the VA Medical Center in Shreveport, La. To read the conclusions of the reports published to date refer to the attachment to this Bulletin titled, “VA OIG Wait Time Report Summary 2016”.

NAUS Note: The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee has been working to address many of the problems in the VA system. We question where the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and Chairman Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) have been? Delays and lack of action leave us baffled. Why is the SVAC not exercising more of its oversight responsibilities with the urgency these types of scandalous reports demand?

[Source: NAUS Weekly Update | April 08, 2016 ++]

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VA Fraud, Waste & Abuse Reported 1 thru 15 APR 2016

VAMC Cleveland — A Washington D.C. area architect was sentenced 30 MAR to 33 months in prison for bribing the former head of the Louis Stokes VA Medical Center in Cleveland in exchange for privileged information projects for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Mark Farmer, 55, apologized for his actions and accepted responsibility on Tuesday in a sentencing hearing that stretched over two days. He said he should have known that the information that William Montague, the former head of the Cleveland VA, provided was privileged and should not have bribed him. “I’ve lost almost everything except my family, and I have set a very poor example for them,” Farmer said.

Farmer, of Arlington, Virginia, initially faced a prison sentence of nearly 20 years after a jury found him guilty in August for his role in the Cuyahoga County corruption scandal. However, he struck a deal with federal prosecutors for a prison sentence of between 21 months and six years. U.S. District Judge Sara Lioi, in sentencing Farmer, said she felt that Farmer should face a sentence that is proportional to Montague, who is awaiting sentencing on more than five-dozen felony counts. Under a plea deal, Montague is looking at a sentence of as little as 4 1/2 years. Lioi fined Farmer $12,500 and ordered him to forfeit $70,801.64, roughly the amount that he bribed Montague. His attorney requested that Farmer be placed at a minimum security prison in Morgantown, West Virginia. Lioi said she would make the recommendation. Farmer was convicted of 14 felonies, including conspiracy, racketeering, embezzlement, theft of public money, mail fraud and wire fraud. Farmer has been in jail since the jury’s verdict.

A jury found that Farmer colluded with Montague between 2010 and 2013 after Montague left the Cleveland VA and while he worked as the interim head of the VA in Dayton. During this time, Montague, a Brecksville resident, also ran the consulting firm “House of Montague.” Montague testified at trial that he obtained and sent along confidential information so that CannonDesign could have an advantage when submitting bids on upcoming projects. Farmer’s employer then used the confidential information to prepare a proposal to be chosen as the architectural firm to design a veterans’ hospital in West Los Angeles, California. Assistant U.S. Attorney Antoinette Bacon, in arguing for a higher sentence, gave Lioi a refresher on the county corruption investigation and how Farmer’s scheme fit into the timeline. In 45 minutes of remarks, Bacon showed that Farmer was working with Montague on a Cleveland VA project in 2008, around the same time that agents from the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service raided the homes and businesses of several Cleveland-area contractors and public officials.

Later, when Farmer started bribing Montague, the case against former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora case was well underway, and they continued even as Dimora was tried and found guilty. “He had warning flags. He had the ability to stop, but instead he barreled ahead,” Bacon said of Farmer. The prosecutor also tried to compare Farmer’s actions to Ferris Kleem, William Neiheiser and Steven Pumper, three Cleveland-area contractors who were sentenced in the corruption case. Kleem and Neiheiser served three-year prison sentences and Pumper is serving an eight-year stint. Bacon said that Farmer’s case should be weighed against theirs and penalized accordingly because his bribes were higher and the benefits to his firm — worth roughly $3.9 million — were too. John Mitchell, Farmer’s attorney, argued for a lower sentence because Farmer’s career has been irreparably damaged by the case. He said his client will be banned from bidding on federal projects and will lose his architectural license. He also said Farmer is “beating himself up as much as anybody.” Montague was the only federal official charged in the county corruption scandal, which yielded convictions against more than 60 people. He has pleaded guilty to accepting money from several contractors. [Source: Cleveland.com | Eric Heisig | March 30, 2016 ++]

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VAMC Ann Arbor, MI — A man who stole $314,000 from the VA Medical Center in Ann Arbor has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Glenn Bates was manager and then chief of the Veterans Canteen Service at the hospital, which included merchandise, food and vending machines. Investigators say he stole money from 2007 to early 2013 and spent it on strip clubs, sex and gambling. Bates, a former Saline City Council member, pleaded guilty in December to theft of public money. U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade says the betrayal of veterans is “particularly egregious.” The 58-year-old Bates, known as “Al,” was sentenced 6 APR by federal Judge Avern Cohn.. Defense attorney Todd Shanker says Bates “deeply regrets” his crime. The government says he was dishonorably discharged from the Navy in 1976. [Source: Associated Press | Elaine Silvestrini | April 6, 2016 ++]

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Memphis, TN — Matt Hall said that nearly the entire life savings of his sister, Blae Bryce, had been taken by Memphis attorney Keith Dobbs. Bryce, a Navy veteran, was a ward in guardianship with her finances handled by Dobbs, the individual chosen to be her conservator. Guardianship is a legal relationship that gives one or more individuals or agencies responsibility for the personal affairs of the protected person, defined as an individual who has been determined by the court to be either incompetent or incapacitated. Things began to unravel for Dobbs when he became the subject of a January 2016 series of investigative pieces by the Commercial Appeal, which broke the news that Dobbs was the subject of an investigation by the Veterans Administration. The VA was “currently investigating allegations of misuse and replacing Mr. Keith Dobbs as fiduciary for all of our court-appointed Veterans,” according to an emailed statement sent to the Commercial Appeal by Dana M. Farr of the VA’s fiduciary hub and cited in a February 2016 article. In February 2016, Dobbs was removed as conservator for all his VA-related cases. Shortly thereafter he temporarily surrendered his license to practice law.

While the VA unravels the extent of Dobbs’ apparent misdeeds, the veterans under his care have suffered. The February 2016 article by the Commercial Appeal focused on the plight of one veteran, Bobby Bouie, who received a lump sum settlement of $656,507 in 2012 for a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) claim from the VA. Bouie, who was under the care of Dobbs since that time, had an account balance of $1,600 when Dobbs was removed. According to Matt Hall, his sister, Blae Bryce, who, like Bouie, is also disabled due to chronic PTSD, suffered a similar fate. He said she had received $720 per month and $2,905 in VA monthly benefits with $2105 in monthly rent, a $500 per month allowance and $110 for phone and cable. Despite apparently having more than enough income to cover her monthly expenses, Hall said his sister’s bank balance has nearly been drained dry from a beginning balance of approximately $35,000 to less than $3,000 as of her most recent bank statement. “Mr. Dobbs has been uncooperative as far as communicating, returning calls, emails and text, even in the best of times.” Hall said. “An example is when my sister’s cable and phone were disconnected during the Christmas Holidays 2014. It took him a week to return my call prior to Christmas. When he did finally call his response was that he would take care of it after (the Christmas) Holidays which would have been an additional 10 days, leaving her without [any] outside communications whatsoever.”

Ironically, guardianship is generally designed to protect individuals from themselves, financially and otherwise. But Hall views Dobbs as a predator and believes no one was there to protect Bryce from the man chosen by the VA to handle her finances. “I think Dobbs is the lowest kind of criminal preying on disabled veterans,” Hall said to CDN. “These veterans served their country and this man has absolutely no respect for their sacrifice which made them his wards in the very first place. Hiding behind an attorney just shows that Keith Dobbs only cares about Keith Dobbs with no remorse for what he has been caught doing. Dobbs took everything, all of her $35K savings and social security over three years.” Hall told CDN he had several arguments with Dobbs over spending issues until Dobbs blocked his email in January 2015. Hall said that this is the first time he has been able to see his sister’s bank balances since she was put into guardianship and Dobbs was made her conservator.

Dobbs was originally the subject of a Daily Caller exposé in 2014 featuring the plight of a Korean and Vietnam War veteran named Norman Hughes Jr., then 79. Hughes was forced to move out of the home of his caretaker, where he paid $2,700 per month and into a room in a retirement community where he had to pay $7,200 per month after Dobbs was named his conservator. In Hughes’ case, he began with a bank balance of just more than $150,000 when he entered guardianship under Dobbs’ care. That balance had declined to $80,000 at the time the article was written. “I need somebody’s help to help get me out of here,” Hughes said in the Daily Caller story when the DC called him in the nursing home. [Source: Communities Digital News | Michael Volpe | Apr 6, 2016 | ++]

Buffalo, NY — U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. announced today that Karen Schlager, 60, of Snyder, NY, pleaded guilty to submitting false and fraudulent claims to the Department of Veterans Affairs before U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. Vilardo. The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Assistant U.S. Attorney MaryEllen Kresse, who is handling the case, stated that the defendant, who was the funeral director at Schlager Funeral Home in Amherst, submitted claims to the VA seeking payment for death benefits, including transportation costs, burial services, and funeral costs, that she knew had not provided to veterans or their families. As a result of the defendant’s actions, the VA suffered a loss of approximately $13,800. Sentencing is scheduled for July 7, 2016 at 10:00 a.m. before Judge Vilardo. [Source: DoJ U.S. Attorney’s Office, Western District of New York | April 1, 2016 ++]

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VAMC St. Cloud MN Update 01 ► New Debt Collection Policy

If you or a loved one owes money to the St. Cloud VA Medical Center, then there is something new you need to know. The VA will start using private collection companies and will also begin reporting outstanding debt to credit bureaus. The new policy is called “cross servicing” and it was made possible by a debt collection law passed in 1996. “All the co-pays and other bills, which veterans pay which are minimal, go right back to help take care of other veterans. The VA is not doing this just to be a bunch or hard cases,” says VA Public Affairs Officer Barry Venable. Vets will get three billing statements mailed to them before the debt is turned over to collections after 90 days without a payment. “The system is built on the premise that so much of the revenue will be generated by billing and it’s important that everyone takes care of their debts so that others can be taken care of,” says Venable. The new policy will be used nationwide starting in May. If you are having trouble paying your VA medical bill contact the VA to work out a payment plan or to see if there are any programs available for help. The number is 1-866-400-1238. [Source: KNSI Radio | Jake Judd | April 05, 2016 ++]

Welcome to the St. Cloud VA Health Care System

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VAMC Salem VA ► Battlefield Acupuncture | Pain Reducer

Painkiller addiction is a problem millions of Americans face. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates every day, more than 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments for misusing prescription drugs. Local hospitals including the Salem Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) are focused on ways to reduce the use of painkillers and prevent painkiller addiction. After serving our country and spending years in law enforcement, Larry Stewart said his active lifestyle took a toll on his body. He now experiences knee problems and other chronic pains. As part of the Salem VAMC’s efforts to reduce the risk of prescription drug addiction, doctors have shifted to alternative methods for treatment.

Dr. Charles Lamb said the intention is to focus on pain-management. “We want to improve the safety and while improving the pain tolerance,” said Lamb. “Unlike many pain clinics that have been more traditional, we emphasize function.” In recent years, doctors at the Salem VAMC have been using what’s known as Battlefield Acupuncture. They said it’s an evidenced-based complementary alternative practice. While doctors can’t get rid of chronic pain, they said placing the pins in patients’ ears can decrease the severity of it. “They are thought to reduce the activity levels in those areas of the brain and block the transmission of pain signal to the brain,” said Clinical Director for Interdisciplinary Pain Management Kim Pratt.

The alternative method has helped relieve pain for Stewart and others. The veteran said it was like a miracle the first time he received the alternative treatment. “After she put all 10 of [the needles] in,” said Stewart. “I was moving like I hadn’t moved in two to three years.” With his pain reduced, Stewart said he takes fewer prescriptions and believes the alternative methods will help others do the same. Doctors at the Salem VAMC said, since 2014, close to 1,000 patients have been involved with the alternative treatment program. In addition to acupuncture, doctors are also using yoga, tai chi and other therapies. [Source: WSLS-10 | Brie Jackson | April 12, 2016 ++]

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VA OPC Youngstown OH ► Missing Man Memorial Controversy

A Department of Veterans Affairs clinic in Youngstown, Ohio, substituted a “prop” book for a Bible after a civil rights organization accused the facility of endorsing a particular faith by having only the Christian holy book displayed at a table set up to honor American prisoners of war and missing in action. In a note to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) on 4 APR, Kristen Parker, chief of external affairs for Cleveland VA Medical Center — which handles media for the Youngstown clinic — said the Bible was “replaced with a generic book, one whose symbolism can be individualized by each of our veterans as they pay their respects” to POWs and MIAs. Parker told Military.com on Tuesday that because the VA cannot endorse, favor or inhibit any specific religion, “we are supporting our local veteran organizations with their decision to use a prop-book on the POW/MIA Table at our Youngstown [clinic].” Parker previously said the clinic would support the Disabled American Veterans — the group that set up the table — in its decision to display the Bible on the missing man table.

The Youngstown, Ohio, VA clinic. Department of Veterans Affairs photo

A Missing Man table at Eglin Air Force Base. Air Force photo

The switch was made after the veteran who initiated the complaint, working with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, responded to the clinic’s initial refusal to pull the Bible by demanding a separate table be set up with the Jewish Torah and a copy of “The God Delusion,” a popular book on atheism. “If in the future I decide to add the Quran, or Mormon book of Latter Day Saints, that is my implied right,” retired Army Capt. Jordan Ray wrote. The MRFF, which often butts heads with the military over religious displays, has now made Ray its director of Veterans Affairs. Bobby Muller, a co-founder and past president of Vietnam Veterans of America and a member of the MRFF’s advisory board, followed up Ray’s letter with one on 1 APR, reiterating Ray’s demand and noting the clinic “can probably expect more demands for additional displays including a variety of other religious and nonreligious texts in the very near future.” Parker did not respond when asked if the demand that other books get equal treatment on a memorial table played a part in the VA clinic’s decision.

Missing man tables are set up as memorials to remember the fallen and the missing who never returned home. Though the tables set up at the Ohio facilities included a Bible, Military.com’s search of missing man table images turned up memorials without a Bible at military bases and at a VA facility in Maryland. The Bible’s removal from the Youngstown facility represents the second time since February that the MRFF forced the removal of a Bible from a missing man table at an Ohio VA clinic. The VA Akron Specialty Outpatient Clinic removed a New Testament Bible on Feb. 25 after the group was contacted by a disabled veteran troubled by presumption that all POWs and MIAs are Christian. “I know for a fact that all POW-MIAs were not Christian because my grandfather was MIA from World War II and he was Jewish,” the Akron Beacon Journal quoted the unidentified veteran as saying in a story published March 12. MRFF Founder Mikey Weinstein said nine other veterans from the Akron clinic joined in the complaint, which he brought to the clinic leadership. He said the Bible was removed within three days. [Source: Military.com | Bryant Jordan | Apr 06, 2016 ++]

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VA OPC Youngstown OH Update 01 ► MRFF Director Resigns

The director of veterans’ affairs for the civil rights organization Military Religious Freedom Foundation resigned 5 APR just days into the job after he and his family were threatened by religious extremists angry over his role in the removal of a Bible from a missing man memorial at a veterans clinic. On 4 APR, Jordan Ray, a retired Army captain who served multiple overseas tours, started his job with the MRFF. On Tuesday, following Military.com’s report about Bible’s removal and Ray’s role in it, he and his family were stunned and frightened by the threats made against them in online forums. “I cannot believe I deployed five times to fight radical Islamists overseas only to come home, voice my opinion, and be attacked by radical Christians,” Ray, 41, said in his letter of resignation, a copy of which was provided to Military.com on Wednesday. “Who’s persecuting who?”

In an interview Ray said in addition to online threats, he received voice messages left on his family’s home phone that he took as veiled threats. They called him “godless SOBs [who] should kill ourselves, die, etc.,” he said. Ray, 41, said he served in the Army for 13 years before combat injuries to his spine and nervous system forced his retirement with a full disability rating. Mikey Weinstein, president of the organization, told Military.com he regretted Ray’s resignation but understands it. “My family, as well as MRFF’s hundreds of paid and volunteer staff and countless supporters domestically and around the world know well what this kind of hostile reprisal and retribution from fundamentalist evangelical Christian extremists is like,” he said. Weinstein said he routinely receives hate mail, some of it anti-Semitic, from people angry that he challenges military officials whenever there are allegations of improper displays of religion.

Retired Army captain Jordan Ray

Akron Multi-Specialty Outpatient Clinic

Jordan Ray Akron Multi-Specialty OPC Missing Man Memorial

Ray contacted the organization last month after seeing the Bible on the missing man table. Other veterans, who have remained unidentified, joined in the complaint. The Youngstown incident was the second time that the group pressed an Ohio VA clinic over its display of a Bible on a missing man display. In February, the clinic in Akron removed the Bible. Ray said he served two 18-month deployments to Afghanistan as an adviser to the Afghan National Army, as well as tours in Serbia, Kosovo, Egypt’s Sinai and Qatar. In his letter of resignation, he said he continues to support what the foundation does in opposing extremist Christians who push their theology on others. But while he supports the foundation’s mission, Ray said he could not do so as an official representative “due to Fundamentalist, Evangelist, and Dominionist threats made against myself, my wife, and my child in online forums simply for standing up to what I believe is a constitutional right of all soldiers and veterans equality when it comes to Faith and ideology.” [Source: Military.com | Bryant Jordan | Apr 06, 2016 ++]

* Vets *

SGLI/VGLI Update 15 ► Slayer Rule Effective Immediately

A service member’s murderer would be prohibited from collecting the victim’s life insurance benefits under a new rule from the Obama administration. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced 11 APR that it is moving forward with the so-called slayer rule, which is intended to “prevent unjust enrichment” from the death of a veteran or active member of the military. “We designed the rule to prevent slayers from benefiting from their wrongdoing,” the VA wrote in the Federal Register. The rule would apply to beneficiaries of the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance and Veterans’ Group Life Insurance.  Anyone convicted of killing a service member would not be eligible to receive the victim’s life insurance benefits. The prohibition would extend to others who helped facilitate the murder, as well as family members of the killer who are not related to the victim. The slayer rule goes into effect immediately [Source: The Hill | Tim Devaney | April 11, 2016 ++]

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VetsNet ► Vet Assistance for Federal Vet Program Ineligibles

The Wisconsin Veterans Network has opened near the Zablocki Veterans Affairs Medical Center to help veterans and their families who don’t qualify for federal veterans programs. Called VetsNet, the new collaborative effort by a dozen government and nonprofit agencies offers one-stop service to veterans, military families and National Guard and Reserves members. VetsNet will help anyone who served in the military in any capacity. Among the services: help with homelessness, benefits counseling, legal assistance, mental health and substance abuse counseling, employment training and placement. An open house at VetsNet offices, 6317 W. Greenfield Ave., West Allis, is scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon on April 23. Among the partners in VetsNet is the Milwaukee Homeless Veterans Initiative, veterans service offices in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties, American Legion, VFW, Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Community Advocates, Women Veterans Initiative, Catholic Charities, La Causa and Outreach Community Health Centers. [Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel | Meg Jones | April 11, 2016 ++]

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Army Emergency Relief Update 01 ► Financial Assistance

Financial Advice, Interest-Free Loans and Grants for USA Retirees and Widows

C:\Users\User\Downloads\2016 AER Flyer - Page 2 (back) (1).jpeg

[Source: http://www.aerhq.org/dnn563 | April 11, 2016 ++]

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American GI Forum ► In Need of Younger Members | All Creeds

Leaders of the American GI Forum, the nation’s oldest group for Hispanic veterans, gathered in Colorado Springs this weekend to ponder problems including recruiting young veterans to their ranks. The American GI Forum, founded in the wake of World War II to protect the rights of Hispanic veterans, remains dedicated to battling bigotry and promoting education. But the group’s ranks are graying quickly, said the forum’s national commander Angel Zuniga. “We’re trying to formulate, how do we get these young members?” Zuniga said before his group’s Colorado Springs gathering from 31 MAR through 2 APR.

Formed in 1948, the forum has nearly 160,000 members at its peak. But Zuniga said the bulk of the group’s members are aging veterans from wars in Korea and Vietnam, The troops of Iraq and Afghanistan have been tough to attract, he said. So the group is looking at expanding its online offerings and pondering what new benefits it could offer to attract younger veterans. The group is also opening its door wider to accept veterans of any creed. “We’re diverse and inclusive,” Zuniga said. “We take in any veteran.”

The forum grew by battling for the benefits earned by Hispanic veterans. But as civil rights battles grew, the veterans in the forum became leading voices for voting rights and an end to discriminatory practices including the poll tax. Civil rights remain a key to the group, and with election year rhetoric focused on immigrants, the forum is working to show America how much Hispanics have contributed to national security. “Education is one of the pillars of our organization,” Zuniga said. The group is also working to put kids through college with a string of scholarships. But the priority now is getting younger veterans into the group. “That’s what we’re working on, to find the strategies,” Zuniga said. [Source: The Colorado Gazette | Tom Roeder | April 3, 2016 ++]

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Vet Charity Watch Update 57 ► Former WWP Exec’s Media Criticism

Wounded Warrior Project’s former chief executive officer and chief operating officer have started a blog at http://www.thewoundedtruth.com — Wounded Truth they call it — that unleashes their sharp criticism of how media reports portrayed the organization’s finances. They have written articles for opinion pages, sat for interviews with Fox News and other media outlets, and sought to make their case that Jacksonville-based Wounded Warrior Project operated in a way that upheld the intent of donors who have contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to help assist veterans. “The two most painful (allegations) are that somehow we’re not treating donor dollars appropriately and that we’re not taking care of warriors,” Nardizzi said during a wide-ranging 90-minute interview. “For me, watching the news reports, those were the most personally painful allegations, and obviously untrue.” News reports originally said The Broadmoor conference cost $3 million, but an internal investigation by the board put the cost at $970,000. The board said it would cut back on such events in the future.

Steven Nardizzi and Al Giordano

Former WWP CEOs Steven Nardizzi and Al Giordano

In hindsight though, Nardizzi said he would have done some things differently. He wouldn’t have chosen The Broadmoor, a five-star resort in Colorado, for the organization’s annual employee conference in 2014. Nardizzi said Wounded Warrior got discounts for room rates, meeting space and food, but the image of the group convening in an upscale resort left an impression the nonprofit spent “an exorbitant amount of money” on the conference. And, Nardizzi said, he wouldn’t have rappelled down the side of The Broadmoor during the opening night of that conference. The video of a spotlight tracking him as he rappelled became a recurring feature in news reports on the organization. Nardizzi said the rest of the four-day conference involved meetings based on nuts-and-bolts strategic planning for the nonprofit’s future, but the rappelling made it seem like that typified what went on at the conference. “I would change that so you wouldn’t have the ability to misportray that event as something that it wasn’t,” he said.

Overall though, Nardizzi and Giordano stand by the decisions they made in running Wounded Warrior Project, whose headquarters is located off Butler Boulevard. The non-profit is dedicated to serving veterans who have suffered service-related physical and mental wounds since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The organization has used persistent advertising to fuel huge fund-raising growth, going from $18.6 million in revenue in fiscal 2007 to $342 million in 2014. Some former employees have said the organization became too focused on fund-raising and lost sight of its mission. But Nardizzi and Giordano said the fund-raising enabled Wounded Warrior to raise money that is helping veterans cope with a wide range of injuries.

They said an internal investigation commissioned by the Wounded Warrior board to examine allegations of wasteful spending actually showed that wasn’t a problem, however those findings got lost in the headlines of the board’s decision to remove them from their senior executive positions. They said the ouster made it seem like the report had found serious wrongdoing. “I think that does leave a question mark for folks,” Nardizzi said. “We understand that we work for the board of directors,” Giordano said. “It’s at-will. Jacksonville is a big Navy town. I’m sure you’ve heard in Navy speak ‘loss of confidence in command,’ and that’s okay. But I think the way it was handled was poorly done.”

Giordano and Nardizzi said they would like the Wounded Warrior board to publicly release the report done by the law firm Simpson Thacher and Bartlett and FTI Consulting. But a statement released 1 APR by the board said there is not a written report that could be released. Instead, the findings were given orally to the board and summarized in a press release issued 10 MAR about the board’s decision. The board said such reviews typically do not result in written reports. “The board continues to implement changes that will move the organization forward and do everything necessary to support the thousands of men and women who rely on WWP on a daily basis,” the statement said. Nardizzi and Giordano said they share that commitment, but fear the organization has been damaged by a “false narrative” that Wounded Warrior used the plight of veterans as a way to reap large amounts of donations that ended up going to wasteful spending on overhead costs instead of benefitting veterans in their recovery from physical and mental wounds.

Wounded Warrior has consistently maintained that 80.6 percent of its expenditures went to programs, pointing to an independent financial audit. The board’s investigation likewise said its review supported that figure. In contrast, two organizations that evaluate the finances of nonprofits say the amount going to Wounded Warrior’s programs is much lower. Charity Navigator pegs it at 60 percent and Charity Watch puts it at 54 percent. But the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance uses a figure of 80 percent for the amount of Wounded Warrior’s expenses that go to programs. The main difference between the BBB and the other watchdog groups involves how they treat “joint cost allocation” expenses. Joint costs are expenses on materials that combine fund-raising appeals with a “call to action” for something in addition to making donations. If a television ad or mailer contains both messages, the charity can allocate some of the cost to fund-raising and the rest of the cost to programs, based on accounting standards.

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The most common way to allocate the cost is by counting line by line how much of the message is directed to fund-raising and how much advances the charity’s programs, said Bennett Weiner, chief operating officer for the BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance. He said the BBB will accept that methodology as long as it is done based on Generally Accepted Accounting Principles because that creates a standard for comparing charities. Charity Navigator and Charity Watch take a different stance by counting all joint spending as fund-raising, arguing that donors do not think of such spending as being for programs. The BBB suspended its charity seal designation for Wounded Warrior after the board cut ties with Nardizzi and Giordano. Bennett said BBB is seeking more information about the review and whether any of the findings would impact whether the nonprofit meets the Wise Giving Alliance’s standards. The board said Friday its commitment to those standards “remains unchanged” and it is in talks with BBB.

Wounded Warrior also is facing a slew of questions from U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) about the spending practices highlighted by media coverage, such as a report that the nonprofit spent $26 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year on conferences for employees Nardizzi and Giordano sent an opinion article published 1 APR in the The Hill, a newspaper that covers Congress, titled “Answering Senator Grassley’s Questions.” In regard to the $26 million for conferences and events, the op-ed piece said 94 percent went to expenses for veterans programs — an amount that was determined by the board’s review. Nardizzi said examples of such programs are Soldier Ride and Project Odyssey, which bring veterans from around the country for days of activities. Wounded Warrior pays for airfare, lodging, event costs, and meals during those programs, which fall under the category of events and conferences on financial reports, Nardizzi said. Wounded Warrior’s board says it is cooperating with Grassley’s request. The board named retired Maj. Gen. Charlie Fletcher as interim chief operating officer and launched a national search for a new CEO.

It’s not clear how the glare of media attention on Wounded Warrior has affected its fund-raising. Nardizzi said after reports by The New York Times and CBS News raised questions about how the charity spends its money, the rate of growth in donations slowed, but the organization was still retaining support from donors and gaining new ones. Board Chairman Anthony Odierno told The New York Times a month ago that donations had fallen, but he did not say by how much. Nardizzi, 45, and Giordano, 54, say they have not decided on their next moves. They said they are interested in serving veterans at some level, and they remain strong supporters of Wounded Warrior. “I think WWP showed that if you can get some passionate, dedicated people to coalesce around an idea to really make a deep impact, it can happen,” Giordano said. Nardizzi said when he sees Wounded Warrior’s television advertisements, “it’s like having an old friend back in my house.” He said, “I still have the same feeling, which is a deep sense of pride about the work that’s being done there.” [Source: The Florida Times Union | David Bauerlein | April 09, 2016 ++]

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Burn Pit Toxic Exposure Update 36 ► Vet Denied VA Treatment Dies

A decorated Army veteran who battled the VA over treatment for cancer he claimed to have gotten from working over burn pits in Iraq has died, his family said 4 APR. Former Army Sgt. John Marshall, who went to his grave believing his cancer was caused by standing over burn pits where the military disposed of everything from disabled IEDs to lithium batteries, died at his home in Surprise, Ariz., 29 MAR. He was 31, and left behind a wife and two young children. “John was the type of guy who touched people even if he didn’t know them that long,” said Marshall’s wife and fellow veteran, Ashley. “The amount of people that have come from all over to offer condolences has been amazing and overwhelming. I knew John was a great person, but it shouldn’t have amazed me as it did that so many other people thought so, too.”

Ashely and John Marshall met while serving in the Army. John died last week, leaving behind his wife and two young children. (Fox News)

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Ashely and John Marshall met while serving in the Army. John died last week, leaving behind his wife

and two young children.

In February, FoxNews.com wrote about Marshall’s struggle after being diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma two years ago. He claimed the VA ruled his illness was not related to his service, and Marshall said he was unable to appeal the ruling with evidence because he was laid up in a hospital bed in January 2015 with pneumonia. “It’s all just a big slap in the face,” Marshall told FoxNews.com. “I tried to be the perfect soldier. I did everything I was told, and now they just forced my claim through and denied coverage and my benefits.”

VA officials told FoxNews.com at the time that they would re-examine his case, but by then, Marshall’s cancer had reached the terminal phase, according to his wife. The family raised money for his private medical treatment through a https://www.gofundme.com/veteranmarshall page, where friends and strangers continued to offer support on Monday. “As retired Army, we are saddened that the VA did not come through for you,” wrote Bob and Edna Woods in a post that accompanied a donation. “You and your family are in our prayers. God bless!” “The support for my husband is so heartwarming and beyond what I ever thought would happen when this journey started,” Ashley Marshall wrote on the site.

Marshall told FoxNews.com he had no doubt that the soft tissue sarcoma he was diagnosed with 14 months ago is a result of his work on Improvised Explosive Device Disposal (IEDD) units. “During my second tour, we were providing security for the EOD [Explosive Ordnance Disposal] guys,” he said. “We didn’t know what we were blowing up, so it’s possible that there we were exposed to something toxic. We stood over open burn pits.” An October 2013 report from the United States Government Accountability Office identified open burn pits as the likely cause of long-term health issues for many veterans returning from service in the Middle East. “The U.S. military returning from Iraq and Afghanistan may be suffering chronic, long-term health issues as a result of exposure to toxic fumes from open burn pits,” reads the report. “Defense contractors have used burn pits at the majority of U.S. military bases in the Middle East as a method of military waste disposal. All kinds of toxic waste have been incinerated in these open burn pits, including human waste, plastics, hazardous medical waste, lithium batteries, tires, hydraulic fluids and vehicles — often using jet fuel as an accelerant.” [Source: Fox News | Perry Chiaramonte | April 05, 2016 ++]

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Hero Corps ► Fighters Against Online Child Sexual Exploitation

The Human Exploitation Rescue Operative (HERO) Corps is a partnership between the military, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the National Association to Protect Children. It gives wounded, ill or injured troops a chance to train in high-tech computer forensics and law enforcement skills so they can help federal agents in the fight against online child sexual exploitation, according to information on the ICE website https://www.ice.gov/hero#wcm-survey-target-id.

