THIS BULLETIN CONTAINS THE FOLLOWING ARTICLES
Pg Article Subject
* DOD * .
04 == Memorial Day 2016 ——- (Remember and Celebrate Decoration Day)
07 == DARPA  ————————————— (Demo Day May 2016)
08 == NDAA 2017  ——————– (SASC Releases $602M Draft Bill)
10 == NDAA 2017  ———- (House Removes Woman Draft Provisions)
11 == NDAA 2017  —— (House Bill Includes Temporary War Funding)
11 == Military Pay & Benefits  — (Pay Gap to Get Considerably Worse)
15 == Exchange Fraud, Waste & Abuse ———– (Credit Card-Bitcoin Scam)
15 == POW/MIA  —— (National League of POW/MIA Families Report)
18 == POW/MIA Recoveries —- (Reported 16 thru 31 May 2016 – Nineteen)
* VA * .
24 == VA Health Care Access  ——— (Disney Wait Time Gaffe Impact)
26 == VA Deaths  ——— (70+ Vets Mistakenly Declared Dead Monthly)
26 == Traumatic Brain Injury  ———————————- (Smart Home)
27 == VA Medical Marijuana  ————— (Authorization in Budget Bill)
28 == VA Medical Marijuana  ————— (PTSD Bill Passes RI Senate)
29 == VA Fertility Services —————– (Wounded Vets Press for Services)
30 == VA In Vitro Fertilization  — (Passed Senate Bill Includes Funding)
31 == VA Hepatitis C Care  —————- (Get Tested at your VA Center)
32 == VA Vet Choice Program  ———- Mix-Ups at Fayetteville VAMC)
33 == VA Vet Choice Program  ——— (VA Opposes Expansion Efforts)
34 == Vets First Act  —————– (Federal Employee Group Blasts Act)
35 == VA Cemeteries  ————- (Flagpole Confederate Battle Flag Ban)
36 == VA OIG  ——————— (19 May Denver CO Wait time Report)
36 == GI Bill  —- (Vet Groups Seek Crackdown on Deceptive Colleges)
37 == Vets.gov  —- (Consolidates 1,000+ Sites into One Online Location)
39 == VA Fraud, Waste & Abuse ———— (Reported 16 thru 31 MAY 2016)
40 == VAH Chicago  ——— (Edward Hines, Jr. | Black Mold Infestation)
42 == VAMC Grand Junction CO  ——- (Inadequate Treatment Vet Died)
43 == VAMC Long Island NY —— (Facility Deterioration Impacts Surgeries)
44 == VA HCS Palo Alto CA —————- (CVS MinuteCinic Pilot Program)
* Vets * .
45 == As I See It —————————— (MOAA | Adding Insult to Injury)
46 == Military Handbooks ——- (2016 Editions Available for Downloading)
47 == Vet Charity Watch  – (2% of NVVF 2014 Donations Went to Vets)
48 == Vet Charity Watch  ————- (WWP’s 80.6% Funding Assertion)
49 == Vet Fraud & Abuse ——————————— (16 thru 31 May 2016)
49 == Famous Vets ———————————— (USMC | Steve McQueen)
50 == Vet Toxic Exposure | Lejeune  ————— (VA to Accept Claims)
51 == WWII Vets 109 ———————————————- (Shifrin~Edwin)
52 == Obit: Tabor~Donna Barr | Pioneering Paratrooper ——- (19 May 2016)
54 == Obit: Melvin Rector | Memphis Belle Gunner ———— (6 MAY 2016)
55 == Retiree Appreciation Days ————————– (As of 28 MAY 2016)
56 == Vet Hiring Fairs ————————————— (1 thru 30 JUN 2016)
57 == Vet State Benefits & Discounts ————————— (Arkansas 2016)
* Vet Legislation * .
57 == Arlington National Cemetery  — (WASP | H.R.4337 Becomes Law)
58 == NDAA 2017  ——————————— (House Passes H.R.4909)
58 == NDAA 2017  ——————————— (SASC Approves S.2932)
59 == Veterans Omnibus Bill ————- (S.2921 | Reforming VA Operations)
61 == House Vet Bill Progress ————————————- (24 MAY 2016)
61 == VA Agent Orange Benefits  ———————— (H.R.969 & S.681)
62 == Vet Student Loans  —— (H.R.4974 Loan Forgiveness Amendment)
63 == VA Health Care Management — (Stability/Improvement Act H.R.3956)
63 == State Veterans Home Program  ——————– (ADHC H.R.2460)
64 == Vet Bills Submitted to 114th Congress ———— (160516 thru 160531)
* MILITARY * .
66 == Military Widows ————————————- (Remarriage Penalties)
67 == West Point  ————————– (2nd Lt. Alix Schoelcher Idrache)
68 == Filipino Amerasians —————- (U.S. Servicemen Offspring’s Plight)
70 == USAF Painted Aircraft ——————————- (Making a Comeback)
72 == Warrior Web ——————————— (DARPA Walking Assist Suit)
72 == MCAS Futenma Okinawa  —- (Arrest Fuels Relocation Opposition)
73 == Military Portrait ——————————– (Airman’s Fitness Training)
74 == Air Force One ——————– (Replacement | Modified Boeing 747-8)
75 == Anderson AFB Guam ————————- (B-52H Crashes on Takeoff)
76 == POSYDON ——————— (DARPA Underwater Navigation Project)
76 == USMC Occupational Titles —————– (Gender Neutral Assessment)
77 == USCG Icebreakers ————— (U.S. 1 | USSR 41 + 14 under Contract)
79 == USCGC Donald Horsley ———— (17th Cutter Welcomed to the Fleet)
80 == Military Bands ———————- (House NDAA Calls for GAO Study)
* MILITARY HISTORY * .
80 == U-858 Post WWII ———————— (Chuck Kline’s Service Aboard)
82 == Army Jeep No. 1———————————————- (Icon of WWII)
84 == Military History ————————— (WWII Home Front War Effort)
86 == Hiroshima —————————————— (Atomic Bomb Decision)
88 == Nagasaki —————————– (20 Minutes after Bombing | Leaflets)
89 == Military Trivia 122 ——————————— (Operation Santa Claus)
91 == WWII Battles Q&A  ——————————————- (Questions)
92 == Military History Anniversaries —————————– (1 thru 15 JUN)
92 == WWII Battles Q&A  ——————————————– (Answers)
93 == Medal of Honor Citations ——————– (Barrett~Carlton W | WWII)
* HEALTH CARE * .
95 == TRICARE Reform  ———- (House/Senate Committee Proposals)
96 == TRICARE Reform  ——————— (Senate Package Highlights)
98== CMI ———– (Chronic Multisymptom Illness | Iraq/Afghanistan Vets)
99 == NDAA 2017  ————- (SASC Defense Health Agency Proposal)
100 == TRDP  ——– (Program Eligibility Includes “Gray Area” Retirees)
100 == UV-A Radiation ———————————- (Car Window Protection)
101 == TRICARE Help ———————————————- (Q&A 160515)
102 == Penis Transplant – (Groundbreaking Operation Could Help Some Vets)
104 == Blood Pressure Guidelines  ——————– (Potato Consumption)
105 == Osseointegration ———— (Titanium Rod Implantation for Amputees)
* FINANCES * .
106 == Saving Money ——————————— (Buying Used | 10 No-No’s)
107 == Military Retiree State Tax | SC — (Tax Deduction Bill 2 JUN Deadline)
108 == Life Insurance  ————————— (PTSD Impact on Eligibility)
110 == Bargains ———————————————- (50% Off – Not Really)
111 == Senior Discount  — (Accommodations/Activities/Entertainment ++)
112 == SNAP  ————————- (Are you Eligible to Receive Benefits)
112 == Retiree States ———————————— (10 Worst to Grow Old In)
114 == Retiree States ————————————– (10 Best to Grow Old In)
116 == Skimmer Scam ———————– (Card Reader Machine Attachment)
116 == Tax Burden for Iowa Retired Vets ———————- (As of May 2016)
* GENERAL INTEREST * .
118 == Notes of Interest ———————————– (16 thru 31 MAY 2016)
120 == North Korea Defector ————- (U.S. James Joseph Dresnok & Sons)
122 == Marijuana  ——————– (Reclassification under Consideration)
123 == Military Service Cross Stamps ——————– (New Forever Stamps)
124 == Election Betting —————————- (Illegal With Two Exceptions)
124 == Hurricane Preparedness  ————————— (Protection Myths)
127 == Baby Oil ————————————————– (33 Alternate Uses)
129 == JASTA ———— (Legislation Authorizing Saudi Arabia 911 Lawsuits)
130 == National Security ———————————————– (EMP Threat)
131 == Remember When ———————————————– (Nostalgia (6)
134 == Help!!! —————————- (Things that might make you say it (09)
134 == Brain Teaser ————————————————- (Odd Name Out)
134 == Have You Heard? ———————————————– (Questions 2)
135 == Brain Teaser Answer ————————————— (Odd Name Out)
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 1 JUN 2016
Attachment – Arkansas Vet State Benefits & Discounts May 2016
Attachment – Military History Anniversaries 1 thru 15 JUN
Attachment – VA OIG Wait Time Reports as of May 2016
* DoD *
Memorial Day 2016 ► Remember and Celebrate Decoration Day
The Beginning – Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. There is also evidence that organized women’s groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War: a hymn published in 1867, “Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping” by Nella L. Sweet carried the dedication “To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead”
Orphans decorating their fathers’ graves in Glenwood Cemetery, Philadelphia, on Decoration Day 1876
While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it’s difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day. It is more likely that it had many separate beginnings; each of those towns and every planned or spontaneous gathering of people to honor the war dead in the 1860’s tapped into the general human need to honor our dead, each contributed honorably to the growing movement that culminated in Gen Logan giving his official proclamation in 1868. It is not important who was the very first, what is important is that Memorial Day was established. Memorial Day is not about division. It is about reconciliation; it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all.
It’s Official! – Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war). It is now celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May (passed by Congress with the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 – 363) to ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays).
Red Poppies – In 1915, inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields,” Moina Michael replied with her own poem:
We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.
She then conceived of an idea to wear red poppies on Memorial day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war. She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in need. Later a Madam Guerin from France was visiting the United States and learned of this new custom started by Ms. Michael and when she returned to France, made artificial red poppies to raise money for war orphaned children and widowed women. This tradition spread to other countries. In 1921, the Franco-American Children’s League sold poppies nationally to benefit war orphans of France and Belgium. The League disbanded a year later and Madam Guerin approached the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) for help. Shortly before Memorial Day in 1922 the VFW became the first veterans’ organization to nationally sell poppies. Two years later their “Buddy” Poppy program was selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans. In 1948 the US Post Office honored Ms. Michael for her role in founding the National Poppy movement by issuing a red 3 cent postage stamp with her likeness on it.
Confederates recognized as U.S. Veterans – On September 02, 1958, the following was passed recognizing Confederate Veterans as UNITED STATES Veterans: U.S. Code Title 38 – Veterans’ Benefits, Part II – General Benefits, Chapter 15 – Pension for Non-Service-Connected Disability or Death or for Service, Subchapter I – General, § 1501. Definitions: (3) The term “Civil War veteran” includes a person who served in the military or naval forces of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, and the term “active military or naval service” includes active service in those forces. However, fourteen States provided pensions to Confederate Veterans long before the Federal Government did so:
- Alabama – 1867, CS Veterans granted pensions for lost limbs. 1886, Pensions granted to CS Widows, 1891, Pensions granted to indigent veterans or their widows.
- Arkansas – 1891, Indigent CS Veterans granted pensions, 1915, Pensions granted to their widows and mothers.
- Florida – 1885, CS Veterans granted pensions, 1915, Pensions granted to widows.
- Georgia – 1870, CS Veterans with artificial limbs granted pensions, 1879, Disabled CS Veterans and their widows residing in the State granted pension, 1894, pensions expanded to include old age and poverty.
- Kentucky- 1912, CS Veterans or their widows granted pensions.
- Louisiana – 1898, Indigent CS Veterans or their widows granted pensions.
- Mississippi – 1888, Indigent CS Veterans or their widows granted pensions.
- Missouri – 1911, Indigent CS Veterans granted pensions and a home established for disabled CS Veterans.
- North Carolina – 1867, CS Veterans granted pensions who were blinded or lost a limb during service, 1885, Pensions granted to all other disabled indigent CS Veterans or widows.
- Oklahoma – 1915, CS Veterans or widows granted pensions.
- South Carolina – December 24, 1887. State law enacted permitting financially needy CS Veterans or widows to apply for pensions.
- Tennessee – 1891, Indigent CS Veterans granted pensions, 1905, Widows granted pensions.
- Texas – 1881, 1,280 acres set aside for disabled CS Veterans. 1889, Indigent CS Veterans or their widows granted pensions.
- Virginia – 1888, CS Veterans or widows granted pensions.
True Meaning – To help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution was passed on Dec 2000 which asks that at 3 p.m. local time, for all Americans “To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps.” The Moment of Remembrance is a step in the right direction to returning the meaning back to the day. What is needed is a full return to the original day of observance. Set aside one day out of the year for the nation to get together to remember, reflect and honor those who have given their all in service to their country.
But what may be needed to return the solemn, and even sacred, spirit back to Memorial Day is for a return to its traditional day of observance. Many feel that when Congress made the day into a three-day weekend in with the National Holiday Act of 1971, it made it all the easier for people to be distracted from the spirit and meaning of the day. As the VFW stated in its 2002 Memorial Day address: “Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.”
[Source: The Regimental Quartermaster | May 26, 2016 ++]
DARPA Update 02 ► Demo Day May 2016
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency filled the courtyard at the Pentagon on 11 MAY with a variety of exhibitions at its annual DARPA Demo Day, giving the defense community and media a chance to see the next steps to maintain supremacy on the battlefield. Here are some highlights:
The Robotic Arm — Johnny Matheney, a civilian who lost his arm to cancer in 2008, demonstrated his one-of-a-kind prosthetic. He was a highlight of the DEMO Day, drawing a crowd with his ability to move his mechanical elbow, wrist and five fingered-hand. He shook hands with a gentle touch. He said he has enough control to gently hold a toddler’s hand one minute, and exhibit significant strength the next. This DARPA prototype is integrated directly onto the bone and uses sensors to pick up nerve signals from the brain to generate movement.
Warrior Web — This soft robotic exoskeleton runs a series of cables that helps legs to walk. With soldiers carrying heavy loads over long distances, DARPA has funded work at Harvard to try to reduce fatigue. The current prototypes weigh 10 pounds total, with the motor mounted above the rucksack. Sensors help the machine understand walking patterns and adjusts to pace and movements, and the motor pulls the cables to reduce the effort the wearer has to put into it. Three remains years of work to optimize and economize it.
Sea Hunter — An entirely new class of unmanned ocean-going vessel. Last month, the Navy christened its prototype unmanned Sea Hunter. The submarine-hunting, 132-foot vessel, is designed to be at sea for months, with the ability to float autonomously while obeying all the rules of the sea; in effect a Google self-driving car for the sea. This autonomous capability could ultimately be used for patrolling for submarines or other tasks, like venturing into dangerous waters to detect sea mines.
Sea Hunter DASH
DASH — Distributed Agile Submarine Hunting, or DASH, is a tube-like, unmanned submersible. It has been tested at below 5,000 meters deep, which could enable the Navy to detect enemy subs and ships from miles away. The next step is to improve power: currently a lithium battery limits operation to about an hour.
VTOL X-Plane — The full-sized prototype of the Vertical Takeoff and Landing Experimental (VTOL X)-Plane has been cleared for construction. It will have a 60-foot wingspan and weigh 12,000 pounds, with a 1,500 payload. It has a distinctive design with more than a dozen engines inside that make up the wings. If aimed up, it can achieve vertical lift, then shifting for forward motion at 400 knots. A miniature version has achieved a vertical takeoff.
Squad X — This program is working on a bevy of tools for dismounted soldiers to understand and dominate the battlefield. Roughly a dozen different projects are working on everything from robotics to electromagnetic sensors to a guided M320 grenade.
Digital night vision – The Army has recently seen important advances in night vision; this would go a step further and several degrees lighter. PIXNET is a helmet-mounted camera that digitizes infrared capabilities. That saves a ton of weight; while an Enhanced Night Vision Goggle weighs around two pounds, the PIXNET camera weighs a fraction of a pound. It also would offer more settings, and be set up with a transmitter that could someday connect its signal to any of a series of devices, from a goggle to Family of Weapon Sights to a broader information technology platform like Nett Warrior.
Mini-manufacturing — DARPA is working on a number of micro-technologies; one example is the effort to build a machine that can assemble nano-structures. The incredibly-intricate structures made of carbon fiber can be very strong, yet very light.
What’s next? Not all projects displayed have reached a prototype stage, or are even close to it. Often the goal is to develop the technology to achieve a particular capability, rather than develop an operable military system or to achieve a tangible military goal. Down the line, it will be up to other organizations to seize what’s been developed and develop programs of record. [Source: Army Times | Kyle Jahner | May 16, 2016 ++]
NDAA 2017 Update 05 ► SASC Releases $602M Draft Bill
The Senate Armed Services Committee released its $602 billion draft of the annual defense authorization bill 12 MAY that goes along with White House funding plans for the military next year but sets up a budget showdown with House lawmakers later this summer. The measure includes a 1.6 percent pay raise for troops in January and includes major overhauls of the military health and justice systems, both designed to modernize those bureaucracies. It reduces military leadership staff and trims the number of general and flag officers by 25 percent. And the measure would for the first time require women to register in the Selective Service System, should the nation ever require a return to a military draft.
Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said the measure amounts to “the most sweeping reforms of the organization of the Department of Defense in a generation.” But despite similarities with House reform efforts, the funding difference will be the key fight in the weeks ahead for congressional negotiators. The Senate bill generally stays with funding levels laid out in last year’s budget deal, totaling about $543 billion for base defense functions and $59 billion for overseas contingency operations. House lawmakers matched that total but shifted about $18 billion from the temporary war spending assignments into the base budget, providing funding for overseas operations for only seven months of fiscal 2017.
House Democrats called that Republican plan risky and irresponsible, and McCain signaled weeks ago he did not support that approach. But he also acknowledged on Thursday that his committee’s plan, passed by a 23-3 vote, still falls woefully short of the money needed to fully prepare and equip the military. He is expected to offer a funding boost amendment during debate on the Senate floor later this year, a move that the White House and Democrats have refused unless it’s met with equal non-defense spending hikes.
Part of the extra House base spending included a more generous 2.1 percent military pay raise, equal to the expected rise in civilian wages in 2017. The 1.6 percent pay raise backed by senators matches the White House’s request for 2017 and translates into $30 to $60 more a month for most enlisted personnel, and $60 to $120 for most officers. It would be the highest wage hike for troops since 2013, but would continue a six-year streak of military pay increases below 2 percent. Reconciling the two different figures will require bridging a $330 million gap in spending for next year alone, and billions more in ensuing years.
Lawmakers will also have to reconcile differences in the health care reform plans, where the reform philosophies intersect but the details vary greatly. For example, the House plan would include reorganizing multiple Tricare programs into two options: the existing Tricare Prime program and Tricare Preferred, a new network care option similar to Tricare Standard and Extra. The Senate plan calls for three new Tricare health plans: Tricare Prime, Tricare Choice and Tricare Supplemental, with different fee structures and parameters than the House proposal. Both chambers want a more efficient and integrated military hospital system, but the Senate plan calls for a reorganization of internal management plans and individual site improvements. The House plan calls for reassigning all military medical facilities under the Defense Health Agency, with significant operational and priority changes.
One similarity in the two plans for now is the inclusion of women in the Selective Service System. Both chamber’s plans also call for a review of the system’s functions and responsibilities, with a possible eye towards elimination in the future. But even that point of agreement could change. The full House is expected to debate its version of the budget policy language next week, and several lawmakers have said they’ll move to strike the draft requirement for women from the legislation. No timetable has been set for when the full Senate will debate its draft of the bill. Lawmakers from both chambers are hopeful a compromise measure can be finalized by early fall, but the limited legislative schedule during an election year makes that goal difficult. The authorization bill has been ultimately approved by Congress for 54 consecutive years, making it one of few bipartisan highlights each year for an increasingly partisan Congress. [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane | May 12, 2016 ++]
NDAA 2017 Update 06 ► House Removes Woman Draft Provisions
Women may not have to register for the draft after all, if House Republicans get their way. Republican members of the House Rules Committee during a late 16 MAY meeting stripped provisions from the annual defense authorization bill that would have required women to register for the Selective Service System. The controversial provision narrowly passed the House Armed Services Committee last month, and was expected to be a major point of debate on the defense policy bill this week. But Rules Committee members instead voted to cut off consideration of the issue on the House floor and strike that entire section of the bill. The unusual but not unprecedented procedural move avoids what could be a thorny debate for both parties over women’s rights and roles in the military.
Democrats decried it as cowardice by Republican leaders. “This is a dead-of-night attempt to take an important issue off the table, and I think people will probably see through this tactic,” said House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA). The idea to make women register for the draft was introduced last month by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) as part of an effort to highlight problems with the Pentagon’s decision to open all combat roles to women earlier this year. He voted against the idea, but it passed anyway. Since then, conservative Republicans have scrambled to find ways to remove the provision from the annual military budget policy measure.
Under current law, men ages 18 to 26 are required to register for possible involuntary military service with the Selective Service System. Women have been exempt, and past legal challenges have pointed to combat restrictions placed on their military service as a reason for their exclusion. Since the Defense Department announced a change in those rules, a collection of military leaders and women’s rights advocates have said they support requiring women to now register for the draft. The conversation is largely a theoretical one, since military leaders have repeatedly insisted they have no desire to return to the draft to fill the ranks. No Americans have been pressed into involuntary military service since the last draft ended in 1973. And watchdog groups have repeatedly questioned whether the Selective Service System could even adequately conduct a draft if one was needed. Several lawmakers, including House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, have called for a study into whether the system and its $23 million annual budget are still needed. But the Rules Committee move stripped out that study language from the authorization bill draft as well, leaving the entire issue on the sidelines.
The Senate Armed Services Committee has included provisions making women register for the draft in its initial versions of the authorization bill, meaning the issue will likely come up again before a final compromise bill is settled. But that work will happen behind closed doors, not in public debate before Congress. Also on Monday, the Rules Committee accepted 61 other amendments for floor debate this week on the authorization bill. Dozens more are expected to be added to the debate list before a final vote on the full measure occurs later this week. President Obama has threatened to veto the House draft of the authorization bill, over funding issues and restrictions on transferring prisoners out of the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Cuba. [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane | May 17, 2016 ++]
NDAA 2017 Update 07 ► House Bill Includes Temporary War Funding
House appropriators advanced their $575.7 billion defense spending plan for fiscal 2017 just hours after the White House threatened to veto a similar budget bill and accused lawmakers of “gambling with warfighting funds.” The spending plan stays under totals set in a congressional budget agreement last fall but does so by reassigning about $16 billion in temporary war funds to the defense base budget. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) told members of the House Appropriations Committee that it’s the only way to meet military needs within the parameters of existing spending caps. “We are concerned with what we see in the military today,” he said. But Democrats have railed against that plan as a budgeting gimmick, noting that it leaves overseas military operations without any funding past April of next year. Republicans said they’ll push the next president to cover that shortfall.
The funding plan is the same general idea as one laid out in the House’s draft of the annual defense authorization bill, although the exact figures differ. On Tuesday, the White House issued a veto threat on that authorization legislation, calling the funding plan “dangerous” for troops and the country. “The bill risks the safety of our men and women fighting to keep America safe, undercuts stable planning and efficient use of taxpayer dollars, dispirits troops and their families, baffles our allies, and emboldens our enemies,” the administration statement said. This is the eighth consecutive year President Obama has threatened to veto annual defense budget legislation, although he only followed through on that threat last year, over similar spending maneuvers. White House officials also blasted the extra base budget spending as “excess force structure without the money to sustain it, effectively creating hollow force,” especially given more restrictive defense spending caps scheduled for coming years.
But Republican House leaders have said those increases are needed to meet current threats. In the appropriations bill, that includes a increase in personnel totaling 5,000 for the active-duty Army, 15,000 for the Army National Guard and Reserve, and 1,000 for the Marine Corps. Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee warned that those boosts and related personnel costs could total tens of billions of dollars in extra spending over the next five years, creating even more budgeting problems. The plan also includes a 2.1 percent pay raise for troops, one-half of a percentage point higher than White House recommendations for 2017 and $330 million more costly for next year alone.
So far, Senate leaders have said they do not plan to go along with the House budget proposals. The Senate Armed Services Committee has offered its own authorization bill draft without the redirected temporary war funding. Senate appropriators have not weighed in on the fight yet. Despite the veto threat, the full House is expected to adopt its draft of the annual authorization bill later this week.
Military Pay & Benefits Update 05 ► Pay Gap to Get Considerably Worse
If lawmakers follow through with the least generous pay-and-benefits proposals under consideration as part of the federal government’s 2017 budget process, next year could be one of the toughest in recent memory for military families’ finances. Even advocates accustomed to the political fights over service members’ quality-of-life issues say they’re surprised at just how much lawmakers seem to be targeting military benefits. And they worry it won’t hit troops’ wallets alone, but their morale too. It’s a stunning turnaround for those who provided troops and their families with generous incentives throughout much of the post-9/11 era. Since 2013, when Washington first fought to curtail defense spending –
- Annual pay raises have averaged just 1.1 percent.
- Retention bonuses — worth tens of thousands of dollars during the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — have dropped off as combat deployments slowed and the services were forced to reprioritize their funding.
- Congress passed sweeping retirement reform legislation last year, the first significant move to dial back the military’s long-term personnel costs.
- There are new rules requiring military families to pay more out of pocket for their housing, which can have varying impacts depending on local rental markets.
- Lawmakers are zeroing in on health care. A new enrollment fee, approved by the House and awaiting action in the Senate, would require new troops to pay for access to the military medical system starting in 2018 for their families. Troops already serving would be grandfathered in, but would see higher co-pays.
- Grocery discounts could start to dry up.
- The new GI Bill, perhaps the most extravagant benefit afforded to military personnel today, is being reviewed with an eye toward limiting what the government previously agreed to pay for some military spouses and kids to attend college.
All of it is necessary, officials say, to help offset unsustainable costs. Yet as service members’ wages lag behind those in the private sector, what’s known as the military-civilian “pay gap,” several small cuts add up can add up quickly. And that too comes at a cost. “The Defense Department keeps saying they’ll protect readiness by asking families to pay for it, and thinking that families will suck it up and take one for the team,” said Joyce Wessel Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association. “It’s a spiral that’s going to end up hurting families and hurting the military.” Today, military and civilian pay is about on par. In the 1990s, the pay gap topped 13 percent, said Steve Strobridge, government relations director for the Military Officers Association of America. That era saw a host of changes on par with those being debated now. Housing was shifted off-base. Personnel programs were slashed. “It’s part of the long-term cycle, especially when [military members’] sacrifices fall out of the news,” he said. “But that doesn’t make it easy for the folks who have to live through it.”
Smaller pay raises
Military pay raises have fallen below private sector rates for the last three years. If the Senate and the White House get their way, 2017 will follow that pattern. The Obama administration proposed a 1.6 percent bump for next year, half a percentage point below the anticipated rise in private sector wages. Senate lawmakers have advanced a budget bill that matches that plan, calling the figure disappointingly low but still enough to ensure all troops see their pay go up. But House lawmakers have advanced two separate plans calling for a 2.1 percent boost in military pay next year — “a full raise,” in their words — that costs $330 million more but better compensates service members, they say. House leaders have pushed, unsuccessfully, for bigger pay raises in each of the last three years. And big-picture funding concerns in the Senate make it unlikely to happen again this year.
If that’s the case, 2017 will be the seventh consecutive year in which military pay raises fall below 2 percent. For Army specialists with three years service, a 1.6 percent pay raise amounts to about $36 more a month in spending money. At 2.1 percent, they would receive another $11. That’s not much, but Raezer noted for many junior troops, every dollar counts. That money could cover a few lunches or a pharmacy co-pay — small but consequential items, especially if someone can’t afford them. A fourth year of lower pay raises also means the pay gap reopens. If the 1.6 percent rate becomes law, as expected, the gap will be a little more than 3 percent, according to MOAA’s estimates. That means the Army specialist — any service member in the E-4 pay grade — will earn around $800 less in annual salary than her comparable civilian counterparts.
Smaller housing stipends
The fate of next year’s military pay raise is still in doubt. But troops’ housing stipends are guaranteed to get trimmed. Last year, Congress approved a reduction in the annual basic housing allowance increase for the next three years, lowering from 100 to 95 percent the amount of rent this stipend covers. “That’s extremely frustrating,” Raezer said. “Here’s a benefit that works well, that helped the department deal with the lack of adequate housing for families, and now they’re dismantling that.” No family’s housing stipend will see a decrease next year, but the trims mean that troops will be paying a larger share of their rent costs for years to come. For a married E-4 with children dependents, living in the community outside Fort Bragg in North Carolina will mean picking up $35 a month in housing costs. For the same service member living outside Camp Pendleton in California, the out-of-pocket cost rises to $67 a month.
In separate veterans legislation, lawmakers have toyed with the idea of cutting the housing stipend for individuals using the post-9/11 GI Bill. A House plan would cut in half the stipend for dependents using the education benefit. A Senate plan would cap increases in every GI Bill recipient’s housing payouts, similar to the active-duty housing trims. Both the shrinking pay raise and shrinking housing benefit come as the military is shifting to a new 401(k)-style retirement system, one where troops are being encouraged to save more money to help pay for their retirement. But Raezer said that’s going to be a tough sell if troops are being “nickled and dimed” in other areas of their finances.
Smaller commissary benefit
Congress is moving away from the decades-old system of selling groceries at cost, with no profit. And that could mean a higher food bill for military families. Lawmakers have included major reform provisions in their pending defense policy bills that would allow commissaries to establish a “variable pricing program.” Officials would be able to set prices “in response to market conditions and customer demand,” according to the House plan. According to the Defense Commissary Agency’s calculations, the average overall savings is 30 percent, based on a comparison of thousands of items. A 5-percent surcharge is used to pay for construction and renovation of stores. So a military family who shops on base pays, on average, $70 for groceries that would cost $100 at a market in town.
The new plan would allow the commissary agency to increase some prices to help pay for operating costs, currently at $1.4 billion. The Defense Department has said it aims to save $512 million in annual taxpayer dollars by fiscal 2021. For military families, this raises an important question: Will that savings be realized by eating into the discounts now afforded to military families? “It’s a radical change in the commissary’s mission,” said Eileen Huck, deputy director of government relations for the National Military Family Association. “The role has never been to generate revenue. It’s been to provide a benefit, and this would fundamentally change the mission. “Lawmakers and defense officials have talked about the importance of the savings, but we don’t know how the new plan will play out, how it will affect the benefit,” she said. “Our fear is that it will lead to increased prices.”
Defense officials are required to develop a new savings baseline before implementing variable pricing. Future savings will be measured against that baseline. Advocates are concerned about how that baseline will be determined. Lawmakers want safeguards to protect the commissary benefit, including quarterly reports, and the ability to infuse taxpayer dollars if there are problems. That’s separate from a Senate plan to privatize the commissary system. Senators want to test this concept at at least one commissary — but no more than five — on major military bases. Huck said this raises even more uncertainty. “We’re concerned that once you bring in a business or entity to run commissaries, they may raise prices, and that would reduce the benefit for military families,” she said, calling all these ideas “uncharted territory when it comes to commissaries.”
Paying for health care
Both the House and the Senate are planning major overhauls to the military health system, alterations that could radically change hospital hours, patient access to doctors and troops’ quality of care. But it also could cost troops more, and for the first time require active-duty families to pay a yearly charge for their medical care. Under the House bill, everyone now serving or retired would continue to pay the current fee structure. That means no enrollment fee for the families of active-duty troops to get military medical care. However, starting in 2018, anyone who enlists or receives a commission would start paying annual fees for family access to medical care. Current targets put the price at $180 for an individual spouse or dependent and $360 for a family using the new Tricare Prime plan, or $300 for an individual and $600 for a family for a new Tricare Preferred plan.
The Senate would not charge active-duty personnel any annual enrollment fees for Tricare, but service members and families who use private care could still feel a pinch. The proposal calls for raising co-payments for private care and increasing the catastrophic cap for active-duty families to $1,500, up from $1,000. Pharmacy copayments also would increase for these family members if they don’t pick up their prescriptions at a military pharmacy or get them by mail, under the Senate plan. Staff members on both the House and Senate side said the goal is to persuade the military health system to increase access and improve quality in return for allowing the Defense Department to raise fees.
Strobridge said he believes the proposal to charge new active-duty families for health care will not survive the legislative process but the proposed and increased fees for working aged retirees likely will become law, given they appear in both versions. Higher health care costs for personnel and retirees likely won’t hurt recruiting, since most join the armed forces for reasons other than employment benefits, he said. But they could hurt future retention. “It’s not unprecedented for Congress to look at almost anything, whether it’s the pay-raise caps, the housing allowance cuts, the commissary proposals,” he said. “They changed retirement and now they are looking at changing health care and a whole host of things. I’m not sure this is the end of it.”
In part, this squeeze on military benefits is connected to long-held Pentagon worries about personnel costs eating into the overall defense budget. Another reason is the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are fading from national consciousness. Troops’ advocates say the main culprit is sequestration, and spending caps that Congress approved five years ago in an effort to rein in government spending. “It turns out that setting arbitrary budget caps for 10 years may not make sense when you get to year five,” said Ray Kelley, director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ National Legislative Service. “And when you need immediate defense spending relief, you can’t get that from cancelling long-term contracts. You get it from scaling back pay and benefits.”
Lawmakers have couched many of their proposed trims by noting that they’re following recommendations from military leaders themselves, and that many of the congressional ideas don’t cut as deeply as some of the Pentagon proposals. Without absolving military leadership, advocates note that many of those decisions are being forced by Congress’ spending caps, which lawmakers have repeatedly decried and repeatedly failed to resolve. “So, instead they toy with this benefit and that benefit to make [the budget] work just for now,” Kelley said. “Congress aren’t the ones being pressed by sequestration. You’ve already asked so much of so few for so long, and now you’re asking them to take less and pay a little more. That’s going to make people walk away.”
[Source: Military Times | Leo Shane III, Patricia Kime and Karen Jowers | May 23, 2016 ++]
Exchange Fraud, Waste & Abuse ► Credit Card-Bitcoin Scam
Justice Department prosecutors say three specialists and a former sergeant in the District of Columbia Army National Guard schemed to purchase stolen credit card numbers with Bitcoin and use the accounts to buy goods at military exchanges, among other retailers. Spcs. Derrick Shelton and James Stewart and former Sgt. Quentin Stewart allegedly used Bitcoin, a digital currency not backed by any government, to buy the numbers from foreign websites, according to a DOJ news release. The men allegedly used encoding devices to transfer the numbers to new credit cards, then bought luxury items, electronics and other goods from exchanges and other retail outlets.
The purchases took place between July 2014 and May 2015, prosecutors say. Spc. Vincent Grant faces a separate indictment under similar allegations, starting the same month but ending in April 2015. All of the accused but Grant could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted on wire fraud and conspiracy charges; Grant’s charged with conspiring to commit access device fraud and could be jailed for 7.5 years if convicted. All four also face aggravated identity theft charges, which carry a two-year minimum sentence. The men appeared in court last week, and all but Quentin Stewart were released under pre-trial supervision. The former sergeant was scheduled to appear at a detention hearing Tuesday 24 MAY Greenbelt, Maryland. [Source: Army Times | May 24, 2016 ++]
POW/MIA Update 73 ► National League of POW/MIA Families Report
STATUS OF THE POW/MIA ISSUE: May 19, 2016
1,620 Americans are now listed by DoD as missing and unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War: Vietnam – 1,263 (VN-465, VS-798); Laos–301; Cambodia-49; Peoples Republic of China territorial waters–7. (These numbers 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. Highest priority is accounting for Americans last known alive. US intelligence indicates some 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 reportedly are 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. DIA’s Stony Beach POW/MIA specialist is assigned full time in-country; however, his efforts are impeded by Lao reluctance to permit him to operate outside the confines of scheduled DPAA field operations. Also, despite strong support from, and interventions by, US Ambassador Dan Clune, a border dispute with Cambodia that was ongoing when the League Delegation visited over a year ago continues to impede recovery operations in that area. The League urges officials in Laos and Cambodia to temporarily set aside their political disagreement and work trilaterally with the US to procced on this humanitarian recovery.
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 continues to support full use of the Lao specialist. It is hoped that the expanded bilateral relationships with Laos and Vietnam will mean positive decisions on challenges facing this mission. The Stony Beach specialists are sorely needed to augment the investigation process while witnesses are still living and able to facilitate locating incident sites for follow-up DPAA recoveries.
The greatest obstacles to increased Vietnam War accounting efforts are too few qualified scientists and unreliable funding that has caused US cancellation of scheduled operations, thus sending negative signals to foreign counterpart officials, especially in Vietnam. Since over 80% of US losses in Laos and 90% in Cambodia occurred in areas where Vietnamese 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 Sighting statistics provided by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA)
Live Sightings: 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 May 19, 2016, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency lists 1,620 Americans as missing and unaccounted-for, 80-90% 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 963 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 1st Obama Administration 48
- 2012-2016 2nd Obama Administration 9
According to the DPAA Lab, unilateral SRV repatriations of remains with scientific evidence of storage have accounted for less than 200 of the 655 from Vietnam; two were mistakenly listed as KIA/BNR in Vietnam in 1968, but remains were actually recovered at that time. All but seven of the 265 Americans accounted for in Laos since the end of the war have been the result of joint recoveries. Six were recovered and turned over by indigenous personnel 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 963 Americans accounted for since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.
- Vietnam 655
- Laos 265
- China 3
- Cambodia 40
An additional 63 US personnel were accounted for between 1973 and 1975, for a grand total of 1,026. 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: http://www.pow-miafamilies.org or write 5673 Columbia Pike, Suite 100, Falls Church, VA 22041.
[Source: Military Times | Karen Jowers | May 12, 2016 ++]
POW/MIA Recoveries ► Reported 16 thru 31 May 2016 | Nineteen
“Keeping the Promise”, “Fulfill their Trust” and “No one left behind” are several of many mottos that refer to the efforts of the Department of Defense to recover those who became missing while serving our nation. The number of Americans who remain missing from conflicts in this century are: World War II (73,515) Korean War (7,841), Cold War (126), Vietnam War (1,627), 1991 Gulf War (5), and Libya (1). Over 600 Defense Department men and women — both military and civilian — work in organizations around the world as part of DoD’s personnel recovery and personnel accounting communities. They are all dedicated to the single mission of finding and bringing our missing personnel home. For a listing of all personnel accounted for since 2007 refer to http://www.dpaa.mil/ and click on ‘Our Missing’. If you wish to provide information about an American missing in action from any conflict or have an inquiry about MIAs, contact:
- Mail: Public Affairs Office, 2300 Defense Pentagon, Washington, D.C. 20301-2300, Attn: External Affairs
- Call: Phone: (703) 699-1420
- Message: Fill out form on http://www.dpaa.mil/Contact/ContactUs.aspx
Family members seeking more information about missing loved ones may also call the following Service Casualty Offices: U.S. Air Force (800) 531-5501, U.S. Army (800) 892-2490, U.S. Marine Corps (800) 847-1597, U.S. Navy (800) 443-9298, or U.S. Department of State (202) 647-5470. The remains of the following MIA/POW’s have been recovered, identified, and scheduled for burial since the publication of the last RAO Bulletin:
The 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. Billy J. Williams, 20, of Madisonville, Texas, will be buried May 17 in Madison County, Texas. On Feb. 14, 1951, Williams was assigned to 2nd Reconnaissance Company, 2nd Infantry Division, when his company was attacked by Chinese forces in the vicinity of Chuam-ni, North Korea. He was declared missing in action after the battle. It would be later learned he had been captured, but died in captivity in April 1951.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced 23 MAY that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, missing from the Vietnam War, have been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors. U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Donald W. Bruch, Jr., 24, of Montclair, New Jersey, will be buried May 29 in East Petersburg, Pennsylvania. On April 29, 1966, Bruch was assigned to the 333rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, as a pilot of an F-105D aircraft. Bruch was flying en route to attack a target north of Hanoi, Vietnam, when his aircraft was struck by enemy anti-aircraft artillery. Witnesses saw Bruch’s aircraft impact the ground, and no ejection or parachute was noted. Bruch was declared missing in action after the crash. On May 4, 1966, a military review board amended his status to deceased.
After numerous joint U.S./Socialist Republic of Vietnam (S.R.V.) investigations dating back to 1988, excavation of a crash site believed to be Bruch’s began during a joint U.S.-S.R.V. mission in October and November 2011, finding some human remains and material evidence. Subsequent recovery missions were necessary in October and November 2012, and November and December 2013, to complete the excavation of this difficult crash site and a burial site. To identify Bruch’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used mitochondrial DNA analysis, which matched his sister, as well as circumstantial and material evidence.
World War II
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains of three servicemen who had been missing in action since World War II. Being returned home for burials with full military honors on a date and location yet to be announced are:
— Navy Ensign William M. Finnegan, 44, of Bessemer, Mich., Ensign John C. England, 20, of Alhambra, Calif., and Chief Petty Officer Albert E. Hayden, 44, of Mechanicsville, Md., had been missing since Dec. 7, 1941, when the battleship USS Oklahoma they were aboard suffered multiple torpedo hits and capsized as it was moored off Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Hayden will be buried May 18 in Morganza, Md.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced 12 MAY that the remains of a U.S. serviceman from World War II have been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors. Navy Chief Storekeeper Herbert J. Hoard, 36, of DeSoto, Missouri, will be buried May 21 in his hometown. On Dec. 7, 1941, Hoard 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 sustained multiple torpedo hits, which caused it to quickly capsize. The attack on the ship resulted in 429 casualties, including Hoard. 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 Hoard. 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. Bone samples were submitted for DNA testing to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL), Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. Tests included mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which traces the maternal line; Y chromosome DNA, which traces the paternal line; and autosomal DNA, which is individual specific. To identify Hoard’s remains, scientists from DPAA and AFDIL used mtDNA, which matched a cousin; as well as circumstantial evidence and laboratory analysis, to include dental comparisons, which matched Hoard’s records.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced 19 MAY that the remains of a U.S. serviceman from World War II have been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors. Navy Seaman 2nd Class Dale F. Pearce, 21, of Dennis, Kansas, will be buried May 26 in his hometown. On Dec. 7, 1941, Pearce 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 sustained multiple torpedo hits, which caused it to quickly capsize. The attack on the ship resulted in 429 casualties, including Pearce. 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 Pearce. 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 Pearce’s remains, scientists from DPAA used circumstantial evidence and laboratory analysis, to include dental comparisons, which matched Pearce’s records.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has announced the identification of remains of seven American service members who had been missing in action since World War II. Being returned home for burial with full military honors are:
— Navy Seaman 2nd Class Challis R. James, of Portsmouth, Ohio, Fireman 1st Class Frank E. Nicoles, 25, of Eau Claire, Wis., Warrant Officer Daryl H. Goggin, 34, of Eugene, Ore., and Chaplain (Lt. j.g.) Aloysius H. Schmitt, 32, of St. Lucas, Iowa, had been missing since Dec. 7, 1941, when the battleship USS Oklahoma they were aboard suffered multiple torpedo hits and capsized as it was moored off Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
— Navy Lt. Cmdr. Frederick P. Crosby, 31, of Orlando, Fla., was piloting an RF-8A Photo Crusader on a combat mission in North Vietnam when his aircraft was hit by enemy fire and crashed in Thanh Hoa Province on June 1, 1965. He was assigned to Light Photograph Squadron 63.
— Army Sgt. 1st Class Richard Davis, of Indiana County, Pa., who was lost fighting in North Korea on Nov. 2, 1950. It would be later learned he was captured but died in captivity. He was assigned to Company K, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division.
— Army Capt. Elwood J. Euart, 38, of Pawtucket, R.I., died Oct. 26, 1942, died trying to rescue some soldiers who were trapped in a transport ship that struck two mines as it was entering Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides. He was assigned to the 103rd Field Artillery Battalion, 43rd Infantry Division. Burial details have yet to be announced.
— Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Donald L. Beals, 21, of Brookings, S.D., was a P-47 Thunderbolt pilot who died April 17, 1945, while on a combat mission near Dresden, Germany. He was assigned to the 494th Fighter Squadron, 48th Fighter Group, 9th Air Force. Burial details have yet to be announced.
1st Lt. Donald L. Beals
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced 20 MAY that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, unaccounted for since World War II, have been identified and are being returned to his family for burial with full military honors. Marine Pfc. Elmer L. Mathies, Jr., 21, of Hereford, Texas, will be buried May 28 in his hometown. In November 1943, Mathies was assigned to Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, which landed against stiff Japanese resistance on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands, in an attempt to secure the island. Over several days of intense fighting at Tarawa, approximately 1,000 Marines and Sailors were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded, but the Japanese were virtually annihilated. Mathies died sometime on the first day of battle, Nov. 20, 1943. In the immediate aftermath of the fighting on Tarawa, U.S. service members who died in the battle were buried in a number of battlefield cemeteries on the island. In 1946 and 1947, the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company conducted remains recovery operations on Betio Island, but Mathies’ remains were not recovered. On Feb. 28, 1949, a military review board declared Mathies’ remains non-recoverable.
In June 2015, a nongovernmental organization, History Flight, Inc., notified DPAA that they discovered a burial site on Betio Island and recovered the remains of what they believed were 35 U.S. Marines who fought during the battle in November 1943. The remains were turned over to DPAA in July 2015. To identify Mathies’ remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used mitochondrial DNA analysis, which matched a sister; laboratory analysis, including dental analysis and anthropological comparison, which matched Mathies’ records; as well as circumstantial and material evidence. DPAA is grateful to History Flight, Inc. for this recovery mission.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced 20 MAY that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, unaccounted for since World War II, have been identified and are being returned to his family for burial with full military honors. Navy Motor Machinist’s Mate 1st Class John E. Anderson, 24, of Willmar, Minnesota, will be buried May 28 in his hometown. On June 6, 1944, Anderson was in Landing Craft Tank (LCT), Mark 5, Hull Number 30, which landed on Omaha Beach, France during the invasion of Normandy. Upon landing, men and equipment left the tank, while Anderson went to the engine room to check the sand traps. The tank was subsequently destroyed by either enemy fire or an enemy mine. Anderson was killed in the attack. On July 1, 1944, a set of remains were recovered from the boiler room of the LCT, and were interred by the Army at the temporary American cemetery near Omaha Beach, St. Laurent-sur-Mer #1 and designated X-91 St. Laurent. At the time, Army Graves Registration did not have access to the Navy’s records, and were unable to identify the remains as Anderson’s. The remains were later reinterred at the Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, France.