The men and women receive eight weeks of digital forensics and child exploitation investigation training before they are sent to Homeland Security Investigations field offices across the country for 10-month internships. There, they will train with and assist HSI special agents with criminal investigations, conduct computer forensic exams and help to identify and rescue child victims. “I think we can all agree that there is no crime that is more heinous, that gets our attention more readily, than the sexual abuse and exploitation of children,” said Sarah Saldana, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Partnering with the military, particularly U.S. Special Operations Command, in the HERO Corps program gives ICE candidates who are mature, dedicated and focused, Saldana said. “The Department of Defense has trained them, and now we get to give them some additional training and then put them out there to try and do this important work,” she said. “This is very demanding and really, really difficult work, and this is a ready pool of people who have a great chance of success.” So far, the HERO Corps has trained 83 veterans, and the goal is to train a total of 40 in fiscal year 2016. At least 22 have been hired as full-time computer forensic analysts.

J. Christian, a former Army Ranger and early HERO Corps graduate who is now the chief operating officer of the National Association to Protect Children, said service members, especially special operations troops, bring a unique dedication to the mission to hunt down child predators. “They’ve proven themselves time and time again to be the best of the best,” Christian said. “They understand where there’s a mission like this to take on, they go after it with all they have. The mentality they bring in has been unmatched.” The work HERO Corps graduates take on is difficult, but it also is “extremely rewarding,” Christian said. “When you’re analyzing a hard drive, that’s a new form of the enemy,” he said. “It really gives you gratification that you’re going into that digital material and possibly rescuing a victim.” The HERO Corps program also helps service members who are transitioning from military service, Christian said. And as a former Ranger, he has helped recruit at least 11 former members of the regiment into the HERO Corps. “When I came into the HERO Corps, I thought, ‘this is where I should be telling my buddies their next mission is at,’” he said. For high-speed special operations troops, a medical retirement or physical limitations from combat wounds can be devastating, he said. The HERO Corps program gives them a new mission and a new career, he said. “I’ve seen guys turn around from depths of depression to once again being the vibrant superstar we knew back in Regiment,” he said. “It’s something that keeps giving back, not only to the children and to the agencies they support, but also to the individuals who do the work.”

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Former Ranger and Army Times soldier of the year Tom Block and his colleagues are sworn in after graduating from HERO Corps training at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Washington, D.C., April 1, 2016. The graduates will go on to internships at a variety of agencies to learn how to combat child sexual exploitation.

Retired Maj. David Matzel, a self-described “nerd gear head” who graduated alongside Block, said he was intrigued by mission of the HERO Corps. “The real impact for me was seeing how vast [child sexual exploitation] was,” he said. “It looks like it never ends. You have to keep in the back of your mind that there’s a kid you’re going to save.” The program does a good job of connecting with veterans, said Matzel, who will do his internship in Blaine, Washington. “This is just like your missions overseas. There is an enemy out there, and you can help get that enemy,” he said. “This new venture we’re going into, I think, is just as important as going after Zarqawi or bin Laden or whoever the target is. We have a direct ability to save kids here.”

Capt. George Riley, who is waiting to be medically retired from the Army, agreed. “Finding a child, even rescuing one child, is worth it,” he said. Riley, another member of the newest graduating class, spent most of his career, including as an enlisted soldier, with the 56th Chemical Reconnaissance Detachment, which is attached to 5th Special Forces Group. He deployed five times to Iraq and once to Afghanistan; he was wounded in an improvised explosive device blast in Mosul, Iraq. The HERO Corps gives him a new mission after the Army, he said. “My physical limitations stop me from doing some things I want, but this opportunity came about,” he said. “I have a daughter. The stuff that goes on, somebody has to step up and do the dirty work.” Riley will complete his internship in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

As for Army, Sgt. Tom Block, who was medically retired in February, he will intern in the Homeland Security Investigations field office in Boston, Massachusetts. The transition from the 75th Ranger Regiment, where Block served in 3rd Battalion, wasn’t easy, he said. “Growing up, I’ve always been a very physical-minded person,” he said. “This was different for me. It wasn’t something I could just punch through or lift out of the way.” But Block said he received good, solid training, and he’s ready for his internship. “When I left the 75th Ranger Regiment, I was looking for that team mentality one more time, and I believe I’ve found that with HSI and the HERO Corps,” he said.

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Tom Block

Block was wounded in Afghanistan by a suicide bomber in October 2013. Among his injuries was the loss of his right eye, which he replaced with a prosthetic eye that bears the Captain America shield. He hopes the eye, which draws a lot of attention, can someday serve as an ice breaker when he helps to rescue a child. “I look at the Captain American shield as a symbol of hope for those that are going through a tough time,” he said. Block said he’s looking forward to diving into his new mission. “Children are our future, and someone’s got to be there to stave away the wolves,” he said. “It’s going to be a hard road, but I’d gladly raise my right hand every time to protect these children. You look at kids differently now. If there’s somebody out there who’s willing to hurt you, I will be willing to find them and bring them to justice.” [Source: ArmyTimes | Michelle Tan | April 10, 2016 ++]

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Vet Jobs Update 185 ► UberMilitary Drivers

UberMilitary has reached its goal of signing up 50,000 members of the military community to become drivers, the company announced Thursday. The initiative began in September 2014, and half of the 50,000 have taken their first ride so far. To celebrate, the company is donating $1 million to veterans service organizations on behalf of its UberMilitary Advisory Board. Todd Bowers, Marine veteran and UberMilitary director, told Military Times that working for Uber helps veterans and their families transition back into civilian life. He said the military drivers he’s spoken to name flexibility as the biggest selling point: They can earn an income while they continue the job hunt or save money to go back to school. “I compare it to the lance corporal who’s just getting out of the service in February and wants to go back to college,” Bowers said. “He has that awkward six to eight months until classes start. Uber helps him fill that gap and helps with the transition.”

Robert Isaac, a Marine veteran in the San Francisco area, said he started driving for Uber when he decided to change careers. He needed $10,000 for a 10-week tech bootcamp and realized how lucrative Uber was for him. “Uber frees that time and space so I can do what I need to do but still be able to have an income,” said Isaac, who is able to apply to jobs and go on interviews during the day. Meeting different people also helps him with networking, he said, and he can get career tips and find out which companies are veteran-friendly. “If you don’t have your exact reentry plan to go back into being a civilian, Uber is a perfect way to get back in there,” Isaac said. “Not everyone is ready to put on a suit and get back out there.”

Bowers said it provides a good opportunity for military families as well. “I enlisted, but my family got drafted,” he said. “[Military families] find themselves in these places where over the space of a 20-year career, they might move up to eight times.” Kia Hamel, a Navy veteran who’s married to an active-duty sailor, said she was trying to get back into the job market after her husband was transferred to the Washington, D.C., area. “There were not a lot of government jobs because of sequestration, so I started looking at various opportunities that would afford me the flexibility to make my schedule,” said Hamel, who has been with Uber since 2014. Hamel is considering going to law school and said it’s helpful to have the extra income. “It’s a very good fit for veterans who are transitioning into other careers and are still trying to make up their mind on what they want to do,” she said.

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Smartphones display Uber car availability in New York

Navy veteran Kia Hamel (left) said UberMilitary provided flexible job when it was tough to find one after her husband was transferred to Washington D.C. Smartphones (right) display Uber car availability in New York on Nov. 21, 2014.

UberMilitary’s next goal is to help military drivers earn $500 million by 2020, Bowers said. “This is going to be a tough one to go for, but we’re going to go for it,” he said. “It comes down to the earning opportunity and potential of these individuals that we really want to focus on.” Another focus is improving reliable transportation for military communities and lowering the number of alcohol-related incidents near military installations, Bowers said. “Having served, you’re always just one degree away from someone who’s had an incident,” he said. “We want to create a safe environment.” UberMilitary is also working on allowing drivers to earn more money when they start or end a trip at a military installation. [Source: Military Times | Charlsy Panzino | April 7, 2016 ++]

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Vet Jobs Update 186 ► OPM Lacks Vet Advocacy Office

The Office of Personnel Management should have a special office dedicated to helping disabled veterans apply for jobs, according to Sen. Heidi Heitkam (D-ND). During a Senate discussion about www.USAJobs.gov, the OPM-managed federal job-search website, Heitkamp suggested that disabled veterans might need extra help navigating the process. “They should have somebody within the system who is their advocate,” to look at applicants’ skill sets and connect them to jobs for which they are qualified, “as opposed to a system that automatically assumes qualification,” she said during the discussion, which was hosted by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “Why don’t we create an office within OPM of advocacy for disabled veterans so that those professionals would be looking for opportunities not just to give somebody a job, but to give them a job that they can be . . . enriched in?” Heitkamp said. There have been other efforts in the past year to improve online benefits for veterans. In November, the Veterans Affairs Department unveiled www.Vets.gov , a website eventually aiming to link to more than 1,000 veteran-related services. [Source: Nextgov | Mohana Ravindranath | April 12, 2016 ++]

 Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp

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Veterans in Government Update 01 ► Most Lack Military Background

Veterans, this is your call to serve. Of the five candidates for President of the United States, Commander-in-Chief of all the armed forces of our country, not one of them is a veteran. None has served on active duty in any of our uniformed services. The fact is that less than 20 percent of Congress is veterans. In 1976 we saw more than 75 percent of Congress having previously served in uniform. Veterans, the phone is ringing loudly; it’s your call to continue to serve our community and/or the country by serving in Congress and in State Legislatures across this country.

We all are aware of the increasing threats made by the rogue governments of North Korea, Iran, Russia and China. Russia continues to threaten the U.S. Threats are coming from ISIS and it’s becoming more commonplace having to deal with their continuing barbaric assaults on civilized cultures. President Obama has made it his agenda to negotiate with these countries through diplomatic channels, while at the same time, according to many generals, reducing our military strength and power to the lowest it’s been since the advent of World War II. Our country also has plenty of challenges regarding the medical care of our veterans. Not only do we have ongoing, enormous problems with the services provided by Veterans Affairs (VA), our active duty components also have their problems with health care.

Wouldn’t it make sense to place the welfare of our country in the hands of congressional and state representatives who had served on active duty in the armed forces? Our country’s strategic focus should be on being able to negotiate with rogue countries from a position of strength, not weakness. We need to be building and modernizing our armed forces, not reducing them to the point that some leaders question whether the nation’s fighting forces can actually meet their mission if we had to go to war. The need is becoming more and more imminent as ISIS and other terrorist groups continue to get bigger and stronger. Today we need militarily-experienced representatives to advocate for military forces adequate for the defense of our nation. Who would be better to represent the voluminous needs of our current active military, and our veterans, before Congress? There is no substitute for the experience of having served when trying to understand the challenges, issues and experiences that military personnel go through from deployments through their post-service years.

With regard to legislative needs, we need our representatives to prevent the erosion of earned military benefits of our retired population, and those who will become retired, in the future. Currently, there are too many proposed cuts to military benefits. This is balancing the books on the backs of our military. We need representatives that not only understand the issues, but those who can stand up and protect the benefits our veterans have earned and paid for by many sacrifices. The erosion of benefits are evidenced by reductions in retired pay, cost-of-living allowance (COLA) calculations, increases in fees to TRICARE beneficiaries, and multiple attempts to rework the military retirement system.

Folks, all of these issues affect our nation’s ability to fight wars when they occur. Today, we are blessed with good recruiting ability. Servicemen and women today are the best they’ve ever been. But we need to keep our fighting force. Retention of our experienced personnel is essential to building and maintaining our national defenses. Sequestration has adversely impacted all military services. Having representatives in Congress and in state Legislatures who have served in uniform will help to provide alternative solutions to the country’s fiscal problems that do not include balancing the budgets on the backs of those in uniform. Public service will be better with the presence of experienced servicemen and women. They possess excellent leadership skills and they have a perspective of military service that many, Americans don’t. They also have a level of credibility by asking the tough questions that need to be asked. The other representatives, who haven’t served in uniform, need to be constructively challenged by those who have served in uniform.

The battle to maintain and improve the lives of America’s national security depends on an all-volunteer force. Veterans service in Congress, and in State Legislatures, is key to preventing the erosion of benefits which negatively impacts recruiting the fighting force; it also diminishes our capability to keep (retain) some of America’s finest in uniform. The next generation of military leaders faces a set of challenges that are as daunting as those faced by this generation. With more representation, and challenging debates in Congress and in State Legislatures, our solutions become better and stronger. This sets the stage for a promising and secure future. [Source: Times Record News | March 27, 2016 ++]

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Korean War Vets ► Richard E. Cavazos

As one version of the story goes, a crippling performance evaluation was pushing then-Brig. Gen. Colin L. Powell’s military career toward a dead end when two higher-ranking commanders learned of it. The two generals were horrified to hear Powell tell them over dinner in 1982 that he planned to leave the Army. One of them was a legendary Texas war hero, Gen. Richard E. Cavazos, who decided to intervene. It came as no surprise to those who knew Cavazos that he went out of his way to keep Powell in the Army. The first and only Hispanic four-star general, he is now 85, living his last days, his once-encyclopedic mind ravaged by dementia. It’s painful for those he led and mentored. Some weep when talking of it. In recent interviews, they described Cavazos as loyal and fearless, a master tactician, an innovator, a charismatic soldier’s soldier. He served as a role model for every Hispanic general who came up through the ranks, retired Army Maj. Gen. Alfredo Valenzuela said.

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Caroline Cavazos kisses her husband and waits for retired Army Gen. Richard Cavazos to fall asleep at the Army Residence Community in San Antonio on Feb. 2, 2016, before returning for the night to her home.

In his autobiography, Powell — who became the first African-American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and, later, U.S. secretary of state — called Cavazos an Army legend who saved his career. The other commander at the dinner table that night, now-retired Lt. Gen. Julius Becton Jr., recalled that Powell had a personality conflict with his supervisor and had suffered for it. “And what got my attention, and it got Dick’s attention, too, was when Colin said he was probably going to put in his papers,” said Becton, of Fort Belvoir, Virginia, now 89. Powell confirmed the account through a spokesman.

While he still has a firm handshake, Cavazos doesn’t talk much. He sat in his wheelchair in a San Antonio nursing home recently and stared gently at his wife, Caroline, as they held hands. Asked about his father, a World War I veteran who worked on the legendary King Ranch, he replied, “I’m really taken by the building. It appeared out of nowhere.” There are better days. At 83, Caroline Cavazos is his constant companion, living a short walk away at the Army Residence Community in Northeast San Antonio. Each night she helps put him to bed. He’s often anxious, so she climbs into bed and hugs him. In time, he falls asleep “’He just wants to know that I’m here,” she explained. “We don’t talk much. I hug him. It’s amazing. I’m still in love with him.”

How Cavazos became an Hispanic icon was rooted in his childhood on the King Ranch and forged in Korea, where his fluency in Spanish helped him lead a once-shamed Puerto Rican Army National Guard regiment to combat distinction and where he risked his life to recover men left behind. “He’s one of these kind of guys in the military, we used to say, ‘He looked good from the top’ — the commanders, his commanders, thought the world of him — and he looked good from the bottom, because every troop thought the world of him,” said Charles Carden, one of his company commanders in Vietnam. “He was such a good soldier,” added retired Gen. Gordon Sullivan, a former Army chief of staff. “He was born that way. He liked men, he liked combat soldiers. He was courageous and they knew it, and they knew he couldn’t ask them to do anything that he wouldn’t do with them.”

Richard Edward Cavazos had a theory of leadership that he attributed to the great commanders of history. He called it “moral ascendancy” and said those who possessed it had an edge, an aura of superiority. Cavazos had it — and it made him the best Army general in a century, said retired Lt. Gen. Marc Cisneros, who was one of Cavazos’ battalion commanders in the 2nd Armored Division at Fort Hood. “He would talk about General Lee, and that one of the reasons General Lee was superior is because he had moral ascendancy over his Union generals,” said Cisneros, 76, of Corpus Christi. “If the troops had trust and that faith in you, that you were going to lead them well to victory, that’s moral ascendancy.”

Cavazos was the son of a Mexican-American cowhand. His father, Lauro Cavazos, came to Kingsville in 1912, fought as an Army artillery sergeant in World War I and became a foreman of the King Ranch’s Santa Gertrudus division in an era of intense racism. Being handy with a rope, horses and guns came with the job. Tom Lea’s history of the ranch describes Lauro Cavazos as among the 16 “Kineños” and guests, including eight Army soldiers, who repulsed an hours-long attack by 58 cross-border raiders at a house in Norias in 1915 during an era of guerilla violence spun off from the Mexican Revolution. Determined to give their children a life beyond the ranch, Lauro and Thomasa Quintanilla Cavazos put all five of them through college. Lauro Cavazos Jr., became the U.S. education secretary under the first President Bush. Dick Cavazos, their second son, got a degree in geology from Texas Tech University, playing football until breaking a leg his senior year. Studying alongside World War II veterans made an impression.

“He said if you weren’t a serious student after you got a look at them, you were when you did,” the Vietnam journalist and author Joe Galloway said. “Those guys had lost five years of their lives and they were in such a hurry to get it back and get on with their lives that they were total, zero-BS students. And you didn’t want to be sitting in a classroom with them if you were anything less than they were.” Cavazos served in ROTC before entering the Army. Eventually he would lead a brigade, a division, an Army corps and finally command all soldiers in the continental United States before retiring in 1984.

But first, he led a company in Korea and a battalion in Vietnam, where he learned that mistakes were as instructive as success. In Korea, he dressed down a sergeant who shot an enemy soldier who could have been captured. Cavazos then decided to lead the next patrol, and his adrenaline took over when he encountered a North Korean soldier who was carrying pots and pans — a cook, Cisneros said. “And he said, ‘Guess what I did? I put that mother on full automatic and that was the end of it.’” Cisneros said. “Before you chew somebody out, you have to understand that you could probably be in that same situation.”

Cavazos’s first combat came with the Puerto Rican regiment months after its troops fled their observation post, resulting in the court-martial of more than 90 soldiers. He was awarded a Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest decoration for battlefield gallantry, for leading a small group of men to capture an enemy soldier under fire in February, 1953. That summer he earned a Distinguished Service Cross for withdrawing his company from Hill 412 amid heavy shelling and rifle fire and going back to look for missing American troops. He found five and “evacuated them, one at a time, to a point on the reverse slope of the hill from which they could be removed,” states the citation for the medal, the second-highest award for valor. “Lieutenant Cavazos then made two more trips … searching for casualties and evacuating scattered groups of men who had become confused,” it continued. “Not until he was assured that the hill was cleared did he allow treatment of his own wounds.”

As a 38-year-old colonel in Vietnam, he earned another DSC in 1967 for organizing a counterattack against a battalion-sized enemy force that hit one of his companies near Loc Ninh. “When the fighting reached such close quarters that supporting fire could no longer be used, he completely disregarded his own safety and personally led a determined assault on the enemy positions,” the DSC citation said. “The Viet Cong were overrun and fled their trenches.” Carden, 77, of Biloxi, Mississippi, was then a captain. He observed his boss calmly sitting by a tree and waiting for a round of artillery fire, “absolutely fearless.” “They brought in napalm,” said Ronnie Campsey, a private first class from Devine who is now 73, of Long Island, New York. “You could feel the heat from the napalm just taking the breath out of you, that’s how close we were to it. You could see the enemy moving up the hill to get away from the artillery and the air support.” Cavazos “directed artillery fire on the hilltop, and the insurgents were destroyed as they ran,” the citation states. Bill Fee, a private first class in Campsey’s company who was badly wounded two days later, said most battalion commanders coordinated ground attacks and search-and-destroy missions by radio from defensive perimeters or from helicopters. “Cavazos would have none of that. He was on the ground,” said Fee, 68, of Cincinnati. “He fought with us side by side and he earned our respect.”

Cavazos’ determination to share what he had learned helped shape today’s Army. He was an early supporter of the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, a vast desert range used to prepare troops for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was influential in developing the Army’s Battle Command Training Program for higher-ranking officers. Cavazos would never betray a friend, even if it could hurt his chances of promotion, Becton recalled. And well into his retirement, he was still teaching officers how to fight. Sullivan, the retired Army chief of staff, said Cavazos had “a real knack for being able to mentor people, very senior people, that was very open, very candid, and guys responded” because of his experience and credibility.

General Richard E. Cavazos

General Richard ECavazos

“They would put them in a tent with their radios and make them fight a battle, like they would have to command a battle in the field,” Galloway said. “And it was Cavazos who would go in and lean over their shoulder at the computer and say, ‘You know, son, I think if you do that you’re going to kill that brigade. Is that what you really want to do?’” Cavazos’ real impact was in the hearts of those he led. “I had the honor of being evaluated by him,” said Valenzuela, who commanded U.S. Army South when it relocated to Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. “When the results were read I told (him) what he meant to us poor Hispanic kids, growing up in the barrios. … We both cried, not so much on the results, but because of the legacy we both were leaving behind.” [Source: San Antonio Express-News | Sig Christenson | April 2, 2016 ++]

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Vietnam Vets [14] ► Jim Northrup

To prepare his family for his death, Jim Northrup has made a list of potential tombstone epitaphs. They include: “Here’s one deadline I didn’t miss” and “Hey, I can see up your dress from here.” Those who know the award-winning author of short stories, poetry, plays and newspaper columns wouldn’t be surprised that he’s facing death with his signature dry humor. “There is nothing so serious you can’t make a joke about it,” said Northrup, a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. “And making a joke about it makes it easier for survivors.”

Jim Northrup

Northrup, 72, has kidney cancer. It’s moved to his lungs, lymph nodes and brain. A veteran of the Vietnam War, he assumes he is succumbing to the effects of exposure to Agent Orange, an herbicide the U.S. military used during the war to remove trees and other foliage that provided enemy cover “At first I couldn’t laugh about it,” said Pat Northrup, Jim’s wife of nearly 30 years. “Then I couldn’t keep crying.” One day she sat outside thinking about her grandmother. “She once told me, ‘accept death like you accept life,’ ” she said. “It made sense.” These days, Jim is about minobimaadiziwin: living the good life. And he says he’s already seen what’s waiting for him when he dies, when he completes his four-day journey to a western land where many Anishinaabe believe they go when they die. Twice in the hospital, “when I was probably circling the drain,” he said, he found himself in a canoe, paddling. He heard voices, laughter and song coming from the shore. He began paddling toward them, he said, hoping to share a story or two of his own. Somebody saw him, and in Ojibwe, told him to leave, that it wasn’t his turn. “I’ll tell you what I think,” he said, in response to a question about Anishinaabe beliefs regarding death. “I am going to have a great time over there.”

Northrup served in Vietnam from 1965 to 1966. His experiences as a grunt in the war and dealing with the aftermath at home became a major focus of his writing. His darkly humorous poem “Shrinking Away” deals with coming home and trying unsuccessfully to get professional counseling. “Grandma’s Hair” is about an episode of combat in which he discovered an enemy soldier he was exchanging gunfire with was, in fact, a woman. It’s a discovery he made after moving closer and shooting the soldier one last time to make sure the person was dead. The shot made her hair tumble out from her hat; hair that looked like his grandmother’s.

He was asked to recite some of his work at LZ Lambeau, a 2010 gathering of Wisconsin Vietnam veterans and their family members totaling 70,000 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. When he was done, he was given a standing ovation. Northrup said he was honored to be asked. “I knew my poetry was being used in vets’ groups to help people open up (and) maybe even write their own poetry as part of their healing,” he said. “It worked for me, so I hoped it helped (others).”

As a child, Northrup was made to go to a boarding school — one of the federal assimilation schools where Native Americans were forbidden to speak their native language and practice their traditional beliefs. At the Pipestone (Minn.) Indian School, he recalled, he was beaten by both adults and other children and experienced severe homesickness — once attempting to walk home, making it nine miles before he was found. His work describes that experience, along with the changes on the reservation that resulted from the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, after which enormous poverty transitioned to financial stability for the band. Northrup writes about racism and politics. He has weighed in on local mining and tribal issues and treaty rights with sharp and honest commentary. “He has really been an articulate witness for incredible and continual change,” said Margaret Noodin, Northrup’s longtime editor, an assistant professor in the English department at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and director of the Electa Quinney Institute for American Indian Education.

Northrup is a modern Native American storyteller, she said. “It wasn’t always from the standpoint of recovery or a victim of colonization,” Noodin said, describing his work. “He’s really good at saying ‘and these are the ways we live our lives right now.’ Of Anishinaabe literature, you’ve got some major voices, and he’s definitely one.” Despite what happened to him in boarding school, he didn’t fear or avoid the educational system unlike so many others, who had very good reason to, Noodin said. “What I always saw in Jim’s house was constant encouragement to educate oneself and to engage with education,” she said. He graduated from Carlton High School in 1961 and has been told he was the first Native American to graduate from the school. An honorary doctorate of letters degree from Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College hangs in his home. “Jim’s gift of humor has always connected him to the people of the Fond du Lac Band,” said Larry Anderson, president of the Fond du Lac college and a member of the band. “Jim was born to be an ogichida (warrior) and has faced tremendous evils in Vietnam, and many hardships in his life. … He is extremely intelligent, a man of wisdom, and has always been able to translate his Ojibwe knowledge, his Ojibwe heart and soul, to us who need his good words.”

Northrup, whose Ojibwe name is Chibenesi, or large bird, is an ardent keeper of Anishinaabe tradition. He and his wife started a summer Ojibwe language camp on the reservation. They make birch bark winnowing baskets, partake in the yearly sugarbush to make maple syrup and harvest wild rice on the reservation’s lakes. Northrup has been a student of the Ojibwe language for nearly two decades. “It seemed to me I always had a void in my life because I wasn’t fluent,” he said. “There was a hole in my heart because I couldn’t understand; I couldn’t say what I wanted to say in Ojibwe. … When we came back from boarding school we tried to use the language. The older people said ‘eh, you sound like a white man.’ ” He’s teaching his 7-month-old great-granddaughter Ojibwe words. “I want her to be familiar with the sounds of it,” he said. “There are sounds not heard in English. She knows ‘gawain.’ Don’t do that.”

Northrup is a mentor to many who admire his use of Ojibwe in his writing, said Heid Erdrich, a well-known author and member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. And his work illustrates how Native Americans are part of the larger picture of America, she said. “You always feel like the characters and point of view in Jim’s poems are not trying to make Ojibwe people anything special, but at the same time worthy of existing on this earth, having a right to exist on this earth and wanting to hold our way of life and the beauty of that,” Erdrich said. “He gives a sense of what it means to be in a place and love it and live in it, good and bad.” He also acts as an ambassador, inviting people into his home and his experiences, making lifelong friendships with everyone from neighbors to professors to visitors from other countries, she said, and “there are not many people like that.”

Northrup doesn’t worry about the Anishinaabe traditions he practices dying with him. Two of his sons, who live near him on Northrup Road in Sawyer, come over with their families to gather around the fire when rice is being parched or sap is being boiled. “They sit and listen to the stories that everybody tells,” he said. “We have time for everybody to tell their own story. I’m not worried. Whatever I am doing, it’ll go on.” At 72, Northrup says he feels like he’s lived a long life, considering that the past life expectancy of Native Americans was decades lower. But his grandfather lived to be 105, he said. He’s working on a new collection of short stories, focusing on his longtime character Luke Warmwater. He and his family are in the midst of this year’s sugarbush, which Northrup has juggled with his doctor appointments. The way he’s handled his illness, Noodin said, has shown many people “how to look death in the eye.”

Walking the Rez Road: Stories, 20th Anniversary Edition

The Rez Road Follies: Canoes, Casinos, Computers, and Birch Bark Baskets

Walking the Rez Road (History & Heritage)

Dirty Copper

Rez Salute: The Real Healer Dealer

In a community with “extraordinarily high” suicide rates, that’s important, she said. It’s important “for young people to see getting old isn’t pretty and isn’t easy. But there you sit, holding your grandkids. There you sit, telling your stories. And that kind of strength isn’t to be underestimated.” Every morning, Northrup goes outside to his yard, overlooking forested land. In Ojibwe, he recites a prayer: “Thank you for the morning, thank you for the day. Give me a good life today. As the sun comes peeking through the trees, help me help my Anishinaabe people. Help me live a good life. Take care of my wife, my children, my grandchildren and all soldiers. Help me with my health.” He motions to the spirits in the east, south, west and north, and makes an offering of tobacco. “No matter what happens during the day, I am prepared,” he said of the prayer. “If I die today, I am ready. If I die a year from now, I am ready.”[Source: Duluth News Tribune | Jana Hollingsworth | April 3, 2016 ++]

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22Kill Vet Advocacy Group ► Criticized for Accepting Trump Donation

A veterans advocacy group that received $200,000 from presidential candidate Donald Trump’s January fundraiser said the move was a huge boost for their organization, even if the money brought with it a rash of confusion and criticism. Cliff Sosamon, an official with the Texas-based group 22Kill, wrote in a commentary published Thursday by The Hill that its members’ appearance with the Republican front-runner at his controversial January veterans fundraiser crashed the group’s website and has resulted in a 500 percent increase in donations so far this year. But the publicity has not all been positive, Sosamon says. “Almost immediately, we began to receive emails and social media replies both supporting the mission and also asking why we would support Trump, or why we would consider accepting funds from his rally,” he wrote. “We lost some of our backers because certain individuals do not support Trump.”

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets retired Army Sgt. 1st Class John Wayne Walding to the stage at a event in support of veterans at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Photo: Andrew Harnik, Associated Press

Sosamon says the decision to take the donation was not based on Trump’s presidential campaign but on the reality that “running a nonprofit organization and providing services for our nation’s veterans takes money.” The group insists it is not endorsing Trump. “From an organizational standpoint, we are happy to accept funds from any individual or group willing to support our mission and benefit veterans,” he wrote. “We do not care if the funds come from the left or the right, from Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals. All their money is the same, and we are able to put those funds to use …” At the time of the rally, several prominent veterans groups said they would refuse any contribution from Trump because of the perception that the money would be tied to support for the candidate.

Trump’s campaign still has not fully accounted for the $6 million officials claim was raised at the Iowa event, organized as a protest to Fox News’ choice of moderators for a debate scheduled the same evening. Only a few of the 22 organizations originally listed as beneficiaries of the event have publicly reported receiving donations, and several others have expressed concerns that money being offered has been tied to campaign appearances and events. Trump campaign officials have offered no response to repeated inquiries by Military Times about future distribution of the money.

22KILL (https://www.22kill.com) is a global movement bridging the gap between veterans and civilians to build a community of support. It works to raise awareness to the suicide epidemic that is plaguing our country, and educate the public on mental health issues such as PTSD. The organization took its name from a 2012 VA released Suicide Data Report noting that that an average of 22 veterans are “KILLED By Suicide” (KBS) everyday. The name “22KILL” is meant to grab people’s attention and raise awareness to the issue the organization is intended to address. Suicide prevention is a very difficult task to undertake, especially when the general public is unaware of the issue in the first place. In order to prevent or “fix” a problem, one must first learn and understand the problem itself and its causes. Through education of the issue we’ll be able to identify the triggers that can lead someone to thoughts of suicide, and confront those issues as they come, rather than letting them accumulate into something much worse. [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane | April 7, 2016 ++]

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WWII Vets 105 ► Cole~Richard

Dick Cole is fond of saying he’s a big believer in luck and never tried to manufacture it. Not that he had to. Luck, like serendipitous moments and sweet victories in love and war, just came his way. Take the time his B-25B pilot, Capt. Vernon Stintzi, fell ill with an ulcer as training neared for a secret mission. Cole, fearing the entire crew would be scratched, asked the mission commander to keep them on. It was a bold request for a second lieutenant out of flight training at Randolph Field, but Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle did him one better, taking Stintzi’s seat on their plane. “That might have been the luck. Not for (Stintzi), but for me,” Cole said softly, laughing. “For me and the rest of the crew.”

On his 100th birthday 7 SEP the life of Richard Eugene Cole is perhaps best described in an old saying, “The brave man carves out his fortune, and every man is the sum of his own works.” Cole wasn’t thinking about the author of that quote, the novelist Cervantes, when he looked back on it all at the end of a long interview but said something similar, for the war and one spectacular mission is just a moment in time for him. Cole is best known as Doolittle’s co-pilot on the famous Tokyo Raid. It was a singularly bold mission, a one-way trip with no promise of a return home, a strike that stunned Japan, buoyed American morale and altered the course of the Pacific war by prompting changes in enemy plans. All of this is why the story holds up so well 73 years later, but he’s the first to say there have been many other breaks over his century, as well as tragedy and loss, and his life isn’t about any single one of them.

“I feel like the Tokyo Raid is pretty beat up. I think there are more fertile stories to tell,” Cole says before walking the 100 yards from his single-story brick home in the Texas Hill Country to his mailbox. There are, starting with his constitution. The first thing to know about Dick Cole the centenarian is that he keeps going. In a world where most folks his age are in wheelchairs, he steps out of bed after dawn and takes short, measured steps while tackling the day’s chores. In that way, it’s no different from the days when he milked cows and plowed fields as a young man during the Depression earning $75 a month on an aunt’s farm in Ohio, saving the money for college. These days Cole works in his barn, tending to fruit-bearing trees on his four-acre spread, cutting the grass with a 1949 Ford tractor and fixing things when they break. The old tractor’s burned-out ignition switch is his latest project, as is a Weed Eater that rests on a pair of wooden sawhorses, the assembly directions waiting to be read.

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Dick Cole (left) holds an image of a B-25 bomber that he copiloted taking off from the deck of the carrier USS Hornet on April 18, 1942. Cole was copilot to Jimmy Doolittle on that day in World War II when 16 B-25 bombers flew off the deck of the carrier to bomb Japan. Then-Lt. Richard Cole, second from right, was co-pilot of Doolittle Tokyo Raid aircraft no. 1, which was piloted by raid planner Jimmy Doolittle, second from left, during the raid on Toyko.

There used to be bison on the land but they were too big and strong, and he was too frail, and so they’re gone. Still, when things break — and they do in a house built 20 years ago — Cole is Mr. Fix It. When a 14-year-old hot water heater went out five months ago, he drove his Ford F-150 pickup seven miles into Comfort, got a new one and installed it himself — and it wasn’t the first time, either. This might seem amazing for a man showing classic signs of old age. He wears hearing aids in each ear and sometimes stops a thought in mid-sentence, losing it the way a mist vanishes suddenly on a damp, cloudy morning. He rises slowly when the phone rings and walks with a pronounced stoop, but gets to where he’s going. A sense of determination radiates from him. Cole wears a pedometer and is quite conscious of the need to remain mobile. He once joked, “The secret is you’ve got to keep moving like the sheriff is after you,” and so he does, walking a mile every day. Oh, and he clings to the keys of his pickup and a beloved sedan, and plans to take at least one more spin now that he’s 100.

Cole is in a class of his own in a nation where only a fraction of the original 16 million World War II veterans are still alive. The 80 Doolittle Raiders aboard 16 bombers that flew off the USS Hornet and bombed Tokyo, Nagoya and Yokosuka on April 18, 1942 are down to Cole and David Thatcher, 94, of Missoula, Montana. They came to the mission as volunteers who had no idea where they were headed while training for short takeoffs under the tutelage of a naval officer in the Florida Panhandle, and had reason to worry after Hornet put to sea. Cole, though, was amazed to be on a mission with his boyhood hero, and everyone concentrated on their jobs as the Mitchell bombers spun up on the aircraft carrier. “We didn’t have much time to think about what was going to happen,” said Thatcher, a gunner aboard the Ruptured Duck, a plane made famous in the movie. “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.” Still, it was risky business.

Doolittle’s crew would be the first to ever fly a bomber off an aircraft carrier. They were supposed to launch on the evening of April 19 and fly 400 miles to Japan, but took off early that morning after the Hornet spotted an enemy trawler. The bombers flew 645 miles, meaning many of them might not make it to airfields clandestinely set up for them in China. Doolittle and his crew bailed out over a mountainous part of China during a thunderstorm. Thatcher fell unconscious and four other crewmen were seriously injured after the Ruptured Duck crashed on a Japanese-held island. In all, three raiders were executed, one died in prison, another was killed bailing out. Two other died of injuries sustained in plane crashes. Eight were captured. All were given the Distinguished Flying Cross. Doolittle received the Medal of Honor and was promoted to one-star general. Most of the others got home, with 19 Doolittle Raiders later dying in North Africa and the China-India-Burma theater of war.

Cole stayed in Asia flying cargo planes for 14 months before briefly landing a sweet stateside job in Tulsa, Oklahoma, testing B-24s that were fresh out of the factory. One day in the summer of 1943 a woman told him she was learning to fly and asked if she could get some flight time while he tested the plane. Cole fell in love with her on the spot, but said no. Later, somewhere around 12,000 feet, she appeared in his cockpit. “The co-pilot, an older guy, took a match cover out of his pocket and gave it to her and said, ‘Put your number on here,’ and she did, but she gave the thing to me,” Cole recalled. Two weeks later, they got married. “That’s back in the luck category,” he smiled. Cole went back to war that winter, building airfields behind Japanese lines in China. He made a career in the Air Force, retiring as a lieutenant colonel, but there were bad breaks along the way. His wife, Lucia Martha Harrell, who went by Marty, died in 2003. A son, Andrew, lost his life two years ago in a car accident, and a daughter, Christina, suffered a fatal aneurysm in 2010.

These days Cole insists on remaining as independent as possible. His daughter, Cindy Chal, is nearby and sees him every day, but tries not to hover over him. Talk with him for long and it becomes obvious that he’s happy and would love to live well beyond 100, if only to see if the world gets better in the future. The other thing that is clear is which part of his life he loves the most. “All of it,” Cole said, “Because no matter how you look at it, all the parts made the whole.” [Source: San Antonio-Express News | Sig Christenson | September 6, 2015 ++]

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Obit: Joe Medicine Crow ► 3 APR 2016

According to Crow tradition, a man must fulfill certain requirements to become chief of the tribe: command a war party successfully, enter an enemy camp at night and steal a horse, wrestle a weapon away from his enemy and touch the first enemy fallen, without killing him. Joe Medicine Crow was the last person to meet that code, though far from the windswept plains where his ancestors conceived it. During World War II, when he was a scout for the 103rd Infantry in Europe, he strode into battle wearing war paint beneath his uniform and a yellow eagle feather inside his helmet. So armed, he led a mission through German lines to procure ammunition. He helped capture a German village and disarmed — but didn’t kill — an enemy soldier. And, in the minutes before a planned attack, he set off a stampede of 50 horses from a Nazi stable, singing a traditional Crow honor song as he rode away. “I never got a scratch,” he recalled to the Billings Gazette decades later.

Medicine Crow died Sunday at 102, according to the Gazette. He was the Crow’s last war chief, the sole surviving link to a long military tradition. But he was also an activist, an author, a Medal of Freedom recipient and a vital chronicler of the history of his tribe. “I always told people, when you meet Joe Medicine Crow, you’re shaking hands with the 19th century,” Herman Viola, curator emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, told the magazine at Medicine Crow’s alma mater, Linfield College.

Medicine Crow was born in a log home near Lodge Grass, Mont., in 1913. He was given the name Winter Man by a visiting Sioux warrior, he wrote in his memoir, in the hope that he would grow up strong, healthy and able to endure adversity. His upbringing matched his name. Medicine Crow’s maternal grandfather, Yellowtail, raised the boy in the Crow warrior tradition, putting him through a grueling physical education regime that involved running through snow barefoot to toughen his feet and bathing in frozen rivers to strengthen his spirit. From other relatives, Medicine Crow heard stories of the Battle of Little Bighorn from people who were there, including his great uncle, White Man Runs Him, who served as a scout for George Armstrong Custer. “At that time, my grandparents were our teachers,” he told the Billings Gazette in 2006.

https://img.washingtonpost.com/wp-apps/imrs.php?src=https://img.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/2016/04/AP01062403360-1024x937.jpg&w=1484

https://img.washingtonpost.com/wp-apps/imrs.php?src=https://img.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/2016/04/AP090812032671-672x1024.jpg&w=1484

Crow tribal historian Joe Medicine Crow in 2001, in Garryowen, Mont (left) and looking at his 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom after President Obama placed it around his neck.

But life on the Crow Reservation in the early 20th century was also steeped in hardship. The tribe was down to about 2,000 members, devastated by disease and hunger, not to mention the loss of children at harsh boarding schools that attempted to strip them of their heritage. In his memoir, Medicine Crow recalled how his relatives stole cattle to survive. “We were down to our lowest ebb,” he said of that time. According to Linfield Magazine, Medicine Crow believed that school was his means to reverse the tide. He recalled how another Crow chief, Plenty Coups, had told him that education would make him a white man’s equal, the lack of it “will make you his victim.” “That to me was a personal challenge,” Medicine Crow told the magazine in 2009. “I wanted to prove to people, not only to Indian people but people in general, that an Indian is capable of becoming a good college student. People said that Indians are just too dumb, they are not capable of getting a college education. I wanted to disprove that.”

Crow graduated from Linfield College, a liberal arts school in Oregon, and in 1939 he got his master’s in anthropology from the University of Southern California — the first person from his tribe to earn a graduate degree. His thesis: “The Effects of European Culture Contacts upon the Economic, Social, and Religious Life of the Crow Indians.” After graduating, Medicine Crow went to work at a Native American school in Oregon. But then came the attack on Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war, and by 1943 Medicine Crow had enlisted in the Army. “We were a war-faring people,” he told the Billings Gazette. “Naturally, I thought about the famous warriors when I went to Germany…. I had a legacy to live up to.”

Plains Indians won honor by counting “coups,” or acts of bravery in battle. The most illustrious coup was to touch an enemy and escape unharmed — something that Medicine Crow wasn’t intending to do when he helped raid a German village. But then he (literally) bumped into a German soldier while scouting in an alley. “I swung my rifle to knock his rifle off his hands,” he told filmmaker Ken Burns for the documentary “The War.” “All I had to do was pull the trigger.” Instead, Medicine Crow dropped his own weapon and “tore into” the other man. After a moment’s tussle, he grabbed the man’s neck. “I was ready to kill him,” he said. And then the German yelled, “Mama.” “That word ‘Mama,’ opened my ears. I let him go.”

When Medicine Crow came home from the war in 1946, he recounted that incident and his other exploits in Europe to Crow elders, not realizing they added up to anything more than a few stories. “You have completed the four deeds,” they told him. He chuckled as he recalled the moment when it dawned on him, “So I guess you’re looking at the last Plains Indian war chief,” he said in “The War.” In 1948, Medicine Crow was appointed tribal historian and anthropologist. He had an impeccable recall of stories he’d been told as a child, and he served as the last living link to the Crow’s pre-reservation way of life and history. He served on historical and educational commissions, authored nearly a dozen books on Crow culture, and wrote a history of the Battle of Little Bighorn based on the memories of his great uncle, Custer’s Crow scout, who tried to warn the general that he was about to be ambushed but who was ignored. Medicine Crow had tried to incorporate that history when he was recruited to help write “They Died With Their Boots On,” the 1941 Errol Flynn film about the battle, but he was likewise dismissed by the movie’s white producers. “I said, ‘Some day I’m going to write my own Custer production and tell it like it is,’” Medicine Crow told the magazine True West in 2009. In 1964, he did; that script is used in reenactments of the battle today.

For much of his life, Medicine Crow served as an emissary between the Crow community and the white world. As a child, he translated for his great uncle, White Man Runs Him, when white reporters came to interview him about the Battle of Little Bighorn. He lent his voice and his memories to countless exhibits on Native American culture at museums around the country. He spoke at colleges and conferences and a United Nations summit. “There is a middle line that joins two worlds together,” he told Linfield Magazine. “I walk that line and take the best from each and avoid the worst. I’ve lived a good, well-balanced way of life. I encourage my grandchildren and young Crow Indians to do the same and they will be happy.”

Medicine Crow used his platform to speak for his people. In 2008, when then-Sen. Barack Obama was making a campaign stop at a veterans’ center in Billings, Mont., Medicine Crow confronted the candidate. “When you get to the White House,” he said, according to the Cody, Wyo., Enterprise, “remember we Indian people since 1492 have been at the bottom of the ladder in America. We want you to bring us up to level … recognize us as first-class citizens.” The next year, President Obama would award Medicine Crow the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States. During the ceremony, Obama said that Medicine Crow was “a good man, a ‘bacheitche’ in Crow,” according to the AP. “[His] life reflects not only the warrior spirit of the Crow people,” he continued, “but America’s highest ideals.” [Source: The Washington Post | Sarah Kaplan | April 4, 2016 ++]

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Obit: Hector A. Cafferata ► 12 APR 2016

The Congressional Medal of Honor Society announces that Private First Class Hector A. Cafferata, Jr., Medal of Honor recipient, passed away Tuesday evening, April 12, 2016, in Venice, Florida at the age of 86. Private Cafferata was born on November 4, 1929 in New York City, New York. Cafferata played semi-pro football and was working at the Sun Dial Corporation when he enlisted in the Marines in 1948. He was serving as a Private in the First Marine Division at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in 1950 when all other members of his team became casualties during an attack. Cafferata waged a lone battle against the enemy. Making himself a target, he maneuvered to deliver fire, forcing withdrawal of the onrushing force. Then, during another enemy onslaught, Cafferata seized an enemy grenade and hurled it free of his comrades before it detonated, sustaining injuries but saving the lives of his fellow Marines. He continued fighting until stopped by a sniper’s bullet. He was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman at a White House ceremony on November 24, 1952.

Cafferata korea moh.jpg

Head and shoulders of a gray-haired white man wearing glasses, a suit and tie, and a star-shaped medal hanging from a blue ribbon around his neck.

Cafferata in 2010

Hector A. Cafferata, Jr. is survived by his wife Doris and four children. Funeral services are pending. There are 76 recipients alive today. [Source: Veteran News | Donnie La Curan | April 14, 2016 ++]

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Retiree Appreciation Days ► As of 12 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 12, 2015 ++]

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Vet Hiring Fairs ► 16 Apr thru 14 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 .

Orlando, FL – Orlando Hiring Fair Details Register

April 16 – 9:00 am to 1:30 pm

San Diego, CA – San Diego Military Community Transition Summit Details Register

April 20 – 4:00 pm to April 21 – 4:00 pm

New York, NY – New York City Hiring Fair Details Register

April 21 – 8:30 am to 1:30 pm

Arlington, TX – Arlington Hiring Expo with Texas Rangers Details Register

April 25 – 9:30 am to 2:00 pm

Fort Bragg, NC – Fort Bragg Transition Summit Details Register

April 27 – 9:00 am to April 28 – 4:30 pm

Arlington, VA – Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Senior Leadership Networking Reception Details Register

April 28 – 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm

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

[Source: U.S. Chamber of Commerce Assn April 13, 2016 ++]

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Veteran State Benefits & Discounts ► New Hampshire 2016

The state of New Hampshire 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 – NH” for an overview of the below those benefits. Benefits are available to veterans who are residents of the state. For a more detailed explanation of each of the following refer to http://www.nh.gov/nhveterans & http://militaryandveteransdiscounts.com/location/new-hampshire.html

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

[Source: http://www.military.com/benefits/veteran-state-benefits/new-hampshire-state-veterans-benefits.html Apr 2016 ++]

* Vet Legislation *

... Reflections on the U.S. Capitol, Obama, and Moving Forward Together

Vet Omnibus Bill ► 2016 | Passage by Memorial Day Anticipated

The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee chairman says he’s confident Congress can still pass a veterans omnibus bill by Memorial Day, despite a brewing fight over new accountability measures for VA employees. Details of the massive reform measure still have not been made public. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) said he spoke 5 APR to committee Democrats and the White House to build support for his omnibus draft, which will include not only the employment rules but also changes to the VA Choice Card program, new caregivers support, and a host of other issues. “We have a great bill,” Isakson said. “Hopefully the president will get on board. If anybody needs it, he needs it, and our veterans deserve it. I’m optimistic, more so after our conference call.”

Isakson anticipates unveiling the draft legislation within days. While veterans advocates will comb through the plan’s numerous details, most eyes will be focused on the accountability piece. In recent months, VA officials have asked Congress to switch the department’s senior executives to Title 38 status, a technical change which would allow more flexibility in hiring, pay and firing rules. The Senior Executive Association has loudly protested this move, saying it would undermine those executives’ appeal rights and unfairly scapegoat them for the department’s numerous problems. Meanwhile, House Republicans have said those proposals don’t go far enough. House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) has been pushing his own “VA Accountability Act” as a necessary addition to Isakson’s omnibus. That plan, already passed by the House along party lines, would make it easier to fire or demote any VA employee, not just the few hundred executives covered under the VA proposal. But House Democrats and the White House have strongly opposed that measure, calling it an attempt to undermine federal employment protections.

Miller last week sent a letter to Isakson saying leaving the House-passed bill out of the omnibus would allow VA to continue to “coddle and protect corrupt and incompetent bureaucrats” instead of fixing the problem. On Tuesday, Isakson brushed off that criticism and said he also has concerns with Miller’s proposal. “I’m not going to get into our accountability section until we’re ready to unveil,” he said. “We’ve done a much more comprehensive look at it, to target the real problems and the real areas for accountability. “Anybody can write a letter. We’re going to produce legislation and work with the house to get a joint bill together that solves everybody’s problems when it comes to accountability.”

Isakson also said he’s confident he can craft legislation that the White House will support, unlike the Miller bill. But the final measure still will have to be passed by the House before it can become law, and Miller will play a key role in shepherding the legislation through that chamber or defeating it. Isakson downplayed the idea of conflict between the two committees, calling Miller’s public lobbying on behalf of his own proposal “nothing personal.” House lawmakers return to Capitol Hill from their spring recess 11 APR. Isakson would not say whether his omnibus draft will be waiting for them when they arrive. [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane | April 6, 2016 ++]

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Path Act ► S.185 | Antibiotic Drug Access

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a mark-up 6 APR to consider the PATH Act, sponsored by Senators Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT) and Michael Bennet (D-CO). This legislation would create a new drug approval pathway to streamline access, bolster innovation, and encourage development of potentially life-saving antibiotic drugs for patients. In advance of the Senate markup, NAUS, together with a number of other military and veterans advocacy groups, sent a letter supporting action on the PATH Act to members of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. NAUS is pleased to see this bill move forward. It will help in the development of new antibiotics for military service members and seriously ill patients with unmet medical needs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 2,000,000 antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the United States each year and 23,000 Americans die as a result. Military service members are at particular risk. They now survive once-deadly combat wounds only to become victims of untreatable, deadly superbugs. Too many of our shipmates and soldiers have died because of these superbugs and, without swift action, more will meet the same fate.

“Superbugs”—or bacteria that are substantially resistant or unresponsive to any existing and available antibiotic—are an increasingly urgent public health threat, both at home and abroad. While antibiotic-resistant bacteria kills thousands of Americans each year, less than ten new antibiotics have made it to market since 2000. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria is also a significant concern to our troops, affecting more than a third of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, according to the Department of Defense.

In an effort to address some of the significant regulatory obstacles hindering antibiotic development and patient access to life-saving treatments, the Promise for Antibiotics and Therapeutics for Health (PATH) Act would permit the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve an antibacterial drug for a limited patient population upon determining that the drug treats a serious or life-threatening condition and addresses an unmet need. In addition, the bill includes several provisions to guide appropriate use of antibiotics approved under this pathway, such as labeling and promotional material requirements. [Source: NAUS Weekly Update | April 08, 2016 ++]

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Vet Groin Injury Legislation ► H.R.4892 | Loss of Use Compensation

A House bill would pay injured veterans who lose their reproductive organs in combat or a service-related accident $20,000 to start a family or use however they want. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) introduced legislation 11 APR that would compensate veterans for the “loss or loss of use of creative organs,” to help veterans who can’t have children as a result of a service-connected condition. Under the bill, veterans would receive $10,000 in two lump-sum special compensation payments — funds over and above the disability compensation the veteran receives — to be used “at the veteran’s discretion.”

According to Miller, chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, the legislation is designed to give former troops with devastating injuries the funds needed for medical treatment or adoption services. “If a veteran does decide to use this benefit to start a family of their own, the real winners would be the children. Who better to raise America’s next generation than the bravest of our current generation? But no matter how each affected veteran might utilize this benefit, one thing is clear: they earned it,” said Miller, introducing HR 4892. 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 while they remain on active duty and also covers the cost of medications, such as erectile dysfunction medicines, for troops with head injuries that affect fertility. VA covers fertility assessments, counseling and some treatment, such as surgeries, medications and intrauterine insemination for female veterans and surgeries, sperm cryopreservation and sperm retrieval for males. But VA does not cover in vitro fertilization or fertility services for nonveteran spouses.

Miller introduced a bill last year that would have required VA to cover advanced fertility services, including IVF, for veterans whose injuries to reproductive organs or spinal cords hindered their ability to father or bear children. That bill would have allowed VA to cover the costs of up to three in vitro fertilization cycles for affected veterans. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) has pushed since 2012 for the Veterans Affairs Department to cover fertility services, including surrogacy, for injured veterans. Her legislation, the Women Veterans and Families Health Services Act, S.469, was introduced last year but did not make it out of committee.

Murray said 12 APR that she will continue pressing for VA to cover IVF and other services for injured personnel, and she had harsh words for Miller’s latest proposal, that sidesteps any requirement that VA pay for fertility services, which some members of Congress oppose. “Fulfilling our promise to take care of our veterans shouldn’t be a partisan issue, which is why I’m so disappointed by continued half-measures like this. Simply put, this latest proposal falls far short of covering the care a veteran and their spouse needs to fulfill their dreams of starting a family,” Murray said. [Source: Military Times | Patricia Kime | April 12, 2016 ++]

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Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act ► H.R.3870 | Passage Unlikely

Congress is considering a bill that would create a special “atomic veteran” designation for the men and women who worked to clean up nuclear waste from a South Pacific atoll nearly 40 years ago, a move that Maine veteran Paul Laird says was a long time coming. But Laird, a 59-year-old from Otisfield who served with the U.S. Army’s 84th Engineer Battalion on Enewetak Atoll and who is a three-time cancer survivor, said that the bill has only a slim chance of becoming law — and that is not acceptable to him. As of now, only 30 co-sponsors have officially signed on to the bill, which is a number the Mainer said does not seem like enough. “We are not seeing people jump up and down to get onboard,” he said earlier this month. “We’re a little disappointed. We’re trying however we can to get the word out, but people just don’t seem to think it’s very important.”

The bill, H.R. 3870, is called the Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act, and was introduced last November by U.S. Rep. Mark Takai (D-HI). It was referred to the House subcommittee on health on 6 NOV and has not advanced any farther on its legislative path. The website GovTrack.us, which follows Congress, only gave the bill a 5 percent chance of getting out of committee and a 1 percent chance of being enacted into law. Veterans such as Laird and Jeffery Dean of Belfast want to be designated as so-called atomic veterans so that if they are diagnosed with one of several specific cancers or nonmalignant conditions they can be entitled to compensation or free medical care through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. With this designation, they would not have to prove their cancers were caused by radiation and would likely have an easier time getting a disability rating from the VA.

Laird and Dean were among approximately 6,000 American soldiers tasked with rehabilitating the atoll between 1977 and 1980 before it was returned to the people of the Marshall Islands. The tiny island was the scene of more than 40 nuclear tests from 1948 to 1958, and when the two Mainers were among those told to clean it up with little protective gear, they believe they became contaminated with radioactive dust. “The stuff was like baby powder,” Laird said of the contaminated soil he moved with a bulldozer and bucket loader. “When you dumped it in the back of the truck it would just go poof. The first weeks I was there I begged for a dust mask. They said they were on back order and just wrap your T-shirt around your nose.”

Jeffery Dean, 58, served in the United States Army from 1976 to 1979. During his service, he spent 4 months involved in the Enewetak Radiological Support Project in the South Pacific. The mission was to clean up the radiation debris from atomic bomb testing that took place there. Dean and many of the other men who served there are suffering from different cancers and other health conditions. Dean and several others are now fighting to be recognized and compensated for medical expenses due to ionized radiation exposure. &quotWe didn't hesitate when they asked us to go out there," said Dean, &quotbut now that we're all getting sick, they're [the V.A.] turning their back on us."

Underneath the concrete dome on Runit Island, which is part of Enewetak Atoll, lies an estimated 73,000 cubic meters of radioactive soil and debris generated during the Cold War testing of nuclear bombs in the South Pacific. The American government spent nearly $240 million and used about 4,000 men in the 1970s to build and fill the Cactus Crater.

American soldiers worked to build Cactus Crater on the islet of Rumit on Enewetak Atoll in the Pacific Ocean in the late 1970s. About 4,000 American troops were tasked to clean up and rehabilitate the atoll which was contaminated by radioactive soil and debris. The U.S. military had used the atoll to conduct a total of 42 nuclear tests between 1948 and 1958, and the men who were part of the clean-up crew in the 1970s are now saying that their exposure has caused cancer and other health problems.

(1) (2) (3)

  1. Jeffery Dean, 58, served in the United States Army from 1976 to 1979. During his service, he spent 4 months involved in the Enewetak Radiological Support Project in the South Pacific. The mission was to clean up the radiation debris from atomic bomb testing that took place there. Dean and many of the other men who served there are suffering from different cancers and other health conditions. Dean and several others are now fighting to be recognized and compensated for medical expenses due to ionized radiation exposure. “We didn’t hesitate when they asked us to go out there,” said Dean, “but now that we’re all getting sick, they’re [the V.A.] turning their back on us.”
  2. Underneath the concrete dome on Runit Island, which is part of Enewetak Atoll, lies an estimated 73,000 cubic meters of radioactive soil and debris generated during the Cold War testing of nuclear bombs in the South Pacific. The American government spent nearly $240 million and used about 4,000 men in the 1970s to build and fill the Cactus Crate
  3. American soldiers worked to build Cactus Crater on the islet of Rumit on Enewetak Atoll in the Pacific Ocean in the late 1970s. About 4,000 American troops were tasked to clean up and rehabilitate the atoll which was contaminated by radioactive soil and debris. The U.S. military had used the atoll to conduct a total of 42 nuclear tests between 1948 and 1958, and the men who were part of the clean-up crew in the 1970s are now saying that their exposure has caused cancer and other health problems.

He said that he is in communication with 340 known surviving veterans from Enewetak Atoll, and of the 340, there is a 35 percent cancer rate. “We have many guys that have already died. We have lots more with a foot in the grave,” Laird said. “I’ve had three different forms of cancer, which is very, very rare. I was in good shape my whole life, then all of a sudden, it was like someone flipped the switch. That’s what radiation does.” Dean, another cancer survivor, said last year that it is past time for the veterans to get the designation and health care they need. “We’re all suffering the consequences,” he said. “Vets are dying with no mystery to it.” Although the VA could on its own grant what the Enewetak Atoll veterans are asking, so far the agency has not indicated there is a lot of interest in doing that. Last year, a VA spokesperson told the BDN that the agency does not have any data indicating veterans should be concerned over radiological safety and that radiation exposures were “as low as reasonably achievable.”

Members of Maine’s congressional delegation reached on 30 MAR said that they believe the veterans should be helped. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree has signed onto the bill as a co-sponsor and will be added to the official list of co-sponsors when Congress goes back into session next month, according to Willy Ritch, her spokesman. On Wednesday, Ritch said it is impossible to predict the passage of legislation. “There are issues like this that should not be controversial and that can sometimes be attached to other bills that are going through,” he said. “A bill doesn’t always go through a regular legislative process. It could be added to something else … You just keep looking for chances to fix the policy. After having served and sacrificed, [these veterans] shouldn’t have to be fighting the VA.”

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin said on 30 MAR that he has made it a priority to help ensure that veterans are fully supported in every capacity. “In addition to sending a letter to the VA on this matter, Congressman Poliquin is examining all legislation to make sure our veterans are provided the support that they have earned and deserve,” the statement from his office read. U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King issued a joint statement Wednesday, saying they planned to look closely at the proposed House legislation. “Our veterans have served our nation with honor and distinction, and if they suffer from illnesses resulting from their work in the line of duty, then they deserve support, resources and high quality health care from the VA,” they said in the statement. [Source: Bangor Daily News | Abigail Curtis | April 03, 2016 ++]

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VA Suicide Prevention Update 31 ► H.R.2915/S.2487 | Female Prevention

Proposed legislation would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to develop gender-specific suicide prevention programs. The “Female Veteran Suicide Prevention Act” (H.R. 2915) directs the VA to identify mental health care and suicide prevention programs and metrics that are most effective in treating women veterans. The legislation, passed by the House of Representatives in early February, was in response to an increase in suicide in female veterans detailed in a recent VA study. Researchers tracked more than 174,000 veteran and non-veteran suicides from 2000 to 2010 and found that the rate of suicide among female veterans increased 40 percent during that time period.

Women account for 10 percent of the veteran population and are the fastest growing subpopulation of veterans treated by the VA, according to information released from the office of U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). Blumenthal co-sponsored the Senate version of the legislation (S.2487), which has been referred to the Committee on Veterans Affairs. “With suicide among women veterans happening at an alarming rate, this bill will help save lives by ensuring VA is providing the care, counseling and outreach these veterans need,” Blumenthal said. Heather O’Beirne Kelly, Ph.D., lead psychologist for military and veterans policy, senior legislative and federal affairs officer, for the American Psychological Association, said the APA supports the Female Veteran Suicide Prevention Act. “H.R. 2915 directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to specifically identify and evaluate mental health care and suicide prevention programs that meet the critical needs of women veterans and to include women as a focus in relevant research programs,” Kelly said.