In January 2015, following a request by the family of MoMM1c Anderson, a new historical investigation by DPAA showed a strong association between the unidentified remains and Anderson. Under its new disinterment process, in August 2015, DPAA successfully recommended the remains designated X-91 St. Laurent be disinterred for analysis by the DPAA laboratory. To identify Anderson’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used circumstantial evidence; mitochondrial DNA analysis, which matched a sister and a nephew; as well as anthropological analysis.
More than 70 years after he went missing in action, Army Pvt. John P. Sersha is finally coming home. And, fittingly, the World War II veteran will be buried Memorial Day weekend on the Iron Range where he was raised. “That was my plan,” said his nephew, Richard Lohry, whose DNA helped identify Sersha more than 71 years after his death. “That was my prayer.” Sersha was entrenched with his company on a hill overlooking German-controlled woods near Groesbeek, Netherlands, when he and two other “bazooka men” were sent on an assault mission on Sept. 27, 1944, and never returned, according to Pentagon records. In April 1948, three years after the war’s end, two sets of remains were located in those woods; one was identified as one of Sersha’s fellow soldiers and the other possibly being Sersha but ultimately ruled unknown. Those mystery remains were buried at a U.S. military cemetery in Belgium — identified as Unknown X-7429 — and have rested there until Sersha’s family asked for their removal, based on dental comparisons of family and military records.
The disinterment occurred this past December, and DNA tests by the Defense Department at the Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska found a match with Lohry and a brother of Sersha’s, the Defense Department’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced 20 MAY. Lohry said that when the phone call came on March 28 — the day after Easter — from a military staffer in mortuary affairs, a woman on the other end said, “ ‘Are you sitting down?’ I told her, ‘I don’t need to sit down. I know.’ ” Lohry, who lives in the Iron Range town of Angora, said, “It was really the DNA, ultimately [that sealed confirmation], although there also was other evidence that was forensic and circumstantial.”
Sersha grew up in a section of Eveleth known then as Leoneth and worked for a railroad company until he was drafted and later inducted into the Army in November 1943 at Fort Snelling, according to this family. After training in Texas, he joined the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment, Company F, of the 82nd Airborne Division, in Maryland. From there, he was shipped out to Europe. Lohry said his uncle’s letters from Europe revealed that he had plans to marry upon his return from Europe. “Her name was Esther,” said Lohry, who was just shy of a year old when his uncle was killed during Operation Market Garden, trying to secure a series of Dutch bridges to help Allied tanks get across the Rhine and into Germany near the end of the war. Sersha is survived by siblings Paul Sersha, of Virginia, and Julia Trunzo, of nearby Mountain Iron. Three sisters, including Lohry’s mother, Mary Pecher, and a brother are deceased.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced 24 MAY that the remains of Pfc. James B. Johnson of Poughkeepsie are being returned for burial at Arlington National Cemetery on May 31. The Pentagon agency says the 19-year-old Johnson was killed during the assault on Tarawa in November 1943 while serving in the 2nd Marine Division. He was among 1,000 Marines and sailors killed in the battle. Last June, the Florida-based nonprofit organization History Flight announced it had found the burial site of what were believed to be 35 Marines. Scientists used dental records and DNA analysis to match Johnson’s DNA with a nephew, James C. Johnson of Melbourne, Florida.
Commercial artist Pvt. Earl Joseph Keating enlisted in the United States Army in 1941 at age 27 and although he was present at Pearl Harbor, he escaped the bombing unscathed. His luck, unfortunately, turned a year later. He was killed in hand-to-hand combat with Japanese soldiers in Papua New Guinea on Dec. 5, 1942, and was buried where he fell, just a few years after graduating from Jesuit High School in the heart of New Orleans, NOLA.com reported. His nephew Nadau “du Treil” Michael Keating Jr., was 6 months old when Keating died at the Huggins Roadblock, a tactical choke point on the island. Struck down with him was his best friend from childhood, then 25-year-old Pvt. John Henry Klopp. Nadau’s grandmother — Earl Keating’s mother — Cecile Keating received a War Department telegram 50 days later, stating that he was “killed in action in defense of his country in southwest Pacific area December 5.”
She mourned her son, desperately wanting to give him a proper burial. But Keating’s body, along with Klopp’s, had all but disappeared in the mud of the former battlefield. She wrote to the military again and again in hopes they would locate him. Every night, she prayed that he would be found, WDSU reported. Despite her letters and her prayers, 12 years passed with no luck, and she found herself on her deathbed. Her final wish stuck with Nadau. “She said ‘I want you to remember to please find Earl with your Dad. Help your dad find Earl,’” Nadau told the Associated Press. “Of course, that was a big order for a kid who was twelve years old.” By this point, though, both Keating and Klopp’s bodies had been lost on the Pacific island for nearly 12 years. The search seemed hopeless.
On 23 MAY, more than 70 years after his death, Keating’s body was returned to New Orleans. A pair of local hunters in Papua New Guinea found Keating’s remains, alongside his best friend Klopp’s. They were out hunting in 2011 when they stumbled upon remnants of two men, a helmet, boots and some dog tags. Eventually, the effects were given to the military, but it wasn’t enough to identify Keating’s body. Nadau and Sue offered their own DNA to researchers at Tulane University, which matched that of some of the remains, allowing for a positive identification. Klopp’s daughter, Andrea Grega, did the same. Both men’s remains were sent back to the United States. “This is his body, but I think his spirit is with us, and has been with us through this whole process,” Sue told WDSU. “It’s a lifelong promise of my parents and my grandparents and it’s being completed, and it’s a great, great honor for me to be able to do this,” he told AP. Klopp was laid to rest 23 MAR and Keating’s funeral was scheduled for 28 MAY.
[Source: www.dpaa.mil | May 2, 2016 ++]
* VA *
VA Health Care Access Update 39 ► Disney Wait Time Gaffe Impact
Angry conservatives stepped up their criticism of Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald on Tuesday, with several calling for him to be pushed out of office after his comments invoking Disney customer service practices and veterans medical wait times. Republican Sen. Roy Blunt from Missouri and Joni Ernst from Iowa issued statements saying the gaffe was enough to warrant McDonald’s immediate resignation. “Secretary McDonald’s preposterous statement is right out of Never Never Land,” Blunt said. “I call on him to resign because it’s clear he cannot prioritize getting our veterans the health care they deserve and have earned in a timely manner. Dismissing wait times when veterans can often wait months for an appointment is negligent and a clear sign that new leadership is needed at the VA.”
Ernst called McDonald’s comments “dishonorable” and said the secretary “blatantly dismissed the heart ache and pain that our veterans face while awaiting basic care, and illustrated his compete disregard for the incredibly serious issues facing the VA.” The scandal began on 23 MAY, at a press event where McDonald downplayed ongoing concerns with veterans’ wait times to access department medical care, saying that those figures don’t always reflect patient satisfaction. “What really counts is how does the veteran feel about their encounter with the VA”, he said. “When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? What’s important is what your satisfaction is with the experience. What I would like to move to eventually is that kind of measure.” Lawmakers and conservative activists seized on the comments as insensitive, misguided and troublesome.
- House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) demanded clarification from the VA on the remarks but stopped short of calling for McDonald’s job.
- The Washington Examiner published a staff editorial Tuesday titled “Fire Robert McDonald,” saying that the two-year Cabinet member “has adopted the cavalier disregard of veterans that he was hired to end” and “has become the lead excuse-maker for an uncaring and self-serving bureaucracy.”
- Officials from Concerned Veterans for America, a frequent critic of the department and Democratic administration, said they would not call for McDonald’s resignation, but only because they have little faith that President Obama would appoint a responsible replacement. Instead, they’re asking that the next president ignore past recommendations to keep McDonald on during the transition between administrations. Dan Caldwell, CVA’s vice president for political action, said he doesn’t see much hope for improvement for the embattled department, at least until next year.
- Both House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) have offered endorsements of McDonald in recent months. Both criticized his Disney remarks Monday, but stopped short of calling for his resignation.
- Several Democrats have also expressed concerns about the comments and ensuing firestorm, but to a lesser extent than their GOP colleagues. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said he was troubled by the comments but is looking for more information from the department before calling for any specific response.
- American Legion National Commander Dale Barnett said, “The American Legion agrees that the VA Secretary’s analogy between Disneyland and VA wait times was an unfortunate comparison because people don’t die while waiting to go on Space Mountain,” Barnett said. “We also disagree with the substance of his comment because wait times are very important to not just the satisfaction quotient, but in some cases the veterans health. All of VA needs to be exceptionally good, not just ‘on average.’”
In an interview on MSNBC on 24 MAY, McDonald declined to directly apologize for the comparison, but said he is endeavoring to better explain how the department is working to help veterans. “Wait times are important, but they’re not the only measure of veteran experience,” he said. “And that’s what veterans are telling us. It’s important and if I was misunderstood or if I said the wrong thing, I’m glad that I have the opportunity to correct it.” “If my comments Monday led any Veterans to believe that I, or the dedicated workforce I am privileged to lead, don’t take that noble mission seriously, I deeply regret that. Nothing could be further from the truth,” McDonald said in a statement.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is defending Robert McDonald as the Veterans Affairs secretary faces a growing backlash for comparing wait times at VA clinics to lines at a Disney theme park. “He is a good man. He’s doing his best under very, very difficult circumstances. So, I support Secretary McDonald all the way,” Reid told reporters Tuesday when asked whether McDonald should resign. Reid, who called himself an “expert” at saying the wrong thing, added Tuesday that McDonald “could have done a better job talking about Disneyland.” [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane | May 24, 2016 ++]
VA Deaths Update 02 ► 70+ Vets Mistakenly Declared Dead Monthly
More than 4,200 veterans were mistakenly declared dead and had benefits cut off by Veterans Affairs officials over a five-year span, according to new department data that shows the problem was much bigger than previously believed.
The issue came to light after a congressional inquiry in 2015 by Rep. David Jolly (R-FL) who for the last few years has been tracking multiple constituents’ complaints about premature death notices. After initially estimating the total veterans affected as around a dozen each month, VA released new information on the problem this week, pegging the mistakes as harming more than 70 veterans a month. “These numbers confirm our suspicion, that mistaken deaths by the VA have been a widespread problem impacting thousands of veterans across the country,” Jolly said in a statement. “It’s a problem that should have been addressed years ago, as it has caused needless hardships for thousands of people who had their benefits terminated and their world turned upside down.”
The issue stems from lingering errors in Social Security Administration’s record sharing with VA. When that department incorrectly listed a veteran as dead, VA policy was to cut off benefits immediately, doubling the frustration of victims looking to correct the record. In 2015 alone, 1,025 veterans had their benefits terminated due to incorrect death classifications, only to have the department come back weeks or months later to fix the mistake. Following congressional pressure, VA officials approved policy changes last December to mitigate the problem, giving individuals 30 days after a death notice is received to provide proof of a mistake. The 4,200 premature death errors represent only about 0.2 percent of the total death benefit cut-offs VA handled from 2011 to 2015, but Jolly said each mistaken case can have long-term traumatic results for the victims.
Rep Jolly is asking VA for an annual survey tracking the problem, to ensure their fixes are working. “If the VA’s new policy is indeed working, this problem should be eliminated. If the problem persists, then Congress will demand further action,” he said. “We simply cannot have men and women who have sacrificed for this country see their rightful benefits wrongfully terminated because the VA mistakenly declares them dead.” [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane | May 25, 2016 ++]
Traumatic Brain Injury Update 51 ► Smart Home
VA researchers are doing amazing things to improve the lives of Veterans. One example is the the Smart Home. This unique project uses advanced technology to help patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI) independently plan, organize and complete everyday activities. Some Veterans with TBI have lost the ability to manage basic tasks like doing the laundry or taking out the trash. VA’s Smart Home helps them relearn those skills by tracking their movements around their house and then sending them text or video prompts when they get off track. The remarkable indoor tracking technology can pinpoint the Veterans’ location to within six inches.
The Tampa VA Medical Center has installed the high tech equipment in five apartments housing 10 Veterans. It has a system that not only tracks their locations but has sensors that monitor the use of appliances. For example, the washing machine sensors determine when the Veteran puts soap in the machine and also shows when he or she empties the machine after the load is completed. If the user forgets to do either, a nearby screen prompts them to complete those steps. The Smart Home can also notify a caregiver if an activity is not completed. Other sensors in the bathroom determine how long a patient has been shaving and if they are taking too long, they are prompted to finish that task and move on. The technology promotes Veterans’ independence by providing reminders for the management of other daily activities such as medication, meal planning, and other necessary tasks.
Smart Home has been described as a “cognitive prosthetic” with the goal of rehabilitating Veterans with TBI so they can function normally in society. A powerful feature of the Tampa Smart Home is the precision of the customized therapeutic information that can be provided to the recovering Veteran. Data for every interaction with clinical and medical staff are recorded continuously and analyzed, helping the staff visualize subtle but therapeutically significant behavioral changes. Reports are sent back to the clinical team on a weekly basis. This helps to better inform treatment plans and potentially prevent problematic medication effects on Veterans’ memory, as well as gait and balance. The Veteran patients and VA staff wear wrist tags linked to a real-time location system that tracks the tags using wall sensors. It’s ultra-wideband technology. The wrist tags broadcast their ID on a 6-to-8 gigahertz channel and uses time-delay-of-arrival and angle-of-arrival methods to determine position in three dimensions.
The Smart Home innovation recently received third place in VA’s Brain Trust summit. The national summit brought together the public and private sector, Veterans, caregivers, clinicians and innovators to tackle the issues of brain health. One of the leaders of the project is Dr. Steven Scott, co-director of VA’s Center of Innovation on Disability and Rehabilitation Research and chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa. Scott is a nationally known expert in the fields of physical medicine and rehabilitation with research expertise in polytrauma and traumatic brain injury. Much of his work focuses on the rehabilitation and reintegration of Veterans who have experienced blast-related injuries.
For more than 90 years, the VA’s Research and Development program has been improving the lives of Veterans and all Americans through health care discovery and innovation. VA research is unique because of its focus on health issues that affect Veterans. The groundbreaking achievements of VA investigators—more than 60 percent of whom also provide direct patient care—have resulted in three Nobel prizes, seven Lasker awards, and numerous other national and international honors. [Source: VHA Update | Hans Petersen Web Weekly | May 17, 2016 ++]
VA Medical Marijuana Update 20 ► Prescription Authorization in Budget Bill
Lawmakers will take another shot this week at allowing doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs to prescribe medical marijuana, reigniting a smoldering debate over veteran access to the drug. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) said he will propose the change as part of the department’s annual budget bill during a vote on the House floor expected as early as 18 MAY. The Senate was also set to vote on its version of the department’s annual budget bill, which includes the same proposal by Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) The proposals to give veterans access to medical marijuana through the VA in states where it is legal put Congress on the verge of making a major policy shift for the second year in a row.
“We received more support to fix this situation than ever before last year. I hope we can build on that support and that my colleagues will show compassion and do what’s right for our veterans,” Blumenauer said in a released statement. His proposal last year was defeated in a 213-210 House vote. House lawmakers were scheduled to take a new vote on adding it to the VA appropriations bill late Wednesday or Thursday. The Senate was debating Tuesday and preparing for a final vote on the appropriations bill including the marijuana provision. It approved the measure last year but the reform was ultimately stripped from the bill during congressional budget negotiations. House passage this week could make it more likely that the proposal giving veterans access to medical marijuana will survive and be passed by Congress in a final budget. However, another defeat in the House would not bode well for its chances of being included and signed into law later this year by President Barack Obama.
Jon Richards, compliance manager at Patients Against Pain Cannabis Collective in Los Angeles, removes
dead leaves while inspecting plants for harvest inside a growing room.
The Obama administration asked prosecutors not to pursue medical marijuana sellers and the Department of Justice announced in 2013 that it would not challenge states that have decriminalized or legalized pot. Medical marijuana has been approved by 23 states and the District of Columbia for treatment of glaucoma, cancer, HIV and other afflictions. The VA refuses to allow its doctors to prescribe pot in those states and D.C., and instead only provides abuse treatment to veterans due to federal law that still lists it as an illicit drug. Veterans are advocating for access to marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, which might affect about 20 percent of the 1.8 million servicemembers deployed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the National Center for PTSD.
The House plan, which includes $73.5 billion in discretionary funding for the department, passed by a 295-129 vote on 18 MAY with significant opposition from Democrats. The Senate plan, which calls for $74.9 billion in discretionary spending, was approved by an 89-8 vote. Both fall below the White House request of $75.1 billion for fiscal 2017 veterans programs, although administration officials have quietly backed the Senate plan as within reasonable parameters of their request. [Source: Stars and Stripes | Travis J. Tritten | May 17, 2016 ++]
VA Medical Marijuana Update 21 ► PTSD Bill Passes RI Senate
Medical marijuana for patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder is one step closer to happening in Rhode Island. The State Senate unanimously passing the bill that would add PTSD to the list of debilitating medical conditions that qualify a patient to use medical marijuana “PTSD has so much to do with anxiety that medical marijuana is a great treatment,”said Patrick Rimoshytus, a Care Coordinator at Green Cross RI. “There are so many different strains at this point, they all give different effect. It’s almost like wine.” A significant portion of PTSD patients are military veterans, making the timing of this local bill even more relevant.
Nationally, Congress voted to allow V.A. doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to their patients. Senator Jack Reed, a combat veteran, voiced his support of any safe and viable medical treatment for PTSD patients. “I think if it is suitably controlled by a prescription and supervised then the availability should be there,” said Reed. “It will help veterans. It will help everyone.” Proponents of the Rhode Island bill are hopeful that the unanimous support for the state senate is a positive sign. As many people are desperately looking for answers in helping to treat the disorder. “The veteran suicides have gone up this year from 21–22 a day,” said Rimoshytus. “That being said, last year they had a chance to vote on it and they didn’t do so in time. This year we are really hopeful they will add it to the list of things medical marijuana can be used for.” The RI bill will now head to the state’s House of Representatives. Nationally, the bill opening the door to medical marijuana treatment at the VA could be signed into law by the Fall. [Source: WLNE-TV ABC-6 News | May 20, 2016 ++]
VA Fertility Services ► Wounded Vets Press for Services
Three months into a deployment in June 2012, Army Sgt. Kevin Jaye was on foot patrol in Afghanistan when he triggered the pressure plate of an improvised explosive device. The blast tore off his right leg and caused significant damage to his left leg and lower torso. Jaye spent two years at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, enduring more than 30 surgeries and countless physical therapy sessions. Now medically retired from the military, he continues to need health services from the Veterans Affairs Department. Nearly all Jaye’s combat-related conditions are covered by VA, except for one: Infertility.
The explosion “destroyed my reproductive system,” according to Jaye, leaving him with low testosterone and a negligible sperm count that makes it impossible for Jaye to father children without medical assistance. The VA provides assessments and some treatment, such as surgeries and medications, to increase a veteran’s odds of creating a baby, but it does not provide in vitro fertilization and other advanced reproductive treatments for the 1,800 to 2,000 injured post-9/11 troops who need help to start a family. Jaye and his wife, Lauren, were able to access fertility treatments through Lauren’s employer-provided health insurance. But without a change to the 1992 law that prohibits VA from covering in vitro fertilization, their baby girl, due in August, likely will be their only child, since the couple has maxed out their $30,000 insurance cap on fertility treatments. “We have fought so hard to have a child. … VA covers everything else, why not this? It’s heartbreaking,” Kevin Jaye said during a visit to Congress to press for the law to be overturned.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) has tried for more than five years to pass legislation requiring the VA to cover in vitro fertilization and other specialty fertility services. She recently sponsored an amendment to the Senate military construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill that would allocate $88 million to the VA to cover fertility treatments and counseling for these wounded veterans and their spouses. According to Murray, paralyzed veterans, those with groin injuries, and former service members who have suffered head trauma that affects their hormones have a right to start a family and shouldn’t be forced to pay out of pocket. “This is just so wrong to me. … People in America need to stand up and say this is a wound of war and this country needs to pay for it,” Murray said.
Earlier this year, the Pentagon announced it would create a pilot program that will cover the cost of freezing the sperm or eggs of active-duty troops to provide more family planning options and preserve a service member’s fertility prior to deployment. The Defense Department also covers in vitro fertilization and other fertility services for severely wounded troops while they are on active duty. But once they medically retire, the coverage stops. And, according to these troops, the recovery period before they leave active duty is the worst time to think about having babies. “We were in the process of saving his leg. What a terrible time, as responsible people, to start a family,” Lauren Jaye said. “We wanted to get him healed and then think about it.”
“We had a lot to get through,” said Tracy Keil, wife of retired Army Staff Sgt. Matt Keil, who was paralyzed by a sniper’s bullet in Iraq. “We were adjusting to the wheelchair, we both lost our jobs. Matt lost his whole career — he need time figure out what he wanted to do when he grew up. It wasn’t a good time to think about children.” The Keils did not take DoD up on the offer and paid $32,000 of their savings for treatment. Their twins are now 5 years old. “I felt betrayed, forgotten. I don’t want other veterans to have to go through the heartache I went through. Why should any of us have to beg for something like this?” Matt Keil said.
Matthew Keil give twins Matthew Jr. and Faith a ride around the house at their home near Parker, Colo. Keil and his wife, Tracy were among a group of veterans this week on Capitol Hill pressing for VA coverage.
Murray has made several attempts to get legislation passed to expand coverage for veterans. A bill proposed last year was pulled before a committee vote when Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) added amendments that questioned the funding of the initiative and prohibited the VA from working with Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide abortion services in addition to fertility treatments. A 2012 bill was approved by the Senate but failed in the house over funding concerns. Murray said 10 MAY she believes her most recent proposal has the support of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and funding shouldn’t be an issue. “I want to make sure that nothing happens in the middle of the night that takes it out of the bill. People say they object to it because of its cost. But this is a cost of war,” she said. During a hearing last year, an assistant VA deputy undersecretary told the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee that the department largely supports Murray’s proposals, provided that money was available for the services. “VA supports doing all we can to restore to the greatest extent possible a veteran’s quality of life, including the ability to have a family,” Dr. Rajiv Jain said. Still, the legislation faces an uphill battle.
On 11 MAY Democrats on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee proposed amendments similar to Murray’s proposal. But the panel instead advanced legislation that would give $20,000 in new compensation payouts to veterans who suffered injuries to reproductive organs, with the goal of using the money to cover ensuing family planning costs. Republican supporters said the money could go toward adoption costs, fertility treatments or family expenses of the veterans’ choosing. Rep. Dina Titus(D-NV) however, noted that $20,000 may not be enough to cover even one full cycle of IVF treatments. “We should do the right thing and fulfill our promises to take care of these veterans,” she said.
Crystal Black and retired Army Cpl. Tyler Wilson have spent $14,000 of their own money to have a baby. They are just in the early stages and hope that Crystal will be pregnant in the next few months. Wilson, paralyzed from the waist down by enemy gunfire, said in vitro fertilization is the only way they will have a complete family. But after this try, they won’t be able to afford future attempts. “The VA covers every other medical need he has, his medications, his wheelchair. But the VA is denying Tyler and every other service member in our situation, the right to have a family, the right that these men served for and already have given so much for,” Black said. [Source: Military Times | Patricia Kime | May 16, 2016 ++]
VA In Vitro Fertilization Update 08 ► Passed Senate Bill Includes Funding
Veterans whose war wounds have rendered them infertile are one step closer to having their service-related condition covered by the Veterans Affairs Department. The Senate version of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs funding bill, which passed 18 MAY in an 89-8 vote, included a provision that would require VA to cover fertility treatments for the estimated 1,800 to 2,000 post-9/11 troops whose combat or training-related injuries have affected their ability to have children. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) has lobbied for the change for more than five years. Thursday’s vote marks the second time the measure has passed the Senate; the House must approve similar language before it becomes law.