The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, signed into law in 2015, required an “independent third party” to evaluate the VA’s mental healthcare and suicide prevention programs. This new legislation would amend that law to also require “specific metrics applicable to women and to identify the VA mental health care and suicide prevention programs that are most effective and have the highest patient satisfaction rates among women veterans.” Kelly said the VA has a very active portfolio of research and programming to identify and address the particular needs of women veterans, if and when they are different than the needs of male veterans. “In some areas this is an obvious issue, like when female veterans have gynecological needs or are pregnant, for example,” Kelly said. “In terms of suicide, female veterans accessing care at the VA have shown an increasing and disturbingly higher rate when compared to women in similar but ‘civilian’ cohorts. Women veterans die by suicide at almost six times the rate of other women and women veterans are five times more likely to die by suicide than male veterans,” Kelly said.

Kelly said the APA also supports the second aspect of the legislation, which mandates that veterans who served in classified missions while on active duty be offered comprehensive mental health treatment within the VA that is sensitive to those veterans’ ongoing security needs. Parents of a young veteran advocated for this measure after their son was assigned to group therapy at the VA and expressed concerns about the possibility of inadvertently sharing classified information in that setting while in the presence of those without appropriate clearances, Kelly said.

That veteran ultimately died by suicide and his parents worked to have language added in this bill ensuring that veterans who participated in classified missions could “access mental health care in a manner that fully accommodates their obligation to not improperly disclose classified information,” Kelly said. “Should the Senate bill pass and then be conferenced with the House bill and signed into law by the President, the VA would be required to find alternative methods of mental health treatment for this group of veterans that meets their security needs,” Kelly said. [Source: New England Psychologis| Pamela Berard | April 1, 2016 ++]

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Vet Bills Submitted to 114th Congress ► 160401 thru 160415

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.4892 : Vet Compensation for Loss of Creative Organs. A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to pay special compensation to certain veterans with the loss or loss of use of creative organs. Sponsor: Rep Miller, Jeff [FL-1] (introduced 4/11/2016)

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

  • S.2767 : United States Cadet Nurse Corps Equity Act of 2016. A bill to provide that service of the members of the organization known as the United States Cadet Nurse Corps during World War II constituted active military service for purposes of laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen Menendez, Robert [NJ] (introduced 4/7/2016). Related Bills: H.R.2248.
  • S.2772 : Vet Opioid Antagonists Copay Elimination. A bill to eliminate the requirement that veterans pay a copayment to the Department of Veterans Affairs to receive opioid antagonists or education on the use of opioid antagonists. Sponsor: Sen Baldwin, Tammy [WI] (introduced 4/11/2016)

[Source: https://beta.congress.gov & http: //www.govtrack.us/congress/bills April 13, 2016 ++]

* Military *

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Military Tattoo Criteria Update 06 Navy Easing Policy

The Navy is easing its tattoo policy in a bid to recruit and retain more sailors from the millennial generation, of whom more than 1 in 3 sport body art. Sailors will be allowed to have neck tattoos, sleeves and even markings behind their ears under the new policy, the most lenient of any military service. Only their heads are off limits under the new policy, which the Navy’s top sailor has called a reality check on the permanent art favored by sailors. “We just got to the point where we realized we needed to be honest with ourselves and put something in place that was going to reflect the realities of our country and the needs of our Navy,” Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens said in a March 30 interview. “We need to make sure that we’re not missing any opportunities to recruit and retain the best and the brightest because of our policies.” The new rules, announced 1 MAR and taking effect April 30, will allow sailors to:

  • Have multiple or large tattoos below the elbow or knee, including the wrists and hands, effectively allowing sleeve tattoos that can be seen even while wearing short sleeve uniforms.
  • Have one tattoo on their neck, which includes behind the ear, and it may not exceed 1 inch in length or height in either or both directions.
  • Sailors with visible tattoos will now be eligible for recruiting duty or leading recruits at boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois. These tough assignments often give sailors a leg up to make rank.

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The rules do not change the Navy’s content guidelines that apply to body art “anywhere on the body,” the policy says. The service reiterated these in the updated policy, banning “tattoos that are obscene, sexually explicit, and or advocate discrimination based on sex, race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin.” “In addition, tattoos that symbolize affiliation with gangs, supremacist or extremist groups, or advocate illegal drug use are prohibited — waivers will not be given for tattoos with prohibited content,” the service said. The updated tattoo policy does not apply to Marines, even ones serving at Navy commands, according to a spokesman for Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller. The Marines are easing their tattoo rules but do not allow sleeves, which would be visible with short-sleeved uniforms like PT uniforms. Marines’ new tattoo policy will be more flexible, but won’t allow sleeves

In 2015, the Army updated its rules to allow sleeve tattoos, but it does not permit soldiers to have ink on their necks or hands, which would be visible in the Army Service Uniform. Sailors tattoos must be documented in the administrative remarks section of their service record. Sailors found to have tattoos with prohibited content could face disciplinary action and even involuntary discharge. It’s left up to commanding officers to decide what crosses the line. Typically, sailors are allowed to have tattoos removed or modified to eliminate any banned content before they are disciplined. Beyond what’s stated in the policy, don’t expect a laundry list of do’s and don’ts. “There are just so many variables when you look at tattoo language and tattoo art that it’s just not reasonable to try and identify a set list of what is and what isn’t acceptable,” Stevens said. “This is one of those areas where we trust this senior leadership, our triads, to be able to look at something in its context, using the chain of command and having discussions amongst themselves as to whether something is appropriate or not.”

Tattoos are popular with sailors, especially millennials.

Tattoos are popular with sailors, especially millennials. New rules will allow more inked sailors to compete for career-enhancing jobs like recruiting duty. Here, Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) 3rd Class James Fisher participates in a cable reweaving in the engine room of carrier Abraham 

Stevens said the changes came from sailors’ feedback, with many complaining that their body art unfairly barred them from jobs like recruit division commanders that can help them get advanced. Stevens said he believes that society is more accepting of tattoos, with some estimates that as much as nearly half of the demographic the military recruits from has tattoos. “This isn’t official, but in my research, I saw estimates that the percentage of people with tattoos in the 18 to 25 age group as being between 37 and 40 percent,” he said. That’s not an insignificant number.” That age group encompasses the majority of sailors in the fleet, Stevens said, and made the Navy’s leadership realize a policy change was needed from the tougher rules enacted 13 years ago. “It’s a tough recruiting environment out there already and when you start putting up barriers that don’t have any true rationale behind them, you create problems for yourself into the future,” he said. “We’ve met [recruiting] goal for 105 straight months and our recruiting is strong, but you never want to get behind.” MCPON, who is wrapping up a 33-year career that is longer than most millennials’ lives, would “neither confirm nor deny” when asked whether he has any tattoos. [Source: Navy Times | Mark Faram | March 31, 2016 ++]

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Military Tattoo Criteria Update 07 Air Force Policy Review

Like its sister services, the Air Force is getting in line to update its tattoo policy in the next few months. “The Air Force has recently formed a working group to review the tattoo policy,” Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Brooke Brzozowske told Air Force Times on 5 APR. “Depending on the working group’s findings, we anticipate any policy change proposals to be ready for Air Force leadership consideration in the fall of 2016.” Brzozowske did not say specifically what senior leadership is looking to change, but that its been in discussion for some time. The news comes just a week after the Navy overhauled its tattoo policy, allowing sailors to sport neck tattoos, sleeves and even markings behind their ears, the most lenient policy of any military service. And airmen, like sailors, may be able to cheer on new reforms if the outcome is favorable.

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The Air Force hasn’t updated its policy on tattoos since 2010, when there was a change to how the chain of command could determine, or even measure, a tattoo to be “excessive.” If airmen have excessive tattoos — anything defined as covering 25 percent of an exposed body part or readily visible when wearing any uniform other than PT gear — they need to fill out a form for their commander to document that an excessive tattoo has been waived and the individual has been authorized to cover the tattoo with his or her uniform. The form remains on an airman’s service record until the he or she leaves the Air Force or the tattoo is removed, Brzozowske said. Other restrictions apply: any visible tattoos or markings above the collarbone, such as the neck, head, face, tongue, lips, and/or scalp, are prohibited. Unauthorized tattoos need to be removed. At the commander’s discretion, they could be removed through various sessions in a Defense Department medical treatment facility.

Airmen cannot tattoo themselves with symbols linked to hate groups, Brzozowske said. The Air Force Office of Special Investigations generates a list of what constitutes intolerable markings. “If presented with a request from Air Force officials, AFOSI would research the symbol to determine if it has been reported to law enforcement in the past as associated with hate groups,” Brzozowske said. Local and federal law enforcement, such as the Justice Department, FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, play a part in determining such symbols, she said. Input from soldiers prompted the Army to update its tattoo policy last April. Under the new rules, tattoo sleeves, which typically cover the arm from shoulder to wrist, are once again authorized as long as they don’t extend past the wrist, Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey told Army Times. “As long as it’s not visible in the Army uniform … that’s the spirit of what we went after,” he said. [Source: Air Force Times | Oriana Pawlyk | April 05, 2016 ++]

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GI Bill Update 203 ► VA Tuition Assistance “Top-up” Program

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers tuition assistance to service members called the Tuition Assistance “Top-up” Program. This type of aid, which can be used to finish a degree, pays for whatever portion of a college course’s tuition and fees that are not covered by other forms of financial aid. If the total expense of the courses is more than the tuition assistance offered, then the VA covers the difference, and subtracts that money from a student’s remaining GI Bill benefits. In order to be eligible, you must be a GI Bill participant, still on active duty, and must have served at least two full years. The top-up program is only available for recipients of the Montgomery GI Bill or Post-9/11 GI Bill programs.

The way it works is that if a three-month course costs a certain amount and a service member gets approved for half the cost in tuition assistance, top-up will cover the other half, but subtract the three months out of the top-up program’s 36 months of offered payments. Top-up aid stipulations vary by GI Bill program as well, however. With the Montgomery GI Bill, your entitlement is charged based on the dollar amount of benefits VA pays you. When using top-up, you are charged one month of entitlement for each payment you receive that is equal to one month at the full-time rate. If you utilize the Post-9/11 GI Bill, then the entitlement is charged based on the training time during which you are enrolled. Service members attending classes on a part-time basis will be charged for that portion of time in accordance with Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits for each month, regardless of the money paid. It’s more about the time enrolled than the funds used.

Top-up benefits are best used by service members that plan to use tuition assistance to complete a degree program while on active duty and don’t necessarily plan to continue education post-service. Service member that decide to use the top-up benefit will have his or her regular GI Bill benefits reduced. Those interested in applying are required to file Form 22-1990 to establish eligibility. [Source: Task & Purpose | Arah Sicard | April 4, 2016 ++]

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Army Appearance Standards ► Beard, Hair, Turban Waivers

An Army officer who filed suit against the service and the Defense Department to maintain articles of his Sikh faith while in uniform received a waiver to Army appearance standards that will allow him to keep his beard, long hair and turban. Capt. Simratpal Singh requested such an exception in October. After months without an answer, and after he was asked by the Army to participate in what his legal team called “unprecedented, prejudiced testing” regarding the fit of his helmet and gas mask, he sued DoD, the Army and several top defense officials in search of a permanent waiver. In early March, a U.S. District Court judge in the District of Columbia ordered the Army not to undertake the gear tests.

Captain Simratpal Singh, receives approval to maintain his articles of ...

According to the 30 MAR memo ordering the exception, a copy of which was provided to Army Times on 1 APR by Singh’s representatives, the officer:

  • Must wear his hair, beard and turban in “a neat and conservative manner” and in a way that allows proper fit of the Army Combat Helmet and other equipment as required.
  • May wear a turban instead of other nonprotective Army headgear.
  • Should be prepared to “comply fully” with Army appearance regulations should the exemption be removed.

It will be reviewed by Singh’s command on a quarterly basis and after a year, or possibly sooner, by the Army’s assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs. The court case remains active, according to a Sikh Coalition spokesman. As part of the initial compliant, Singh’s legal team requested the judge order the Army to pay Singh’s legal fees and award “nominal damages,” while ruling on the constitutionality of the Army’s actions toward Singh on religious discrimination grounds. [Source: Army Times | Kevin Lilley | April 1, 2016 ++]

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Other than Honorable Discharge Update 04 ► All Time High

A report released on 30 MAR by Swords to Plowshares and National Veterans Legal Services Program, and covered by both Task and Purpose (www.taskandpurpose.com) and the New York Times has found that 125,000 veterans who served since 2001 have been excluded from basic VA services because of so-called “bad paper,” or other-than-honorable, discharges. Bad paper discharges occur when a service member leaves the military under conditions that are less than honorable: other-than-honorable, bad conduct, and dishonorable discharges. Approximately 33,000 of the 125,000 other-than-honorable discharges since 9/11 deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Many other servicemembers with less-than-honorable discharges are victims of military sexual trauma.

Overall, that 125,000 number amounts to 6.5% of all post-9/11 service members. In contrast, the report found that only 2.8% of Vietnam-era veterans and 1.7% of World War II-era veterans were excluded from VA benefits due to bad paper discharges. Further, the report suggests this may be in violation of the 1944 GI Bill of Rights. In the GI Bill of Rights, officially called the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, Congress deemed that other-than-honorable discharges can only bar a veteran from basic VA services if the individual’s misconduct led to a dishonorable discharge after a court-martial due to serious crimes. As TREA and many other veteran service organizations have noted, two of the VA’s main purposes are ending veteran homelessness and stopping veteran suicide. Veterans with bad paper are at higher risk for both homelessness and suicide, but are purposefully excluded from services that are specifically designed to help them.

The report cites the VA’s regulations as the problem because they do not match the eligibility standards set up by Congress, as noted above. Apparently this policy of denying veterans’ benefits to those with other-than-honorable discharges is not consistently applied. www.Taskandpurpose.com reported that in 2013, VA regional offices denied eligibility to 90% of veterans with bad paper discharges. While the Boston regional office denied 69% of veterans with bad paper discharges, the Indianapolis regional office denied 100%. In an interview with taskandpurpose.com, Deputy Secretary of the VA Sloan Gibson said:

“Under long-standing law and regulations, VA considers whether individuals with less than honorable discharges are eligible for VA benefits on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the reason for the discharge. I believe the report provides us as a department an opportunity to do a thorough review, take a fresh look this issue and make changes to help veterans.”

However, even when the department does investigate the character of discharges to determine if a veteran should be blocked from receiving benefits, the report found that it takes too long to complete, averaging three years or more. [Source: TREA Washington Update | April 4, 2016|++]

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ACTUV Update 01 ► USN Speed Testing Robot Ship

In late March, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a Pentagon agency responsible for developing and testing cutting-edge military technologies, released a video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJ0oW3wcFuo) of its Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) depicting the ship being launched and undergoing speed tests earlier this year. The 132-feet (40 meters) long and 140-ton heavy ACTUV is an unmanned autonomous trimaran prototype. “The ACTUV technology demonstration vessel was recently transferred to water at its construction site in Portland, Ore., and conducted speed tests in which it reached a top speed of 27 knots (31 mph/50 kph),” according to a DARPA press release. “The vessel is scheduled to be christened on April 7, 2016, with open-water testing planned to begin in summer 2016 off the California coast.”

US Navy Is Speed Testing Sub-Hunting Robot Ship

Immediately following the christening of the ACTUV at the Vigor Shipyards in Oregon, the ship will commence extensive open-water trials for 18 months in California. The sea-trials will also involve testing the vessel’s long-range tracking capabilities. Throughout this next testing phase, DARPA will closely liaison with the Office of Naval Research and the Space and Naval Systems Warfare Command.As explained in February, the ACTUV is specifically designed to track quiet diesel-electric submarines (See: http://thediplomat.com/2016/02/worlds-largest-anti-submarine-robot-ship-ready-for-sea-trials-in-april). The ship’s primary mission will be tracking enemy subs in shallow waters. Furthermore, (…) the ACTUV is designed to operate autonomously for 60 to 90 days straight, surveil large stretches of ocean territory and — should an enemy sub be spotted — guide other U.S. naval assets to the vessel’s location to destroy it (the ACTUV itself is unarmed).

DARPA’s website notes that the ACTUV program objective “is to generate a vessel design that exceeds state-of-the art platform performance to provide propulsive overmatch against diesel electric submarines at a fraction of their size and cost.” The ACTUV will approximately cost $15,000 to $20,000 per day to operate. It is equipped with a Raytheon Modular Scalable Sonar System (MS3), the vessel’s primary search-and-detection sonar and purportedly the first fifth-generation medium-frequency hull-mounted sonar system built by the U.S. defense contractor. The MS3 is designed to autonomously conduct active and passive sonar searches. The ACTUV allegedly has already successfully tracked a submarine from one kilometer (0.62 miles) away. DARPA is also working on developing non-conventional sensor technologies to facilitate the correct identification of surface ships and other objects while at sea. Throughout its missions at sea, the ACTUV will be in constant contact with other ships or aircraft via satellite link. The robot ship prototype will serve as the basis for a whole fleet of cheap sub-hunting drone ships. [Source: The Diplomat | Franz-Stefan Gady | April 05, 2016 ++]

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USS Paul Hamilton (DDG-60) ► Leaving Hawaii After 20 Years

Hawaii is losing the Navy destroyer Paul Hamilton after having it stationed in Pearl Harbor for more than 20 years. The ship left 5 APR and will swap home ports with the destroyer William P. Lawrence in San Diego, which is currently deployed and expected to arrive in Hawaii later this year, KHON-TV reported. Officials say the move supports efforts to bring the Navy’s most advanced vessels and ships with greater capacity to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. “The Navy is committed to basing approximately 60 percent of Navy ships and aircraft in the region by 2020,” said Rear Adm. John Fuller, commander of Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific and Navy Region Hawaii. “As such, our readiness and the warriors’ ethos in Hawaii will continue to be critical to maintaining security in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.” The Hamilton has been operating out of Pearl Harbor since it was commissioned in 1995. The vessel was named for a secretary of the Navy who served from 1809 to 1812 and played a major role in the creation of naval hospitals, according to KUSI-TV. The Lawrence is named after a vice admiral who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam and later commander of the Naval Academy. [Source: Washington Post | Craig Whitlock | March 17, 2016 ++]

USS Paul Hamilton on patrol

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Military Retirement Choice ► Updated Calculator Released

On 6 APR the nonprofit research and analysis organization CNA released an updated version of its web-based calculator at /www.cna.org/research/retirement-calculator which allows military servicemembers to determine which Department of Defense retirement plan will best serve their needs—a decision that could cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars in retirement benefits. Military personnel who entered service after July 31, 1986, who are eligible and intend to serve for 20 years, must choose between two retirement plans at their 15th year of service: High-3 plan, which bases retirement pay on the highest average basic pay for three years of their careers; and the REDUX plan, which provides a $30,000 upfront career status bonus with smaller retirement checks over time. The calculator, developed by CNA as part of its annual Retirement Choice study, allows future retirees to determine how much they would earn under the two competing retirement plans and decide which one is right for them.

To use the calculator, servicemembers type in the year they entered military service, the number of years they will have served when they retire, their tax rate, their paygrade at retirement, and their anticipated life expectancy. The calculator then generates the cumulative retirement pay with High 3 and the cumulative retirement pay with REDUX.

As reported in the conclusion of CNA’s latest retirement study report, Retirement Choice 2016: We find that, for almost all servicemembers, the REDUX retirement plan plus a $30,000 bonus paid at the 15th year of service is a bad choice that significantly reduces their retirement income. The higher the grade, the lower the years of service at retirement, and the longer the servicemember lives, the greater the reduction. Moreover, as each year passes, the difference between REDUX and High-3 retirement income increases (https://www.cna.org/cna_files/pdf/DRM-2016-U-012997-Final.pdf).

“The REDUX bonus effectively amounts to an early, partial cash-out of a servicemember’s retirement plan, which translates into less future retirement income,” said Anita Hattiangadi, research team leader for CNA’s Resource Analysis Division’s Marine Corps Manpower Team and one of the report’s authors. “The bonus may seem appealing but it’s important to understand the cost of that short-term gain in terms of lost long-term benefits.” [Source: CAN News Release | April 06, 2016 ++]

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Debt Collection Update 11 Military Members Lodge19,000+ Complaints

Members of the military may be the pride of their communities, but debt collectors lean on them to pay up, causing great stress on them and their families, a government consumer watchdog agency says. Military members lodged more than 19,000 financial complaints in 2015 with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, up from 17,000 the previous year, with almost half dealing with debt collection. Service members filed complaints about debt collections almost twice as often in 2015 as the general population did, the CFPB says in a report. “One issue … is the concern that unpaid debts can threaten a military career.” The top financial complaints by military members to the CFPB were:

  • Debt collection 46%
  • Mortgage 15%
  • Credit reporting 11%
  • Consumer loan 7%
  • Bank account or service 6%
  • Credit cards 6%
  • Payday loans 3%
  • Student loans2%
  • Prepaid1%
  • Other financial service1%
  • Money transfer0.8%

Debt collection complaints totaled more than 46% of all complaints by service members, the CFPB’s report says: “While this could be due to a variety of factors, one issue … is the concern that unpaid debts can threaten a military career.” ACA International, a trade group representing debt collectors, questions the report’s accuracy. “It simply does not provide important and relevant details, including the actual data, methodology or supporting arguments,” says Cindy Sebrell, ACA vice president of public affairs. The trade group criticizes the agency for issuing the report with complaint data that have not been verified. “The CFPB report itself acknowledges that the number of debt collection military complaints could be caused by a variety of factors,” Sebrell says.

Even so, Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, says the bureau’s findings come as no surprise. The industry is plagued by poor record retention. “The debt collector/debt buyer industries continue to be out of control,” Rheingold says. Service members are relatively young, uneducated and unsophisticated about debt, and failure to pay debts can end their careers. “It’s a toxic mix — out-of-control debt collectors and particularly vulnerable service member consumers,” Rheingold says. Holly Petraeus, the CFPB’s assistant director for service member affairs, says predatory lenders continue to spring up around military bases. On a visit to the Fort Campbell Army base a year and a half ago, she counted 20 fast-cash lenders in a 4-mile stretch. “Service members can be targeted by bad financial actors,” Petraeus says. “The realities of military life, such as deployment or frequent moves, can also make service members particularly vulnerable.”

The CFPB outlined problems in many financial areas, but the most complaints came in 3 areas:

  • Debt collection: About 44% of the bureau’s debt collection complaints from service members involved attempts to collect debt that the service members believed they didn’t owe. “Veterans are often left stressed and worried about their credit report due to these potentially erroneous collections,” the report says. In particular, the agency routinely hears from veterans who struggle with collectors on debts stemming from medical bills. “Many veterans leave the hospital believing their services were covered by their (Veterans Affairs) health insurance or Medicare/Medicaid, only to be hounded later by debt collectors,” the report says. Only 1% of the complaints about debt collection were closed with monetary relief. A majority of the cases — 66% — were closed with an explanation that was tailored to the individual consumer’s complaint. For example, this category would be used if the explanation substantively meets the consumer’s desired resolution or explains why no further action will be taken.
  • Mortgages: Around 2,800 complaints covered home financing. Service members experienced servicing issues when they had to relocate from one base to another, the report says. Some complaints center on the Department of Veterans Affairs Home Loans program, which guarantees the loan with the lender. Veterans are charged a funding fee of 1.25% to 3%, but those disabled veterans with service-connected disabilities are not obligated to pay the fee or can have it refunded. “We often hear from our disabled veteran consumers that they are struggling to receive a refund,” according to the report.
  • Credit reporting: Of approximately 2,200 credit reporting complaints from military members, 72% involved incorrect information on their credit reports. They usually learned of the problem after returning home from deployment and checking their credit report. Sometimes, the issue can be much more serious than just a mistaken listing on a credit report. “Many active-duty service members who submit credit reporting complaints highlight issues with fraud and identity theft,” the report says. “They often struggle to rectify the situation with both their creditors and the credit reporting companies.”

The agency also received veterans’ complaints on consumer loans, bank accounts and services, credit cards, payday loans, student loans, prepaid cards, money transfers and other financial services complaints. The majority of complaints in the financial services category — 50% — involved accusations of fraud or scams, the report says. Another 26% dealt with excessive or unexpected fees, while 8% involved issues of disclosure or lost or stolen checks. With credit cards, the largest percentage of complaints — 15% — centered on billing disputes. The CFPB says service members complain that they are confused and frustrated by the billing process and by their limited ability to challenge inaccuracies on their monthly statement. Service members lodged 500 payday loan complaints, with 51% dealing with fraud or scams. Debt collection complaints about payday loans outnumbered debt collection complaints about auto loans, mortgages, and student loans combined, the CFPB says. “The cost and structure of a particular (payday) loan can make it difficult for service members to repay,” the report says. [Source: Bankrate.com | Stephen Pounds | April 04, 2016 ++]

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USS Zumwalt Update 06 Reflective Material Added to Increase Visibility

The future USS Zumwalt is so stealthy that it’ll go to sea with reflective material that can be hoisted to make it more visible to other ships. The Navy destroyer is designed to look like a much smaller vessel on radar, and it lived up to its billing during recent builder trials. Lawrence Pye, a lobsterman, told The Associated Press that on his radar screen the 610-foot ship looked like a 40- to 50-foot fishing boat. He watched as the behemoth came within a half-mile while returning to shipbuilder Bath Iron Works. “It’s pretty mammoth when it’s that close to you,” Pye said.

Image result for uss zumwalt

Despite its size, the warship is 50 times harder to detect than current destroyers thanks to its angular shape and other design features, and its stealth could improve even more once testing equipment is removed, said Capt. James Downey, program manager. During sea trials last month, the Navy tested Zumwalt’s radar signature with and without reflective material hoisted on its halyard, he said. The goal was to get a better idea of exactly how stealthy the ship really is, Downey said from Washington, D.C. The reflectors, which look like metal cylinders, have been used on other warships and will be standard issue on the Zumwalt and two sister ships for times when stealth becomes a liability and they want to be visible on radar, like times of fog or heavy ship traffic, he said. The possibility of a collision is remote. The Zumwalt has sophisticated radar to detect vessels from miles away, allowing plenty of time for evasive action. But there is a concern that civilian mariners might not see it during bad weather or at night, and the reflective material could save them from being startled.

The destroyer is unlike anything ever built for the Navy. Besides a shape designed to deflect enemy radar, it features a wave-piercing “tumblehome” hull, composite deckhouse, electric propulsion and new guns. More tests will be conducted when the ship returns to sea later this month for final trials before being delivered to the Navy. The warship is due to be commissioned in October in Baltimore, and will undergo more testing before becoming fully operational in 2018. [Source: The Associated Press | David Sharp | April 10, 2016 ++]

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USMC Osprey Crash Apr 8, 2000 Family Finds Truth – And Peace

The tradition is always the same. Every April 8, Connie Gruber visits her husband’s grave. She and daughter Brooke kneel in front of his tombstone in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Together, they run their fingers over each letter in his name, saying out loud “Brooks Scott Gruber.” Connie carries with her two things: flowers and a constant ache in her heart. This year, though, she brought with her something she hasn’t had since he died in an aircraft crash in the Marana desert — peace. It was bad enough to lose her soulmate, but in the accident’s aftermath a Marine Corps news release blamed her 35 year old husband and Lt. Col. John Brow for the Osprey accident that killed 19. It’s taken 16 years, but Connie — ever the faithful Marine Corps wife who supported her pilot husband’s many far-flung assignments — has finally accomplished her own mission to clear his name. To read what transpired refer to the attachment to this Bulletin titled, “Major Brooks Gruber’s Vindication”. [Source: The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson | Kristen Cook | Apr 12, 2016 ++]

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Archive Photo of the Day Suresnes, France September 1952

http://www.stripes.com/polopoly_fs/1.403735.1460238761!/image/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_490/image.jpg

Suresnes, France, September, 1952: A woman cleans one of the grave markers in the military cemetery at Suresnes, just outside of Paris, where a ceremony was held to dedicate a memorial to fallen U.S. servicemembers from World War II. Retired five-star general and former Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall spoke at the dedication, and pledged that U.S. forces in Europe “will not go home until our friends here feel that our presence is no longer essential to their freedom.” [Source: Stars & Stripes | Joe Gromelski | April 06, 2016 ++]

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Medal of Honor Citations ► Baker, Thomas A | WWII

https://sp.yimg.com/xj/th?id=OIP.M8fe398523ebb7f5e01d9ab4511d275e4H0&pid=15.1&P=0&w=300&h=300

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

takes pleasure in presenting the

Medal of Honor posthumously

To

Thomas A. Baker

Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company A, 105th Infantry, 27th Infantry Division

Place and date: Saipan, Mariana Islands, 19 June to 7 July 1944

Entered service: Troy, N.Y.

Born: Troy, N.Y. on 25 June 1916

Citation

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty at Saipan, Mariana Islands, 19 June to 7 July 1944. When his entire company was held up by fire from automatic weapons and small-arms fire from strongly fortified enemy positions that commanded the view of the company, Sgt. (then Pvt.) Baker voluntarily took a bazooka and dashed alone to within 100 yards of the enemy. Through heavy rifle and machinegun fire that was directed at him by the enemy, he knocked out the strong point, enabling his company to assault the ridge. Some days later while his company advanced across the open field flanked with obstructions and places of concealment for the enemy, Sgt. Baker again voluntarily took up a position in the rear to protect the company against surprise attack and came upon 2 heavily fortified enemy pockets manned by 2 officers and 10 enlisted men which had been bypassed. Without regard for such superior numbers, he unhesitatingly attacked and killed all of them. Five hundred yards farther, he discovered 6 men of the enemy who had concealed themselves behind our lines and destroyed all of them. On 7 July 1944, the perimeter of which Sgt. Baker was a part was attacked from 3 sides by from 3,000 to 5,000 Japanese. During the early stages of this attack, Sgt. Baker was seriously wounded but he insisted on remaining in the line and fired at the enemy at ranges sometimes as close as 5 yards until his ammunition ran out. Without ammunition and with his own weapon battered to uselessness from hand-to-hand combat, he was carried about 50 yards to the rear by a comrade, who was then himself wounded. At this point Sgt. Baker refused to be moved any farther stating that he preferred to be left to die rather than risk the lives of any more of his friends. A short time later, at his request, he was placed in a sitting position against a small tree . Another comrade, withdrawing, offered assistance. Sgt. Baker refused, insisting that he be left alone and be given a soldier’s pistol with its remaining 8 rounds of ammunition. When last seen alive, Sgt. Baker was propped against a tree, pistol in hand, calmly facing the foe. Later Sgt. Baker’s body was found in the same position, gun empty, with 8 Japanese lying dead before him. His deeds were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.