“This issue shouldn’t be about politics. It shouldn’t be about partisanship. And we shouldn’t cut corners when it comes to our veterans and their families,” Murray told her Senate colleagues just prior to the vote. The VA currently provides assessments and some treatment, like surgeries and medications, to increase a veteran’s odds of creating a baby, but it is barred by law from covering in vitro fertilization and other advanced reproductive treatments. The Defense Department covers in vitro fertilization and other fertility services for severely wounded troops, but only while they remain on active duty. Affected veterans were on Capitol Hill last week to tell lawmakers about the challenges facing them as they have recovered from horrific injures, only later discovering that the VA doesn’t offer fertility services for service-connected wounds. “I felt betrayed, forgotten. I don’t want other veterans to have to go through the heartache I went through. Why should any of us have to beg for something like this?” said retired Army Staff Sgt. Matt Keil, who was paralyzed from the upper chest down by sniper fire in Iraq.
The last time the Senate approved Murray’s proposal was in 2012, but the measure failed in the House over funding concerns. The current proposal would allocate $88 million over two years to VA to cover in vitro fertilization and other advanced reproductive treatments for injured personnel and their spouses. Last week, the House Veterans Affairs Committee rejected bills containing the same provisions as Murray’s proposed amendment. Instead, the panel advanced legislation that would give $20,000 in new compensation payouts to veterans who suffered injuries to reproductive organs, paid out over two installments. The money could be used for fertility treatments, adoption or reproductive services but would not have to go toward family planning. [Source: Military.com | Patricia Kime | May 19, 2016 ++]
VA Hepatitis C Care Update 13 ► Get Tested at your VA Center
VA encourages Veterans to get tested and get treatment for viral hepatitis. If left untreated, hepatitis is life threatening, because it can lead to liver disease. Effective screening and treatment for hepatitis is available at your VA medical center. Testing for hepatitis C infection is recommended for all Veterans born between 1945 and 1965, regardless of perceived risk. May 19 was National Hepatitis Testing Day. Hepatitis C infections can go unnoticed for years, even decades. Effective treatment is available. Don’t let hepatitis C surprise you. Get the facts. Get tested. Get treatment. Learn more at www.hepatitis.va.gov/patient/hcv/testing/index.asp.
“Hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver. It can be caused by one of several viruses, which is why it is often called “viral hepatitis.” The most common types of viral hepatitis within the U.S. are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. Hepatitis B and hepatitis C can become chronic, life-long infections that can cause serious health problems including liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and even death. Veterans have unusually high rates of hepatitis C, especially those born between 1945 and 1965. Hepatitis C is generally spread through blood-to-blood contact. The disease begins with the swelling of the liver and can progress to liver damage such as cirrhosis and liver cancer if untreated.
Many are Unaware They Have Hepatitis C. Hepatitis C can persist for 10 to 30 years before there are any clear symptoms, which is why most people with chronic hepatitis C are unaware they are infected. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, but effective treatments are now available. A blood test is the only way to diagnose a hepatitis C infection. Veterans with any of the following risks should be tested for hepatitis C:\
- Anyone born from 1945-1965,
- Anyone with liver disease or who has had abnormal liver tests,
- Anyone who has ever injected illegal drugs,
- Anyone who had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992,
- Anyone who received a tattoo or body piercing in a non-regulated setting
- Anyone with HIV or a weakened immune system.
Talk to your VA health care provider about testing and treatment. VA is the largest single provider of hepatitis care in the United States. For more information about hepatitis, please visit www.hepatitis.va.gov. According to the Hepatitis Foundation International, an estimated 4.4 million Americans are living with chronic hepatitis and about 80,000 new infections occur each year. [Source: Virage Point Blog | VAntage Point Blog | May19, 2016 ++]
VA Vet Choice Program Update 40 ► Mix-Ups at Fayetteville VAMC
Spring Lake veteran Wilbur Amos says he grows weaker by the day awaiting a surgery that would fix his three excruciating hernias. Some days are worse than others for Amos and the symptoms vary, and Amos said he’s worried one day he’ll inadvertently twist his bowels and die from septic shock if he’s not treated with surgery soon. Amos’ long and agonizing wait for surgery comes as a result of two mix-ups on the part of the Fayetteville VA Medical Center, and the national initiative for providing veterans’ with timely medical care, the Veterans Choice Program. The program is well over a year old now, but veterans like Amos, a retired U.S. Army staff sergeant who served for 24 years and fought in the Vietnam War, are questioning if the program is really working as he is still suffering for months waiting for care, unsure of what the process is to find help faster.
Amos said he’s never had an issue before with the Fayetteville VA Medical Center in scheduling other appointments such as eye exams, but he said he’s now absolutely fed up. “I have one outlook in life; that if I have to do someone else’s work and they’re getting paid for it, I don’t think that’s right. It angers me greatly,” he said. “I have done everything I can do to make this work and it has not worked.” Amos said he contacted the Fayetteville VA Medical Center in September of 2015 after he woke up in terrible pain one morning and went to an urgent care. He says a doctor at the VA diagnosed him with the three hernias, but the VA surgeon was unable to operate since it could not be done at the Fayetteville VA. In December, Wilbur says he was approved for surgery and he was scheduled with a Choice community provider to have the surgery in March.
When Amos arrived for his surgery, he says he was turned away at the reception desk. “I went to the appointment and was called back to the counter after I sat in the waiting room,” he said. “I went up and she said I’m sorry there has been a problem. Your appointment has been canceled. We no longer accept Veterans Choice.” Amos was left waiting in pain. Through the Veterans Choice Program, Wilbur was set up for the surgery in April with another provider. But upon arriving at the appointment, Amos discovered that provider couldn’t do the surgery either, as it was an orthopedic clinic. “I don’t know who would send a person for surgery at an orthopedic clinic,” Amos said. “That strikes me as inept.” Amos reached out to ABC 11 Eyewitness News Diane Wilson after he says he was unable to get the Fayetteville VA to set up another appointment. “If you can get them to move on this at all…I mean I’m at my wits end,” Amos said. After Wilson reached out to the Fayetteville VA on Amos’ behalf, they contacted him to schedule another appointment. He is now set up to see a correct surgeon at the end of May. Amos says he is relieved, and can’t believe the quick action once the news media got involved
In a statement, the Fayetteville VA admitted to the fact that Health Net, the company that handles the Veterans Choice Program, mistakenly scheduled Amos with an orthopedic doctor, but said it had no record of the first mistake. Health Net also took responsibility and gave ABC11 this statement: “It is our honor and responsibility to serve the veteran community. We strive to provide excellent service to every veteran, every time. However, unfortunately, there are times when veterans may not get the care they need when they need it. For that, we take responsibility and apologize.” You can read Health Net’s full statement at http://dig.abclocal.go.com/wtvd/docs/051916-wtvd-health-net-statement.pdf.
While Amos’ troubles with the VA are undoubtedly distressing, they are not unique. In the months since the installation of the Veterans Choice Program, veterans tell Wilson they are still left facing many frustrations with the program. Government agencies such as the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the VA’s Office of Inspector General have brought to light some of the major issues with the Veterans Choice program. The Veterans Choice program was initiated in 2014. It was Congress’ response to the discovery that the VA was concealing the wait times of some veterans needing prompt medical care. The program was meant to alleviate some of this wait time by setting veterans up with private providers. However, the $10 billion dollar program was implemented within a 90-day time-limit – a deadline that some say was too short for such a large and complex program.
According to data released by the VA, as of May 1, 2016, there are around 70,000 more appointments keeping a veteran waiting over a month to get care than there were last year. The Durham VA alone has seen that number increase by more than 1,800, while the Fayetteville VA has seen the number drop by about 900. Furthermore, an investigation conducted by the GOA found that data provided by the VA continues to be faulty, failing to measure veterans wait times in a comprehensive and transparent way. Instead, the VA’s data measures wait time from the moment a veteran is contacted by the VA to schedule an appointment until the time when the veteran sees a provider – not from the day in which the veteran initially contacts the VA about his or her need to see a provider.
Since his first contact with the Fayetteville VA in September, Amos will have waited 9 months for surgery by the time he finally sees a provider at the end of May. He said that from the beginning he was warned that getting the care he needed from the VA would be a difficult process and until he reached out to Wilson, Amos said he hadn’t been able to find an advocate who could help him. He says he’s now thankful and relieved his surgery is scheduled as he just wants to stop suffering in pain. “Not only did you straighten out my situation with getting a surgery scheduled, but I know have better communication from the VA. Thank you.” [Source: Spring Lake, N.C. (WTVD) | Diane Wilson | May 20, 2016 ++]
VA Vet Choice Program Update 41 ► VA Opposes Expansion Efforts
The Veterans Affairs Department opposes efforts to expand the Veterans Choice program and instead wants permission from Congress to roll several private care programs into the Choice benefit, VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson said 24 MAY. Addressing members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in a legislative markup, Gibson said a bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to let any enrolled veteran use the Choice program would “erode the VA’s ability to address the special needs of veterans.” “If veterans who currently do not use the VA health care system begin to seek community care through the Choice program, VA will have to divert resources from … internal VA care, dramatically undercutting our ability to provide care tailored to the unique needs of veterans,” Gibson said.
McCain’s proposed bill would make permanent the Choice program, which is set to expire next year. It would allow any veteran who uses VA health services to use the program, which currently lets veterans get care at a private health facility if they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility or have to wait more than a month for an appointment. The proposed legislation also would require VA to expand pharmacy hours and let veterans be seen at commercial walk-in clinics without preauthorization or a co-payment. McCain said the legislation is needed because some doctors are refusing to see veterans under the Choice program, knowing it has an expiration date. “I’ve heard testimony from a number of veterans who have sat in the ER for 14 hours without being seen. Veterans would just like to see a provider on the same day. This legislation would do that,” McCain said.
A VA medical facility in California on 24 MAY began letting enrolled veterans get health care at walk-in clinics with a referral. Gibson said implementation of a similar program nationwide would be cost-prohibitive with the current VA budget. “This provision is too broad and does not include any feature such as the inclusion of copayments that would ensure it is used in a measured way that would not overrun the funds appropriated by Congress,” Gibson said.
Veterans groups that testified, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans and American Legion, also said they oppose McCain’s bill, adding they believe issues must be fixed with the current program before it is expanded. “The Choice Program … has yet to achieve what Congress envisioned when it passed the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act,” said Carlos Fuentes, senior legislative associate with the VFW.
McCain urged the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to consider the bill, which he said will improve the original legislation co-written in 2014 by McCain and then-Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). [Source: Military Times | Patricia Kime | May 25, 2016 ++]
Vets First Act Update 02 ► Federal Employee Group Blasts Act
A group of 12 federal employee unions and associations are voicing their displeasure with several provisions in the Veterans First Act. The group—which includes the Senior Executives Association, National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association and Federal Managers Association—penned a 18 MAY letter to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) outlining three sections in the omnibus reform bill that the coterie said undermine employee rights. “If enacted, these provisions would undermine constitutionally-guaranteed protections available to Department of Veterans Affairs employees who are subject to discipline for misconduct or performance,” the letter said. “Moreover, these provisions would fail to protect the integrity of services to our nation’s veterans by permitting the VA’s workforce to become vulnerable to undue political influence.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
The Veterans First Act was introduced on 28 APR as a bipartisan reform bill shepherded by Sens. Johnny Isakson, (R-GA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (SEA). Acting SEA president Jason Briefel said the bill, if passed, could face a challenge in the courts for its sweeping discipline changes, but could also usher in a spate of political favoritism and reprisals. “There’re a couple of different levels here,” he said. “One is should this become law, the immediate on the VA. By the read of the SEA and other signatories to the letter, [there are] potential unconstitutional deprivation of rights and due process for public employees, whether they are senior executives or otherwise. “But I think the bigger picture is kind of the precedent that policies of this nature would set for the government.” The letter takes issue with the following sections of the bill:
- Section 112 (e) and Involuntary Reassignment Abuse. The section allows the VA to decrease the pay of an agency director who has been involuntarily reassigned as the result of a disciplinary action and prohibits it from being appealed. The employee groups said that such a move would open the door to political reprisals on government employees.
- Sections 113 and Limitations on Review of Removal of VA Senior Executives. This section gives a fired senior executive 21 days to appeal the decision and confines the appeal process to within the VA. In the letter, the employee groups said the move could extend beyond the SES to “establish an employment-at-will doctrine toward federal civil service employment, opening the door to partisan political abuse in myriad ways.”
- Section 121 and the Removal of VA Employees. Removal of a non-SES VA employee can only be appealed within 10 days of the decision and requires the Merits Systems Protection Board to render a decision.
Absent from the letter signatories was the American Federation of Government Employees, which counts 100,000 VA employees in its National VA Council, a third of the union’s total membership. In a statement, AFGE said it supports the bill following negotiations with Blumenthal on issues like allowing probationary employees to become full-time, providing fired employees their complete evidence file and 10 business days when preparing an appeal, performance appraisals and time-limits on reprimands in employees’ files. But AFGE also said it didn’t support the due process changes for SES members in the bill, particularly a reduction of annuity benefits for executives fired for misconduct, and seemed to express surprise at SEA’s stance on the issue. “We believe this represents a terrible precedent regarding earned compensation for federal employees and we would vigorously oppose any expansion of that effort in any future measure,” it said. “We note that SEA has stated that they do not oppose the pension claw back provision as currently drafted.”
The bill cleared the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs unanimously on 12 MAY, but could face a tough battle once it hits the Senate floor. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) —who also authored VA reform legislation—said in a 17 MAY statement that “labor unions have so far gotten their way in writing the VA accountability provisions in the bill” and promised a strong fight against the bill as it stands. Inversely, Briefel said that the current system of accountability is already sufficient and it’s the leaders of agencies who have not adequately used their power to police misconduct. “There’s a whole host of authorities that are not being fully leveraged,” he said. “Whether that stems from a lack of coordination between investigators, management, human resources, general counsel and otherwise, again that’s much more of an implementation issue.” [Source: Federal Times | Carten Cordell | May 19, 2016 ++]
VA Cemeteries Update 13 ► Flagpole Confederate Battle Flag Ban
The House voted on 18 MAY to ban the display of the Confederate flag on flagpoles at federal veterans’ cemeteries. The 265-159 vote would block descendants and others seeking to commemorate veterans of the Confederate States of America from flying the Confederate Battle Flag over mass graves on the two days a year that flag displays are permitted. California Democrat Jared Huffman drafted the prohibition, saying the flag represents “racism, slavery and division.”
Huffman’s amendment is mostly symbolic and applies only to instances in which Confederate flags are flown on flagpoles over mass graves. The amendment would not ban the display of small Confederate flags placed at individual graves. Such displays are generally permitted on Memorial Day and Confederate Memorial Day in the states that observe it. Top House GOP leaders such as Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and GOP Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana voted with Democrats to approve the amendment. By tradition, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) rarely votes. Republicans said recently that the Mississippi State Flag, which contains Confederate imagery, will not be returned to a House hallway where it was displayed prior to a recent renovation.
“Symbols like the Confederate battle flag have meaning. They are not just neutral, historical symbols of pride. They represent slavery, oppression, lynching and hate,” Huffman said. “To continue to allow national policy condoning the display of this symbol on Federal property is wrong, and it is disrespectful to what our country stands for and what our veterans fight for.” After a mass shooting at a South Carolina black church last year, the state legislature ordered the flag removed from the capitol in Columbia. The House approved amendments last year to block the display and sale of the Confederate flag at national parks but a backlash from Southern Republicans caused GOP leaders to scrap the underlying spending bill. GOP leaders subsequently scrapped action on the remaining spending bills. [Source: Associated Press | Andrew Taylor | May 19, 2016 ++]
VA OIG Update 07 ► 19 May Denver CO Wait time Report
VA OIG has released another Wait time Report on VAMC Denver Colorado. A summary of the report is included below and in the updated “VA OIG Wait Time Reports” attachment to this newsletter.
This investigation was initiated following media outlets reporting that a former Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employee alleged that the VA Medical Center (VAMC) Denver, CO, had kept, or was keeping, a “secret wait list” of patients who were waiting to be seen and treated at the VAMC Denver Sleep Medicine Clinic. During the news broadcasts, it was alleged that in 2012, the VA employee was given a copy of a manual list of names and told to transfer the names to the VA’s Electronic Wait List (EWL). As a result of the allegation, the director of VA’s Rocky Mountain Network asked that an Administrative Board of Investigation (ABI) be convened to look into the matter. In addition to the Sleep Medicine Clinic allegation, ABI was also charged with looking into a complaint related to alleged inappropriate scheduling lists in the Mental Health and Audiology Clinics and Prosthetics Service. In addition to past practices, ABI was also tasked to investigate any evidence of inappropriate current practices.
The conclusions reached by the board appeared to be justified and appropriate. The board’s composition, including a member from the UVC, also appeared to be a good faith effort to examine the issue fairly. Once VA OIG determined that the ABI review results provided reasonable assurance that scheduling issues were being managed effectively, we did not duplicate the review performed by the ABI. The OIG referred the Report of Investigation to VA’s Office of Accountability Review on February 27, 2016. [Source: OIG Admin summary | Quentin G. Aucoin | March 19, 2016 ++]
GI Bill Update 205 ► Vet Groups Seek Crackdown on Deceptive Colleges
Some of the nation’s largest veterans and military organizations sent letters in mid-MAY to the Veterans Affairs Department asking it to crack down on colleges that prey on veterans by charging exorbitant fees for degrees that mostly fail to deliver promised skills and jobs. The letters were signed by top officials at the American Legion, the National Military Family Association, the Military Officers Association of America and nearly 20 other groups. They called on the department to improve its oversight of colleges that have engaged in deceptive recruiting and other illicit practices but that continue to receive millions in funding under the G.I. Bill. “We encourage you” to take steps against the dozen or so colleges facing “federal and state action for deceiving students,” one of the letters says.
The career training and for-profit college industry has been accused in recent years of exploiting veterans, poor people and minorities. Veterans are an especially enticing target because, under a loophole in federal law, money from the G.I. Bill does not count against a cap on federal funding to for-profit schools. The Veterans Affairs Department has traditionally done little to police the for-profit college industry despite handing more than $1.7 billion for the 2012-13 school year to for-profit colleges. A 2014 Senate report found that seven of the eight for-profit college operators that received the most money from the department were under investigation by state or federal authorities for misleading recruiting practices or other violations of federal law.
In an emailed statement, Terry Jemison, a spokesman for the department, said it relied largely on states to police the industry. State agencies “are required to ensure that all schools, including nonaccredited schools, have been licensed to operate in their state,” Mr. Jemison wrote. But a recent study by Yale law students found that the department was required by statute to enforce federal education guidelines prohibiting fraudulent practices. Democrats on Capitol Hill have cited the study as more evidence that the department is failing to protect veterans from predatory practices. “The failure to crack down defies not only the White House priorities and congressional demands, but logic and common sense,” Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, said in an interview.
The industry, defending itself against the allegations, says it offers nontraditional students a flexible way to gain career skills. “Those that demonize our sector do so because of ideological reasons, not rational arguments,” said Michael Dakduk, a vice president at the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities. “For the veteran holding down a part-time or full-time job in addition to their studies, our sector’s institutions and programs are the right fit.” “Our sector continues to support more consumer education and resources for veterans, service members and their families,” Mr. Dakduk added. “We look forward to working with members of the veterans community, as we have done in the past, to strengthen resources for student veterans and their families.” But among those who have called for better oversight of the G.I. Bill are the veterans department’s own education advisory committee and a group of eight state attorneys general who have sued for-profit colleges, accusing them of consumer fraud.
The institutions that have failed to meet regulatory standards or been accused of violating legal statutes include tiny beauty schools with staggering loan default rates and online law schools with dismal graduation rates and no bar association accreditation. Without government money, few of these institutions could attract students or stay in business. Corinthian Colleges, once one of the largest for-profit college chains, went bankrupt last year after the Education Department suspended its access to federal student aid. The chain was accused of false advertising, including exaggerations about its students’ career placement. Education advocates say the veterans department’s unwillingness to police a program that costs taxpayers billions is difficult to understand. “The veterans we serve are understandably angry when they discover that the very consumer fraud they faced at a predatory school is one the V.A. knew about but approved for G.I. Bill benefits anyway,” said Carrie Wofford of Veterans Education Success, a nonprofit group. [Source: The New York Times | Gardiner Harris | May 21, 2016 ++]
Vets.gov Update 01 ► Consolidates VA’s 1,000+ Sites into One Online Location
It was October 2013 when the Obama administration triumphantly flipped the switch on Healthcare.gov, the landing page for the White House’s landmark domestic policy achievement. It promptly crashed. As administration officials absorbed the extent of the catastrophe, they realized they had to go outside the usual government channels to get the site up and running. That’s when they brought in Paul Smith, a politically minded coder with a handful of successful startups behind him.
Smith immediately asked to see the results of the monitoring tools identifying where the system was clogged. He was met with blank stares from the bureaucrats in the room. So he downloaded a cheap tool from the Internet and — breaking probably every government tech regulation in the book — plugged it into the system to see what he was working with. The entire screen lit up bright red with errors, matching the color of the faces of millions of people trying to log on to buy affordable health care insurance, as well as the faces of health policy wonks wondering if Obamacare itself had just crashed and burned. Smith and his team of outside coders ultimately turned Healthcare.gov around, in a rescue that has become a case study in rapid tech recovery. The group was thrown together so quickly that they were known only as the Ad Hoc team.
Today, Ad Hoc LLC (they went ahead and made it their company name) has a new job that, in some ways, makes the Affordable Care Act turnaround look easy. They’re taking on the Department of Veterans Affairs. Smith’s team won a contract this month to develop Vets.gov, a new website (https://www.vets.gov) that consolidates the department’s services in one online location. The goal is to let veterans access all of their VA benefits online in one place and with a single login. Ad Hoc will build on a beta version of Vets.gov that the team created in November. What’s stunning is that a website like this didn’t exist before. The agency has its standard VA.gov, but that’s more of an organizational site than a services-oriented hub for veterans. Until now, the nation’s roughly 20 million veterans have been accessing their VA benefits online through at least 1,000 different websites, according to VA officials. Smith said he’s been told it’s closer to 1,400. “When I first heard the number, I had this, like, ‘that can’t be right’ moment,” Smith told The Huffington Post. “It’s extraordinary.”
Asked to compare Obamacare’s once-tortured website with the VA’s lack of centralized online services, Smith said the two projects couldn’t be more different. His team is building Vets.gov from scratch, whereas the administration had already created Healthcare.gov. The Ad Hoc team’s role back in 2013 was less about writing code and more about organizing a site that wasn’t ready for large amounts of traffic. If only the administration had been working with software engineers from the private sector from the beginning, Smith recalled thinking, Healthcare.gov would have turned out so much better.
That’s the realization that prompted him to launch Ad Hoc LLC with his colleague Greg Gershman two years ago. They learned from the Healthcare.gov debacle that there’s “an enormous gap” between consumer technology being used by private sector startups and what is being used by the government. “We recognized companies are still going to be contracting with the government, and they need to be able to bring in people who have that modern software tech development experience,” Smith said. “With Vets.gov, we have the opportunity to build something new … and be 10 times more impactful than the traditional procurement practice in government.”
So how do you even begin to condense 1,000 websites into one? Smith said their strategy is to build the central site in “an entirely new way” for a government agency, by tackling small chunks at a time and having veterans themselves test out each stage. Once the team gets feedback from those vets, they’ll plug that information back into the overall project and then move on to the next chunk. And then again. And again. And again. The biggest challenge will be staying focused on what veterans say works best for them, Smith said, versus what government officials or programmers think is best. “That’s why we’re here, to really build something for them,” he said. “Through their eyes, for their needs.” The new contract, which employs a handful of companies led by Ad Hoc, gives Smith’s team a year to build out the basic site and make it more comprehensive. If all goes as planned, VA will renew Ad Hoc’s contract for another two years to keep expanding the site.