SERGEANT THOMAS A. BAKER - Medal of Honor winner. Man's Game.

Medal of Honor Recipient - Sgt. Thomas Alexander Baker U.S. Army (1916 ...

Baker was posthumously promoted to sergeant and, on May 9, 1945, awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions throughout the battle for Saipan. He was buried at Gerald B. H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery in Schuylerville, New York. In November 2009, a memorial honoring Baker and fellow Troy natives Major General Ogden Ross and Lieutenant Colonel William J. O’Brien was installed in the Rensselaer County office building. O’Brian, like Baker a member of the 105th Infantry, was also posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on Saipan: he died there within hours of Baker. Ross was a former commander of the 15th infantry and an assistant divisional commander during the Battle of Saipan. The memorial includes replicas of the Medals of Honor awarded to Baker and O’Brien

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

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A Vietnam Veteran is reflected in the Vietnam War Memorial Wall before a ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War on March 29.

A Vietnam Veteran is reflected in the Vietnam War Memorial Wall before a ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War on March 29

* Military History *


Civil War Monument Controversy ► New Orleans Removal Backlash

Backlash against a plan to remove prominent Confederate monuments in New Orleans has been tinged by death threats, intimidation and even what may have been the intentional torching of a contractor’s Lamborghini. For now, at least, things have gotten so nasty the city hasn’t found a contractor willing to bear the risk of tearing down the monuments. The city doesn’t have its own equipment to move them and is now in talks to find a company, even discussing doing the work at night to avoid further tumult.

Initially, it appeared the monuments would be removed quickly after the majority black City Council on 17 DEC voted 6-1 to approve the mayor’s plan to take them down. The monuments, including towering figures of Gens. Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard, have long been viewed by many here as symbols of racism and white supremacy. The backlash is not surprising to Bill Quigley, a Loyola University law professor and longtime civil rights activist in New Orleans who’s worked on behalf of a group demanding the monuments come down. The South has seen such resistance before, during fights over school integration and efforts in the early 1990s to racially integrate Carnival parades in New Orleans. “Fighting in the courts, fighting in the legislature, anonymous intimidation,” Quigley said. “These are from the same deck of cards that are used to stop all social change.”

For all its reputation as a party city of fun and frolic, New Orleans is no stranger to social change and the tensions that come with it. It was the site of an early attempt to challenge racial segregation laws in the Plessy vs. Ferguson case and home to then-6-year-old Ruby Bridges whose battle to integrate her elementary school was immortalized in a Norman Rockwell painting. New Orleans is a majority African-American city although the number of black residents has fallen since 2005’s Hurricane Katrina drove many people from the city. Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who proposed the monuments’ removal, rode to victory twice with overwhelming support from the city’s black residents. Nationally, the debate over Confederate symbols has become heated since nine parishioners were killed at a black church in South Carolina in June. South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from its statehouse grounds in the weeks after, and several Southern cities have since considered removing monuments. “There is no doubt that there is a huge amount of rage over the attack on Confederate symbols,” said Mark Potok with the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based group that tracks extremist activity. His group counted about 360 pro-Confederate battle flag rallies across the nation in the six months after the church shootings. Such rallies were rare before then, he said.

In New Orleans, things have turned particularly ugly. In early January, as it beat back legal challenges seeking to stop the removal, the city hired a contractor to remove the monuments. But H&O Investments LLC. of Baton Rouge soon pulled out of the job, citing death threats, “unkindly name-calling,” outrage on social media and the threat of other businesses canceling contracts. One day, several protesters came while H&O workers took measurements. Some of the protesters wore materials “with affiliation to white supremacy groups,” said Roy Maughan Jr., a lawyer for the contractor. That same day, Maughan said, “a specific articulated threat” was phoned into city authorities warning workers at the monuments to leave for their safety. On 12 JAN, H&O sent the city a letter saying it was dropping out. Then, on 19 JAN, a Lamborghini belonging to the owner of H&O Investments was set on fire. The sports car was parked outside his office near Baton Rouge, Maughan said. A national rental crane company the city had hoped to hire also refused to be involved. The FBI and local fire investigators declined to comment. No arrests have been made.

After H&O withdrew, the city opened a public bid process to find a new contractor – and things got messy again. When the names of companies interested in the work turned up on a city website, businesses were reportedly slammed with emails and telephone calls denouncing their involvement. The protest was organized at least in part by Save Our Circle, a group touting thousands of supporters who want a massive monument to Lee in Lee Circle preserved in the spot where it has stood since 1884. The city closed public viewing to the bidding process and has met with contractors without disclosing their names. The mayor declined requests for an interview.

Michel-Antoine Goitia-Nicolas said his reasons for supporting boycotts, making calls and joining protests on behalf of the monuments are personal: He traces his ancestry to Beauregard, a Louisiana native who led Rebel troops at the opening of the Civil War. A prominent equestrian statue of Beauregard at the entrance to City Park is slated to be taken down. “It’s totally divided this city,” Goitia-Nicolas said of the city’s plans. Standing next to the Beauregard statue, Goitia-Nicolas said he was willing to chain himself to statues to stop the removal. “Our lesson in history is that when we tear down the monuments of the past we rebuild the errors of our past,” he said. He said he was proud of Beauregard, who he said “never owned slaves.” “Why take it down? Put a statue of somebody positive in black history right here, in the midst of Beauregard, or in the midst of Lee. We support that.”

Lee Circle New Orleans 121715AP

The Robert E. Lee Monument in Lee Circle in New Orleans

Just this month, a state lawmaker began pushing a bill meant to save the monuments. Legal challenges, too, are on appeal. “With this city, the way things go, it might not come down,” Lisa Huber, a 39-year-old greenhouse gardener, said as she pondered the statue of Lee atop a 60-foot-high marble column, standing in his Confederate uniform with his arms crossed, staring down the North. “I think it should come down, just because of the symbolism behind it.” [Source: Associated Press | Cain Burdeau | March 25, 2016 ++]

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Bataan Death March 74th Anniversary

Ralph Rodriguez says he’s not a hero. He doesn’t even want to talk about his wartime experiences of battling the Japanese and surviving the Bataan Death March. “But I do it because I need to help people remember,” said Rodriquez, 98, following Saturday’s ceremony honoring Bataan Death March survivors who are still living, as well as those who have died since April 1942, when U.S. military commanders stationed on the Bataan peninsula in the Philippines surrendered to the Japanese.

Survivors commemorate 74th anniversary of Bataan Death March

Survivors commemorate 74th anniversary of Bataan Death March

Ralph Rodriguez, 98 Atilano ‘Al’ David, 95

“It’s not fun to really suffer or be tortured,” the Albuquerque man said. Rodriquez was one of about 100 people, mostly military personnel, who attended the event near the Bataan Memorial Building on Galisteo Street to mark the 74th anniversary of a journey “too painful to remember, too tragic to not.” While 74 may seem an odd anniversary to mark — unlike next year’s milestone 75th — time is thinning the ranks of the Bataan survivors. Each year, their numbers dwindle a little more — nine have died since last April’s ceremony. Nine others died the year before that. Every anniversary of the march is significant. Veterans groups in the state estimate that just 20 survivors of the Bataan Death March are still living, eight in New Mexico. The youngest of them would be about 90. Just three showed up for Saturday’s event — Rodriguez, William Overmier, 97 (https://archive.org/details/WorldWar2PowWilliamOvermier), and Atilano “Al” David, 95.

From December 1941 to April 1942, some 1,800 New Mexico soldiers fought alongside Filipinos to repel Japanese invaders on the Bataan peninsula. On 9 APR, Bataan’s military commanders surrendered. The American and Filipino defenders were killed, captured or forced to march 65 miles through the jungle. Japanese soldiers used their bayonets and bullets along the way to kill the weak, wounded and defiant ones. Those who survived the march ended up in prisoner-of-war camps where violence, malnutrition and disease took their toll. By the war’s end, just 900 New Mexico soldiers were alive to return home.

David, a native Filipino who moved to the United States in the mid-1950s, was one of the luckier ones. Weak from a combat wound and suffering from malaria, he knew he faced a risk of being bayoneted or beheaded. And had he made it to a concentration camp, he said, he would not have lasted long. But two of his military buddies who had been carrying him made a decision that saved his life: When Japanese guards were not looking, they pushed David through some deep jungle brush, and the marchers passed him by. With the aid of local Filipinos, he recovered within a month and was battling alongside Filipino guerrilla fighters in the jungles, ambushing Japanese supply convoys. On the day the American military surrendered to the Japanese, he said, “We were crying. I was crying.” Despite being ill-equipped and surviving on one bowl of rice a week, however, many Americans and Filipinos wanted to fight on, he said.

The Bataan battle, he said, was a combination of horror, chaos and death. He recounted with a tone of sorrow how he and some other soldiers had mistakenly shot down an American B-17 bomber, killing its crew, in the thick of battle.

“What can you say about something like that? Sadness,” he said. Before the Americans surrendered, David felt like the defenders didn’t have a chance. “If we had had reinforcements, the proper equipment and air cover, we could have blown them all away,” he said. “We had no air cover, ineffective weapons and untrained soldiers. The Navy abandoned us. We were doomed from the start. “We were waiting for Superman and Captain Marvel to win the war for us.”

Still, David avoided the grisly fate that many of his comrades met during or after the march. For years, he resented the Japanese, who, he said, treated the Filipino prisoners much worse than their American counterparts. One day in the mid-1950s, he found himself shaking with rage when he saw a Japanese man on the subway in New York City. “Something came over me. I wanted to do something violent to him. Strangle him. But I overcame it.” Now, he said, he bears no ill will toward the Japanese: “We cannot generalize a nation.” David just completed a memoir of his wartime experiences called End of the Trail. He hopes it can be published before the 75th anniversary of the march next year. At 95, his mind is still sharp, though he relies on a wheelchair to get around. But there are still things he won’t talk about regarding Bataan and the war. “War is an insult to humanity,” he said. And, like Rodriguez, he says it’s not the soldiers who are the heroes. It’s their families, the ones who wait at home for them to return. Or suffer when they don’t come back at all. [Source: The Santa Fe – New Mexican | Robert Nott | April 09, 2016 ++]

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The Hump’s Casualties Recovery Efforts

At 7:40 a.m. Jan. 25, 1944, five B-24 Liberator heavy bombers from the 308th Bombardment Group, 425th Squadron, took off from their base at Kunming, China, on a routine supply run to India. Their route took them over the Hump, a treacherous eastern stretch of tall peaks in the Himalayan mountains. At 10:45 a.m., flying at 15,000 feet, the formation “was forced to break up due to extreme instrument weather conditions,” according to World War II documents on the mission. Clouds obscured the mountains’ tree lines; visibility was less than a mile. Each aircraft was on its own, trying to land safely in valleys or at the nearest airstrip. All five bombers crashed. Crews parachuted out of two aircraft and survived; a third bomber crashed, with two survivors. The fourth and fifth B-24s — Hot as Hell and Haley’s Comet — disappeared. Their crews were presumed dead. After many years of work, the remains of some of Hot as Hell’s crew are making their final journey home. A repatriation ceremony is planned next week in New Delhi as part of Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s trip to India.

B-24 Liberator flying over Mt. Lassen, California.

B-24 Liberator flying over Mt. Lassen, California.

The return of the remains marks a victory in an incomplete recovery that started with luck and continues through determined persistence. The Hump was a deadly cargo route from China to India. The flight path included constant severe weather and 15,000-foot peaks that claimed 600 aircraft and more than 1,000 lives over the course of World War II. Hot as Hell’s final resting place, where the wing section and engines are visible, is about 9,400 feet up the outer Himalayas in northeastern India, near China. The crash site is a three-day climb from a village called Damroh. Most of the bomber’s broken pieces are blanketed by leaf litter.

The location was initially reported by Arizona mountaineer Clayton Kuhles, who had climbed the region’s mountains as a hobbyist for years until he saw his first World War II crash site. Then he combined those two passions — mountain climbing and recovery work — building a network of villagers who would report things they’d seen in the mountains and experts who helped identify wreckage and crews. To Kuhles, there were too many airmen who’d never come home. He has found the crash sites of more than 80 missing airmen, and he is driven to find more. Along the India-China route alone, DoD estimates there are remains of more than 400 airmen.

In 2006 Kuhles was led to a crash site by a villager who once cut aluminum from an aircraft and carried it on his back down the mountain to salvage it. But when he grew frustrated with the difficult process, the 60-year-old hunter left the last stack he had cut at the site. He hadn’t gone back until he brought Kuhles to the wreckage. Even though there were engine parts, Kuhles could find no serial numbers — a key to identifying an aircraft. They looked all over the site. Nothing. Then the villager led him to the aluminum stack. The last sheet had the aircraft construction number 2878 stenciled on it. Research confirmed the link: Hot as Hell, the long-lost bomber named for its pinup girl nose art, had been found.

In 2007 Gary Zaetz found Kuhles’ report about the crash on the Internet, and he knew he had to go to the site. His uncle Irwin — his father Larry’s favorite sibling — was on the Hot as Hell when it crashed. Both brothers served in the war; Irwin was a navigator, and Larry was a pharmacist’s mate 3rd class on the USS Hornet, CV-12, and at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Larry Zaetz had gone a lifetime missing his younger brother, whom he nicknamed “Zipper” for his speediness on the basketball court. But Zaetz, now 91, was ill so it was up to Gary to bring Irwin home. Gary Zaetz was out of shape and had never climbed a mountain. His co-workers had a betting pool in their North Carolina office that he wouldn’t come back. “They lost the pool,” he said. “I was determined.”

In September 2008 he climbed the Himalayas with the same guide who took Kuhles. For three days he persisted. He was out of breath in the thinning air and in constant pain from his feet, which were beaten up from the climb. But he succeeded. “There was certainly a sense of relief that I’d finally made it,” Gary Zaetz said. “I personally was exhausted by the time I got to crash site.” He had told the families of the Hot as Hell crew about his plans, and had gotten to know their stories. He wanted to honor the lost. At the site he took out papers and began to recite Jewish and Christian prayers, reflecting the religions of the crew. Then he read each of their names out loud.

In January 2011, Kuhles reached Haley’s Comet. Its crash site is about 100 miles to the west of Hot as Hell, and the wreckage contains many more personal artifacts. There are shoes, bone fragments and clothing that Kuhles photographed and posted on his website, www.miarecoveries.org. The crash site has not been processed by Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. DPAA was notified about both sites years ago, and the same challenges that delayed Hot as Hell from being recovered for a decade haunt Haley’s Comet, such as political sensitivities within the Indian government that have hindered US government teams from searching. A senior defense official who will be traveling with Carter to the repatriation ceremony said he hopes this return is the first of many. “We’ve been interested in working more closely with India in repatriation, and we are delighted by this latest activity,” the official said. “We are delighted that we are able to return the remains of American [servicemembers] as part of the secretary’s trip. We’re going to work closely with the Indians on further MIA remains recovery efforts.” Those closest to Hot as Hell want to ensure future excavations are not handled like theirs was.

When DPAA arrived at the Hot as Hell site, it did an incomplete excavation, Kuhles and Zaetz said, leading both men to believe that if a more thorough job had been done, more remains could be on their way home. Time constraints by the Indian government hampered the effort. “It’s really difficult,” said Zaetz, who is founder and chairman of Families and Supporters of America’s Arunachal Missing in Action. Family members of the Hot as Hell crew were notified by letter that the remains of one or two of the eight airmen have been collected. After the ceremony in India, the remains will be flown to DPAA’s center in Hawaii for analysis and DNA identification. “I’ll be happy for the one or two families that get loved one’s remains,” Zaetz said. “It’s hard to get a sense of closure when you know as many as six of eight remains are still there. It goes beyond just my uncle.” [Stars: Stars and Stripes | Tara Copp | Apr 09, 2016 ++]

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WWII Little Known Facts First German KIA

The first German serviceman killed in the war was killed by the Japanese.

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Military History Battle of La Drang Valley

Along the Cambodia border in the Central Highlands roughly 35 miles southwest of Pleiku sits the Chu Pong Massif, a 2,401-foot-high piece of ground that stretches to the Cambodian border and beyond for several miles. The impenetrable rain forests covering the high ground gives way to think jungle on the flat lands where there are open spaces with small strands of scrubby trees and large patches of razor-sharp elephant grass. So inaccessible is the region, neither French forces, South Vietnamese Army, nor the newly arrived American combat troops had ever been there. The area also belongs to North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces. It was into this enemy sanctuary that a lone, understrength battalion of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) made a helicopter combat assault.

Lt. Col. Hal Moore, commander of the 450-man 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment was chosen to make the combat assault. Several days before the airlift was to take place, he and members of his staff made a cautious aerial reconnaissance by helicopter to check over the area and to locate a suitable landing zone. Moore selected a football field sized clearing at the base of Chu Pong Massif. American intelligence said the area was home to possibly an enemy regiment. In fact, there were three North Vietnamese Army regiments within an easy walk of that clearing.

The Battle of Ia Drang Valley

Description Ia Drang Infantry disembarking from Helicopter.jpg

Infantry disembarking from helicopters

On the morning of November 14, 1965, Moore’s battalion landed in LZ X-Ray without a hitch. That changed around noon when the North Vietnamese 33rd Regiment attacked. The bitter fighting continued all day and into the night with the enemy relentlessly making assault after assault. Only through carefully placed massive fire support from nearby artillery and tactical air strikes outside the perimeter were they stopped but casualties mounted on both sides. No question, the North Vietnamese forces had succeeded in engaging the U.S. forces in very tight quarters, knowing supporting U.S. firepower could only be used well outside the perimeter so as not to endanger American lives. The cavalrymen returned fire, but the Communists were fighting from prepared fighting positions and many of the American leaders had been felled in the initial stages of the ambush. As night fell, the cavalrymen waited for the North Vietnamese to attack but illumination flares provided by Air Force aircraft made the enemy cautious. At daybreak, the North Vietnamese 66th Regiment joined the 33rd Regiment in the attack against the Americans. Again, tactical air strikes and well-placed artillery took a toll on the enemy allowing the U.S. troops to hold out against repeated assaults.

IA <b>Drang</b> <b>Valley</b> Vietnam War

<b>Battle</b> of Ia <b>Drang</b> <b>Valley</b> - November 17, 1965 - The American success ...

<b>Battle</b>-of-Ia-<b>Drang</b>-Valley1-550x432.jpg

The battle lasted for three days and two nights before the North Vietnamese vanished into the tangle of brush and elephant grass, leaving a large circle of their dead scattered around the American position. The smell of rotting corpses hung heavy over X-Ray, and with the arrival on foot of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry commanded by Lt. Col. Robert McDade, on the morning of November 16, there were now three Cavalry battalions crammed into that clearing, including Lt. Col. Walter Tully’s 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry. By the third day of the battle, the Americans had gained the upper hand. The three-day battle resulted in 834 North Vietnamese soldiers confirmed killed, and another 1,000 communist casualties were assumed.

As the battle on X-Ray subsided, McDade’s 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, was ordered to move cross-country to LZ Albany, where it was to be picked up by helicopter and moved to a new location. The U.S. unit was moving through the jungle in a long column when the 8th Battalion of the North Vietnamese 66th Regiment sprang a massive ambush along the length of the column from all sides. Of the 500 men in the original column, 150 were killed and only 84 were able to return to immediate duty. Companies C and D took the brunt of the Communist attack – within minutes, most of the men from the two companies were hit. It was the most successful ambush against U.S. forces during the course of the entire war. All total in the battle of X-Ray and the ambush near LZ Albany, 234 Americans were killed and more than 250 wounded in just four days and nights, November 14-17, 1965. Another 71 Americans had been killed in earlier, smaller skirmishes that led up to the Ia Drang battles.

Despite these numbers, senior American officials in Saigon declared the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley a great victory. The battle was extremely important because it was the first significant contact between U.S. troops and North Vietnamese forces. The action demonstrated that the North Vietnamese were prepared to stand and fight major battles even though they might take serious casualties. Senior American military leaders concluded that U.S. forces could cause significant damage on the Communists in such battles – this tactic lead to a war of attrition as the U.S. forces tried to wear the communists down. Thus began the ‘body count’ as the measure of success. The North Vietnamese also learned a valuable lesson during the battle: by keeping their combat troops physically close to U.S. positions, U.S. troops could not use close in artillery or air strikes without risking injury to American troops. This style of fighting became the North Vietnamese practice for the rest of the war.

It became more than obvious that the war had changed suddenly and dramatically in those few days. At higher levels, both sides claimed victory in the Ia Drang, they may not have used so grand a word and for something so tragic and terrible. It would become for many, the making of their worst nightmares for a lifetime. ‘We Were Soldiers Once- And Young’ is a 1992 book by Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore (Ret.) and war journalist Joseph L. Galloway about the Vietnam War. It focuses on the role of the First and Second Battalions of the 7th Cavalry Regiment in the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley, the United States’ first large-unit battle of the Vietnam War; previous engagements involved small units and patrols (squad, platoon, and company sized units). To experience rare footage of the battle and to hear from those who were there, such as war journalist Joseph L. Galloway, go to the following YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxPeHqH4XxI. [Source: Together We Served | Mike Christy | May 2015 ++]

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Korean War Remembrances Update 02 William R. Taylor

FORGOTTEN BY MANY…REMEMBERED BY SOME. The Korean War seems to be one of those “forgotten” ones. The kind few ever mention or talk about, but it’s really not a deliberate effort to blank it out from memory. It’s just because, at the time, America was in full throttle lift-off mode heading for the “boom” years. Besides which, folks had had their fill of the big one…WWII…so the Korean thing, that “police action”, was just part of a bigger thing called…The Cold War…with the Soviets. In that context, Korea just became a “footnote” reference in our historical memory of those times.

The Korean War Memorial in Washington is a reflection of that…with its pale steel life-sized combat squad trudging silently up-slope towards an undetermined objective, their faces only vaguely defined…Ghost Soldiers…that ghostly sense amplified by thousands of faint illusively etched faces peering out from the polished dark gray granite retaining wall beside them. Combined with the reflections of those silent forms on that wall it makes an emotionally powerful point…these are the Ghost Soldiers…forgotten by many…only remembered by some. Unlike fog, most wars don’t creep up you on little cat feet. More often than not they just seemingly erupt out of nowhere, like one of those Midwestern mid-summer thunder storms which come roaring in with deafening blasts of thunder and lightning, quickly turning into tornado-like lashes of violent destruction. That’s the way it began with the Korean War, on a quiet and sunny June day in 1950.

I was all of 22, a newly minted three-stripped “buck sergeant”, sent up from my parent outfit, the 65th AAA Gun Bn. on Okinawa, to the Eta Jima School Command, at Kure, on southern Honshu, Japan. As my battalion’s communications chief, I was there to learn the more technical intricacies of that function, particularly as it applied to the latest of radio and radar technologies. Back on Okinawa…we were mostly equipped with left over gear from our invasion there in 1945…so this was like going from the Neolithic to the Iron Age…in one giant leap forward. Five years of peaceful occupation duty and mostly friendly fraternization with the Japanese (busy rebuilding their world with American help and funding), had created an almost country club atmosphere over there, so coming up from the bare bones backwaters of Okinawa to the plush environment of southern Honshu was pure TDY bliss. Eta Jima had formerly been the Japanese Imperial Naval Academy, so the facilities there were “posh” to say the least. It was also a nice sized island right in the middle of Kure Bay, but an easy ferry ride to go explore the sights of southern Honshu, or, to enjoy the fleshpots and joints of Kure’s nightlife, which rivaled even those of Tokyo.

The Eta Jima School Command was host to student personnel from all over the Pacific Command, from different services, including a small, wild, but great crew of our Aussie friends and allies (southern Honshu and Kure were part of their zone of occupation). All told there were some 1200-1500 of us there attending training courses of one kind or another. It was a lively environment, with a minimum of military type structure, just enough to keep us aware we were still “duty bound”…not on an extended“Spring Break.” Keeping to our class schedules was the primary rule, where our training was serious and conducted in a no-nonsense style. Homework studies and cramming for tests required a certain amount of self-discipline, and, since most of us were NCO’s of one kind or another, we were all left on relatively long and easy “leashes” as far as the school’s Command was concerned.

So you can imagine the shock when on that day’s mid-afternoon, the school’s loudspeakers began blaring out: “Attention! Attention! All students and faculty assemble immediately in the central courtyard! Form up there by dormitory units.” Once there we found out the cause for this disruption of our routine. The Commandant himself addressed us: ”Gentlemen, the North Koreans have attacked across the 38th parallel. We are now at war, and you are all hereby being transferred over to the Korean peninsula as reinforcements. Report to the Supply Center, by class sections to receive your field and combat equipment. That is all.” When some began asking what about our parent units, a school staffer came to the microphone telling us all our parent units would be informed of our being sent to Korea, and we would receive our specific unit assignments after we landed in Pusan. Everyone was to be ready to be ferried over to Kure by 1800. In the meantime we were advised to go retrieve a few personal effects from our lockers, and stand by for further instructions.

So it went. Mess call began shortly thereafter. Section by section we were then herded to the Supply Center, receiving our field gear, boots, helmets, packs, sent back to our dormitories to pack up our footlockers with our other clothes and effects, told to mark them with our names, serial numbers, and parent units. Our lockers would be sent to them to be held for further forwarding later. Then we waited…and waited…and waited. It was a very long night, as group by group everyone was ferried over to Kure, and there assembled in the train yards alongside a half dozen trains composed of a hodge-podge of passenger and boxcars. It was a scene of mass confusion and scrambling disorder has we were herded willy-nilly in to those cars. Not an easy task, and there was a wide range of heated verbal “exchanges” made in the process with expletive-laden old-Army style English.

There were some moments of flashbacks for me from all this, recalling similar scenes back in France a decade earlier, we were chased out of France by the Germans. Eventually, however, we were all packed aboard, and the school’s staffers began distributing hastily prepared “transfer orders” to each of us. These orders didn’t say much: “By VOCO (verbal order commanding officer), Eta Jima School Command, — (we were instructed to print our rank, name and serial number in the form’s blank space ourselves) is hereby transferred to Hqs. Korean Command at Pusan, Korea.” We were all further instructed to turn these “orders” in when we arrived there. Slowly, one by one, the trains began rolling away, heading for Osaka, the port for our transshipment to Korea. It took all of three days to get to Osaka, another three or four to be shipped by boat to Pusan, and there, found ourselves in a similar vortex of confusion. No one was interested in our so-called“orders”, just told to line up, pick up our weapons, and load onto waiting Army trucks.

There was no roll-calling, no selection for specific units… just…you, you, and you…this truck…that truck, etc. Everything was made urgent…move… move… move…go…go…go. And the trucks roared off in all directions hauling their loads of armed men. To this day I have no real recollection of where we were, or what unit I was sent to, other than some vague notion it was part of a unit of the 24th Division. It was near sundown by the time we arrived at that unit, perched on a high meat-loafed shaped ridge, almost sheer all around except for its back slope, up which we had to trudge from where the truck had dumped us at its base. Arriving at the bunker CP, our small group was met by a gruff and obviously tired and grumpy First Sergeant, who simply growled…listen up…this sector’s quiet for now, so, there’s some Crations and coffee over there, then, pick a spot over by that rock…and get some sleep…you’ll need it. We’ll sort things out later.”

I won’t go into all the details that followed here. Let’s just say it was one of the hardest times I ever had. Shortly after that reception, the First Sergeant led me to a forward position, saying, this is your platoon, Sergeant…keep in your holes during the day…not much going on then…keep sharp watch late afternoon early evening…that’s when they let go with their goddam mortars! See that ridge across the valley… that’s their front line. Call the CP…on the field phone…if anything starts up. Send your guys over one by one for chow…after dark. That’s it, Sergeant, any questions? I shook my head, and he left. Never saw him again. And that was how the Korean War began for me.

It ended many weeks later, after the Marines made their Inchon landing. By that time we were just a remnant of what we had been, and it was a Marine forward combat patrol that found us up on that ridge. Knowing how trigger-happy such point units were, I cautioned my guys to stay under cover until I gave the signal to stand up. As the nearest Marines came close up that slope, I slowly stood up, with my weapon at the trail. I must have been a sight, gaunt, in filthy ragged field clothes, a tall beanpole silent scarecrow. Their point man let out a shout, went into a combat crouch, as did his mates, but my silent unmoving and obviously not hostile form, despite the weapon, soon had them curious, and cautiously approaching me. For a few moments we just stared at each other. Then, at my signal, one by one, the rest of my guys slowly silently stood up. The nearest Marine blurted out: ”Holy Shit! Who the hell are you guys?” Another turned and shouted back at his leader; ”Hey, Gunny, looks like we found some lost dumbass Army guys here!”

At that I stepped forward, identified myself by rank and name, loudly growling out:” Who the hell you calling dumbasses… dumbass… you’re here too!” That did it. Before we knew it we were all laughing and hugging together like happy idiots. Their Gunny and I quietly shook hands, grinning at each other. But we were all in bad shape, and before we knew it we were all gently but firmly gathered up by pairs of Marines, and half carried down that slope to their company CP. Before long we had been more or less cleaned, given odd bits of Marine field clothes as needed, fed, and otherwise treated with extreme generosity and kindness, before being turned over to their medics for evacuation. Happy as that moment of fraternization was, it was soon over, these Marines had more important stuff to take care of, and off they went. I can’t help but wonder how many of them ever made it back from the Yalu and the Frozen Chosen.

After a brief stay at Tokyo General Hospital (I had an infected scratch on my right ankle from a small piece of mortar shrapnel and was down to 145 lbs) I was finally back on Okinawa again with my 65th Gun Bn. Many of its guys I had known were gone, almost all were new ones. Col. Moore, my battalion commander, was so happy to have his old Com. Chief back, he almost gave me a hug. Ironically, the whole time I was in Korea, I had been carried AWOL because the Eta Jima School idiots had never explained what had happened (nor did my locker ever show up either). Col. Moore soon took care of that. But then he had the unhappy task of telling me that my buddy Sgt Stevens, our Ops. Chief, who had also been on TDY to Japan, had been similarly “shanghaied” and then later killed in Korea.

That news was a stunning blow, and the cumulative effect of those events in Korea and this news, had me in a deep funk for days. Back then there was little or no understanding of what we now call PTSD. My way of coping with it was to go on a roaring drunken rage for several days. After sobering up again, though still groggy from that, I became more gung-ho than Gung Ho, driving everyone, including poor Col. Moore nuts. But somehow that acute episode soon passed, and I slowly more or less came back to “normal.”