Smith said he feels personally invested in this project’s success. “I want the site to be a delightful experience for veterans. I want them to start to have trust in their system and feel like their requests are responded to quickly and accurately,” he said. “We loved working on the beta site. People at the VA were excited. Everyone was excited. It felt good. It felt like this is the right way to build software.”
HuffPost reached out to Scott Davis, a program specialist at the VA’s Health Eligibility Center in Atlanta and a past whistleblower on VA mismanagement, to ask what he thought the biggest problem is for veterans trying to access their benefits online. He said that vets applying for health care online often end up filling out multiple applications, and the most commonly used form is a PDF that can’t be downloaded. HuffPost went ahead and asked Smith if he could fix that. He was already on it. “I’m aware that there are PDFs at the end of the rainbow,” Smith said. “We’re going to build forms and services that take a veteran to a meaningful place, not just another dead end.” [Source: Huffington Post | Jennifer Bendery | May 17, 2016 ++]
VA Fraud, Waste & Abuse ► Reported 16 thru 31 May 2016
Phoenix AZ — A former VA health system director has been sentenced to two years’ probation for failing to disclose gifts received while supervising the Phoenix hospital where whistleblowers revealed veterans on secret waiting lists faced scheduling delays of up to a year. U.S. District Court Judge Steven Logan sentenced Sharon Helman on 16 MAY for making a false statement to a government agency by not including more than $19,000 in gifts — including a car, concert tickets and round-trip airfare — on a financial disclosure report. Inside a sparsely filled court room in Phoenix, Logan described Helman’s career as impressive and her ethical violation as deliberate. “I’m accepting the plea, but I’m not naive,” he said. “The reason you didn’t report any of it was because deep down you knew,” Logan told Helman.
Helman was accused of failing to list more than $50,000 in gifts she received from a lobbyist between 2012 and 2014. She pleaded down to a single charge under an agreement reached with prosecutors prior to the sentencing. Helman oversaw the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix but was fired after whistleblowers disclosed the secret waiting list to Congress. Some veterans died while waiting for appointments. Authorities first learned about Helman accepting gifts while investigating problems at the medical center. Helman wept Monday before the judge. She expressed regret and called her ethical violation a “betrayal of trust” to veterans and the country. “As proud as I am of the work I did for veterans, I know I could have served them better,” Helman said. “I should have disclosed the gifts I received from a personal friend, but I did not.”
Prosecutors said all of the gifts were from a single source, a person identified in court as a former high-level VA employee who from 2005 to 2009 served as Helman’s supervisor. From 2012 to 2014, that person was an executive consultant and later vice president of a consulting and lobbying firm that assisted companies in expanding their business with the VA, according to prosecutors. Federal prosecutors didn’t charge her with unlawfully accepting the gifts, but failing to provide the VA with required information to evaluate a potential conflict of interest. “It just so happened that his company gets millions in VA federal dollars?” Logan asked the prosecutor about the gifts. “That may be difficult to believe but that is in fact what the investigation revealed,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Galati. [Source: The Associated Press | Ryan Van Velzer | May 17, 2016 ++]
Augusta, GA — Both sides said they’re ready for trial Monday in U.S. District Court, where Cathedral Henderson faces 50 counts of falsifying veterans’ medical records at Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Henderson, 50, of Martinez, has pleaded not guilty to the federal charges. His attorney has previously stated that Henderson was following direct orders from his supervisor. Cases of veterans dying because of lack of access to medical services made national news in 2013. The following year, employees at a VA hospital in Phoenix were found to have manipulated computer records to hide the long wait times on medical services for veterans. The Norwood VA hospital in Augusta had appointment scheduling trouble in 2011 in the gastrointestinal clinic, leading to three deaths. The hospital was included in a 2014 inspection of more than 100 VA hospitals across the county. According to Henderson’s indictment, the undersecretary for health at the VA instructed medical centers to ensure that unresolved consultations for outside medical care were taken care of by May 1, 2014. In Augusta, Henderson was in charge of the task to ensure that more than 2,700 veterans awaiting approval for care outside the VA received the services needed, no longer needed the services or declined them.
According to the indictment, Henderson is accused of ordering employees to falsify medical records to show that each case was properly closed. Each count in the indictment reflects a veteran in need of medical services not available to the VA. According to an article in The Washington Post about Henderson’s indictment, he is the only VA employee caught in the health care scandal to face criminal charges, although more than 187 employees faced disciplinary action.
During a short hearing before U.S. District Court Judge J. Randal Hall on 18 MAY, the prosecuting and defense attorneys announced they were ready for trial. Each side anticipates presenting witnesses for two to three days. The trial is expected to last through next week and possibly into the following week. Henderson faces a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment. [Source: The Augusta Chronicle | Sandy Hodson | May 18, 2016 ++]
VAH Chicago Update 01 ► Edward Hines, Jr. | Black Mold Infestation
Veterans living at a long-term care facility in a Chicago-area VA hospital are pleading for congressional intervention over being forced to live the past 10 months with black mold growing in their housing complex. Veterans Affairs documents indicate officials at Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital knew about the black mold infestation in August 2015 but conducted no testing until mid-April 2016 and have yet to clean up the problem – though they are promising to act soon. The mold is contained in two rooms of the Residential Care Facility (RCF), a separate building housing 30 residents for indefinite stays.
- “I was going by the hallway and the door was open. The back wall was all moldy black,” 81-year-old resident Raymond Shibek told FoxNews.com. “I went and told the director of nursing. She said, ‘How did you see that?’ I said, ‘The door was open.’ She said, ‘You weren’t supposed to see that.’” Shibek said the mold covered an entire wall measuring roughly 10 feet-by-10 feet.
- Resident Dan James, 58, said the staff “sat on this for months until we started getting aggressive about it,” and “only taped off the rooms a month and a half ago.”
Veterans say no one knows how long the mold has contaminated the building, but they claim a large number of patients have fallen ill, even died, over the past few years. It is unknown if the mold was in any way related to the illnesses. An April 22-dated letter sent to Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and signed by 18 residents in the unit asked for congressional intervention. “Granted, these poor souls (veterans-patients who reside in the RCF unit) are a group of … patients who need around the clock care, but still there seems to be a high number of both staff and patient illnesses, and a very high rate of death for the RCF unit veterans,” the letter said.
Kirk, chairman of the Senate Appropriations VA subcommittee, fired off a letter earlier this week to a VA supervisor seeking answers on the mold problem. “The saddest part about this work is that there seems to be no bottom – each time we discover a problem, there always seems to be a cover-up, instances of willful incompetence, and/or another problem right around the corner,” he wrote. Kirk previously has criticized Hines management over an infestation of cockroaches in the hospital kitchen, prompting him to author a bill requiring mandatory outside health inspections. The VA says it is moving to address the mold situation.
An internal email dated 4 MAR from Rita Young, Hines’ chief of Safety and Emergency Management Services, was sent to union stewards updating them. Young said the drywall in two rooms contained “black mold” caused by a pipe leak that has been repaired. It took until 5 APR for VA officials to post a bid notice asking for “hazardous material abatement.” The project will be awarded next month and is expected to be completed in July, VA spokeswoman Jane Moen said. The VA did not comment on the delay in cleaning up the mold other than to say, “Hines takes any allegations regarding patient safety and concerns seriously. Our veterans, staff and visitors are our #1 priority.” The VA has not provided any memos or proof that mold testing was conducted prior to the April tests.
Mold can be found in buildings that have damp conditions, creating spores that can become airborne and pose a health risk to people with immune deficiencies or prone to respiratory problems, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. “For some people, having excessive mold is not a good thing to have. Certainly people are allergic, but it’s a small percentage,” said Dr. Ronald Gots of the International Center for Toxicology. Gots, though, said the notion that black mold causes severe illness for the general population is overblown.
The mold was first discovered by a maintenance worker who saw a black substance on the wall behind the lockers, said resident Charles Scott, 26. It was then that the residents began an odyssey to have the rooms sealed off and the mold removed not only from the locker room, but a nearby storage and maintenance room, Scott said. “We are really worried about this, you have a lot of people with respiratory illnesses,” Scott said. “Another VA hospital had Legionnaire’s Disease and a bunch of people died. How do we know that won’t happen to us?” When the veterans noticed that nothing was being done to alleviate the mold problem, they insisted on meeting with staff, they said. A meeting was held March 17 with 10 residents and 14 upper-level management VA officials including two doctors. Minutes from that meeting said, “Clinical/medical risks of mold discussed in meeting. Potential hazards and risks include smell, allergic reaction and/or asthma attacks within 6.5 hours of inhaling.”
The minutes also said: “When the mold was discovered, rooms C106 and C107 were shut down, residents’ items were removed from that room, and water source contributing to mold room was resolved. However, this issue was not followed up with the right people and is being handled now.” Red “Do Not Enter” signs were taped to the doors, along with a VA memo describing the pipe leak and saying, “There were missed opportunities and lessons learned from this situation. Communication and notification to all parties until the issue is resolved is key.” [Source: Fox News | Tori Richards | May 18, 2016 ++]
VAMC Grand Junction CO Update 02 ► Inadequate Treatment Vet Died
A well-known veteran in Grand Junction received inadequate treatment at the local Department of Veterans Affairs hospital before he died, the agency’s inspector general found. Vietnam War veteran Rodger Holmes had survived homelessness, recovered from alcohol addiction and volunteered as a Salvation Army van driver. But he suffered from liver disease, and his health deteriorated rapidly despite numerous visits to the Grand Junction VA medical center in 2014. He died that December. Three Colorado members of Congress, Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton, requested an investigation of the hospital’s treatment of Holmes.
“We substantiated the allegation that followup care was inadequate and led to further hospitalization,” says the inspector general’s report released this week. “The hepatitis C care provider often did not provide the care or assess the patient thoroughly when seen. The circumstances of discontinuity of care and the lack of a thorough analysis of the patient’s condition may have contributed to his progressive decline and slower recovery.” The report stopped short of concluding that VA treatment killed Holmes, however, by finding that his final hospital admission was timely. One contributing factor to Holmes’ treatment was a decision by the hospital’s hepatitis specialist to reduce his hours. The inspector general report recommended that the hospital ensure “contingency plans for specialities” when too few specialists are available.
“If Rodger were with us, he would be thrilled with that change,” said Chris Blumenstein, a social worker who quit the hospital to protest Holmes’ treatment. “When staff is insufficient, there needs to be a plan for that. The clinics can’t just wing it like they did with Rodger.” Blumenstein challenged the report’s finding that Holmes had recovered when he was sent home in September 2014, saying his friend was a very sick man when he and others launched a Saving Veteran Rodger Holmes campaign that fall. He plans to appeal on the grounds that the inspector general failed to hold the hospital fully responsible. The VA’s medical director in Grand Junction, Marc Magill, disputed the finding that Holmes’ treatment was inadequate. “We believe the review of encounters below supports appropriate clinical care was provided to this veteran,” he responded. “The veteran’s issues were appropriately addressed at each encounter, including medication adjustments, emergency room treatment and IV fluids, and hospitalization when appropriate.”
He concurred, however, with the recommendation to make sure specialty care will be available as needed for veterans in Grand Junction. Medical center spokesman Paul Sweeney said the hospital has hired a cardiologist and neurologist and is contracting with other specialty care doctors. Hepatitis patients are treated through a telehealth program, he said, but the Western Slope still lacks a liver specialist. Jenny Davies, one of Holmes’ supporters, recalled helping him start to use e-mail and Facebook in the campaign to save his life. “He was kind, funny and very humble about the whole thing — while he did want to improve his own health care, his feeling was that he’d already had a nightmare experience and this effort was to improve the care for all the veterans coming after him,” she said. “Little did we know that all that mismanaged care was going to continue and he wouldn’t survive.” [Source: The Denver Post Editor | David Olinger | May 13, 2016 ++]
VAMC Long Island NY ► Facility Deterioration Impacts Surgeries
Usually, there are 10 operations a week scheduled at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center on Long Island. But since mid-February, the hospital’s five operating rooms have stood empty and unused, shut down after sand-size black particles began falling from air ducts. The ducts are part of the hospital’s HVAC system. Providing heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, the system is integral to improving the hospital’s air quality and mitigating the airborne transmission of germs that could lead to infections. Patients in need of surgical treatment have been sent to other facilities, such as Stony Brook University Hospital a half-hour away, or to sister facilities like the James J. Peters V.A. Medical Center in the Bronx or the Manhattan campus of the V.A.’s New York Harbor Healthcare System, said Philip Moschitta, Northport’s director. Others are being referred to the V.A.’s Choice Card program, which allows some veterans to obtain taxpayer-funded care from private doctors, though it has been troubled by delays.
The Veterans Affairs medical system, the nation’s largest integrated health care organization, has been under scrutiny since 2014, when the department confirmed that numerous patients had died awaiting treatment at a V.A. hospital in Phoenix, where officials had tried to cover up long waiting times for 1,700 veterans seeking medical care. A study released by the Government Accountability Office last month indicated that the system has yet to fix its scheduling problems. Northport is a 502-bed teaching hospital that serves about 18,000 patients per year. Doctors there perform 633 inpatient and 1,822 outpatient surgeries a year. Some procedures that do not require a sterile room, such as colonoscopies or cataract surgeries, are currently taking place in other parts of the hospital, Mr. Moschitta said. “Cutting into the body, those types of procedures are not being done in those rooms at this time,” he said.
Two or three of the operating rooms were reopened for a few weeks in April, but they were again shuttered and sealed off with yellow caution tape because contamination returned. An environmental analysis of the air quality at the Northport hospital by Environmental Analysis Associates, a San Diego firm that specializes in the identification of indoor air-quality problems associated with dust contamination, found that the particulates came from oxidizing metal and crumbling concrete in the building’s duct system, which was built in the early 1970s. The report, which was obtained by The New York Times, linked the operating room contaminants to Northport’s decaying building. The kinds of particles deposited in the operating rooms were “typically associated with galvanized duct corrosion and metal piping/fittings,” the report said. It also mentioned that “low concentrations of fiberglass fibers” — irritants to the skin, eyes and upper respiratory tract — were detected.
Mr. Moschitta said the problems stemmed from rusted sound attenuators in the ducts, which reduce mechanical equipment noise. “As the forced air goes through the ducts, little fragments break off,” he said. “When you have a 45-year-old facility, things rust,” he added. The report also noted the presence of spores of cladosporium, a common mold that can grow indoors on surfaces when moisture is present and can cause allergic reactions and respiratory problems. Ronald Brattain, the chief of the hospital’s engineering service, said that the operating room air-supply ducts have been wet and regularly exposed to high humidity because they pull air from the outside, as is common in older V.A. hospitals. “The humidity that is in the air is drawn through the air handler, and so that by itself creates a moist environment,” he said.
The entire V.A. system has been plagued with crumbling buildings and deferred maintenance. According to the V.A., roughly 60 percent of its medical facilities are more than 50 years old. The department’s inspector general issued an audit report in 2014 warning that there was a $10 billion to $12 billion backlog in maintenance throughout the system, jeopardizing patient safety at a time when aging baby boomers and newly enrolled veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan increasingly sought care at V.A. hospitals. Mr. Moschitta said that one backup plan under discussion at Northport was to bring in mobile surgical units that would be parked outside the emergency room on the lawn, but those units rent for $70,000 to $85,000 per month.
Mr. Moschitta said he is confident the problem will be solved with the installation of high efficiency particulate air filters in each of the vents in the operating rooms, and that at least one of the surgical suites will be up and running in the near future. “Barring any mishap, we’re ready to go on June 1,” he said. “A lot of these facilities are vintage.” It is not only the operating rooms that have been affected at Northport. In the basement of Building 200, one floor down from the operating rooms, the air-conditioning broke down in March 2015, and since then particulates have accumulated in five ultrasound rooms and an M.R.I. area. Mr. Brattain said the problem was a rupture of the cooling tower on the roof. Since then, air-conditioning has been provided by temporary air-cooled chillers, which cost $30,000 a month each to rent, Mr. Brattain said, and two more will be brought in for the summer months. A new system is supposed to be installed in the spring of 2017.
An internal email from an engineer and safety officer at the hospital, obtained by The Times, details staff complaints about the particulates. “The dust is depositing on HVAC registers, ceilings, walls, and on medical equipment,” the email said. “Maintenance continues to clean the surfaces but, as the staff has observed, the dust reappears within a short time. At least three staff members have indicated their concern that this environment has affected them. They have been to employee health and to their individual physicians.” The email was sent in April to administrators at the hospital. In a statement, Mr. Moschitta said that he took “very seriously concerns about the air quality” in the M.R.I. area and the ultrasound rooms, and that he had asked for “air sampling to be conducted to ensure the safety of our patients and employees.” [Source: The New York Times | Kristina Rebelomay | May 19, 2016 ++]
VA HCS Palo Alto CA ► CVS MinuteCinic Pilot Program
A Veterans Affairs health system in Northern California has enlisted the help of the largest U.S. provider of walk-in medical care to expand treatment options for veterans. Beginning 24 MAY, veterans who have a minor illness or injury and are enrolled in the VA Palo Alto Health Care System may be able to seek care at a MinuteClinic, the walk-in health facility available at many CVS pharmacies. Under a regional pilot program, veterans who call the VA Palo Alto nurse advice line may be referred to a MinuteClinic. The VA Palo Alto Health Care System (VAPAHCS) consists of three inpatient facilities located at Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Livermore, plus seven outpatient clinics in San Jose, Fremont, Capitola, Monterey, Stockton, Modesto, and Sonora.
Dr. Stephen Ezeji-Okoye, VA Palo Alto deputy chief of staff, said the $330,000 one-year pilot program could serve as a model for other VA facilities nationwide. The program, he said, is designed to give veterans access to medical treatment closer to home and when VA hospitals and clinics are closed or at capacity. “This really does help push VA’s movement to integrate care more seamlessly in the community,” Ezeji-Okoye said. “[VA leaders] are interested to see how this goes and what potential implications it might have.” Ezeji-Okoye said the new program for the 60,000 veterans enrolled in care at the VA Palo Alto Health System is not a response to the system’s ability to meet access standards. Instead, he added, the MinuteClinic partnership will be an option for veterans to get care closer to home and on nights and weekends when VA care may not be available. “We see this as augmenting the care we provide,” he said.
There are 1,137 MinuteClinics in 32 states, according to MinuteClinic president Dr. Andrew Sussman. The facilities employ nurse practitioners and physician assistants who treat minor medical issues such as ear and throat infections, sinus issues, sprains and minor injuries. According to Sussman, 14 MinuteClinics in the region will participate in the program. “We see this as a collaboration with the existing system and helping provide another choice for patients to go to for their care. We are proud to be working with VA,” Sussman said. Raising concerns last month among veterans service organizations, a blue-ribbon commission studying the future of VA health care planned to recommend that veterans receive the bulk of their health care through private physicians paid for by VA. Currently, veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility, or cannot get an appointment at VA within 30 days, are supposed to be referred to the private health system through the Veterans Choice program.
Both Ezeji-Okoye and Sussman said the MinuteClinic agreement is not part of the Veterans Choice program or any larger effort to outsource veterans to private health care. “Partnering with the community really allows us to be able to provide more convenient and more accessible care. Really, it’s a question of how we fold community care into VA. It’s really an extension of VA care,” Ezeji-Okoye said. Veterans enrolled in VA care at Palo Alto or its affiliated hospitals and clinics who want to use the benefit must get a referral from the nurse advice line. No copayment will be needed at the time of care, and veterans can order any VA formulary medications prescribed by a MinuteClinic provider at the clinic’s CVS store. VA officials said MinuteClinic has agreed to send any medical records generated by the visit to VA to ensure they are included in the veteran’s health history. [Source:
Palo Alto Division Menlo Park Division Livermore Division
* Vets *
As I See It ► MOAA | Adding Insult to Injury
Over the past decade-plus of war, we’ve heard time after time about the difficulties severely wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers encounter across a variety of fronts. There seems to be a never-ending supply of stories about insensitive people and unresponsive bureaucracies making life even tougher for those whose military service already cost them significantly in terms of quality of life. The good news is well-meaning people at all levels have been making sincere efforts to improve the situation. Many aren’t making progress as fast as we would hope, and many problems remain to be overcome. But in most cases, active efforts are under way to address the most significant administrative problems.
Two statutory issues, in particular, are proving more problematic. The first involves the deduction of VA disability compensation from service-earned military retired pay. Congress has provided some significant relief on that front, prioritizing the most severely disabled and the combat-disabled. MOAA believes strongly in the principle that no disabled retiree, regardless of disability percentage, should have to fund his or her own disability compensation by forfeiting an equal amount of service-earned retired pay. But we find it particularly inequitable one group of severely disabled retirees was excluded from any relief: those who were medically retired for noncombat disabilities with less than 20 years of service.
Under current law, a 20-year retiree with a 10-percent combat-related disability (rightly) suffers no retired-pay offset. But someone who suffers a noncombat service-caused injury that leaves him a 100-percent disabled quadriplegic and is medically retired with two to 19 years’ service must forfeit most or all of his military retired pay under the current VA offset law. That’s plain wrong. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) will offer an amendment to the FY 2017 Defense Authorization Bill to correct that when the bill comes to the Senate floor, with MOAA’s strong support.
The second statutory inequity stems from the requirement for severely disabled military retirees (including many in their 20s) to enroll in Medicare and pay Medicare Part B premiums of $105 a month. Had these members not had the misfortune of becoming 100-percent disabled in service, the military would have fully covered their health care until retirement, and they wouldn’t have had to enroll in Medicare until age 65. MOAA believes 100-percent service-disabled retirees should be exempted from paying Medicare enrollment fees until age 65 or DoD should provide them an allowance to offset the fee. Both options have proven problematic, mainly for funding reasons.
MOAA understands funding for defense is not unlimited. What we don’t understand is, of all the things DoD spends money on, why preventing 100-percent disabled retirees and military widows (i.e. SBP DIC Offset) from having to pay extra for having suffered those conditions doesn’t make the cut. [Source: MOAA Leg Up | Col. Steve Strobridge, USAF (Ret) | May 20, 2016 ++]
Military Handbooks ► 2016 Editions Available for Downloading
Your 2016 Military and Federal Handbooks are available in both free and paid versions. To access the free versions click on the following:
[Source: Military authority Family of Sites| May 20, 2016 ++]
Vet Charity Watch Update 59 ► 2% of NVVF 2014 Donations Went to Vets
At first glance, the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation is a roaring success. According to its tax filings, the charity has received more than $29 million in donations from generous Americans from 2010 to 2014 for what it calls on its website http://nationalvietnamveteransfoundation.org “aiding, supporting and benefiting America’s veterans and their families.” But look a little closer on those same filings and you can see that nearly all of those donations have been cycled back to telemarketers, leaving less than 2 percent for actual veterans and veterans’ charitable causes.
That’s why Charity Navigator, one of the nation’s largest and most influential charity watchdog organizations, has given the charity a “zero” out of four stars for those same four years. “It’s a zero-star organization and you can’t go lower than that,” says Michael Thatcher, Charity Navigator’s CEO. “They don’t have an independent board of directors, they actually don’t even have a comprehensive board of directors — only three members on the board at this point in time and some of them are family. So one can say, is this representative of an independent board? It’s not.” The charity’s most recently filed tax return, for 2014, lists a catalogue of expenses paid for by donations: including $133,000 for travel, $21,000 for unnamed “awards”, $70,000 for a category described as “other expenses” and even a little more than $8,000 for parking.
The CEO and founder of the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation, himself a veteran, is J. Thomas Burch, who is also a federal employee working as an attorney for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Burch is deputy director in the VA’s Office of General Counsel, where he pulled down $127,000 in salary in 2014. That’s the same year he drew a salary of $65,000 as head of his “zero-star” charity. A VA spokesman told CNN Burch’s position at the veteran’s charity is not a conflict of interest “per se”. But the spokesman added the VA is now “reviewing” the situation and that the agency’s Office of Inspector General is handling that review.
When contacted by CNN, Burch asked that we not contact him at his job at the Department of Veterans Affairs, but he refused to answer phone calls placed to his home. CNN tried to confront Burch as he drove home from work in a black Rolls Royce, but upon seeing a CNN camera crew, Burch gunned the Rolls Royce down his suburban Washington, D.C. Street and disappeared. The charity’s vice president, David Kauffman, said in an email that the NVVF was responsible for “feeding homeless and unemployed veterans by donating to food banks, sent personal care kits to hospitalized veterans and donated blankets, hats and gloves to homeless centers.” According to the charity’s tax filings, though, it accounted for about $122,000 in cash donations to veterans, out of more than $8.5 million raised in donations in 2014. That is less than 2% of the charities cash donations being used to support veterans and their families. [Source: CNN Investigations | David Fitzpatrick & Drew Griffin | May 17, 2016 ++]
Vet Charity Watch Update 60 ► WWP’s 80.6% Funding Assertion
U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley kept the pressure on Wounded Warrior Project by sending a letter this week saying he has “serious questions” about the Jacksonville-based group’s often-repeated assertion that 80.6 percent of its funding goes to veterans services. “The trust WWP has engendered amongst the donating public requires it to be as transparent and open as possible with respect to its spending practices,” Grassley (R-IA) wrote in a letter sent 16 MAY to Wounded Warrior Project Chairman Anthony Odierno.
Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has long taken an interest in investigating tax-exempt groups to determine how they use their donations. The committee has been drilling down into Wounded Warrior’s finances since March, and Grassley sent a fresh set of questions in this week’s letter. Wounded Warrior Project said in a statement it will provide whatever information Grassley needs. “We continue to maintain a productive dialogue with Sen. Grassley’s office and look forward to answering his request for a more detailed explanation of how our programs and services provide essential support to Wounded Warriors,” the statement said. Figures for how much Wounded Warrior spends on veterans services have been all over the map, depending on whether they came from the group itself or organizations that evaluate charities.
Charity Navigator says 60 percent of Wounded Warrior’s spending goes to services. Charity Watch puts it at 54 percent. The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance put the figure at 80 percent, but the BBB is seeking more information in light of financial questions that have been raised in media reports. Grassley challenged whether Wounded Warrior Project has spent as much money on veterans programs as it says it has. He wrote in his letter that Wounded Warrior says it spent $242 million on veterans programs in the 2013-14 fiscal year, but “it appears that $150 million of it was not actually spent on veterans by WWP and a large portion of it was in-kind donations. This calls WWP’s claim that it spends 80.6 percent of its donations on veterans programming into question.”
Wounded Warrior has consistently stood by the 80.6 percent figure. In March, the organization issued a prepared statement that summarized findings from a board-ordered review of the nonprofit’s finances. Wounded Warrior said the 80.6 percent figure comes directly from its most recent audited financial statement based on established accounting principles for how to allocate expenditures. Grassley’s letter said he wants to determine whether $80.7 million worth of free media and advertising donated to Wounded Warrior in 2013-14 was used to inform veterans about program services, or if the purpose was to boost fundraising. He also requested examples of fund-raising solicitations that contained an education component. Wounded Warrior’s financial statement shows it spent $68.5 million on direct mail, online and television campaigns. Of that amount, $40.9 million was shown as program services, rather than fund-raising, because it had an educational component. Grassley wants Wounded Warrior to “describe in detail the benefit conferred to veterans” to justify labeling such expenditures as program expenses.
He also is seeking information about spending from a Long-Term Support Trust Fund established by Wounded Warrior. Grassley wrote that Wounded Warrior transferred $9.1 million in fiscal 2013 and $28 million in fiscal 2014 into the trust fund. He said it appears Wounded Warrior is counting those transfers as program expenses on behalf of veterans. But in fiscal 2014, the only payment from the trust fund was $134,721 to Barclay’s for managing the trust, Grassley wrote. “It would be helpful if WWP could describe, in detail, what benefit is provided to veterans by the Long-Term Trust,” Grassley wrote.
Grassley’s letter sheds more light on how Wounded Warrior arrived at a figure of $26 million for how much it spent on conferences and events in fiscal 2014. Earlier this year, Wounded Warrior pushed back on media reports that suggested the $26 million was wasteful spending on employees by saying that 94 percent of that spending went to program services for veterans and their families. Wounded Warrior provided documents to the Senate Judiciary Committee showing the charity hosted 3,246 events fiscal 2013 and 4,485 events in 2014. Grassley said the “vast majority” of those events involved veterans going to watch sports events such as MLB baseball, NBA basketball, and NHL hockey games. He wants Wounded Warrior to explain how many of the sports events involved in-kind contributions such as donated tickets. He wants similar information on other alumni programs that Wounded Warrior sponsors for veterans to socialize with others. Grassley also wants an explanation for what Wounded Warrior did to help 1,500 veterans to obtain Veterans Affairs benefits. [Source: NCOA Press Release | Jon Ostrowski | May 4, 2016 ++]
Vet Fraud & Abuse ► 16 thru 31 May 2016
Dayton, KY — The caretaker of an Air Force veteran has been sentenced to four years in prison for using the veteran’s credit card as he lay buried underneath a northern Kentucky home for nine months. News outlets report that 41-year-old Christy Russell was sentenced 16 MAY and ordered to pay back $32,822 in restitution. Russell pleaded guilty in April to fraudulently using 55-year-old Steven Reis’ credit card to take advantage of his veteran benefits. Authorities aren’t sure how Reis came to be buried underneath a vacant Dayton home. Reis’ body was discovered in September and authorities believe he died in January 2015. Police said in a statement that an autopsy couldn’t determine his cause of death. Police say others had also lived in the house with Russell, but no one has been charged. [Source: The Associated Press| May 17, 2016 ++]
Famous Vets ► USMC | Steve McQueen
Steve McQueen’s legacy as the “King of Cool” began early in his acting career and carries on to this day. He loved racing, frequently got in trouble, had three wives, and donated to the California Junior Boys Republic. Born to a stunt pilot and an alleged alcoholic prostitute, his childhood was tumultuous. His father left both he and his mother after six months, and McQueen lived with his grandparents until he was eight. His step-father beat him and his mother which drove McQueen to live on the streets for a time. He was later sent to the California Junior Boys Republic where he began to mature.
“It was all very pleasant just lying in the sun and watching the girls go by, but one day I suddenly felt bored with hanging around and went and joined the Marines.”
After drifting from job to job, he decided to join the Marines in 1947. He was promoted to Private First Class and served with an armored unit, but he was demoted back to private seven times. His rebellious nature came to a head when he let a weekend pass turn into a two week tryst with his girlfriend. Shore patrol apprehended him, but he resisted and spent 41 days in the brig; the first 21 were spent living off of bread and water. His time in the brig served to reform as he attempted to improve himself and embody Marine values. Later on his unit was performing a training exercise in the Arctic which turned disastrous. The ship McQueen, his unit, and their tanks had boarded hit a sandbank which threw several tanks and their crews into the water. Many drowned immediately, unable to get out of their tanks, but McQueen jumped in and saved the lives of five men.
In recognition of his actions, McQueen was chosen to partake in the Honor Guard protecting Harry S. Truman’s yacht. McQueen stayed with the Marines until 1950 when he was honorably discharged. “The Marines gave me discipline I could live with. By the time I got out, I could deal with things on a more realistic level. All in all, despite my problems, I liked my time in the Marines,” McQueen said. After leaving the Marines, McQueen used money earned through the G.I. Bill to study acting at Sanford Meisner’s Neighborhood Playhouse. He began entering races at the same time and brought home about $100 home per week in winnings. McQueen became steadily employed on the show “Wanted: Dead or Alive”. Later on his Hollywood break came by way of Frank Sinatra who hired him for the part of Bill Ringa in “Never So Few”.
McQueen’s career was prolific — he starred in numerous roles and maintained his star status up until his untimely death in 1980. McQueen suffered from mesothelioma and underwent surgery to remove multiple tumors in his neck and midsection. Doctors had warned him that his heart could not withstand the surgery, and hours after the tumors were removed, McQueen died of cardiac arrest. [Source: Military.com | May 2016 ++]
Vet Toxic Exposure | Lejeune Update 59 ► VA to Accept Claims
The Veterans Affairs Department has determined that eight medical conditions are linked to service at Camp Lejeune, N.C. from 1953 to 1987, and veterans with these diseases who were stationed at the sprawling Marine Corps base are eligible for disability compensation. VA officials said 19 MAY that these eight diseases that have been determined to be service-connected to consuming contaminated drinking water at the base: kidney cancer, liver cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma, scleroderma, Parkinson’s disease and aplastic anemia or other myelodysplastic syndromes.
VA Secretary Robert McDonald said research by health experts at the Veterans Health Administration and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an arm of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicated that the risk of developing these illnesses is elevated by exposure to contaminants found in the water, including perchloroethylene, trichlorotheylene, benzene and other volatile organic compounds. “The water at Camp Lejeune was a hidden hazard, and it is only years later that we know how dangerous it was,” McDonald said. “We thank ATSDR for the thorough review that provided much of the evidence we needed to fully compensate veterans who develop one of the conditions known to be related to exposure to the compounds in the drinking water.”
Nearly a million people, including troops, family members and civilian employees working at Camp Lejeune from the 1950s through the 1980s were exposed to these chemicals and other cancer-causing agents in the base’s drinking water, supplied by two water treatment facilities polluted by dry cleaning compounds, leaking underground storage tanks, industrial spills and poor disposal practices. The VA has provided health care or reimbursement for medical costs for veterans who served at Camp Lejeune at least 30 days during the affected period or family members with 15 illnesses related to exposure to water contaminated by solvents and fuels, but it had not awarded “presumptive status” to any condition until now.
The changes will take effect after VA publishes regulations regarding these presumptions, and will apply to new disability claims. Veterans who have previously been denied on such claims may seek to be re-evaluated. Also, any pending claims that might be denied under current regulations will be placed on hold until the VA issues its final rules, according to a department press release. The bedrock eligibility rules will be that veterans must have one of the eight specified conditions and must have served at Camp Lejeune between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987. The new rules also will expand eligibility to reserve and National Guard members who served at Camp Lejeune for any length of time during that period.
A VA spokeswoman said compensation awarded as a result of the proposed regulations, if adopted, will “be effective no earlier than the date the final rule is published.” Veterans have expressed frustration over the low rate of claims approvals for illnesses related to the Camp Lejeune water. Hundreds of veterans attended a meeting of the Camp Lejeune Community Assistance Panel on Dec. 5 in Tampa to express frustration with the VA’s handling of claims and plead with VA officials to improve the process. Paul Maslow, a veteran who walks with a cane and said he has inoperable tumors on his spine and elsewhere, said he and thousands of former troops need assistance. “You are not helping us, you are hurting us,” Maslow told VA officials attending the meeting. “And the more you delay, the more of us … are going to die.”
Two senators who pressed VA to change its policies regarding benefits for Camp Lejeune veterans said Thursday they applaud the VA’s decision, calling it a “victory for those who have suffered.” “The VA has conceded that it will no longer deny disability benefits to Camp Lejeune victims based on ridiculous scientific claims,” Sen. Richard Burr, (R-NC) said. “VA is finally granting some justice to veterans who were exposed to contaminated drinking water while assigned to Camp Lejeune,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC). “The victims of this tragedy have waited far too long to receive disability benefits.” [Source: Military Times | Patricia Kime | December 17, 2015 ++]
WWII Vets 109 ► Edwin Shifrin
Edwin Shifrin’s family knew he successfully escaped from a Nazi prison camp during World War II, but it wasn’t until one of his children started digging into his wartime past that they learned the details of the clever escape. Shifrin, 93, seldom discussed his time at war, but he received a prisoner-of-war medal in FEB 2016 after son Dan Shifrin dug through old news reports and his father’s military records and pieced together what happened. “It is an amazing story,” said Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, who expedited the medal process after hearing about it from Shifrin’s daughter in January. Shifrin received the award during a family-only ceremony in the suburban St. Louis apartment that he shares with his wife of 67 years. “This is the very best part of my job,” McCaskill said by phone from her Senate offices in Washington.
Edwin Shifrin’s memory is fading, so his son Dan shared his story: Assigned to the Army’s 30th Infantry Division, 1st Battalion, 117th Infantry Regiment, Company C, Shifrin landed on France’s Normandy beach in June 1944 a week after the D-Day invasion and then fought the Germans in battles at St. Lo and Mortain. The Germans captured him on 7 AUG, and Shifrin was sent from a prison camp to his final stop, Poland lockup Stalag IIIC, which was about 90 miles from Berlin. Telegrams to U.S. family members notified them he was missing in action. Shifrin was among the camp’s roughly 1,000 prisoners, many of whom formed “an escape committee” and drew up a getaway plan.
This February 2016 photo provided by Dan Shifrin shows his father, 93-year-old Edwin Shifrin at home in Clayton, Mo., looking at a prisoner-of-war medal he just received for his World War II military service.
Each morning when the Germans did simply a numerical headcount – no actual names were called out – a prisoner designated by the committee would hide, touching off what turned out to be a futile search by guards. The hiding prisoner would later quietly rejoin the others, but the befuddled guards would lower the next day’s headcount by one.
On the second day, two prisoners would hide, touching off another futile search and getting the guards to lower the next day’s head count by one again. That continued with three and four prisoners hiding and the guards classifying them as escaped. Eventually, four men actually escaped, but the guards didn’t notice because they had already lowered the roll-call numbers to account for the prisoners who had hidden. Shifrin and some other prisoners got their chance in mid-January 1945, just weeks before the Russians liberated the camp. Dan Shifrin said “the rest of their journey is pretty hazy,” but what’s known is they hitchhiked on Allied supply trucks and purloined rides on horses and bikes on their way to Italy. By that April, Shifrin was back on U.S. soil, in Boston.
After getting his law degree, he became a St. Louis attorney and worked well into his 80s. He seldom discussed his time at war. “We knew he’d been in the war, that he had been captured and that he escaped. That’s about it. He didn’t talk about it,” said Dan Shifrin, who lives in the Denver area. “My guess is he figured it was just part of his life – many went through it, many didn’t return. Many of those who did return didn’t return in one piece.” Chronicling his dad’s past, Dan Shifrin added, “gave me much greater appreciation for what he and others went through.” “I guess also it’s that these men and women are dying at an unbelievable rate and their stories are being lost. This is one more story we can tell and keep alive.” [Source: The Associated Press | Jim Suhr | April 3, 2016 ++]
Obit: Donna Barr Tabor ► 19 MAY 2016
For nearly 20 years, Donna Barr Tabor was the expert on all things Fort Bragg. But the longtime post historian was more than a keeper of history, she was part of it herself, a trailblazer for female paratroopers. Mrs. Tabor, 58, died early Thursday in Fayetteville. She is survived by her husband of 35-years, Edward; and three children, Amanda, Joshua and Jacob. Her family, in a obituary that ran in the Observer, called her “a dreamer, a rationalist, a romantic and a source of uncommon wit until the very end.”
Mrs. Tabor became the command historian for the 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg in 1997. But her history with the post runs much deeper. While serving on active duty between 1979 and 1981, Mrs. Tabor spent the majority of her service on Fort Bragg, completing 32 jumps and earning the rank of specialist 4. She met her husband, Edward, on a Fort Bragg drop zone after one of those jumps. In an interview with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Women Veterans Historical Project, Mrs. Tabor said she was drawn to the Army because she wanted to do something for which most women hadn’t had the opportunity. “I just wanted to go in the Army. Because it wasn’t normal,” she said. “I mean a lot of people went in World War II and there were Army nurses but this was – the all-volunteer Army had just started.”
When a recruiter advised her against becoming an Army photographer, she instead picked a very different job, one she didn’t see many other women choosing: she became a telephone lineman. “I thought, ‘At least when I get out I could work for the phone company, that’s kind of different.’ So I signed up for that,” Mrs. Tabor told the Women Veterans Historical Project in 2011. “I didn’t want to be somebody’s secretary. I didn’t want to work in a factory. I didn’t want to work at a drug store I had worked at. You know, that would be my life just working at a drug store,” Mrs. Tabor added. “I wanted to do something that women don’t do all the time. I mean it was the ’70s and women’s lib and all that.”
Mrs. Tabor joined the Army in 1979 and trained at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and Fort Gordon, Georgia. It was there she encountered a recruiter from the airborne. At first, she said she felt overlooked because of her gender. “He told us all about how great it would be to jump out of airplanes and everything, but he kept ignoring me being in the room next to the four guys. He passed out the paperwork to the four guys and I said, ‘But what about me?'” Tabor said. “And he said, ‘Well, you’re not going to go, are you?’ I said ‘Gimme the paper.'” In a class of more than 300 men, Mrs. Tabor was one of only a dozen women. While women had been allowed in the airborne since 1973, she said she had to battle harassment and discrimination. Mrs. Tabor described being subjected to extra harsh treatment and having to fight to be kept in the class. In one instance, Mrs. Tabor was tripped while running in a formation. Other soldiers tried to say she passed out and would need to be hospitalized and “recycled” to another class. “I just went back to training. I told them, ‘No, isn’t anything wrong with me.’ They couldn’t say there was something wrong with me anymore,” Mrs. Tabor said.
At 5-foot-3, Mrs. Tabor said she stood apart among her paratrooper colleagues, but she said she proved just as good as they were. “Look, they don’t have special little pink planes that fly three feet above the ground for girls, you know; we jump out of the same plane,” she said. “We do all the same stuff y’all do. So, this is one thing where you can’t say that.” At Fort Bragg, she said she was assigned to the 35th Signal Brigade and filled a variety of roles with that unit and the 82nd Airborne Division before leaving the Army while pregnant with her first child. Looking back on her service, Mrs. Tabor said she was unaware at the time just how few female paratroopers there were then, but she said there was no doubt women could do the job.
“I never believed in lowering the standards to let women get in and let women pass because then you’re not really doing it. You have to do the same thing or they won’t treat you the same,” Mrs. Tabor said. “But if she wants to and she can do it, there are women that can do this stuff and want to bad enough. I wanted to bad enough it made me able to do everything without being as big as they were. If you want to do it, you should be allowed to do it. I don’t think it matters what it is; if you are qualified and you can, do it.” [Source: The Fayetteville Observer | Drew Brooks | May 24, 2016 ++]
Obit: Melvin Rector ► 6 MAY 2016
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Melvin Rector long carried Britain in his heart after he helped defend it during World War II, but 70 years passed without him stepping foot in the country. The 94-year-old finally decided to leave his home in Barefoot Bay, Fla., to visit Britain earlier this month. The National World War II Museum in New Orleans conducts a travel program through which interested parties can visit certain sites of the war. He signed up for one, in hopes of visiting the Royal Air Force station Snetterton Heath, in Norfolk.
He served there with the 96th Bomb Group in 1945 as a radio operator and gunner on B-17 Flying Fortress bombers, flying eight combat missions over Germany during the spring of the war’s final year. On four of these missions, his plane came under heavy fire. One almost proved catastrophic, and the plane returned to base with holes dotting its wings. At one point during his military career, he served as a gunner for the Memphis Belle, the first heavy bomber to complete its tour by flying 25 missions with its crew intact. It went on to have a post-war career in raising morale and money for the U.S. Army. The B-17 Flying Fortress garnered such attention that not one but two films were made about it: a documentary in 1944 and an eponymously titled drama in 1990, starring John Lithgow, Matthew Modine and Harry Connick Jr.
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Melvin Rector
Rector was excited for his return to the place that made this great plane famous. “He planned it for like the last six months,” Darlene O’Donnell, Rector’s stepdaughter, said of the trip, according to the Florida Today newspaper. “He couldn’t wait to go.” On Rector’s long flight over the Atlantic, the pilot of his American Airlines flight summoned him to the cockpit so that the two could take a photograph together. “The flight attendant stopped us and said, ‘Mr. Rector, the captain would like to meet you,’” Susan Jowers told Florida Today. She had become almost a daughter to Rector after serving as his guardian during a 2011 Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C., and she accompanied him on this tour.
On 6 MAY, Rector stepped foot on British soil for the first time in 71 years. The group first visited RAF Uxbridge in the London borough of Hillingdon. Rector toured Battle of Britain Bunker, an underground command center where fighter airplane operations were directed during D-Day. After climbing back into the sunlight, he told Jowers he felt dizzy. She grabbed one of his arms, and a stranger grabbed the other. There, just outside the bunker where Winston Churchill famously said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few,” Rector died quietly. “He walked out of that bunker like his tour was done,” Jowers said. Sandy Vavruich, Rector’s daughter, said it’s how he would have liked to die, even though he sadly never did make it to RAF Snetterton Heath. “He couldn’t have asked for a better way to go,” she told Florida Today. “It was quick and painless. He had just gotten to see two planes, and he passed away between them.”
Before repatriating his remains to the United States, a small service for the fallen hero was planned in Britain. It did not remain a small service. “They just wanted something very simple. And when I found a little bit of background out about Melvin, there was no way we were going to just give him a very simple service,” Neil Sherry, the British funeral director in charge of Rector’s service, told ITV London News. “I wanted it to be as special as possible.” Though Jowers expected no more than four people, word of Rector’s war record reached the American and British armed forces. The U.S. Embassy donated a flag to drape over his coffin, and the room filled with servicemen and women and London historians who had never met Rector but wanted to pay their respects to their spiritual brother in arms.
One of them was U.S. Army Maj. Leif Purcell. He may not have known Rector, but he attended the funeral May 18. “Representation from the Royal Air Force and the British Army I saw here was phenomenal,” Purcell told ITV London News. “I was expecting just to see myself and maybe two or three other U.S. service members and a priest, and that was it. So it was very delightful to see.” Speaking to the congregation, one U.S. serviceman said, “I do know of his sacrifice and his family’s sacrifice, so you do him and his family a great honor by being here today.” “He certainly got a beautiful send-off,” Jowers told Florida Today. “People everywhere, from Cambridge to London, heard his story.” Vavruich, who lives in Gloversville, N.Y., was also touched by the outpouring of respect. She, along with Rector’s five other children, will have the opportunity to pay their respects June 9 at First Baptist Church in Barefoot Bay. Rector’s remains were repatriated to the United States on 24 MAY. [Source: The Washington Post | Travis M. Andrews | May 26, 2016 ++]
Retiree Appreciation Days ► As of 29 MAY 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:
- HTML: http://www.hostmtb.org/RADs_and_Other_Retiree-Veterans_Events.html
- PDF: http://www.hostmtb.org/RADs_and_Other_Retiree-Veterans_Events.pdf
- Word: http://www.hostmtb.org/RADs_and_Other_Retiree-Veterans_Events.doc
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 | May 29, 2015 ++]
Vet Hiring Fairs ► 1 thru 30 JUN 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 .