In the meantime, our unit had been put on a war footing, and brought up to it full four battery strength. Col. Moore used that opportunity to get all us “old timers” promoted by cleverly transferring us on paper to that extra unmanned battery, promoting us to our new ranks there, then slyly transferring us back with those ranks to our regular positions. It was a masterful bit of creative paper shuffling. In my case, that brought me from buck sergeant to Staff, to First Class in less than two months, and then up for Master within three months. So Korea faded to the back of my mind as we worked like dogs to get our unit up to full wartime standard. Ultimately, I was selected for OCS, and headed back to America.

I’ve a few pictures from those times, and some poems I jotted down about them. Don’t know how much value these might have as “poetry”, but they do reflect how I felt at the time about it. I was luckier than most of those who were there then, and who went through it all in the years that followed my brief time there. Later, when my first son was born, I named him after my buddy killed in Korea. Since it was not a known given name in our family, everyone wondered why I chose it, but, I’ve never explained it to them, and no one has ever asked me why ever since. Now, it’s mostly a fuzzily remembered and ancient history, of which only certain parts of it are still deeply held in those recesses of my mind. And there they must and will remain.

[Source: The Centurion Chronicle | W.R. Taylor | March 2016 ++]

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Military History Anniversaries ► 16 thru 30 Apr

Significant events in U.S. Military History over the next 15 days are listed in the attachment to this Bulletin titled, “Military History Anniversaries 16 thru 30 Apr”. [Source: This Day In History http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history | March 2016 ++]

* Health Care *




Hospice Care Update 04 ► Six Beliefs That Are Totally Wrong

The enormous baby boom generation is reaching the last part of its lifespan. Because of their numbers, boomers’ needs and tastes tend to drive trends in all areas, and that includes options for aging and end-of-life care. Hospice care is increasingly popular, and programs are gearing up to serve members of this generation as they need it. But there remains a lot confusion and misunderstanding about how these programs work, according to Stephanie Mehl, RN, who works as a community educator and hospice liaison at Providence Hospice in Seattle. She encounters mistaken ideas about what hospice is, when it is appropriate and what it means when someone accepts hospice care. Mehl, who also has a master’s degree in psychiatric nursing, has spent her career caring for cancer patients, many of them terminally ill. Today, her job is to help severely ill people decide whether hospice care is for them. If it is, she helps them get established with hospice care through the Providence Hospice health care system. Speaking with Money Talks News, she shared the most commonly held myths she encounters about hospice, and the reality.

Myth No. 1: Hospice and palliative care are the same thing

Hospice and palliative care are not identical. Palliative care is a medical speciality that focuses not on fighting disease but on alleviating pain and managing side effects from illness and treatment. Palliative care can help anyone at any age and any stage of an illness. Whereas, Hospice is a system for getting palliative care to people with terminal illnesses, usually at home. The United States has about 6,100 hospice programs — some small, some big, some nonprofit and some that operate through large corporate chains. Hospice care is delivered by teams that include doctors and nurses, nutritionists, pharmacists, social workers, chaplains, counselors, massage therapists and others. A patient can get hospice care if a medical provider and hospice program judge that they have six months or less to live. Medicare will continue to pay if the patient lives on and continues to need services.​

Myth No. 2: You have to leave home

Hospice care typically is given at home, although “home” includes skilled nursing, assisted living and adult family homes, Mehl says. Two-thirds of those who die while in hospice die at home. Although most people surveyed say they’d prefer to die at home, 63 percent of Americans die in hospitals, according to the American Psychological Association’s End of Life Fact Sheet (http://www.apa.org/pi/aging/programs/eol/end-of-life-factsheet.pdf). Hospice gives people more control over their last days and their deaths.

When a patient is on hospice home care, family members, friends or paid caregivers do most of the caregiving. They — and the patient, when possible — are guided by hospice staff who are on call 24/7 and who visit regularly to assess the patient and the care. Hospice workers manage medications and help with medical problems like nausea, insomnia, exhaustion, depression, constipation and breathing difficulties. They discuss treatment options and explain what to expect and can bring in spiritual or psychological counseling for patients and caregivers. Hospice companies order and deliver equipment — hospital beds, oxygen equipment, special mattresses and wheelchairs, bathing and toilet equipment for instance — so patients are safe and comfortable at home. That lifts stress from families. “Family members don’t have to worry about that stuff. They don’t have to worry about getting the medications. Someone can do it for them,” Mehl says.

Myth No. 3: Hospice is costly for families

Hospice takes care of billing and collecting insurance payments. Families don’t see the bills. Most costs are paid by Medicare or Medicaid, insurance plans, managed care plans and HMOs. Local agencies and groups often have programs to cover costs for hospice patients who can’t pay.

Myth No. 4: Hospice hastens death

It’s true that many hospice patients die soon after starting hospice care. In 2014 about half of hospice patients received care for fewer than 17 days, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (http://www.nhpco.org/sites/default/files/public/Statistics_Research/2015_Facts_Figures.pdf). Those stays are not short because hospice kills people. One reason for short stays is that doctors typically wait too long to refer their terminally ill patients to hospice. That’s changing, though, Mehl says. In fact, research shows patients living longer in hospice care. The reasons might include:

  • Stopping aggressive medical treatments that stress weakened patients.
  • Increased personal attention, monitoring and treatments.
  • Hospice’s emphasis on meeting patients’ emotional and spiritual needs.
  • Support for family caregivers. “Their reduced stress or workload may help patients feel like less of a burden, and so increase their desire to live,” says MDA/ALS Newsmagazine, which focuses on muscle diseases (http://alsn.mda.org/article/research-links-hospice-care-prolonged-life) .

People sometimes confuse hospice with the aid-in-dying (or “death with dignity”) movement, which advocates for giving dying people the ability to end their own lives in cases of extreme pain. But the two are unrelated.

Myth No. 5: Your doctor will tell you when you need hospice

Physicians are trained in healing and in keeping patients alive, points out Dr. Atul Gawande, a writer and surgeon, in “Being Mortal,” a book about his experiences with dying patients. It can be difficult for doctors to acknowledge a patient’s impending death. (Gawande elaborates in a PBS “Frontline” documentary, which can be viewed online at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/being-mortal). You can ask your doctors about hospice, Mehl says. Or call an oncologist’s office to learn about the choices locally. Also, most large hospitals have palliative care specialists who can explain what’s available.

Myth No. 6: Hospice means giving up on living

You must be near death to be eligible for hospice care and, in accepting services, you agree to forgo life-saving treatment. But the hospice emphasis is on helping people live well and on improving the quality of their lives, Mehl says. “You’re basically saying to the medical world, ‘I’m choosing comfort and quality of life versus trying to cure this thing that doesn’t want to get cured now.’” However, you can change your mind. Some patients receive hospice and then feel stronger. In that case, you can go off hospice and get more chemotherapy, for example, if it’s available. “Nothing is set in stone,” Mehl says. “Life happens, people change emotionally and physically. Hospice recognizes that.”

[Source: MoneyTalksNews | Marilyn Lewis | March 29, 2016 ++]

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TRICARE Prime Update 36 ► New Urgent Care Pilot Program

Urgent care is care you need for a non-emergency illness or injury. You need urgent care treatment within 24 hours, and you shouldn’t have to travel more than 30 minutes for the care. You typically need urgent care to treat a condition that: Doesn’t threaten life, limb, or eyesight and/or needs attention before it becomes a serious risk to your health.

Examples may include things like a high fever or sprained ankle. Urgent care is different than emergency care. Urgent care clinics offer quick walk-in services without an appointment, but these facilities are not considered to be “emergency rooms

To increase access to care, the Department of Defense is launching an Urgent Care Pilot Program for TRICARE Prime beneficiaries. This program allows Prime enrollees two visits to a network or TRICARE authorized provider without a referral or prior authorization. The Urgent Care Pilot Program, scheduled to begin May 23, 2016, is for:

  • Active Duty Family Members (ADFMs) enrolled in TRICARE Prime or TRICARE Prime Remote
  • Retirees and their family members who are enrolled in Prime within the 50 United States or the District of Columbia
  • ADSMs enrolled in TRICARE Prime Remote and stationed overseas but traveling stateside

Active Duty Service Members (ADSMs) enrolled in TRICARE Prime are not eligible for this program as their care is managed by their Service. This pilot also excludes Uniformed Services Family Health Plan (USFHP) enrollees. TRICARE Overseas Program (TOP) enrollees can receive an unlimited number of urgent care visits, but only when they are traveling stateside and seeking care. There are no Point of Service (POS) deductibles or cost shares for these two urgent care visits, but network copayments still apply. Once you receive urgent care, you must notify your PCM about that care within 24 hours or the first business day after the urgent care visit. Authorization requirements have not changed for follow up care, specialty care or inpatient care.

When you are not sure of the type of care you need, or you require care outside of standard business hours, call the Nurse Advice Line (http://www.tricare.mil/ContactUs/CallUs/NAL.aspx) at 1-800-TRICARE (874-2273). If the NAL recommends an urgent care visit, and a referral is submitted, that visit will not count against the two pre-authorized visits allowed under the Urgent Care Pilot. However, if you call the NAL and get a referral to a military hospital or clinic and you go elsewhere for care, that visit will count against your two preauthorized visits. Visit the Urgent Care Pilot Program web page www.tricare.mil/Plans/SpecialPrograms/UrgentCarePilot.aspx if you need more information. [Source: TRICARE Communications | April 13, 2015 ++]

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Dietary Supplements Update 02 14 Contain Banned Ingredient Oxilofrine

A stimulant not approved for use in the U.S. has been found as an ingredient in 14 dietary supplements marketed as weight loss aids or pre-workout boosters, according to research published 7 APR in the journal Drug Testing and Analysis. A study led by Dr. Pieter Cohen, an internist at Cambridge Health Alliance and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, detected oxilofrine, also known as methylsynephrine, in 14 products, ranging from trace amounts to 1.5 times the adult pharmaceutical dose. The research comes just days after the FDA sent warning letters to seven dietary supplement companies informing them that products listing methylsynephrine as an ingredient must comply with federal law, which prohibits dietary supplements from containing unapproved pharmaceutical drugs.

Oxilofrine is used in some countries to treat medical conditions such as low blood pressure and asthma, but it is not approved for use in the U.S. The study tested 27 brands of dietary supplements that listed methylsynephrine or some variation of the name, such as methyl synephrlne or methyl-synephrine, as an ingredient and found that 14 contained the stimulant. One supplement, Shredder by Total Body Nutrition, contained nearly twice the usual adult dose in one capsule and three times the usual adolescent dose, according to the study. The authors said the “consumption of supplements containing oxilofrine may pose serious health risks” to consumers. “One brand of supplements containing oxilofrine has been linked to serious adverse events including vomiting, agitation and cardiac arrest,” Cohen wrote.

Oxilofrine, which is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, is the same stimulant blamed for the downfall of several world-class athletes: In 2013, U.S. sprinter Tyson Gay and Jamaican runner Asafa Powell tested positive for oxilofrine and were subsequently banned from competition for more than a year. Powell attributed his positive drug test to accidental ingestion of the substance from a contaminated dietary supplement. The FDA has received 47 reports of adverse events associated with methylsynephrine, according to press officer Lyndsay Meyer. She noted, however, that a report only indicates that a patient developed symptoms and that the ingredient is not necessarily responsible.

According to the FDA, a dietary ingredient is “a vitamin; mineral; herb or other botanical; amino acid; dietary substance for use by man to supplement the diet by increasing the total dietary intake; or a concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract, or combination of the preceding substances.” But in warning letters to the companies, officials noted that “methylsynephrine is not a dietary ingredient within the definition set forth.” “Methylsynephrine does not fit under any of these categories, rendering misbranded any dietary supplements that declare methylsynephrine as a dietary ingredient,” according to the letters. The FDA also told makers of one product, Lean Pills by Line One Nutrition, that it lists another illicit ingredient, methylhexanamine, as an ingredient in the product. According to the FDA, methylhexanamine is known by another name, dimethylamylamine, or DMAA, a banned substance. Cohen said dietary supplements are allowed to contain botanical extracts and ingredients, and one popular ingredient, synephrine, made from bitter orange and other citrus species, is a legal supplement and shouldn’t be confused with methylsynephrine.

Cohen and his team said the research has a few limitations, including that scientists tested only one sample per brand and looked only at products that claimed methylsynephrine as an ingredient. “It is possible that other brands of supplements on sale in the USA may also contain oxilofrine without listing methylsynephrine on the label,” they wrote. American Metabolix, makers of Exile, a weight loss product named as one of the 14 containing oxilorfrine, sent a statement to Military Times saying the company has never used oxilofrine in supplements and that its products comply with the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act “100 percent of the time.” “Stating that we use a ‘drug,’ the same one Olympic athletes were using to cheat (Tyson Gay) is 100 percent disingenuous,” American Metabolix managers wrote in the statement.

Another supplement found to contain oxilorfrine, Miami Lean, by Skyline Nutrition, has been removed from the market, a company spokesman said. “I followed FDA advice and discontinued Miami Lean,” a Skyline Nutrition executive wrote in a Facebook message to Military Times. Some of the products named, including Hi-Tech Pharmaceuticals’ Fastin, Advanced Nutrition Systems’ Methyl Drive 2.0, and American Muscle Sports’ Exile, are or were sold at GNC, which has stores on many military installations. Many of the products also are available online. [Source: Military Times | Patricia Kime | April 08, 2016 ++]

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PTSD Update 208 Mindfulness Training | A Ray of Hope

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the scourge of the veterans, is a real illness. Seemingly without an off-switch, it can replay terrible thoughts and memories over and over again in the patients’ minds. Mindfulness – a mind-body technique focusing on in the moment attention and awareness – offers a ray of hope to PTSD sufferers, with a new study showing how it could change veterans’ brains and help them find the off-switch to that endless loop of negative memories.

Researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School and VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System studied 23 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan wars. They split them into two groups assigned to different forms of therapy: nine participants received regular therapy such as problem solving and group support, while 14 of them were given mindfulness training. The mindfulness group saw greater improvements in symptoms through decreased ratings on the standard PTSD scale. While many reported easing symptoms, the mindfulness group revealed surprising brain changes. “The brain findings suggest that mindfulness training may have helped the veterans develop more capacity to shift their attention and get themselves out of being ‘stuck’ in painful cycles of thoughts,” says Anthony King, the study’s lead researcher.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness could change veterans’ brains.

Before the mindfulness practice, the veterans’ brains had excess activity in regions involved in threat or external stress response – signifying the endless loop of thoughts in PTSD. However, based on functional MRI results after they learned mindfulness, their brain networks, those involved in thoughts and that of directing and shifting attention, developed stronger connections. At the end of the two-hour, weekly mindfulness course for four months, the mindfulness group showed increased brain connections, particularly the area leading one to purposely move attention to think or act upon something. Those with the greatest relief grew the most brain connections.

These findings, said King, offers the potential to help PTSD patients who might initially reject therapy that involves trauma processing, allowing them to regulate their emotions and better process their traumas. “[Mindfulness] helps them feel more grounded, and to notice that even very painful memories have a beginning, a middle and an end – that they can become manageable and feel safer,” he adds. King reminded, however, not to use mindfulness in isolation and to seek out providers specially trained in PTSD management. Mindfulness sessions, for instances, can sometimes trigger a flare-up of symptoms, making trained expertise necessary. The findings were published in the journal Depression and Anxiety.

Among Iraq War veterans alone, 11 to 20 percent are afflicted with PTSD symptoms every year, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. These include concentration problems, extreme sensitivity to all sounds, nightmares, fear, and disorientation. A study in the Netherlands in 2015 warned that PTSD can exhibit a spike of recurrence even five years after soldiers returned home from being deployed in Afghanistan, making long-term recurrence a more critical aspect of care. [Source: Tech Times | Katrina Pascual | April 4, 2016 ++]

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Zika Virus Military Hubs Most At Risk

The Defense Department will monitor installations in 27 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico for mosquitoes that can carry the Zika virus, according to a Pentagon memo released in March. Hoping to ward off spread of the potentially dangerous virus among troops and military family members, senior defense officials have instructed installation managers to increase surveillance for certain mosquito species and to eradicate them in housing areas, near child development and youth centers, around barracks and elsewhere. According to the memo, 190 DoD installations are located in areas where mosquitoes capable of carrying Zika — aedes aegypti, aedes albopictus and aedes polynesiensis — may spread during the summer.

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The memo calls for monitoring, trapping, testing and eliminating water sources that can act as breeding grounds for the pests. “This must be a sustained effort in order to reduce and control the population … failure to implement a coordinated, sustained control effort will allow for a [mosquito population] that could transmit Zika,” wrote Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Jonathan Woodson and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Basing Peter Potochney.

The Zika virus has appeared in 61 countries worldwide and has been linked to birth defects including microcephaly, a condition that causes infants to be born with underdeveloped brains and unusually small heads. Zika also can result in Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disorder that can cause paralysis. Zika, dengue and chikungunya viruses and even yellow fever are transmitted by the aegypti mosquito, the most common carrier, and may be carried by the albopictus mosquito, also known as the Asian Tiger mosquito, and polynesiensis, a mosquito found in the South Pacific. Most mosquitoes cannot survive in most of the United States year-round. But a study published 16 MAR in the journal PLOS Currents: Outbreaks found that nine of 50 U.S. cities analyzed could have a “high abundance of Zika virus-carrying mosquitoes by July.” And a few cities, mainly near Brownsville, Texas, and Miami, Florida, can harbor the mosquitoes year-round, according to the research, conducted by scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, North Carolina State University, the University of Arizona, Durham University and Maricopa County, Arizona.

But does this mean a Zika outbreak is unavoidable in these cities? Hardly, according to Chris Schmidt, one of the study’s authors and an epidemiology and biostatistics research assistant at the University of Arizona. “To try to put the data in perspective. This is a mathematical model we used to test different hypotheses — what could happen in various scenarios if all the variables were in place. It’s not a forecast,” Schmidt said.

The team examined weather patterns from 2006 to 2015 to simulate the seasonal abundance of aegypti in the U.S. and found that largely, conditions are unsuitable for survival from December to March, except in the southern parts of Florida and Texas, where warm conditions can support a year-round mosquito population. Florida in 2015 had 11 cases of locally acquired chikungunya, an indication that Zika also could spread there if introduced to the region by a traveler, Schmidt said. “Cities in southern Florida and south Texas have both high seasonal suitability for aedes aegypti and the strong potential for travel-related introduction,” Schmidt said. Since the mosquito can live in all 50 cities examined in the study between the months of July and September, Schmidt stressed that mosquito control measures are advisable, even though the likelihood of a widespread outbreak is slim, since most people have access to air-conditioned residences and offices, and local governments in many states practice mosquito abatement. “Our study is not predictive, necessarily. It is designed to lead a discussion and encourage communities not to panic about Zika but not be complacent either,” Schmidt said.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held a summit for state and local health officials April 1 on combating the Zika virus in their communities. CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said the federal government does not expect widespread infection if local transmission occurs. Still, communities must be vigilant in tamping down on mosquito populations to prevent transmission, said White House Deputy Homeland Security Adviser Amy Pope. “If we wait until we see widespread transmission in the United States, if we wait until the public is panicking because they’re seeing babies born with birth defects, we will have waited too late,” Pope said.

Military bases certainly will be doing their share to prevent the spread of disease-carrying mosquitoes. According to the instruction, they are to trap mosquitoes to determine whether they are ae. agypti and send them to be tested for Zika. They must reduce all potential water sources for breeding and have a response plan if a mosquito tests positive for Zika or another virus. The U.S. has seen 312 cases of Zika in 35 states and D.C., all related to travel, with the exception of six sexually transmitted cases. Of the 312 cases, 27 were pregnant women. There have been 325 locally acquired cases reported in Puerto Rico. [Source: Military Times | Patricia Kime | April 10, 2016 ++]

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Kidney Disease Update 04 Controlling Risk Factors

Your kidneys are two of your body’s best friends. Besides filtering and cleaning your blood, they also regulate fluids, acidity and key minerals…produce hormones that control blood pressure…and manufacture a form of vitamin D that strengthens bones. But modern life can really clobber your kidneys—high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar and obesity all can damage these vital organs and are major risk factors for chronic kidney disease (CKD). Controlling these big risk factors are the best ways to prevent or control CKD. But recent studies have revealed several new risk factors that might threaten your kidneys. These include…

Proton Pump Inhibitors. Americans spend about $11 billion yearly on acid-reducing, heartburn-easing proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), such as esomeprazole (Nexium) and omeprazole (Prilosec). Researchers at Johns Hopkins University studied more than 10,000 people with normal kidney function. After 15 years, those using PPIs were 20% to 50% more likely to develop CKD. A possible explanation is that PPIs may cause interstitial nephritis—inflammation and scarring in the kidneys.

  • What to do: The researchers found that people who took an H2 blocker—such as ranitidine (Zantac) or famotidine (Pepcid)—instead of a PPI for heartburn did not have a higher risk for CKD. Note: Many of my patients find that TUMS and lifestyle changes, such as avoiding spicy and fatty foods and eating more slowly, can greatly reduce heartburn.

High Acid Diet. Just as our oceans are becoming more acidic and threatening marine life, scientists are finding that an acidic diet threatens our kidneys. When researchers analyzed 14 years of health data for nearly 1,500 people with CKD, they found that those who ate a high-acid, junk food–laden diet that included red meat, processed foods, sweets and few fruits and vegetables were three times more likely to develop kidney failure.

  • What to do: Adopt a more alkaline diet. In a recent study, researchers from Columbia University Medical Center followed 900 people for nearly seven years and found that those who routinely ate a Mediterranean-type diet—rich in alkaline foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans and heart-healthy fats like olive oil—were 50% less likely to develop CKD than those who didn’t eat these foods.

Too Much Phosphorus. The mineral phosphorus is a must—for cellular health, energy and digestion, a steady heartbeat and strong bones and teeth. But too much phosphorus damages the kidneys and the circulatory system. In a study conducted by kidney specialists involving nearly 10,000 people, it was found that an excess of phosphorus in the diet was linked to more than double the risk of dying from any cause and three times the risk of dying from heart disease. In another study, higher levels of dietary phosphorus sped up the decline from CKD to end-stage renal disease. Red meat and dairy products are rich in phosphorus, but about 40% of the phosphorus in our daily diets is from phosphorus-containing additives used to extend shelf life and improve flavor and texture. Those additives are just about everywhere—including in many flavored waters, iced teas, nondairy creamers and bottled coffee beverages.

  • What to do: Whenever possible, choose a natural food over a processed food—eat fresh green beans, for example, rather than canned… and homemade bread rather than highly processed bread. If you must eat a processed food, check the label for the word phosphate or phosphoric acid, which indicates the presence of phosphorus—and try to pick a product without the additive.

Kidneys_danger_web

Sitting Too Much. It’s not just lack of regular exercise that contributes to chronic health problems such as heart disease— it’s also excessive sitting. And sitting takes a toll on your kidneys, too. In a study of nearly 6,000 people, every 80-minute period of sitting during the day increased the likelihood of CKD by 20%, according to research from the University Of Utah School Of Medicine. That was true whether or not the person exercised regularly or had diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity.

  • What to do: When the same team of researchers looked at people with CKD, they found that standing up and/or walking around for just two minutes an hour lowered the risk for death by 41%. Research also shows that regular exercise is good for your kidneys. Recommend walk at least 30 minutes, three times a week (in addition to getting up every hour you sit)…or check with your doctor for advice on the best type of exercise for you.

Should You Be Tested For Kidney Disease?

More than 25 million Americans have chronic kidney disease (CKD)—but only 6% know it! Beware: The symptoms of kidney disease (such as swollen legs, feet and/or ankles…frequent urination…fatigue…and/or dry, itchy skin) are not likely to be noticed until you reach end-stage renal disease because the body is very good at adapting to loss of kidney function until most of the function is gone. Recommend you have a Estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate (eGFR) blood test to measure kidney function. A filtration rate of less than 60 mL/min for more than three months means that you have CKD. Most insurance companies pay for the cost of the test if the patient has a risk factor for kidney disease—such as high blood pressure…type 2 diabetes…obesity…age (65 or older)…or a family history of the disease (a parent or sibling who has CKD). If you have a risk factor for CKD, get the test every year. Otherwise, there’s usually no need for testing, but be sure to consult your doctor for advice.

[Source: Bottom Line Health | Orlando Gutiérrez, MD | March 1, 2016 ++]

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TRICARE Use While Traveling Update 04 ► How To Obtain

Are you on Spring Break or preparing for vacation? Either way, you should know how to get medical or dental care when you need it. Your rules for getting care depend on your TRICARE plan and travel destination.

  • If you’re using Prime [http://www.tricare.mil/FindDoctor/Traveling/Travel_Prime.aspx], get your routine care from a primary care manager (PCM) before you go.
  • If you have an emergency, go to the nearest Emergency Room or the hospital department that provides emergency services to patients who need immediate medical attention.
  • If you decide you need urgent care, you must have a referral from your PCM.

Standard and Extra beneficiaries can visit any TRICARE-Authorized Provider. An authorized provider is any individual, institution/organization, or supplier that is licensed by a state, accredited by national organization, or meets other standards of the medical community, and is certified to provide benefits under TRICARE. There are two types of TRICARE-authorized providers (Network and Non-Network) for care, whether stateside or overseas. Keep in mind, if you’re overseas, you may need to pay up front and file a claim with the overseas claims processor for reimbursement.

If you need dental care and are enrolled in the TRICARE Dental Program, you can visit any licensed dentist for treatment. You can search (https://employeedental.metlife.com/dental/public/EmpEntry.do) for a participating dentist both stateside and overseas. TRICARE Retiree Dental Program enrollees can search for a stateside dentist or call Delta Dental’s international dentist referral service collect at 1-312-356-5971. Call 1-215-942-8226 for dental emergencies.

Don’t forget about your prescriptions (http://www.tricare.mil/CoveredServices/Pharmacy/FillPrescriptions.aspx). TRICARE beneficiaries have several options for filling prescriptions; military hospitals or clinics, network pharmacies, non-network pharmacies and home delivery.

If you’re traveling stateside and you don’t know what to do for care, call the TRICARE Nurse Advice Line at 1-800-TRICARE, Option 1. You can get information about all of your TRICARE benefits on the TRICARE website http://www.tricare.mil.

[Source: TREA Washington Update | April 4, 2016 ++]

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TRICARE Nurse Advice Line Update 04 ► Right Choice for Care

Do you know that more than half of all adults 65 and older have three or more chronic medical problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or arthritis? Older adults can have multiple health problems and not know whether they need to see a doctor or can administer self-care. Have you considered TRICARE’s Nurse Advice Line (NAL)? If you are suffering from a rash, a sinus infection, or perhaps you just have a common cold; there is help! When you call the NAL, a registered nurse will help you assess if you can handle your health concern with self-care or if you need to see a medical professional.

Since its launch, the NAL has been able to increase patient safety and further ensure a positive patient experience. Military Health System (MHS) Patient Centered Medical Home (PCHM) team members can access live NAL information so they are aware of their patients’ situation and can provide follow-up, if needed. The NAL is a great medical assessment tool that provides access to care, especially after hours and when traveling, which is great for retirees on the move. When you don’t know what kind of care you need, the NAL helps you access the right type of care at the right time. The NAL can also help you find a doctor and schedule next-day appointments at military hospitals and clinics when available. The NAL is an easy option for beneficiaries to get information on their medical problems quickly and at any time. To access the NAL dial 1-800-TRICARE (874-2273) and select option 1. At http://www.tricare.mil/ContactUs/CallUs/NAL.aspx you can obtain more information about the Nurse Advice Line. [Source: TRICARE Communications | April 4, 2016 ++]

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Milk ► Fat Content Study | Recommendation

Don’t feel guilty for passing over that carton of blue-tinged skim milk in favor of whole milk next time you’re in the dairy aisle. It turns out, consuming full-fat dairy, like whole milk, may be a healthier choice than the low-fat or fat-free alternatives, like skim milk. According to a new study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, people who regularly consume full-fat dairy weigh less and are less likely to develop diabetes than those who consume low-fat dairy products.

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In analyzing the blood of 3,333 adults taken over 15 years, researchers discovered that people who eat full-fat dairy had an average 46 percent lower risk of developing diabetes than people who consumed low-fat or fat-free dairy, Time reports. “I think these findings together with those from other studies do call for a change in the policy of recommending only low-fat dairy products,” said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, adjunct assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who led the study. “There is no prospective human evidence that people who eat low-fat dairy do better than people who eat whole-fat dairy.”

Experts believe that eating high-fat foods keep you feeling full longer, possibly reducing how many calories you consume. People who reduce their fat intake tend to replace it with carbohydrates and sugar, which can increase their risk of developing diabetes. “This is just one more piece of evidence showing that we really need to stop making recommendations about food based on theories about one nutrient in food,” says Mozaffarian. “It’s crucial at this time to understand that it’s about food as a whole, and not about single nutrients.” Mozaffarian isn’t recommending that you go out and eat or drink a lot of full-fat dairy. Instead, he said it’s smart to eat a mix of high-, low- and no-fat dairy products. “In the absence of any evidence for the superior effects of low-fat dairy, and some evidence that there may be better benefits of whole-fat dairy products for diabetes, why are we recommending only low-fat diary?” Mozaffarian told Time. “We should be telling people to eat a variety of dairy and remove the recommendation about fat content.” [Source: MoneyTalksNews | Krystal Steinmetz | April 07, 2016 ++]

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Migraines Update 01 Neuromodulation | New Treatment

We’ve all experienced a really bad headache at some point in our lives. But what if you were having a real head-splitter three or four times a week? The good folks at the W. G. (Bill) Hefner VA Medical Center – Salisbury, NC might have discovered a cure for all that pain. Dr. Alton Bryant, a neurologist at Salisbury said, “One of my patients told me about this new device that was approved by the FDA in 2014. I’ve been prescribing it for about six months now. I think it’s a solid treatment, certainly as good as our standard migraine medicines.” Bryant explained, “It’s a futuristic-looking device that you place on your head, like a metallic headband. It sends electrical impulses back into your brainstem, where they interrupt your pain circuits. You need to wear it every day for at least 20 minutes. You can wear it more than that, if you want, but 20 minutes is the minimum.” He added: “Using electrical impulses to control pain is called neuromodulation and it’s a big focus in medicine right now.”

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New Device for Migraine Headaches Approved by the FDA

A female sits while a male doctor places the migraine device on her.

VA helping migraine sufferers with new Cefaly treatment

The mysterious device goes by the name of Cefaly –pronounced Sef-a-lee— and looks like it was beamed down from the Starship Enterprise. “I call it my ‘Geordi device,’ because that’s what it looks like,” said Marine Corps Veteran Rodney Harrington. (Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge, blind since birth, was the chief engineering officer on the USS Enterprise. He wore a special visor that enabled him to ‘see.’) “I was kind of skeptical, but I gave it a try,” Harrington said. “I went from having two to four migraines a week to having maybe two per month. It really works. I usually wear it in the afternoon or evening. It’s very calming. It’s kind of a good way to end the day.” “I’ve had migraines for 20 years, and this is the first thing that’s really made a difference for me.”

Harrington, 44, said his Geordi device is a welcome alternative to the various pills he was taking daily to control his pain. “The meds I was taking would make me feel like a zombie,” he said. “I call them knock-out pills. But this thing just relaxes me. And it’s small and lightweight, so whenever I go out of town I just throw it in my bag and take it with me. “I haven’t taken my meds in quite some time now,” he added, “so this has definitely been a benefit. I’ve had migraine problems for 20 years and this is the first thing that’s really made a difference for me.”

“It’s a preventative,” observed Dr. Alton Bryant. “And like any migraine preventative it will work extremely well for some people, moderately well for others, and not well at all for some. I can say it’s been beneficial for most of my patients. Well over half my patients have a moderate to very good response.” Only half? So why doesn’t it work for everyone? “That’s true of any treatment,” said the neurologist. “That’s why we have 10 different pills for epilepsy. That’s why we have so many different kinds of blood pressure medications. Everyone’s different, and everyone will respond to a given treatment differently.”

Bryant said migraines are the single biggest reason people visit a neurologist. “More people see a neurologist for migraines than dementia, stroke, or Parkinson’s,” he said. “We’re fortunate to have Cefaly as an optional treatment, because here at VA we’re trying to avoid prescribing meds whenever possible. “You always have to worry about your patients not taking their meds correctly,” the neurologist continued, “so we’re always open to trying alternatives like Cefaly. Because even when your patients take their meds correctly, there’s always side effects or interactions with other meds they’re taking. Side effects can add up. But when you use electrical impulses to prevent pain, you don’t have to worry about any of that.”

“I was taking a lot of over-the-counter pain killers,” said another of Bryant’s patients, 53-year-old Randy Stegall. “And some of the prescription meds I was taking made me feel funny. I won’t say this new device is a cure-all, but it’s given me a lot of relief. You have to get used to the sensation, though. It kind of puts you in a very relaxed state. It’s almost like meditating. You might not want to drive a car or operate heavy machinery right after using it.” Stegall, an Army Veteran, said the Cefaly device has only one notable drawback. “When you first see it, you have to refrain from making a comical remark about it,” he laughed. “It’s definitely different-looking. When I put it on, I just tell people I’m going to take a few minutes to shock my brain and I’ll be right back.” Different looking though it might be, but Cefaly appears to have had a distinct impact on the quality of Stegall’s life. “It’s reduced the amount of meds I’m taking,” he said. “When you’ve had a headache for 14 days, you’re willing to try anything to get relief, and this thing works. If you’re having issues with headaches, it’s worth a try. It’s a comfort, having it here, knowing I can use it whenever I need it.”

“Initially, in the doctor’s office, it felt kind of funny,” said 49-year-old Army Veteran Mark Brooks. “I didn’t think I would like it. But I wanted to give it a fair shot. So I took it home and kept using it. My migraines are real severe, but when I started using it consistently I stopped getting the severe ones as much. “If my migraines were at a 10, they’re probably at a six now,” he added. “Six is better than ten.” Brooks said his pain never really goes away, which is why he’s on three different medications in addition to his daily Cefaly treatment. He said he hopes the science of neuromodulation continues to advance so that perhaps one day he can be pain free. “When I first started getting migraines, back in the 90s, I felt there was no way I could live with it,” he said. “The pain was so severe. I felt like maybe I had a tumor or something and that I was going to die. But now I feel like there’s more hope for me.” [Source: VAntage Point | Tom Cramer | April 07, 2016 ++]

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Cohen Veterans Network ► Free Mental Health Care

Billionaire hedge fund manager Steven A. Cohen has pledged $275 million to support military veterans and their families by opening up free mental-healthcare clinics across the country. The Cohen Veterans Network officially launched its operations this week. The clinics will treat veterans, free of charge, who suffer from post-traumatic stress (PTS) and other mental health conditions, Cohen and executive director Dr. Anthony Hassan said in a release. “The wounds of war are serious. It is not easy to serve your country in combat overseas and then come back into society seamlessly, especially if you are suffering,” Cohen said in a statement. “These men and women have paid an incredible price and it’s important that this country pays back that debt.” He continued: “We will treat anyone who served in the U.S. Armed Forces during the war on terror. If you wore the uniform, and you need help, you are welcome at Cohen Veterans Network–period.”

More than 2.6 million men and woman have served in the military during the past 14 years of war. Around 20% of veterans experience some form of PTS and traumatic brain injury (TBI), while nearly 40% of returning veterans who suffer from mental health issues don’t seek treatment, CVN said in its release. Over the next five years, Cohen Veterans Network plans to open 20 to 25 clinics. The first four Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinics, located in New York, Dallas, San Antonio, and Los Angeles, will open by July. The fifth clinic will be in Philadelphia, and it’s scheduled to open in the spring of 2017. Cohen will also pledge an additional $30 million or more through Cohen Veterans Bioscience, CVN’s sister organization, for research programs.

Steve Cohen

Steven A. Cohen

On 7 APR, Cohen was honored by the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation, an organization that provides free education for the children of fallen Marines and law enforcement members. Cohen comes from a military family. His son, Robert, served in the US Marine Corps in Afghanistan and is currently serving in the Reserves. Cohen’s father served in the Pacific during World War II. “My dad taught me to believe that if you worked hard, and took risks, you could succeed in this country. And when my son became a Marine, he taught me that nothing I achieved would have been possible without the men and women of our military,” Cohen said during his speech. “Our lives and our hopes rest on the freedom and security that they provide. We owe our veterans a debt that can never truly be repaid.” [Source: Business Insider | Julia La Roche | April 07, 2016, 10:24 PM ++]

* Finances *

Costco Credit Card Switch ► Impact on Customers

The days of the American Express Costco credit card are coming to an end. American Express said last year its exclusive partnership with Costco would end in 2016. Costco is now partnering with Citigroup, and shoppers can expect to get their new Visa co-branded cards — called Costco Anywhere cards — in May and early June. The new cards double as membership cards. June 20 marks the date the warehouse club officially switches over from American Express to the new Visa cards, Citigroup said. Here are things to know about the upcoming changeover:

What do customers need to do to make the switch? Not much. Existing Costco members don’t need to apply for the new Costco Anywhere Visa card, which they will automatically receive in the mail. Members should keep using their American Express Costco cards through 19 JUN and then destroy them, Citigroup said. As of 20 JUN — when the new Visa cards start working — American Express Costco cards will automatically be canceled and won’t work at any stores. Citigroup said it will have more information for customers who are interested in becoming Costco members on applying for the card in June.

How do the rewards stack up? Costco members can earn 4 percent cash back on up to $7,000 spent on gas, as well as 3 percent on restaurants and eligible travel, 2 percent on Costco purchases and 1 percent on everything else. The card doesn’t have an annual fee but shoppers will need to pay for a $55 annual Costco membership. The American Express cards provided 3 percent cash back on gas up to $4,000 per year, 2 percent on restaurants and eligible travel and 1 percent on other purchases. That makes the Visa card a “no-brainer” for existing members, but also one of the better cash back cards on the market that could be enticing for people who aren’t currently Costco shoppers, said Sean McQuay, credit card expert for Nerdwallet. McQuay worked for Visa while it was negotiating with Costco but said he wasn’t directly involved in the project.

According to McQuay, no card offers better cash back rates on gas, restaurants and travel, but customers who see the biggest chunk of their credit card bill going to groceries may get more cash back with a different card. Why the increased perks? Costco cardholders tend to be relatively affluent, use their credit cards frequently and make large purchases, making them desirable customers for a credit card company, McQuay said. “It’s safe to say Visa wanted to win this deal a lot,” he said.

Do customers need the new card to shop at Costco? Costco members will be able to use any Visa card to shop at Costco after June 20 and don’t have to get the Costco Anywhere Visa card. However, only the Costco Anywhere card will offer the cash back rewards described above. Thus, if you are a current user of NFCU’s Visa Rewards Card which pays 1.5% on all purchases, you would be money ahead to continue to use your NFCU card for all purchases except gas, travel, restaurants, and Costco purchases.

Will getting a new card affect customers’ credit scores? No — Citigroup said it will not pull a credit report when transferring customers’ accounts.

What happens to rewards customers earned with American Express Costco cards? Customers won’t lose cash back rewards earned on Costco American Express cards up to June 20 — they’ll move to the new Visa cards, as will any outstanding balances, Citigroup said. Other American Express membership benefits won’t transfer to the new cards, American Express said.

[Source: Chicago Tribune | Lauren Zumbach | March 29, 2016 ++]

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Postal Rates Update 03 ► First Decrease in 100 Years

The U.S. Postal Service announced this week that several rate reductions took effect on 10 APR. The former cost of mailing a letter, 49 cents per ounce, fell to 47 cents per ounce. Other rates also decreased:

  • Letters weighing more than 1 ounce: 21 cents per additional ounce (down from 22 cents)
  • Letters to all international destinations: $1.15 (down from $1.20)
  • Postcards: 34 cents (down from 35 cents)
  • Commercial rates also decreased.

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While this sounds like good news for consumers, the Postal Service says these reductions will cost the independent agency of the federal government $2 billion per year in revenue. The Postal Service’s operations are funded by the sale of postage, products and services, according to a news release. The agency does not receive tax dollars for operating expenses. The reductions, which the press release calls “forced,” mark the end of a temporary surcharge that was granted to help the Postal Service recover financial losses in the wake of the Great Recession. The surcharge started in January 2014 and was due to expire after it generated $4.6 billion in revenue for the Postal Service.

The agency is continuing to seek congressional action to reinstate the surcharge and make it permanent, however. Megan J. Brennan, postmaster general and chief executive, says in the release: “To properly compete for customers and continue to meet America’s evolving mailing and shipping needs, the Postal Service needs the financial capability to invest in the future. We continue to seek legislative reforms to put the Postal Service back on a sustainable financial path, and pricing is an important component.” The last time the postage rate for a 1-ounce letter decreased was on July 01, 1919, when the rate fell from 3 cents to 2 cents, according to Postal Service historical data. [Source: MoneyTalksNews | Karla Bowsher | April 08, 2016 ++]

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Tax Program Leaks ► Cyberthieves’ latest target | Your tax forms

An email scam targeting companies is putting huge amounts of individuals’ tax information into the hands of criminals, potentially wreaking havoc on the victims’ lives for years. Coming at the height of tax season, when millions of workers are filing their federal and state returns, the “phishing” or “spoofing” scheme is simple and effective: The perpetrator, impersonating a company’s high-ranking executive from a phony email address that appears legitimate, fools staffers in the payroll or human-resources departments into forwarding W-2 forms or other tax information. “It’s huge. It’s just huge,” said Dolores Furniss, manager of state and federal tax programs at the Utah State Tax Commission, which, like other state agencies, is scrambling to deal with the fallout. She said her office was notified on Thursday by a company that it was victimized, and within an hour she had fielded phone calls from 10 employees.

Scores of companies employing hundreds of thousands of workers have already disclosed that they have fallen victim to the scam. Weight Watchers International Inc. is one of the latest victims. “In what has, unfortunately, become common, Weight Watchers was targeted by criminals using a phishing scam to obtain personal information about some current and former employees,” the company said in a statement over the weekend. The attackers received information about 434 former and current employees out of a current U.S. workforce of roughly 13,000. Other victims include data-storage firm Seagate Technology PLC in Cupertino, Calif.; Billy Casper Golf, a golf-course company based in Reston, Va.; biotechnology company PerkinElmer Inc.; and Phoenix-based regional grocery chain Sprouts Farmers Market Inc.

Stolen information from these scams is being sold on underground websites and criminals are using the data to file fraudulent tax returns and collect the refunds, according to tax and cybersecurity experts. Even those employees who don’t have their identities stolen could face delays in getting their tax returns or other additional scrutiny, since tax departments will take extra measures to ensure the authenticity filings from employees of companies that experienced thefts. The thefts are especially damaging since they often include Social Security numbers, which can’t easily be canceled and replaced like credit cards, meaning thieves can continue to try to use the stolen information for years, experts say. “Kindly prepare the lists and email them to me asap,” read one such email, according to the Internal Revenue Service, which issued an alert about the scam last month.

An employee, thinking the request from a superior is authentic, then sends the W-2 data to the fake email address. An employee’s W-2 form includes a Social Security number, address, salary and other information that thieves could use for identity theft or to file fake tax returns. Tax officials say thieves are targeting companies of all sizes; at least 50 have already reported that they were victims. “We are definitely talking about many, many thousands of employees and I would have to think there are some companies that aren’t confessing to it,” said Verenda Smith, deputy director of the Federation of Tax Administrators, an organization of state tax officials.

A spokesman for Seagate said several thousand current and former employees were affected by the deceit, which the company discovered on March 1. “The information was sent by an employee who believed the phishing email was a legitimate internal company request,” the company said in a statement. Seagate is offering two years of credit monitoring to affected workers. “We sincerely apologize for this situation and are working to enhance our controls and make additional investments in protocols, technology and training,” said Donna Egan, spokeswoman for Sprouts Farmers Market, which has more than 21,000 employees and 220 stores. Representatives of PerkinElmer and Billy Casper Golf couldn’t be reached for comment.

The trouble comes as the IRS is still recovering from a 2015 attack in which hackers gained access to as many as 700,000 taxpayer accounts. The agency didn’t respond to a request for further comment on the scam. The pervasiveness of the latest scam highlights how easily employees can unwittingly expose important data to criminals. Companies are increasingly warning employees about the risks associated with clicking on unfamiliar email links or responding to unusual requests that appear to come from co-workers. In Georgia, tax authorities received a call on 30 MAR from a company’s chief financial officer who said W-2 information for his 20 employees had been exposed in the email scam. State officials quickly discovered that false returns had already been filed for some of those employees, although refunds had been blocked because the filings seemed suspicious. “We will continue to help those employees for years to come because once the identity is compromised, it is compromised forever,” said Josh Waites, director in the office of special investigations in the Georgia Department of Revenue.

Cybersecurity experts also say that the scam shows criminals are more often targeting specific employees who have valuable information rather than hacking into a computer network in a blind search for data. “It’s one-stop shopping. It’s easy and is low-tech,” says Brian Lapidus, managing director in the identity-theft and breach-notification practice at Kroll Associates Inc. He says the investigations firm is receiving multiple calls daily from companies that have released W-2 information to criminals. The scam is a twist on an increasingly popular cyberattack known as “business email compromise” in which criminals impersonate an executive in an email and ask a subordinate to wire money to a bank account. The funds are typically then quickly siphoned into an offshore bank account where they are difficult to retrieve. The Federal Bureau of Investigation said last year that it has tracked more than 7,000 companies that have been victimized in such compromises since late 2013, resulting in more than $740 million in losses. [Source: The Wall Street Journal | Robin Sidel | April 3, 2016 ++]

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Credit Card Data Theft ► New Ways of Stealing

SCENE 1.

A man went to the local gym and placed his belongings in the locker. After the workout and a shower, he came out, saw the locker open, and thought to himself, ‘Funny, I thought I locked the locker…

Hmm, ‘He dressed and just flipped the wallet To make sure all was in order. Everything looked okay – all cards were in place…

A few weeks later his credit card bill came – a whooping bill of $14,000!

He called the credit card company and started yelling at them, saying that he did not make the transactions.

Customer care personnel verified that there was no mistake in the system And asked if his card had been stolen…

‘No,’ he said, but then took out his wallet, pulled out the credit card, and yep – you guessed it – a switch had been made.’

An expired similar credit card from the same bank was in the wallet.

The thief broke into his locker at the gym and switched cards.

Verdict: The credit card issuer said since he did not report the card missing earlier, he would have to pay the amount owed to them. How much did he have to pay for items he did not buy? $9,000! Why were there no calls made to verify the amount swiped? Small amounts rarely trigger a ‘warning bell’ with some credit card companies. It just so happens that all the small amounts added up to a big one!

-o-o-O-o-o-

SCENE 2.

A man at a local restaurant paid for his meal with his credit card. The bill for the meal came, he signed it and the waitress folded the receipt And passed the credit card along.

Usually, he would just take it and place it in his wallet or pocket. Funny enough, though, he actually took a look at the card and, lo and behold, it was the expired card of another person.

He called the waitress and she looked perplexed. She took it back, apologized, and hurried back to the counter under the watchful eye of the man.

All the waitress did while walking to the counter was wave the wrong expired card to the counter cashier, and the counter cashier immediately looked down and took out the real card.

No exchange of words — nothing! She took it and came back to the man with an apology.

Verdict: Make sure the credit cards in your wallet are yours. Check the name on the card every time you sign for something and/or the card is taken away for even a short period of time. Many people just take back the credit card without even looking at it, ‘assuming’ that it has to be theirs.

-o-o-O-o-o-

SCENE 3:

A man went into a pizza restaurant to pick up an order that he had called in. He paid by using his Visa Check Card which, of course, is linked directly to his checking account.

The young man behind the counter took the card, swiped it, then laid it on the counter as he waited for the approval,

which is pretty standard procedure. While he waited, he picked up his cell phone and started dialing.

The man noticed the phone because it was the same model as he had, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Then he heard a click that sounded like his phone sounds when he take a picture.

The counterman then gave him back his card but kept the phone in his hand as if he was still pressing buttons.

Meanwhile, the man was thinking: I wonder what he is taking a picture of, oblivious to what was really going on.

It then dawned on him: the only thing there was his credit card, so now he started paying close attention to what the counterman was doing..

He set his phone on the counter, leaving it open. About five seconds later, he heard the chime that tells you that the picture has been saved.

Now he was standing there struggling with the fact that this boy just took a picture of his credit card. Yes, he played it off well, but if they had not had the same kind of phone, the man probably would never have known what happened.

Needless to say, he immediately canceled that card

Verdict: Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Whenever you are using your credit card take caution and don’t be careless. Notice who is standing near you and what they are doing when you use your card. Be aware of phones, because many have a camera phone these days. Never let your card out of your sight… check and check again!

[Source: VFW Post 6756 Centerline MI | Leo Miller | April 3, 2016 ++]

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Saving Money ► Household Cleaners | $300 a Year

You’ve probably heard that you can make cleaning products from ingredients found around the house. But how do they stack up against commercial cleaners? The good and green news is that such products allow you to clean your home effectively, killing germs and bacteria while protecting your health and caring for the environment, for about half of what you’re probably paying now. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent survey of consumer expenditures says U.S. households spent an average of $645 on housekeeping supplies in 2013. Not only do homemade cleaners cut that cost in half, they’re also safer, because many commercial cleaning products contain toxic ingredients, Jessica Kellner, editor-in-chief of Mother Earth Living, tells Money Talks News.

Head-to-head comparisons – But do DIY cleaners work? Lifehacker’s Annie Hauser compared homemade cleaners with commercial products. She says she was skeptical at first. The idea that you can clean your house or apartment and dress your salad with many of the same products seems a little weird – and mixing up a fresh batch of furniture polish seems a little “Little House on the Prairie.” But her results were surprising. Here are her four tests and conclusions:

  • Test 1: Mixture of liquid dish soap and baking soda vs. multi-surface cleaner. Winner: Dish soap and baking soda.
  • Test 2: A mix of one part olive oil and one part vinegar vs. wood polish spray. Winner: Wood polish spray.
  • Test 3: Solution of one part rubbing alcohol, one part white vinegar and two parts water vs. glass cleaner. Winner: Rubbing alcohol mix.
  • Test 4: One cup vinegar in a gallon of water vs. wood floor polish. Winner: Tie.

Vinegar: Queen of green clean – Vinegar (white vinegar runs about $4 to $5 a gallon) is an “incredibly effective” cleaner, Kellner finds. It will kill about 90 percent of household germs, according to some estimates. White vinegar typically is used for cleaning. Look for vinegar with 5 percent acidity.

  • Rodale News compares vinegar with bleach: [Vinegar] is probably strong enough to handle most germy tasks, and when it doesn’t work, resort to hot soapy water. Use bleach as a last resort, use it sparingly (follow the 1:4 ratio), and make sure the room is well-ventilated so you don’t hurt your lungs. Rodale adds that studies indicate vinegar — typically combined with table salt or hydrogen peroxide — fights the growth of some strains of E. coli and kills mold.
  • In a test by Cook’s illustrated magazine, a solution of one part vinegar to three parts water removed 98 percent of bacteria from the surface of fruits and vegetables, National Public Radio reports. However, the NPR report also stated that researchers at the Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at Tennessee State University found that “water can remove 98 percent of bacteria when it’s used to rinse and soak produce.” Rubbing or brushing helps in cleaning.
  • Caution: Don’t mix vinegar and hydrogen peroxide. Mixing reduces the effectiveness of both. Instead, spray or wash first with vinegar, then peroxide, letting the last spray air dry.

Testing household products – Not everyone is thrilled with the results of homemade cleaners, though. Wellness Mama blogger finds vinegar, basic to many DIY products, smelly and less-effective. Homemade cleaning products didn’t earn the highest marks in a Consumer Reports test either. “Most made-at-home brews often are effective, though they don’t perform as well as the products you’ll find in stores,” CR concludes. CR does give high marks to a glass-cleaning solution of soapy ammonia, water and rubbing alcohol. You can find the recipe in the article at www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2009/03/7-ways-to-green-clean-and-cut-costs/index.htm. Homemade cleaners may not always beat commercial products for effectiveness, but they are better overall because they are safer for human health and for the environment, Kellner says.

Other powerful ingredients – Here are nine more ingredients used in safe, effective green cleaning, along with a few of their many uses. Some can be used alone. Often, they’re combined. You’ll find links to recipes and more uses at the end of this article.

  • Lemons: Lemon juice cuts grease, removes stains, brightens laundry, cleans surfaces (including tile grout) and neutralizes odors. Grind half a lemon in your kitchen sink disposal to deodorize it.
  • Salt: Some prefer coarse sea salt, but table salt also is used for scrubbing. It is abrasive but doesn’t scratch surfaces. Salt can remove red wine stains, as this Real Simple video demonstrates.
  • Castile soap: Castile is an olive oil-based soap. Dr. Bronner’s is one popular brand. Castile soap is gentle but effective in a solution with warm or hot water at removing grease. Use it for cleaning floors and cars.
  • Pure essential oils: Extracted from plants, these oils are powerful, so research first and use carefully. Extracts of thyme, origanum, mint, cinnamon, salvia and clove “were found to possess the strongest antimicrobial properties among many tested,” according to research.
  • Borax: Household borax (not the same as boric acid) is sodium tetraborate, “a naturally occurring substance produced by the repeated evaporation of seasonal lakes,” says the website of 20 Mule Team Borax. Among other things, it’s used to boost laundry detergents (1/2 cup per load), control odors, clean toilet bowls and brighten grout. It also deodorizes carpets, pet beds and dishwashers; removes soap scum and hard water deposits; and functions as an all-purpose cleaner. The 20 Mule Team label cautions to avoid contact with eyes and not to take it internally. It contains no phosphates and is safe for washers, septic tanks and plumbing.
  • Baking soda: An effective odor neutralizer, sodium bicarbonate and its stronger relative washing soda (sodium carbonate) also cut grease. Wear gloves when using washing soda. Unlike baking soda, washing soda is not edible.
  • Rubbing alcohol: Reader’s Digest recommends rubbing alcohol for cleaning blinds, windows, ink stains and bathroom fixtures; removing ticks, and melting windshield frost. In a 1-to-1 mixture with water, it prevents ice bags from freezing completely, so you can mold them around the surface you want to chill.
  • Cooking oil: Vegetable and other plant-based oils can bring moisture back to dried-out wood, rattan and wicker. These oils moisturize skin and leather, and they polish wood, stainless steel, pots and pans.
  • Hydrogen peroxide: After cleaning a sink, disinfect it by misting separately with vinegar and hydrogen peroxide, says Today.com. (Remember, mixing vinegar and hydrogen peroxide reduces the effectiveness of both.)

Now, get started – If you’re ready to give homemade cleaners a try, here are tips and resources for getting started:

[Source: MoneyTalksNews | Marilyn Lewis | March 28, 2016 ++]

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Closing Cost Scam ► How it Works

Buying a home this spring? If so, watch out for this cunning new con. A recent alert from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns that scammers are hacking into email accounts and instructing homebuyers to wire closing costs straight into their pockets.

How the Scam Works:

  • You are buying a home, and everything is ready for your closing. Then, your real estate agent or title company emails with new instructions. Instead of bringing a check to your closing, you need to wire your closing costs to a bank account.
  • Don’t do it! You’ll be wiring thousands of dollars into a scam account. Hackers have been breaking into the email accounts of real estate professionals. They search for information about upcoming transactions. After figuring out the closing date, the hacker sends an email to the buyer, posing as the agent or title company.
  • Never accept a change to an agreed transaction based on an email. If someone tells you to deviate from a previous plan, especially one that involves thousands of dollars, check it out before you send a dime. Call your agent or title company and make sure the new directions are legitimate.

Tips to Spot a Phishing Scam:

  • Be wary of unexpected emails that contain links or attachments. Do not click on links or open files in unfamiliar emails.
  • Consider how the company normally contacts you. If a company usually contacts you by phone, be suspicious if you suddenly start receiving emails or text messages without ever opting into the new communications.
  • Don’t believe what you see. Just because an email looks real, doesn’t mean it is. Scammers can fake anything, from a company logo to the “Sent” email address.
  • If something seems suspicious, check the company’s website or call them. Err on the side of caution and confirm before taking any action. DON’T click on any links or call a number in a message you suspect is a scam. If you want to look on the company’s website, look for the URL on your statement or do a web search.
  • Email is not a secure way to send financial information. Your real estate professional or title company will know that. They will not send nor ask you to provide banking information via email.

Read the full alert from the Federal Trade Commissionat https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0003-phishing. For real estate agencies, mortgage firms, and other companies interested in protecting their business from hacking, check out BBB’s 5 Steps to Better Business Cybersecurity at https://www.bbb.org/council/for-businesses/cybersecurity/the-5-step-approach. 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 1, 2016 ++]

BBB Scam Alert

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ATM Scam Update 01Skimming On the Increase

Be sure to use caution when withdrawing from automated teller machines, especially in convenience stores and gas stations. Police departments have reported an uptick in skimming devices on ATMs.

How the Scam Works:

  • You need cash, so you stop at a gas station with an ATM. You head to the back of the shop and insert your card into the machine. You may not notice anything strange, but scammers have attached a skimmer to the card reader. These devices “skim” your card’s information off the magnetic strip.
  • Many times, scammers also set up a camera nearby. It’s pointed at the ATM in order to capture the user typing their PIN into the machine. With these two pieces of information, scammers can access and withdraw money from your account.
  • Many police departments are reporting higher than normal cases of ATM skimming. The spike may be tied to banks rolling out new chip cards, which have encryption technology to make them much more difficult to hack. Until the new technology is fully implemented, scammers are taking full advantage of the current situation.

Protect Yourself from an ATM Skimmer:

  • Use ATMs at banks whenever possible. Avoid ATMs in a low traffic or low light areas. It is typically more secure to use ATMs at banks rather than standalone machines.
  • Protect your PIN. Place your hand or a piece of paper over the keypad when entering your number.
  • Look for signs of skimmers. Tape is often used to attach the skimming devices; if something looks odd, wiggle it to make sure it doesn’t come loose.
  • Be wary of strange signs. Some con artists attach signs to ATMs providing alternate instructions, such as telling users to swipe their card on a separate reader first. If something looks out of place, find a different ATM and report it to the bank or store manager, or to the police.
  • If someone offers to “help” you use the ATM, immediately decline and leave. If you feel uncomfortable with the individual, go somewhere well lit or lock yourself in your car and call the police emergency number.
  • Be cautious of ATM failures. If the machine doesn’t give you money, or gives you an immediate message that the machine malfunctioned, call the financial institution and let them know.
  • Report any problems. Only call a number you know is real, such as the one on the back of your card. Don’t call a number posted next to the ATM, as that could be part of the scam. If you aren’t sure, call the police non-emergency number.

The article at www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2016/03/is_that_atm_safe_to_use_watch_a_team_rig_a_cash_ma.html provides a thorough overview of how skimming works and provides more tips for how to protect yourself. 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 | March 21, 2016 ++]

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Sweepstakes Check Scam ► How it Works

Some cons just never get old (for scammers, that is). Con artists are always impersonating Publisher’s Clearing House, hoping that the lure of a sweepstakes win is too tempting to resist. BBB has learned of a new twist on this classic ploy, combining what’s known as a “sweepstakes scam” with an “over-payment scam.”

How the Scam Works:

  • You receive a letter in the mail informing you that you’ve won the Publisher’s Clearing House (PCH) Sweepstakes. It says that PCH has even included a check to cover the taxes on your winnings. All you have to do is deposit the check in your account and wire or use a prepaid debit card to send the “taxes” to a third party. Then it claims Publishers Clearing House can release your winnings.
  • Sound too good to be true? That’s because it is. This scam has nothing to do with Publishers Clearing House. If you deposit the check, and transfer the “tax” money, you will end up owing the bank. Even though the money seems to immediately appear in your account, it takes the bank a few days to completely clear the check. In cases where the check is fake, you are responsible for any money lost.

Tips to Protect Yourself From a Sweepstakes Scam: Lottery and sweepstakes scams are common. Here are tips to avoid them:

  • Don’t pay up to claim your prize. You should never have to pay money or buy products in order to receive a prize. Be especially wary of requests to wire money or use a prepaid debit card.
  • Be wary of email announcements. Major sweepstakes organizations sometimes email about smaller prizes, but for big winners they usually show up at your house with a big check (and a camera crew).
  • You can’t win a contest you didn’t enter. You need to buy a ticket or complete an application to participate in a contest or lottery. Be very careful if you’ve been selected as a winner for a contest you never entered.
  • Verify — but not by using a source scammers give you. Check if an offer is real, but don’t call the phone number in the email or website you suspect may be a scam. If it is a con, chances are the person on the other line will be involved, too.

To find out more about other scams, check out BBB Scam Stopper (bbb.org/scam). Read more about scams posing as Publishers Clearing House on their website. https://info.pch.com/consumer-information/tips-a-warning-signs. [Source: BBB Scam Alert | September 11, 2015 ++]

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Tax Burden for Florida 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 Florida:


Sales Taxes
State Sales Tax:
 6% (food, prescription and non-prescription drugs exempt). There are additional county sales taxes which could make the combined rate as high as 9.5%.

Gasoline Tax: 54.98 cents/gallon (Includes all taxes)

Diesel Fuel Tax:  58.17 cents/gallon (Includes all taxes)

Cigarette Tax: $1.34/pack of 20

Personal Income Taxes

No state income tax

Retirement Income: Not taxed.