June 8 – 1:30 pm to June 9 – 4:00 pm
June 10 – 8:30 am to 1:30 pm
June 13 – 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm
June 16 – 8:30 am to 1:30 pm
June 22 – 2:00 pm to June 23 – 4:00 pm
June 23 – 8:30 am to 1:30 pm
Arlington, VA – Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Senior Leadership Networking Reception Details Register June 23 – 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm
JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam, HI – Hawaii Wounded Veteran & Caregiver Employment Conference Details Register
June 29 – 8:30 am to 2:30 pm
[Source: U.S. Chamber of Commerce Assn May 29, 2016 ++]
State Veteran’s Benefits & Discounts ► Arkansas 2016
The state of Arkansas 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 – AR” for an overview of the below benefits. Benefits are available to veterans who are residents of the state. For a more detailed explanation of each of the below benefits refer to http://militaryandveteransdiscounts.com/location/arkansas.html & http://www.veterans.arkansas.gov.
- Arkansas Veterans Home
- Financial Assistance Benefits
- Education Benefits
- Other State Veteran Benefits
* Vet Legislation *
Arlington National Cemetery Update 59 ► WASP | H.R.4337 Becomes Law
Female WWII military pilots previously denied burial at Arlington National Cemetery can now have their ashes interred there. On 20 MAY, President Barack Obama signed into law a measure clarifying the eligibility of Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) for the honor, overturning an Army decision to exclude them from the well-known cemetery. Congress had previously passed the legislation without any opposition. White House officials had previously said the change was needed to “honor those surviving members of the Greatest Generation — including these pioneering pilots — who served on active duty during World War II.”
That active-duty status has been the problem for advocates of the WASPs for years. Almost 1,100 of the women served from 1942 to 1944, ferrying airplanes, training combat pilots and towing airborne targets. Thirty-eight died during training and support missions. But after the war, the women were denied veterans benefits and services because they did not qualify as active-duty troops under existing rules. In 1977, Congress passed legislation retroactively granting active-duty status to WASP pilots. But after initially ruling that group members could apply for burial of ashes at Arlington National Cemetery, the Army reversed course in 2015 and barred the women from consideration.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), who sponsored legislation in the Senate to help the WASPs, said the change was needed to recognize the service and sacrifice of the women. “Today is a victorious occasion for a revolutionary group of women who deserve to be celebrated and remembered by all,” she said in a statement after the bill signing. “They willingly put their lives on the line in service to our great country, and made tremendous sacrifices to join a ground-breaking flight program to free up their male counterparts for combat duty. Restoring what was once the right of the WASP to have their ashes placed at Arlington National Cemetery is undoubtedly the right thing to do in honoring these extraordinary women for their remarkable military service.”
Honoring the female WWII veterans became one of the few bipartisan agreements in Congress so far this year, with Ernst and Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) leading Capitol Hill rallies and legislative lobbying on the effort. Ernst is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and McSally is a retired Air Force colonel. The new law comes as the Pentagon is working to expand all combat roles to female troops, and as lawmakers debate whether women should be forced to register with the Selective Service System if a future military draft is needed. [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane | May 20, 2016| ++]
NDAA 2017 Update 08 ► House Passes H.R.4909
On May 18, the full House of Representatives passed its version of the annual defense authorization bill (H.R. 4909) by a vote of 277-147, authorizing $602 billion in defense spending for FY 2017. The House bill includes force increases for all services, protects currently serving and retired personnel from most TRICARE fee increases, extends the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance for one year, and authorizes a 2.1 percent pay raise. But final passage took the House two days to wade through 181 proposed amendments. Some of those adopted in the final bill were:
- Deleted a provision requiring women to register for the draft, and required a study of selective service registration requirements instead;
- Allow both servicemembers of a dual-military couple to split 36 days of parental leave according to family needs when they adopt a child;
- Restore TRICARE coverage for children with autism to the rates that existed before DOD reduced them on April 1;
- Establish an electronic tour calculator selected reserve members can use to track aggregated early retirement credit earned over the course of multiple call-ups;
- Eliminate the two-year limit on continued noncompetitive appointment of military spouses to civil service positions when they accompany their sponsor on service-directed moves; and
- Require a DOD report to congress on survivor income losses due to deduction of VA survivor benefits from survivor benefit plan annuities.
[Source: MOAA Leg Up | May 20, 2016 ++]
NDAA 2017 Update 09 ► SASC Approves S.2932
The Senate Armed Services Committee approved its version of the FY 2017 Defense Authorization Bill (S. 2943),
and it’s considerably different from the one approved by House lawmakers on a range of issues. On non-healthcare issues, the bill would:
- Approve force levels recommended in the president’s budget rather than increases like the House bill recommended;
- Make the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance permanent at the $310 monthly rate;
- Provide a 1.6 percent military pay raise (vs. The 2.1 percent House proposal);
- Enable the family to either move early or remain at their current duty station for up to six months while their servicemember begins a new assignment to increase stability under certain circumstances;
- Require a test of privatizing military commissaries at five locations;
- Impose a 25 percent cut in 4-star billets and another 25 percent cut from other flag-officer billets; and
- Require women to register for the draft.
For TRICARE, the Senate bill makes no changes to TRICARE For Life. But it would adopt most of the DoD-proposed fee increases for other beneficiaries, including:
- Requiring a new annual enrollment fee for TRICARE standard that would start at $150/$300 (single/family) as of Jan. 1, 2018, and rise to $450/$900 over the next five years;
- Raising the TRICARE prime annual enrollment fee 24 percent to $350/$700 (single/family);
- Raising the annual cap on out-of-pocket expenses to $1,500 for currently serving families and $4,000 for retired families (vs. Current $1,000/$3,000);
- Giving DOD discretion to implement a pilot program authorizing guard and reserve members to elect coverage under the auspices of the federal employees health insurance program;
- Eliminating TRICARE standard deductibles for care from DOD network providers, but doubling the deductible to $300/$600 (single/family) for out-of-network care;
- Changing TRICARE standard co-pays for various provider visits to a flat fee vs. A percentage of TRICARE-approved charges;
- Adjusting annual enrollment fees by the same percentage as the retired pay cola;
- Adjusting co-pays and other fees by the consumer price index for health care services established by the bureau of labor statistics;
- Roughly doubling pharmacy copays over a 9-year period, including raising the mail-order copay for generic drugs from the current zero to $11, effective in 2020; and
- Authorizing DOD to collect a “no-show” fee for missed appointments at military medical facilities.
Like the house-passed bill, the senate bill would move most responsibilities for military health care programs from the army, navy, and air force to the defense health agency. This would place military medical facilities, healthcare delivery, and personnel and budget responsibilities directly under DoD for unified planning and execution. The bill also includes a wide range of provisions aimed at improving access and quality of care, including:
- Eliminating referral requirements under TRICARE Prime for urgent and specialty care;
- Requiring a single appointment system for all military medical facilities;
- Expanding telehealth capabilities;
- Requiring a DOD plan to improve pediatric care;
- Allowing military beneficiaries to enroll in federal civilian dental/vision plans; and
- Requiring new accountability standards for military healthcare leaders at all levels.
MOAA appreciates and supports the Senate Armed Services Committee’s efforts to directly address the well-documented access, quality, and efficiency problems of the military health system. But they believe the proposed beneficiary fee increases are significantly too high and fail to adequately consider the very high non-cash premiums career servicemembers and families are required to pay up-front through decades of service and sacrifice. Senate leaders plan to bring the defense bill up for full Senate consideration as early as next week. MOAA has been working with several senators to sponsor important amendments to the bill to protect commissaries, help disabled retirees, and increase the military pay raise.
Lawmakers left 26 MAY for the Memorial Day recess with the fiscal 2017 NDAA process slowed in both chambers. As of Thursday evening, more than 250 amendments had piled up to be debated when the Senate takes up the fiscal 2017 defense policy bill on 6 JUN when the Senate reconvenes. [Source: MOAA Leg Up | May 20, 2016 ++]
Veterans Omnibus Bill ► S.2921 | Reforming VA Operations
The massive and controversial veterans omnibus bill is headed to the Senate floor after Senate Veterans Affairs Committee members unanimously backed the measure as a critical step forward in reforming VA operations. The hastily organized vote came two weeks after committee leaders unveiled the plan, which and could become the most significant piece of veterans reform legislation in two years if it can survive an expected fight with House members in the weeks to come. Committee Chairman Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) praised the unanimous vote as a sign of strong support for the measure and downplayed growing criticism about the provisions. “Anybody can find a fault with a bill this comprehensive,” he said. “I don’t think we have all the good ideas. But we have to get the football in play and start moving down the field. I look forward to working with the House on all the things they have concerns about.”
The legislation includes a massive expansion of VA’s program for caregivers of injured veterans, which offers stipends, health benefits and other support for those who provide full-time care. Veterans groups have lauded that provision along with new assistance for homeless veterans, expansion of veterans eligible for education benefits, and improvements to health care programs. But several have questioned the total cost of the measure, and whether committee estimates are realistic. Isakson said the $4-billion-plus in program costs are covered through a series of savings measures, leaving the final bill with a surplus of more than $330 million. Official Congressional Budget Office scoring of the measure is expected out later this week. The two most controversial aspects of the omnibus bill are its provisions dealing with VA employee accountability and its inclusion of a cut in GI Bill housing stipend growth.
Accountability provisions. House lawmakers are threatening to sideline the measure over the former, while some veterans groups are demanding the removal of the latter. Senators included in the omnibus VA leaders’ plans to reclassify department senior executives to allow for faster hiring and firing of those positions, and give supervisors more flexibility on pay and work hours. But the measure goes further on accountability issues, limiting the amount of time any VA employee can be placed on administrative leave and blocking bonuses for some workers. It also gives broad power to VA leaders dismiss almost any employee. That’s an effort to address past cases where workers who committed off-duty criminal acts stayed on the VA payroll, due to complicated firing rules.
Union leaders and the White House have objected to similar plans in the past, calling it an erosion of workers’ rights. House lawmakers have indicated the Senate plan does not go far enough. For example, under the Senate plan, disciplinary decisions which today can take more than 400 days to complete would be reduced to 110. The House plan trims that even further, to 52 days for appeals and rulings. In addition, the House plan does not require any advance notice for disciplinary action and would significantly limit appeals. But Isakson said the Senate plan has support from Senate Democrats on the committee, while the House accountability provisions saw little support from Democrats in that chamber. Whether that compromise will be enough to convince House Republicans to change their preference remains to be seen.
GI Bill fight. The education benefit cuts may be even more difficult to navigate. The bill generates about $3.4 billion in revenue by reducing the growth in student veterans’ housing allowance in coming years. The move brings the veterans benefit in line with Defense Department housing stipends, a move lawmakers initially planned last year but deferred until now. Students would not see a reduction in their housing payouts but would see their rate of growth shrink, until the stipend covers 95 percent of the average area housing cost. Critics call that a cut to veterans education benefits, since the end result is students’ housing payouts not fully keeping up with inflation. Student Veterans of America estimates the reductions will amount to an average loss of more than $800 when fully implemented in coming years. “We at SVA would like to see the money from the (housing) reduction spent on GI Bill (programs),” the group said in a statement. “There is no reason why the burden of helping older veterans should fall on younger veterans.”
Officials from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, who earlier this year opposed House plans to half housing stipends for dependents of veterans using GI Bill benefits, went even further with their opposition. “Our leaders in Congress and the White House cannot justify taking care of all veterans by breaking their promise to our new ‘Greatest Generation’ of veterans and their families,” IAVA CEO Paul Rieckhoff said in a statement. “Especially as our brothers and sisters continue to fight and die overseas, the GI Bill is sacred.” But supporters note that the 5 percent reduction in housing stipend growth is essentially already a done deal in the eyes of Congress, since they already approved that reduction for active-duty servicemembers last year. This way, they argue, the money can go to other veterans programs instead of becoming lost revenue. The American Legion, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Disabled American Veterans have all offered support for the measure, although not necessarily wholehearted endorsements of how the costs are covered.
No timeline has been set for when the measure will be brought to the full Senate for a vote. Isakson and committee members had hoped to have the measure passed through Congress by Memorial Day, but concerns over the bill’s provisions and conflicting legislative priorities may make passing the omnibus before Congress’ summer break in July difficult. [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane | May 23, 2016 ++]
House Vet Bill Progress ► 24 MAY 2016
The House on 24 MAY unanimously passed a series of bills geared toward improving services for military veterans. All of the legislation passed by voice vote under special rules that limit debate and prohibit amendments:
- Military Funerals. A bill that would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to allow military funerals on weekends. “Loved ones should be able to mourn their loss at a time that works for them,” said Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL) who is the sponsor of the legislation. Her bill would require national cemeteries administered by the VA to hold military burials on the weekend if requested by families for religious reasons. Few are held on weekends currently, according to House Republican floor staff.
- VA Management Vacancies. A bill requiring the VA to fill management positions typically held by temporary workers, a situation that has resulted in frequent turnover and reduced services in the already strapped system. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL) would end a so-called revolving door at the embattled VA, which is still struggling to alleviate long wait times for care. “How are we going to clean up the VA if no one is around long enough to do it?” Bost said. His bill would require VA officials to report to Congress about the unfilled management positions, a move that lawmakers say will help hold the agency accountable for fixing the problem.
- Vet Caretaker Benefits. A bill that would help expand benefits for the caretakers of veterans by allowing them to seek independent clinical review when determining whether they are eligible for the program. The bill would help offset a massive backlog of people seeking access to the program, which was set up for only a fraction of those it is now serving. “Staffing shortages impede the timeliness of this program,” said House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL). “This is unacceptable.” The VA system has been plagued with problems tied to mismanagement and waste.
- VA Program Evaluation. A bill that would evaluate the effectiveness of certain VA programs, particularly those aimed at minority and female veterans transitioning into civilian life and pursuing higher education.
[Source: Washington Examiner | Susan Ferrechio | May 23, 2016 ++]
VA Agent Orange Benefits Update 01 ► H.R.969 & S.681
A proposal to extend health coverage for Agent Orange exposure to Vietnam-era Navy veterans has the type of backing in Congress that normally would make supporters hopeful. In the House, a bill granting the benefits has garnered a whopping 320 sponsors – almost 75 percent of all members have signed on in support and that bill was passed inclusive of the proposal. Nearly half of all senators also support extending benefits to the so-called “blue water” sailors who served aboard ships in ports and surrounding ocean during the Vietnam War. “If you served just offshore, you don’t have presumed coverage,” said Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY), a retired Army colonel who sponsored the House bill. “Members of Congress have to fight case by case … It should not have to be that way, they should get presumed coverage.”
But the legislation has collected dust for a year, failing to move past House and Senate veteran affairs committees that serve as a crucial first step on the road to making the benefits law. The Republican chairmen of these committees are skeptical of the science behind the exposure claims and concerned about the cost of new benefits. This has held up the proposals, frustrating supporters. The window for Congress to act might be closing – despite the support — as lawmakers face the long summer recess, a fall schedule dominated by the presidential election and the end of the legislative session in December. Gibson, Senate lawmakers and veterans groups, including Vietnam Veterans of America and Veterans of Foreign Wars, were set to rally on Capitol Hill on 18 MAY in hopes of finally moving the bills ahead. The expansion of coverage has been sought by veterans for a decade. “We’ve never been in a stronger positon to get it passed,” Gibson said.
Some veteran sailors contend dioxin-tainted herbicide runoff was sucked up through their ships’ water filtration systems and piped to crew, sometimes at concentrated levels. Gibson said it is “very clear” that sailors were exposed and that their medical records show similar elevated risks for diseases such as cancer, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease as ground troops. But the Department of Veterans Affairs in February reviewed its policy and decided it will continue to deny Agent Orange benefits to about 90,000 sailors who served aboard aircraft carriers, destroyers, cruisers and other Navy ships. The VA does assume herbicide exposure and provide health coverage to the vast majority of Vietnam veterans who were deployed on the ground or in rivers and inland waterways during the war. But the agency found no basis to cover the sailors.
With the VA unwilling to change its policy, convincing the chairmen of the veterans committees to let the bills move forward could be key for supporters. “We are trying our best,” said John Wells, the executive director of Military Veterans Advocacy, a Louisiana-based nonprofit group that is among six veteran organizations slated to rally Wednesday. Wells said he is spending the week on Capitol Hill meeting with lawmakers and staff on the veteran affairs committees to advocate for the bills. It will be an uphill battle. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) said he believes the science is uncertain on whether the blue-water veterans should be eligible for Agent Orange benefits – a position shared by the VA following a recent independent study, according to committee staff.
In 2011, the Institute of Medicine examined whether sailors could have been exposed to herbicide but the results were inconclusive. Potable water systems in warships could have collected seawater polluted by land runoff and concentrated the dioxins in Agent Orange through distillation, the institute found. “The committee was unable to state with certainty that blue water Navy personnel were or were not exposed to Agent Orange and its associated [dioxin],” the panel found, referring to a disease-causing contaminant in the herbicide. Miller has asked the Defense Department to search for any residue in the ship filtration systems and records showing if the vessels were supplied with water from the Vietnamese mainland. The findings could sway the debate over benefits in the future, staff said.
Meanwhile, the cost of expanding benefits is a sticking point on the Senate Committee of Veterans’ Affairs, which is chaired by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA). It will cost about $90 million yearly to expand health coverage to the veterans, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and fiscal hawks in Congress require such new spending to be accompanied by cuts elsewhere. “Chairman Isakson has consistently required all bills to be paid for before the committee can move on them, and S.681 has an estimated cost of $1 billion without any offsets,” the committee spokeswoman Lauren Gaydos wrote in an email response, referring to the estimated cost of the Senate version of the bill for 10 years. [Source: Stars & Stripes | Travis J. Tritten | May 17, 2016++]
Vet Student Loans Update 01 ► H.R.4974 Loan Forgiveness Amendment
Sen. Angus King (I-ME) has introduced an amendment he says would help veterans more easily get student loan forgiveness. King’s amendment would require the federal Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Education to streamline the disability verification process. He says that would ensure permanently disabled veterans are relieved of their federal student loan debt. This kind of loan forgiveness is allowed under current law, but King said a lack of coordination between federal departments is potentially causing veterans to miss out on it. King introduced the amendment along with Sens. Rob Portman and Chris Coons. Portman is an Ohio Republican and Coons is a Delaware Democrat. It is an amendment to the $81.6 Billion House Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill H.R.4974 which was passed on 18 MAY. [Source: The Associated Press | May 19, 2016 ++]
VA Health Care Management ► Stability & Improvement Act H.R.3956
As ordered reported by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on 18 MAY the following is the Congressional Budget Office report on H.R. 3956, VA Health Center Management Stability and Improvement Act.
- Within 120 days of enactment, H.R. 3956 would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to develop and implement a plan to hire directors at each VA medical center that lacks a permanent director.
- Require VA to submit semiannual reports to the Congress on the remaining vacant positions. VA reports that it has such a plan in place and is working aggressively to hire new directors.
- Require VA to ensure that each director of a medical facility complete an annual certification that the facility is complying with the laws and regulations pertaining to scheduling medical appointments. This provision would codify VA’s current practice, as specified under VA Directive 2010-027.
- Require VA to ensure the directives and policies are being implemented in a uniform manner and prohibit paying bonuses to senior staff if they fail to comply. CBO expects that VA would implement this requirement by distributing regular guidance through electronic correspondence and that few, if any, senior staff would be denied bonuses.
As a result, CBO estimates that on net implementing H.R. 3956 would cost less than $500,000 over the 2017-2021 period; that spending would be subject to availability of appropriated funds. Enacting H.R. 3956 would not affect direct spending or revenues; therefore, pay-as-you-go procedures do not apply. CBO estimates that enacting H.R. 3956 would not increase net direct spending or on-budget deficits in any of the four consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 2027. [Source: Congressional Budget Office | Report | May 23, 2016 ++]
State Veterans Home Program Update 05 ► ADHC H.R.2460
As ordered reported by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on 18 MAY the following is the Congressional Budget Office report on H.R.2460, a bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to improve the provision of adult day health care services for veterans. The bill would:
- Require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to enter into provider agreements or contracts with State Veterans Homes (SVHs) to provide adult day health care (ADHC) to veterans with severe service-connected disabilities at rates above VA’s current per-diem rates.
- Require VA to pay for ADHC provided to those veterans at a rate equal to 65 percent of the prevailing rate for nursing home care in that region
SVHs are facilities that offer nursing home care, domiciliary care, or ADHC primarily to veterans. Those facilities are operated by state governments, but do receive some of their funding from the federal government. Under current law, VA is required to comply with the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) for agreements and contracts with SVHs. The FAR is an extensive and complex set of rules governing the federal government’s purchasing process. VA has been unable to secure agreements or contracts with any SVH because of the contractual requirements under the FAR (mostly related to reporting, compensation, and fringe benefits). As a result, VA would face challenges in entering into agreements or contracts under the bill and CBO expects that VA would continue to use grants to pay the SVHs at the current per-diem rate.
Therefore, CBO estimates that implementing the bill would have no budgetary effects. Pay-as-you-go procedures do not apply because enacting the legislation would not affect direct spending or revenues. CBO estimates that enacting H.R. 2460 would not increase net direct spending or on-budget deficits in any of the four consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 2027. [Source: Congressional Budget Office | Report | May 23, 2016 ++]
Vet Bills Submitted to 114th Congress ► 160516 thru 160531
Refer to this Bulletin’s “House & Senate Veteran Legislation” attachment for a listing of Congressional bills of interest to the veteran community introduced in the 114th Congress. The list contains the bill’s number and name, what it is intended to do, it’s sponsor, any related bills, and the committees it has been assigned to. Support of these bills through cosponsorship by other legislators is critical if they are ever going to move through the legislative process for a floor vote to become law. A good indication of that likelihood is the number of cosponsors who have signed onto the bill. Any number of members may cosponsor a bill in the House or Senate. At https://beta.congress.gov you can review a copy of each bill’s content, determine its current status, the committee it has been assigned to, and if your legislator is a sponsor or cosponsor of it by entering the bill number in the site’s search engine. To determine what bills, amendments your representative/senator has sponsored, cosponsored, or dropped sponsorship on go to:
https://beta.congress.gov/search?q=%7B%22source%22%3A%5B%22legislation%22%5D%7D, Select the ‘Sponsor’ tab, and click on your congress person’s name. You can also go to http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.php.