Property Taxes 

All property is taxable at 100% of its just valuation.  Every person who owns and resides on real property in Florida on January 1 and makes the property their permanent residence is eligible to receive a homestead exemption up to $50,000.  The first $25,000 applies to all property taxes, including school district taxes.  The additional exemption up to $25,000, applies to the assessed value between $50,000 and $75,000 and only to nonschool taxes.  If one spouse holds the title, the other spouse may file for the exemption with the consent of the titleholder. Below is a general list of exemptions available in the state.

The homestead exemption for all residents applies to all property taxes, not just city and county taxes. Annual increases in the assessment of homestead property are limited to 3% of the prior year’s assessed value, or if lower, the percentage change in the Consumer Price Index for the prior year, as long as there was no change in ownership.

For more details on property taxes, go to http://dor.myflorida.com/property/Pages/default.aspx , then find the link for the county property appraiser for the county in question. For more information on Florida property tax exemptions, go to http://dor.myflorida.com/dor/property/taxpayers .

Inheritance and Estate Taxes

There is no inheritance tax and only a limited estate tax.

To review information for new residents refer to http://www.stateofflorida.com/moving-to-florida.aspx. For general information on Florida taxes, visit the Florida Department of Revenue site http://dor.myflorida.com/dor/taxes or call 800-352-3671. [Source: www.retirementliving.com Apr 2016 ++]

* General Interest *

Notes of Interest ► 01 thru 15 Apr 2016

  • Navy Recruitment. Check out this Vintage Adult Cartoon from 1940s Post-WW2 Era – US Navy – SAILOR AND THE SEAGULL at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4w7FI2pYWc.
  • Car Muncher. Tired of your old jalopy. At http://www.liveleak.com/ll_embed?f=c83358ee7d5c is one solution.
  • Symbol of Freedom. The 400 foot tall flagpole at http://www.mortenson.com/milwaukee/projects/acuity-insurance-flagpole displaying the Stars and Stripes is an engineering marvel.
  • Facebook. More than 90% of adult Americans devote 15 to 18 hours per month—two workdays!—to the social network. (The measurement company comScore collects data from two million users in its monitoring program, as well as tracking software participating companies install on their web pages, apps and other digital content.)
  • Active Duty Suicides. The Pentagon reported 1 APR that 265 active-duty service members killed themselves last year, continuing a trend of unusually high suicide rates that have plagued the U.S. military for at least seven years. The numbers of suicides among troops was 145 in 2001 and began a steady increase until more than doubling to 321 in 2012, the worst year in recent history for service members killing themselves.
  • USO. The USO will permanently close its lounge and reception area at Frankfurt Airport later this month after nearly 41 years in operation, citing dwindling visitor numbers and the changing security environment in Europe.
  • VA Exec Pay. Senior health care executives at the Veterans Affairs Department could earn more money, but also could be fired more easily under draft legislation that Secretary Bob McDonald has sent to Capitol Hill. The proposal would create a new personnel system under Title 38 for senior executives in health care leadership at the department, with new rules on hiring, setting pay and disciplining those accused of poor performance or misconduct.
  • BP Oil Spill. Nearly six years after hundreds of millions of gallons of oil started to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, creating the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, a federal judge has formally approved the largest environmental settlement in history, which was determined in July of last year. $20 billion over the next 15 years.
  • Military Spending. Global military expenditures topped $1.6 trillion in 2015, an increase of about 1 percent from the previous year, according to a new report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). That represents the first increase in global military spending since 2011,
  • Military Discounts. NCOA at www.bradsdeals.com/blog/military-discounts provides a list by category of 230 stores. restaurants, companies, etc. that offer military discounts.
  • Blood Alcohol Levels. On 4 APR, the military lowered the allowable blood alcohol content level to 0.03 percent for all troops operating vehicles on U.S. bases in Japan. That’s less than half the 0.08 legal limit most states set for drivers in the U.S. and the same as it is in Japan for all drivers. That means troops who have one drink before getting behind the wheel in Japan could be near or above the new blood alcohol limit.
  • MOH. At http://taskandpurpose.com/watch-marine-wwii-ace-describe-downing-7-japanese-bombers-first-combat-patrol you can watch a Marine WWII Ace describe downing 7 Japanese Bombers on his first Combat Patrol
  • Quiz. Take the 25 question quiz at http://www.billoreilly.com/quiz?categoryID=4&quizID=757 to see how well you know our country.
  • Kamikaze Attack. To view footage of the USS Laffey fighting off a kamikaze attack off Okinawa refer to

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/4zkp7hvrgbcd7gd/D-qPNsG9ym?lst=&preview=Laffey+Enhanced+vo+3.wmv.

[Source: Various | April 15, 2016 ++]

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DataUSA ► How to Obtain Info on a City of Interest

Rich treasure troves of public data exist about our cities, but for the ordinary person, these can be hard to dig up and decipher. That’s why citizens, nonprofits, and start-ups have been trying to convert some of these complex datasets into comprehensible and usable forms. Even the federal government has been trying to consolidate some of these data tools in one corner on the internet. But this endeavor, while significant, only brings together a few pieces of a larger puzzle. To get a detailed snapshot of a place, we still have to painstakingly put together information from various sources.

Enter DataUSA http://datausa.io , a new, comprehensive, open-source visualization venture launched 4 APR by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Labs and consulting and auditing firm Deloitte. For any county, city, metro, and state in the U.S. , this site pulls up visualizations of data on the economy, demographics, health, education, and housing. It’s essentially a one-stop shop for information that is easy to search, understand, embed, and build into new code. “It’s different from other sites because, in this case, they are making data available not in the way that it’s collected, but in the way that it’s being used,” Cesar Hidalgo, one of the site’s creators, and director of the MIT Media Lab’s Macro Connections group told CityLab. “We’re taking data that was very deep in the web to the surface of the web.” The following data can be obtained on whatever location you select. For this example Poway CA was selected:

ECONOMY

The Census Bureau collects occupation, wage, and industry data over time using the American Community Survey in Poway CA.

  • WAGES
  • OCCUPATIONS
  • INDUSTRIES

DEMOGRAPHICS: The American Community Survey collects information on the demographics and origins of the residents in Poway, CA.

  • AGE
  • HERITAGE
  • MILITARY

EDUCATION: The Department of Education collects a large amount of data regarding higher education. The data in this section is based on degrees granted by institutions in Poway, CA.

  • START EXPLORING

HOUSING & LIVING: The American Census Survey contains a lot of rich information pertaining to households and the people that reside in them.

  • INCOME
  • HOUSING
  • TRANSPORTATION

HEALTH & SAFETY: The University of Wisconsin has collected data on various health and safety factors, and created a ranking for each.

  • HEALTHCARE
  • CRIME

[Source: City Lab | Tanvi Misra | April 5, 2016 ++

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Radioactive Bombs ► How The U.S. Made Dropping Them Routine

When the United States revealed in January that it is testing a more nimble, more precise version of its B61 atom bomb, some were immediately alarmed. General James Cartwright, a former strategist for President Barack Obama, warned that “going smaller” could make nuclear weapons “more thinkable” and “more usable.” However, what is little known is that for the past 25 years the United States and its allies have routinely used radioactive weapons in battle, in the form of warheads and explosives made with depleted, undepleted or slightly enriched uranium. While the Department of Defense (DOD) calls these weapons “conventional” (non-nuclear), they are radioactive and chemically toxic. In Iraq, where the United States and its partners waged two wars, toxic waste covers the country and poisons the people. U.S. veterans are also sick and dying.

Scott Ritter, a former Marine Corps officer in Iraq and United Nations weapons inspector, says, “The irony is we invaded Iraq in 2003 to destroy its nonexistent WMD [weapons of mass destruction]. To do it, we fired these new weapons, causing radioactive casualties.” The weapons were first used in 1991 during Desert Storm, when the U.S. military fired guided bombs and missiles containing depleted uranium (DU), a waste product from nuclear reactors. The DOD particularly prized them because, with dramatic density, speed and heat, they blasted through tanks and bunkers. Within one or two years, grotesque birth defects spiraled—such as babies with two heads. Or missing eyes, hands and legs. Or stomachs and brains inside out.

Keith Baverstock, who headed the radiological section of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Center of Environment and Health in the 1990s, explained why: When uranium weapons explode, their massive blasts produce gray or black clouds of uranium oxide dust particles. These float for miles, people breathe them, and the dust lodges in their lungs. From there, they seep into the lymph system and blood, flow throughout the body and bind to the genes and chromosomes, causing them to mutate. First, they trigger birth defects. Within five or more years, cancer. Organs, often the kidneys, fail. At one Basra hospital, leukemia cases in children up to age 14 doubled from 1992 to 1999, says Amy Hagopian, a University of Washington School of Public Health professor. Birth defects also surged, from 37 in 1990 to 254 in 2001, according to a 2005 article in Environmental Health. Leukemia—cancer of the blood—develops quickly. Chris Busby, a British chemical physicist, explains: “Blood cells are the most easily damaged by radiation and duplicate rapidly. We’ve known this since Hiroshima.”

Dai Williams, an independent weapons researcher in Britain, says the dust emits alpha radiation—20 times more damaging than the gamma radiation from nuclear weapons. The military insists the dust is harmless because it can’t penetrate the skin. They ignore that it can be inhaled. Fast-forward to 2003. When the United States reinvaded Iraq, it launched bunker-busting guided bombs, cruise missiles and TOW anti-tank missiles. It also fired new thermobaric warheads—much stronger explosives with stunningly large blasts. Many of these, says Ritter, contained some type of uranium, whether depleted, undepleted or slightly enriched. Williams says thermobaric weapons explode at extremely high temperatures and “the only material that can do that is uranium.” He adds that while today’s nuclear weapons are nominally subject to international regulations, no existing arms protocol addresses uranium in a non-nuclear context.

While the U.S. government has cleaned up some contaminated sites at home—such as a former uranium munitions plant in Concord, Massachusetts—it has yet to acknowledge the mess in Iraq. “Iraq is one large hazardous waste site,” Ritter says. “If it was the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency would declare it a Superfund site and order it be cleaned.” Fallujah (population 300,000) is Iraq’s most contaminated city. The U.S. military attacked it twice in 2004, and in the November siege, troops fired thermobaric weapons, including a shoulder-launched missile called the SMAW-NE. (NE means “novel explosive.”) Ross Caputi was there with the U.S. 1st Battalion 8th Marines. He said, “We used the SMAW-NE, and guys raved about how you could fire just one round and clear a building.” Concrete bunkers and buildings were instantly incinerated and collapsed. The DOD was not disappointed.

Cancers in Fallujah catapulted from 40 cases among 100,000 people in 1991 to at least 1,600 by 2005. In a 2010 International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health article, Busby and two colleagues, Malak Hamden and Entesar Ariabi, reported a 38-fold increase in leukemia, a 10-fold increase in breast cancer and infant mortality rates eight times higher than in neighboring Kuwait. Busby sampled the hair of Fallujah women with deformed babies and found slightly enriched uranium. He found the same thing in the soil. “The only possible source was the weapons,” he says. These numbers are probably low. “Iraqi women whose children have birth defects feel stigmatized and often don’t report them,” says Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, a Michigan-based environmental toxicologist who won the 2015 Rachel Carson Award. Besides the cancers and birth defects, an Irish pathologist (who asked for anonymity) said an unusually high number of children near the city of Hawija have cerebral palsy. “I was skeptical when Iraqi doctors told me, but I examined 30 and saw it was classic CP. I don’t know what caused this, but the increase is almost certainly war-related.”

04_04_Nuke_Weapons_01

Four-year-old cancer patient Sari Sattar is comforted by his mother at a Baghdad children’s hospital on

January 27, 2001.

It is often argued that uranium occurs in nature, so it’s impossible to link soil and other samples to the weapons. But Ritter says that when experts examine a site, they take samples, study them in a special lab and can easily tell the difference between uranium that is natural and that which was chemically processed. “The idea that you can’t link soil samples to weapons because of the presence of natural uranium is simply ludicrous. It’s done all the time by experts in the International Atomic Energy Agency and within the nuclear programs of all major nuclear powers,” Ritter says.

In addition to the weapons’ lethal dust, Iraqis and coalition troops were exposed to poisonous smoke from huge open burn pits, some stretching 10 acres. From 2003 to 2011, U.S. military bases burned waste in the pits around the clock—spewing toxic clouds for miles. Two were near Fallujah. Caputi says, “We dumped everything there. Our plastic bottles, tires, human waste and batteries.” Rubber, oil, solvents, unexploded weapons and even medical waste were also tossed into the pits. As a 2008 Army Times article noted, Balad Air Base burned around 90,000 plastic bottles a day. When plastic burns, it gives off dioxin—the key ingredient in Agent Orange, which caused malformations and cancer in Vietnam. Burn pits also produce hydrogen cyanide gas, Ritter says, which U.S. prisons used in their execution chambers from the mid-1920s until 2010, and which the Nazis used at the Auschwitz and Majdanek concentration camps. Moreover, pits burning uranium-tinged debris produce uranium oxide dust.

When U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) inspectors visited bases in 2010, they found much to criticize. Contractors running the pits—U.S. companies such as KBR and Halliburton—didn’t collect data on what they burned. (KBR said it wasn’t in its contract.) Few separated out toxic materials. Most burned plastics, although that is banned by regulations. The GAO wrote that the fumes could irritate the eyes and lungs; damage the liver, kidneys and central nervous system; and cause cancer, depending on how much is inhaled and for how long. Troops breathed them 24/7 during their tours, which were usually one year. Iraqis breathed them for eight years. The now-closed Balad Air Base burned up to 200 tons of waste a day, and many U.S. troops stationed there now have diseases that mirror the diseases suffered by the Iraqis. Some have already died from brain and lung cancers, or leukemia, says Rosie Torres, who started burnpits360.org when her husband, an Army captain, returned in 2008 with severe breathing problems.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) X-rayed Captain LeRoy Torres’s lungs and diagnosed a disease of “unknown etiology.” When more veterans presented similar symptoms, the DOD asked Dr. Robert Miller, Vanderbilt’s chief of pulmonary diseases, to study them. Miller said, “We biopsied 200 veterans’ lungs and found they had constrictive bronchiolitis, a very debilitating disease. The DOD didn’t like that we biopsied them and that we found the disease was caused by what they were exposed to—which included the burn pits. After that, it didn’t send us more veterans to evaluate.” Even as evidence mounts, the DOD and VA steadfastly deny the health effects of the weapons and pits. The Defense Health Agency website states, “No human cancer of any type has been seen as a result of exposure to either natural or depleted uranium.” Further, in a 2011 DOD report, “Exposure to Toxins Produced by Burn Pits,” the VA adds, “The effects from burn pits are only temporary and the negative health effects dissipate once a soldier is removed from the source.” In 2014, the VA website assured veterans that “so far, no health problems have been found in veterans exposed to DU.”

While the military admits it used DU in Iraq from 2003 to 2011, it has downplayed the extent. U.S. Marine Corps Captain Dominic Pitrone told The Washington Spectator, “The only weapons with DU in the USMC inventory were 120 mm tank rounds.” As for the new SMAW-NE warhead, he said it “does not contain uranium.” But Ritter says these claims are disingenuous. Though other DU munitions, such as aerial bombs and 25 mm cannon rounds, may not have been in the USMC inventory, they were still “available to and used by USMC units in Iraq.” And while the USMC may not label the SMAW-NE and thermobaric Hellfire missile as uranium weapons, Ritter says that “this doesn’t resolve whether the shaped-charge warheads [inside them] make use of uranium-enhanced liners.” U.S. coalition partners—such as Britain, which also used uranium weapons—echo the denials. So too do the WHO and the Iraq Ministry of Health, which concluded in 2012 that Iraq had fewer birth defects and cancers than developed countries. But Hagopian says the ministry surveyed households instead of using hospital records. Finding this unscientific, a 2013 Lancet article called for a new study. Last November, the American Public Health Association asked the military to ban burn pits and fund research on their health effects. It also asked the WHO to rethink its conclusion.

Researchers tell of attempts by authorities to quash investigations. In 1991, for example, the United States tried to keep the WHO from “surveying areas in southern Iraq where depleted uranium had been used and caused serious health and environmental dangers,” Hans von Sponek, a former U.N. official, told The Guardian. Karol Sikora, a British oncologist who headed the WHO’s cancer program in the 1990s, told me his supervisor (who focuses on non-communicable diseases) warned him that they shouldn’t speak publicly about the cancers and birth defects “because this would offend member states.” Similarly, Baverstock says, “I was on a WHO editorial committee, and I warned about the uranium weapons’ geno-toxicity effect on DNA. My comments were rejected—probably because the WHO monograph didn’t include this.”

Those who persist fare badly. Horst Gunther, a German physician, went to Iraq to study the spiking diseases. He saw children play with DU shells on Basra’s battlefield, took one to Germany to study and found it was extremely radioactive. He told German authorities and was arrested for possessing it. In 2003, Chief Justice Y.K.J. Yeung Sik Yuen of Mauritius, a delegate to the U.N. subcommission on human rights, wrote of “the cavalier disregard, if not deception, on the part of the developers and users of these weapons regarding their effects.” After he refused to reverse his position that DU weapons are illegal and violate the Geneva Convention, the U.S. and Britain campaigned against his re-election to the subcommission. He lost. Hagopian says researchers can’t study the uranium weapons’ effects because “the U.S. won’t fund the work.”

Why can’t the DOD, VA, Iraqi government and WHO come clean? Ritter says, “The DOD doesn’t want the public to know about the toxic dust, because of the liability. As for Iraq, it will agree with the U.S. as long as it depends on the U.S. for financial and military support. As for the WHO, the U.S. contributes more to U.N. agencies and the WHO than any other country.” Williams adds that there’s growing international concern about uranium weapons, since they’re radioactive. As early as 1991, Army Lieutenant Colonel M.V. Ziehm warned in a memo that because DU weapons “may become politically unacceptable,” after-action reports must “keep this sensitive issue at mind.” In other words, don’t tell. Media coverage of uranium weapons and the spiraling sickness has been meager. Malak Hamden said when she and colleagues published the 2010 Fallujah study, “CNN said something, but no newspapers touched the story.” A BBC reporter told Williams the public doesn’t want to know about uranium weapons.

In the meantime, the United States continues to build them. Williams notes that U.S. Patent Office records show Lockheed Martin and Raytheon hold patents for enhanced bombs and cruise missile warheads that include uranium options. Today, with the U.S., Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and Russia bombing Syria, and with the Saudis bombing and the U.S. firing drones into Yemen—with some of the same kinds of weapons unleashed in Iraq—it is likely that the people living there, along with fleeing refugees, will suffer just as the Iraqis and veterans have. As Busby notes, uranium oxide dust is like a bomb that keeps going off. “People’s genes are damaged for generations. Scientists found this in 22 generations of mice, after Chernobyl. The only way mutated genes disappear is when carriers don’t have children.” [Source: Newsweek (Opinion) | Barbara Koeppel | April 4, 2016 ++]

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Happy Birthday Song ► History

The strange tale of “Happy Birthday to You” took a new twist in JUL 2015, when lawyers told the New York Times that they had submitted new evidence in an ongoing case about the song’s copyright. The music publishing company Warner/Chappell has long claimed ownership of the rights to the song, but a filmmaker working on a movie about the song claims to have found proof that the song belongs in the public domain. Though the lawsuit’s results have yet to be determined, this won’t be the first time the song’s fate has been changed by a lawsuit.

The saga began back in 1893, in Louisville, Ky. Patty Smith Hill was a kindergarten teacher with a musically inclined sister, Mildred. When Mildred wrote a little tune and Patty put some child-friendly words with it—”Good morning, dear children / Good morning to all”—it was loved by the students, who helped it spread to schoolrooms throughout Kentucky and beyond. The verse about birthdays was added after the fact, and it spread even faster. Years later, after Hill had become a recognized expert in childhood education stationed at Columbia in New York City, a new Irving Berlin musical revue called ‘As Thousands Cheer’ opened on Broadway. One of the comedy sketches in the show was set at a birthday party for John D. Rockefeller Sr. during which, as the Great Depression continued in the real world, his children gave him Rockefeller Center as a token of their affection. Though the rest of the show featured music by Berlin, that scene relied on the birthday song, without the “Good Morning” verse.

As TIME reported in 1934, while the case was still ongoing, the producer of As Thousands Cheer was sued for plagiarism, to the tune of $250 in payment per performance. Though Patty Hill said that she had “long ago resigned herself to the fact that her ditty had become common property of the nation,” those who had paid to use the tune in the past—like Fox, which had used it in Baby Take a Bow, a Shirley Temple film released that same year—didn’t feel so easygoing about it, and neither did Hill’s family. It was in 1935, after the As Thousands Cheer lawsuit (which was settled), that the Hills officially registered the copyright of the birthday-centric lyrics of the song, in order to avoid future disputes.

But, ironically, it was that very show that helped make the copyright so difficult to enforce: As Thousands Cheer was a hit, and the birthday scene was influential in spreading the ritual of singing the song at every birthday party. As George Washington University law professor Bob Brauneis described on an episode of On the Media about the song, the timing was also appropriate on a world-historical level: the very idea of a regular birthday party wasn’t really widespread before the era during which the Hill sisters wrote the song. The song and the occasion at which to sing it came up together. In 1988, the Birch Tree Group music publishers sold the copyright to Warner for an estimated $25 million. Back then, TIME reported that it would pass into the public domain in 2010. A law extending copyright terms, however, was passed in the late 1990s, and now the “Happy Birthday” copyright should hold until no sooner than 2030—unless the current lawsuit changes that. [Source: Time | Lily Rothman | July 29, 2015 ++]

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Groceries 21 Tricks to Make them Last Longer

Tired of the frequent runs to the grocery store to replenish your supply of produce and other perishables? Certain items, like bananas and bread, have a brief shelf life, so you’re forced to buy in smaller portions. But with these items and many others, you can use some simple tricks to extend their useful life. Instead of wasting time, money and gas each week, here are some ways to make your groceries last longer:

http://i0.wp.com/farm4.staticflickr.com/3383/4643773329_4fbabbfb55_o.jpg?resize=830,465&ulb=true

1. Toss spoiled produce – Before storing, examine the contents of each bag and promptly remove items that are bruised, overripe or on the brink of spoiling. Items in this condition release ethylene gas that could spoil good produce. You can also purchase an ethylene gas absorber to delay the ripening process of your produce.

2. Ditch plastic for Mason jars – With glass Mason jars, you won’t have to worry about being exposed to the BPA that can be found in plastic containers. Mason jars also do not stain, and your produce will last a few days longer. Mason jars work well for preportioned salads, extending the shelf life to up to 10 days.

3. Butter and wrap sliced cheese – Tired of cheese quickly drying out? Apply a thin layer of butter to the exposed side, wrap the block in waxed paper, and place it in a plastic bag.

4. Puncture plastic storage bags – Poke a few holes in those produce bags you get at the grocery store. Otherwise, they’ll trap moisture that will cause produce to break down faster.

5. Consider the freezer – Frozen banana pops are a favorite for two reasons: They preserve unused bananas, and they taste great. Freezing also works well for most fruits and vegetables, as long as they are consumed within eight to 12 months. Just remember to label them so you don’t find yourself eating something that’s been hiding in the back of the freezer for a decade.

6. Shrink-wrap the crown of bananas – It only takes a few seconds to wrap some plastic around the crown of a bunch of bananas, and it will curb the release of ethylene gas. This gas makes any other produce in the vicinity spoil faster.

7. Bundle up herbs – Herbs can be displayed like a beautiful bouquet of flowers in a vase of water. Doing this keeps the herbs alive a lot longer without taking up refrigerator space. Just be sure to trim the stems first.

8. Store counter items away from windows – It may be convenient to store melons or pears on an area of the counter closest to the window, but don’t do it. Sunlight speeds up the ripening process.

9. Pantyhose is best for onions – Drop an onion in each foot, tie a knot in between and continue this pattern until you fill the legs. According to Lifehacker: Apparently keeping the onions dry, able to breathe, separated, and suspended in the air maximizes their shelf life.

10. Don’t immediately slice and dice – You may be planning for the week ahead, but slicing and dicing too far in advance reduces the life of produce. Of course, if you must get chopping, a little lemon juice will help produce last longer before it starts to brown.

11. Wrap greens in foil – When wrapped in foil, broccoli, lettuce and celery will last in the fridge for a month or more.

12. Stabilize the refrigerator’s temperature – Aim for 40 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent the growth of toxic food bacteria. You don’t want the temperature so cold everything is frozen. On the other hand, a refrigerator that is too warm results in spoilage. That is like throwing money away.

13. Paper bags are ideal for mushrooms – Plastic bags are a haven for moisture, causing mushrooms to mildew.

14. Place tomatoes upside down on the counter – If the stem was removed before purchase, place the tomatoes upside down so air won’t seep into the small opening, which expedites ripening.

15. Tidy up and organize the refrigerator – It may be convenient to leave expired items in the corner of the fridge until you have time to purge. However, the mold content will expand to other areas and contaminate open products. Also, too much clutter reduces the circulation of cool air and creates warm spots.

16. Don’t store milk in the refrigerator door – The cooler temperatures are found on the middle shelf.

17. Segregate produce and meats – Allowing fresh produce and meats to mingle runs the risk of cross-contamination, which causes rapid spoilage. All meats should be wrapped and stored toward the bottom of the refrigerator or freezer (in case they leak). To be extra safe, place meats in a bowl to catch any liquid residue.

18. Reseal prepackaged goods – When you keep goods sealed, air will remain in the package and items won’t quickly harden.

19. Freeze bread – Freezing bread eliminates the onset of mold, which spreads like wildfire and can quickly contaminate an entire loaf. You can also try storing half of the loaf in the fridge and the other half in the freezer.

20. Store leftovers in airtight glass containers – Airtight lids keep air out; and with glass, you don’t have to worry about any chemicals leaching into your food.

21. Maximize pantry and counter space – Not all produce should be refrigerated. Here are some items that should always be stored at room temperature, preferably not in direct sunlight. If any of these items begin to ripen and you want to keep them around, place them in the fridge:

  • Bananas
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Mangos (in a brown bag)
  • Melons (in a brown bag)
  • Peaches (in a brown bag)
  • Pears
  • Pineapples (upside down)
  • Plums

[Source: MoneyTalksNews | Allison Martin | April 4, 2016 ++]

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Remember When ► Nostalgia (4)

Where did they go? Funny WWII era phrases. Lost Words from our childhood. Words gone as fast as the buggy whip! Sad really! The other day a not so elderly 65 year old lady said something to her son about driving a Jalopy and he looked at her quizzically and said what the heck is a Jalopy? OMG (new) phrase! He never heard of the word jalopy!! She knew she was old but not that old Well, I hope you are Hunky Dory after you read this and chuckle. A while back was illuminated some old expressions that have become obsolete because of the inexorable march of technology. These phrases included:

  • “Don’t touch that dial,” “Carbon copy,” “You sound like a broken record” and “Hung out to dry.”
  • Back in the olden days we had a lot of moxie. We’d put on our best bib and tucker to straighten up and fly right.
  • Heavens to Betsy! Gee whillikers! Jumping Jehoshaphat! Holy moley!
  • We were in like Flynn and living the life of Riley, and even a regular guy couldn’t accuse us of being a knucklehead, a nincompoop or a pill. Not for all the tea in China!
  • Back in the olden days, life used to be swell, but when’s the last time anything was swell?
  • Swell has gone the way of beehives, pageboys and the D.A.; of spats, knickers, fedoras, poodle skirts, saddle shoes and pedal pushers.
  • Oh, my aching back. Kilroy was here, but he isn’t anymore.

We wake up from what surely has been just a short nap, and before we can say, well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle! or, This is a fine kettle of fish! we discover that the words we grew up with, the words that seemed omnipresent, as oxygen, have vanished with scarcely a notice from our tongues and our pens and our keyboards.

  • Poof, go the words of our youth, the words we’ve left behind. We blink, and they’re gone. Where have all those phrases gone?
  • Long gone: Pshaw, The milkman did it. Hey! It’s your nickel.
  • Don’t forget to pull the chain. Knee high to a grasshopper.
  • Well, Fiddlesticks! Going like sixty. I’ll see you in the funny papers. Don’t take any wooden nickels.

It turns out there are more of these lost words and expressions than Carter has liver pills This can be disturbing stuff ! We of a certain age have been blessed to live in changeful times. For a child each new word is like a shiny toy, a toy that has no age. We at the other end of the chronological arc have the advantage of remembering there are words that once did not exist and there were words that once strutted their hour upon the earthly stage and now are heard no more, except in our collective memory. It’s one of the greatest advantages of aging. See ya later, alligator!

[Source: Frontlines of Freedom | March 26, 2016 ++]

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Brain Teaser Date | Phrase

What’s this common phrase?

date

date

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Have You Heard? ► The Balcony | The Scottish Cop

A man lay sprawled across three entire seats in a theater. When the usher came by and noticed this, he whispered to the man, “Sorry sir, but you’re only allowed one seat.”

The man didn’t budge. The usher became more impatient. “Sir, if you don’t get up from there I’m going to have to call the manager.”

Once again, the man just muttered and did nothing. The usher marched briskly back up the aisle, and in a moment he returned with the manager. Together the two of them unsuccessfully tried repeatedly to get the man to move. Finally they summoned a police officer.

The officer surveyed the situation briefly then asked, “All right buddy what’s your name?”

“Fred,” the man moaned.

“Where you from, Fred?” asked the police officer.

In an obviously strained voice, and without moving, Fred replied:

“The balcony…….”

-o-o-O-o-o-

A London lawyer runs a stop sign and gets pulled over by a Scottish cop. He thinks that he is smarter than the cop because he is a lawyer from LONDON and is certain that he has a better education then any Scottish cop. He decides to prove this to himself and have some fun at the Scottish cop’s expense.

Scottish cop says, “License and registration, please.”

London Lawyer says, “What for?”

Scottish cop says, “Ye didnae come to a complete stop at the stop sign.”

London Lawyer says, “I slowed down, and no one was coming.”

Scottish cop says, “Ye still didnae come to a complete stop. License and registration, please.”

London Lawyer says, “What’s the difference?”

Scottish cop says, “The difference is, ye huvte come to complete stop, that’s the law. License and registration, please!”

London Lawyer says, “If you can show me the legal difference between slow down and stop, I’ll give you my license and registration and you give me the ticket. If not, you let me go and don’t give me the ticket.”

Scottish cop says, “Sounds fair. Exit your vehicle, sir.

The London Lawyer exits his vehicle.

The Scottish cop takes out his baton and starts beating the living crap out of the lawyer and says, “Daeye want me to stop or just slow down?”

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Brain Teaser Answer Date | Phrase

Double Date

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2016-03-31-e1217263_large.jpg

C:\Users\User\Downloads\VA Photo.JPG

http://bdsgcg.weebly.com/uploads/3/9/6/1/39612745/7038913_orig.jpg

http://image.cagle.com/177922/750/lincoln-pukes.png

I imagine that the grandpa of the Republican Party, the Party

of Lincoln, would respond to the current Republican primaries

like this. 

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