Grassroots lobbying is the most effective way to let your Congressional representatives know your wants and dislikes. If you are not sure who is your Congressman go to https://beta.congress.gov/members. Members of Congress are receptive and open to suggestions from their constituents. The key to increasing cosponsorship support on veteran related bills and subsequent passage into law is letting legislators know of veteran’s feelings on issues. You can reach their Washington office via the Capital Operator direct at (866) 272-6622, (800) 828-0498, or (866) 340-9281 to express your views. Otherwise, you can locate their phone number, mailing address, or email/website to communicate with a message or letter of your own making at either:
- http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm or
FOLLOWING IS A SUMMARY OF 7 VETERAN RELATED LEGISLATION INTRODUCED IN THE HOUSE SINCE THE LAST BULLETIN WAS PUBLISHED
- H.R.5190 : State Outreach for Local Veterans Employment Act of 2016. A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to provide greater flexibility to States in carrying out the Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program and employing local veterans’ employment representatives, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep Costello, Ryan A. [PA-6] (introduced 5/11/2016)
- H.R.5248 : VA Benefits for Vietnam Spina Bifida Children of Vets. A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to clarify the eligibility of children of Vietnam veterans born with spina bifida for benefits of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Sponsor: Rep Bishop, Sanford D., Jr. [GA-2] (introduced 5/16/2016)
- H.R.5262 : Care Veterans Deserve Act of 2016. A bill to eliminate the sunset date for the Veterans Choice Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs, to expand eligibility for such program, and to extend certain operating hours for pharmacies and medical facilities of the Department, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep Hudson, Richard [NC-8] (introduced 5/17/2016)
- H.R.5266 : Servicemember and Veteran Financial Transparency Act. A bill to amend title 10, United States Code, to ensure that information regarding the deduction of amounts of disability compensation by reason of voluntary separation pay is provided to members of the Armed Forces separating from the Armed Forces. Sponsor: Rep DeSaulnier, Mark [CA-11] (introduced 5/17/2016)
- H.R.5286 : VA Construction and Lease Authorization, Health, and Benefits Enhancement Act. A bill to make certain improvements in the laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep Miller, Jeff [FL-1] (introduced 5/19/2016)
- H.R.5293 : Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2017. A bill to make appropriations for the Department of Defense for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2017, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep Frelinghuysen, Rodney P. [NJ-11] (introduced 5/19/2016)
- H.R.5337 : DoD-VA Transition Pharmaceutical Medical Treatment. A bill to ensure that an individual who is transitioning from receiving medical treatment furnished by the Secretary of Defense to medical treatment furnished by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs receives the pharmaceutical agents required for such transition. Sponsor: Rep O’Rourke, Beto [TX-16] (introduced 5/26/2016)
FOLLOWING IS A SUMMARY OF6 VETERAN RELATED LEGISLATION INTRODUCED IN THE SENATE SINCE THE LAST BULLETIN WAS PUBLISHED
- S.2910 : TRICARE Treatment for Fetal Repair Improvement Act of 2016. A bill to require the Secretary of Defense to implement processes and procedures to provide expedited treatment of fetal anomalies under the TRICARE program. Sponsor: Sen Rounds, Mike [SD] (introduced 5/10/2016)
- S.2919 : State Outreach for Local Veterans Employment Act of 2016. A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to provide greater flexibility to States in carrying out the Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program and employing local veterans’ employment representatives, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen Toomey, Pat [PA] (introduced 5/11/2016)
- S.2933 : Veterans ACCESS Act. A bill to prohibit certain health care providers from providing non-Department health care services to veterans, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen Baldwin, Tammy [WI] (introduced 5/16/2016)
- S.2943 : National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017. An original bill to authorize appropriations for fiscal year 2017 for military activities of the Department of Defense, for military construction, and for defense activities of the Department of Energy, to prescribe military personnel strengths for such fiscal year, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen McCain, John [AZ] (introduced 5/18/2016)
- S.2958 : VA New Facility Partnership Agreements. A bill to establish a pilot program on partnership agreements to construct new facilities for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Sponsor: Sen Fischer, Deb [NE] (introduced 5/19/2016)
- S.3003 : VA Benefits for Philippine Military/Scout WWII Forces. A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to deem certain service in the organized military forces of the Government of the Commonwealth of the Philippines and the Philippine Scouts to have been active service for purposes of benefits under programs administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Sponsor: Sen Schatz, Brian [HI] (introduced 5/26/2016)
* Military *
Military Widows ► Remarriage Penalties
After her husband was killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan in 2012, Heather Gray never imagined that the biggest obstacle to falling in love again would be financial penalties from the government. But that extra level of stress and heartache are what faces the 37-year-old war widow as she looks at getting remarried this year. “I am a Christian, and I believe very strongly in the sanctity of marriage,” Gray said. “But you’re being forced to give up the [widow] benefits you have if you do.” She has three children from her first marriage, and her husband-to-be is a widower with three more. Both want them to grow up in a traditional family with two parents, but that’s a decision that will cost them thousands of dollars a month. “There’s a generation of [military] kids that will grow up in non-traditional families because their parents were forced to make these decisions based on economic realities,” she said.
Gray was among a group of widows whose hopes for help were dashed by Congress, after a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee panel cast aside a proposal to end financial penalties for military widows and widowers who remarry. “We’ve been working on this for a while, but I don’t really think we’re getting anywhere,” said Elizabeth Davis, a military widow since her husband was killed by a drunk driver 18 months ago. “I’ve got all these kind words from lawmakers, but most really don’t seem willing to make the effort to fix anything.”
At issue is a host of payouts and benefits for surviving spouses, and a complex bureaucracy of rules covering them. In short, if a widow or widower of service members killed on active duty remarries before age 55, they lose all survivor benefits, which can total thousands of dollars a month. Lawmakers’ latest attempt to change that came from Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) who introduced an amendment to related legislation dealing with survivor benefits. Committee Republicans rebuffed the measure, citing the potential $1 billion-plus cost over the next decade. “They use the excuse that it’s too expensive, but they don’t mind spending money on all kinds of other programs,” Titus said after the vote.
“Maybe it’s just the old tradition that you’re supposed to be a widow your whole life and grieve for the lost person, as opposed to starting over. But these are young women with young children. They have their whole lives ahead of them. But we artificially bind them to widowhood, and that makes no sense.” Davis and other widows said they have no intention of remarrying, even if they fall in love again. The financial burden is too great, especially when health care and veterans education benefits for their children are considered.
The Gray family, shown just a few months before Maj. David Gray was killed
by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan and posing by his gravesite
Gray said her religious convictions outweigh those financial challenges, although in her case that’s lessened somewhat because her new fiancé serves in the military as well. She’ll be able to stay on military health care, something that isn’t an option for other widows who remarry. More disheartening to the advocates than the latest legislative defeat was the reasoning. At the same hearing, Republicans approved several other program expansions without clear financial offsets. The rejection of Titus’ plan seemed arbitrary to them. “I don’t think they’re heartless people,” Gray said of the panel. “I think they feel our loss. But the gravity of the work that it would take to fix this seems too much for them. “But just show us that you are trying.” [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane | May 14, 2016 ++]
West Point Update 01 ► 2nd Lt. Alix Schoelcher Idrache
As 2nd Lt. Alix Schoelcher Idrache stood at attention during the commencement ceremony at West Point, N.Y., on 21 MAY, he was overcome with emotion. Tears rolled down both cheeks, but his gloved left hand held firm on his white, gold and black “cover,” the dress headgear that Army cadets wear.
The photograph of Idrache, by Army Staff Sgt. Vito T. Bryant, was published Tuesday on the Facebook page of West Point’s U.S. Military Academy, and it almost immediately went viral. Part of that is Idrache’s background: He worked his way through one of the nation’s most prestigious military schools after immigrating to the United States from Haiti, earning his citizenship and serving for two years as an enlisted soldier with the Maryland Army National Guard, according to Army records. “I woke up this morning and found my face all over Facebook and with it myriad of amazing comments about my accomplishments,” Idrache wrote Tuesday on Facebook. “I am humbled and shocked at the same time. Thank you for giving me a shot at the American Dream and may God bless America, the greatest country on earth.”
On West Point’s Instagram page, he left another message thanking people for their support. Bryant, the photographer, “captured a moment that I will never forget,” Idrache said. He credited past generations of soldiers and Capt. Kristen Griest, 1st Lt. Shaye Haver and Maj. Lisa Jaster, the three West Point graduates who last year became the first women to graduate from the Army’s grueling Ranger School. “Three things came to mind and led to those tears,” Idrache wrote. “The first is where I started. I am from Haiti and never did I imagine that such honor would be one day bestowed on me. The second is where I am. Men and women who have preserved the very essence of the human condition stood in that position and took the same oath. Men who preserved the Union [in] a dark period of this country’s history. Men who scaled the face of adversity and liberated Europe from fascism …Women like CPT Griest, LT Haver, MAJ Jaster who rewrote the narrative and challenged the status quo to prove themselves worthy of being called Rangers.”
The third thing Idrache thought about, he wrote, is his future. Shortly after he leaves West Point, he will report to Fort Rucker, Ala., to start flight school. “Knowing that one day I will be a pilot is humbling beyond words,” Idrache wrote. “I could not help but be flooded with emotions knowing that I will be leading these men and women who are willing to give their all to preserve what we value as the American way of life. To me, that is the greatest honor. Once again, thank you.”
Idrache was a leader in his class of 950 cadets. According to a West Point news release, he was named a regimental commander last summer. Army officials at West Point said that he was on leave and not available for comment, but he said in an Army news release Wednesday that he grew up in Port-au-Prince watching U.S. troops perform humanitarian missions in his native Haiti. He was West Point’s top graduate in physics, the release said.
Idrache’s father, Dieujuste, immigrated to America and was able to bring the rest of his family with him in 2009, one year before an earthquake leveled much of Port-au-Prince. “People where I’m from don’t grow up to be pilots, right?” Idrache said. “Like they don’t dream of flying a helicopter, that’s not something you do. You don’t just say I’m going to be a pilot and make it happen. There’re no aviation, there’re no helicopters, no flight schools. There’re none of that.” [Source: Washington Post | Dan Lamothe | May 25, 2016 ++]
Filipino Amerasians ► U.S. Servicemen Offspring’s Plight
There’s a taunt that hangs over the former U.S. naval base in Subic Bay Philippines, looming over kids who look a little different, shadowing single moms: “Left by the ship.” The term is used to shame the offspring of U.S. servicemen and local women, to tell them that they don’t belong here. That they were left behind. Nearly 25 years ago, Philippine lawmakers expelled the U.S. warships that had docked here for almost a century, vowing to “unchain” the country from its colonial past, promising a fresh start. The American flag was lowered. Ships set sail. But the U.S. legacy lived on. For decades, tens of thousands of children of U.S. military men and Filipinas, known as Filipino Amerasians, have been fighting not to be forgotten.
In 1982, Congress passed the Amerasian Immigration Act, allowing the children of U.S. service members and Asian women in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and South Korea to immigrate. Filipinos were excluded. In the 1990s, abandoned children tried to sue the U.S. government, seeking $68 million for 8,600 minors ignored by fathers serving with the Navy and Marine Corps. When that did not work, the community backed a bill extending the Amerasian Act to include the Philippines and Japan — to no avail. Now China’s claims to most of the South China Sea have put the Philippines back at the heart of U.S. strategy in Asia. A new defense pact allows the U.S. military to build facilities at five Philippine bases, and a growing number of ships will be stopping by Subic Bay.
Their return is renewing questions about what the United States owes Filipino Amerasians — and stoking worries that there will be more neglected children when the ships leave harbor once again. “Why would we welcome them back?” asked Brenda Moreno, 49, a Filipina Amerasian who was all but abandoned as a child. “They will just create new babies that they will not support.” The fate of Subic Bay has long been tied to ships and sailors far from home. The Spanish navy built a port here in the late 1800s and the Americans moved in when they annexed the Philippines in 1898. During the height of the Vietnam War, Subic harbored dozens of U.S. ships, and some 30,000 Filipinos worked at the base. Thousands of others made their living in the sprawling city that surrounds it, Olongapo.
Young women from across the Philippines moved to find work in the wartime boomtown, finding jobs — and sometimes boyfriends — on base, or work in the lines of “girlie bars” that served as a gateway to the commercial sex trade. It was during that era that Moreno’s mother, who worked in a bar, became pregnant. Moreno knows very little about her parents except that her Filipina mother gave her up when she was young. She told Moreno that her father was an African American serviceman. Raised by another woman, Moreno was mocked for looking different than other children, teased relentlessly for her dark skin and curly hair. “I wanted to change my blood,” she said. “I thought if I could change my blood, I might be accepted as Filipino.”
In the 1980s and 1990s, as anti-colonial sentiment surged, so did the stigma of being the child of an American. Enrico Dungca, a photographer based in New York, grew up in Angeles City, outside Clark Air Base, in the late 1970s and early 1980s and remembers the cruel words his Amerasian neighbors endured. They were called “bye, bye, Daddy,” “half dollar” or “souvenir.” “I saw the bullying back then,” said Dungca, who is now working on a photo project about the lives of Filipino Amerasians. “And I see how it still affects them now.” A disproportionate number of Filipino Amerasians live on the margins of the margins, enduring high rates of poverty and ill health, even by Philippine standards. Often abandoned as infants or raised by young single mothers, many have struggled to find their feet as adults.
After a chaotic childhood in Manila, Moreno returned to Subic at 23 to find work and entered the sex trade, working the same stretch of “girlie bars” as her mom had. She found a sense of place and purpose volunteering at a sex-worker-led rights group, Buklod, but never gave up hope of connecting with her father. That quest is a touchstone for many here who treasure even the smallest fragments of information — a name, military branch or faded picture. Some are simply curious about where they came from. Others are looking for a lifeline or a way out. Online message boards and Facebook groups such as “Amerasian Children Looking For Their American GI Fathers” are full of young Filipinos seeking information about fathers they never met. Occasionally, a former military man posts requests for information about the woman and child he left behind.
Richfield Jimenez, 40, a welder in Subic, heard about his American father as a boy, but stopped asking his mother about him because the questions always brought tears. Since his mother, Salud Parilla, died in 2013, he has wondered about finding his dad but is not sure where to start. He may have lived in Arkansas, Jimenez said — that’s all he knows. Those who locate their fathers don’t always get the welcome or recognition they crave. To be eligible for U.S. citizenship, the Philippine-born children of Americans must get paternity certifications by the time they turn 18. Those separated from their fathers when the base closed in 1992 are no longer eligible.
When Washington and Manila started talking about the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement that will see more U.S. troops on Philippine soil, many advocates for Filipino Amerasians saw an opportunity. So far, though, there has been no talk of a deal. Although many people in Subic and Olongapo welcome the cash that comes with visiting ships, some are wary of the U.S. return. Alma Bulawan, president of Buklod, the rights group, says they are bracing for a rise in abandoned and neglected children. In her decades in Subic, she has seen an endless stream of ships and sailors. The one constant: “They leave.” [Source: Washington Post | Emily Rauhala | May 15, 2016 ++]
USAF Painted Aircraft ► Making a Comeback
It took 31 days to transform this otherwise dull gray F-15 Eagle into a colorful abstract worthy of its noble avian namesake. The powerful warplane is adorned with wisp-like feathers that stretch across its 43-foot wingspan and onto its fuselage. Its nest, Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, Ore., is home to the the 173rd Fighter Wing and the Air Force’s only F-15C training schoolhouse. The ramp holds 32 Eagles in all. But this bird — tail number AF79-041 — stands out among its siblings. The colorful nose art — well, body art — is so loud that the airmen who created it required special permission. Painted to celebrate the Oregon Air National Guard’s 75th anniversary, the plane is turning heads everywhere it flies. It’s a throwback to a era when American combat aircraft weren’t just deadly; they had swagger.
Across the Air Force today, airmen are once again decorating all kinds of aircraft. Fighters and bombers, sure, but also refueling tankers, cargo transports and even a few drones. In the process, they’re reviving a tradition that may not be as racy as it was during World War II, but one that resonates just as strongly today. “Basically, we just wanted something bold that was going to make an impact,” Master Sgt. Paul Allen, the artist behind the 173rd’s F-15 design, told Air Force Times. Allen and his team — six airmen working days, two working nights — created stencils and applied them to the jet using low-tack vinyl. “The guys took a lot of pride in this. … And people considering coming into the Guard who see this see we have a lot of pride in our unit.” AF79-041 is currently on deployment, part of a six aircraft rotation to Finland, where it’s getting “some serious PR,” said Col. Jeff Smith, the 173rd’s commander. The design will be erased by next year, so the wing wants to make the most of its awe-inspiring appearance.
Painted aircraft are popping up all over, flying combat missions against the Islamic State group, deterring a resurgent Russia and keeping a wily North Korea at bay. What’s driving this trend? In a word, nostalgia. Throughout history, those who’ve fought in battle have immortalized their experiences through art. During the dawn of aerial warfare, pilots began to personalize their machines. “Nose art,” said Brett Stolle, curator at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, “was first conceived during World War I by French and German aviators who pioneered the application of personalized markings, insignia, and garish paint schemes for their combat aircraft.” The practice became common in Europe, migrating from a combat phenomenon to parading over victory celebrations. It caught on among American aviators during World War II, in what became known as the golden age of nose art. It was the hey day of America’s pin-up culture. The leggy ladies photographed in magazines made motivational cameos on deployed military hardware. Some of the images were notoriously bawdy — work that would never fly in today’s Air Force.
Roger Connor, an aeronautics specialist at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, called it a “unit cohesion thing.” Often, he said, “the farther the theater was from the home front, the more elaborate and often the more risque the nose was.” It wasn’t all racy ladies, though. Well-known cartoon characters — like Mickey Mouse, Snow White, Bugs Bunny — were also favorites, Stolle said. This sort of art was embraced by women as well as men. In 1943, for example, Walt Disney drew a “Fifinella,” depicted as a small winged female gremlin coming in for a landing. She became the Women Airforce Service Pilots official mascot and insignia patch. After the war, much of the fleet’s nose art was wiped away. It reappeared sparingly during the wars in Korea and Vietnam, but the resurgence was meager. In the early 1970s, Air Force Chief of Staff John D. Ryan placed a moratorium on aircraft art. Still, some aircrews quietly brought it back for the more recent wars in the Middle East.
Today, there are strict rules in place, and all nose art suggestions must go through a rigorous approval process. The policy is not unlike those governing troops’ tattoos and workplace decor. Designs must be “distinctive, symbolic, gender neutral, intended to enhance unit pride, designed in good taste,” and abide by copyright and trademark laws, according to an Air Force memorandum signed in 2015. Increasingly, airmen seem willing to play by those rules. The beloved A-10 Warthog has its snarling teeth, of course. Airmen will pay homage to local communities with popular mascots on KC-135s or C-130s, hatching the plane’s nickname. Even a RQ-4 Global Hawk drone donned chalked-on nose art for a brief time in honor of a Tuskegee fighter pilot. “This is a tradition across the Air Force,” Smith said. “This truly is a source of morale and pride, especially for the dedicated crew chief to know that they have a little mark of themselves on the airplane.”
An Air Force firefighter, right, gets a briefing on the A-10 Thunderbolt by an airman from the 74th Fighter Squadron, 23rd Fighter Group from Pope Air Force Base. The Flying Tigers arrived at Bagram Air Base Saturday March 23, 2002
Senior Master Sgt. Chad Heithoff, with the 55th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, helped jump-start a nose art project in 2014 for the KC-135 tankers at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas. Now he’s moved on to the RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. Known as “The Cobra Ball,” one of Offut’s RC-135s bears a serpent, tightly coiled around a black sphere. Heithoff recently returned from a deployment to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. “I saw a lot of aircraft with nose art,” he said. “I think this is starting to spread.” [Source: USA TODAY | Oriana Pawlyk | May 14, 2016 ++]
Warrior Web ► DARPA Walking Assist Suit
Hiking miles and miles with hundreds of pounds on your back sucks. Fortunately, the Pentagon is trying to make it suck less. At DARPA’s Demo Day on 11 MAY, researchers showed off the agency’s “Warrior Web” program, which, if used in the field, would help soldiers carry their 80 to 100-pound packs without getting overly tired. “Our core goal is to reduce fatigue over long marches,” Patrick Murphy, a researcher at Harvard’s Wyss Institute, told Tech Insider. “It will augment the forces you’re exerting as you march to help reduce the metabolic fatigue over a long distance.” In places like Iraq and Afghanistan, troops might be walking on patrol for five to 10 miles or more with all of their gear. And once they get to where they are going, they may need to kick in a door and capture a bad guy in lieu of an extended water break.
That’s where Warrior Web comes in: Instead of getting burned out on the hike, troops get an assist to their muscles each time they take a step. “As you plant your foot, the motor will pull a cable along your hamstring,” Murphy said. “That will augment what your hip is doing as you walk.”
Warrior Web is still in the early stages of research and development, but it would have direct impact on the battlefield. Right now, the system is a bulky proof-of-concept device attached to the wearer and the pack, but it should end up getting smaller and weigh less in the future. DARPA wants it to be similar to the look and feel of a diver’s wet suit. Still, it’s important to note the system doesn’t reduce the weight that soldiers feel, but Murphy said they’ll need to use less energy to keep moving. And so far, most soldiers who have tried it out like it, according to Murphy. “We generally do get very good feedback,” he said. “The system does a good job of adapting to individual timing.” [Source: Tech Insider | Paul Szoldra | May 2016 ++]
MCAS Futenma Okinawa Update 08 ► Arrest Fuels Relocation Opposition
Japan’s prime minister expressed his “strong indignation” Friday after an American working on a U.S. military base in Okinawa was arrested on suspicion of abandoning the body of a Okinawan woman who disappeared last month. “I have no words to express, considering how the family feels,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters. “We urge the U.S. side to take thorough measures to prevent the recurrence of such events.” The arrest sparked outrage on Okinawa, where anti-U.S. military sentiment is high because of a heavy American troop presence. It could fuel further opposition to the relocation of a U.S. Marine Corps air station on the southern Japanese island, a long-delayed project that Abe has been trying to push forward in the face of large protests.
Police said Kenneth Shinzato, 32, was arrested 19 MAY after he was questioned and investigators found the body at a location he provided, a forest in central Okinawa. Investigators determined that the body is that of a 20-year-old woman missing since 28 APR, when she messaged her boyfriend that she was going for a walk. Police said they suspect Shinzato was also responsible for her death. He has not been charged. In Washington, Defense Department spokesman Peter Cook said the man arrested was a U.S. military contractor. “This is an appalling tragedy,” he said. The U.S. military extends its “deepest sympathies to the people of Japan, and express our gratitude for the trust that they place in our bilateral alliance and the American people.” Kyodo News agency said Shinzato used to be a Marine.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. military was cooperating fully with local authorities in their investigation. “This is a terrible tragedy and it’s obviously an outrage,” he told reporters in Washington. Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga said he was “outraged” and that the death of the woman broke his heart. “As I look back at all the developments to date, I’m simply speechless,” he said. Onaga has spearheaded opposition to the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from a densely populated neighborhood in central Okinawa to another site on the island, saying the facility should be moved away from Okinawa instead.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida summoned U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy to convey his “regret” over the crime. Kennedy said: “Nothing that I can do or say will make up the loss or to bring her back, but I want to express to you my determination and that of my military colleagues to cooperate fully with Okinawan police and the Japanese government, and we will double our efforts to make sure this will never happen again.” Okinawa is home to more than half of about 50,000 American troops based in Japan. Many Okinawans complain about crime and noise connected to the bases. [Source: The Associated Press | Mari Yamachuci | May 20, 2016 ++]
Military Portrait ► Airman’s Fitness Training
Senior Airman Terrence Ruffin, 16th Electronic Warfare Squadron, strains for an extra rep on a weight machine at the fitness center on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. In November, the Airman became the youngest professional bodybuilder on the circuit at age 21.
[Source: DoD 2015 Photo Competition | Tech Sgt. Samuel King Jr., USAF| April 27, 2016 ++]
Air Force One ► Replacement | Modified Boeing 747-8
The Air Force gave Boeing the green light to start submitting design proposals for the new presidential aircraft that will likely shuttle either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton around the world. The Air Force on March 10 posted online an amendment to its Air Force One contract — also known as the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization — authorizing Boeing to begin preliminary design activities. In January 2015, the Air Force announced it had chosen the Boeing 747-8 as the platform for the next Air Force One, and gave the company a sole-source contract to modify the aircraft. If all goes well with the design and development process, the new presidential aircraft could be up and running in 2019 or 2020, in time for the next president to use it before the end of his or her first administration. The aircraft are expected to last 30 years. But the government has somewhat scaled back its plans for the new Air Force One. As recently as Jan. 29, the contract synopses on FedBizOpps said the government would buy “up to three” new aircraft. Now, the latest version of the contract synopsis said the government will buy two modified 747-8 aircraft from Boeing.
The 747-8 is the latest model of Boeing’s 747. The Air Force said last year it determined a wide-body, four-engine passenger aircraft such as the 747-8 was necessary to serve as the next Air Force One. In January, the Air Force also awarded Boeing a contract for conducting risk reduction activities for the new Air Force One — trying to find opportunities to cut costs and increase efficiencies while meeting the needs of fielding the new plane. Factors that drive the cost of the new presidential airplane include its maintenance, air refueling capability, and state-of-the-art communication equipment. This contract is only for the modification of the 747-8s. The Air Force is buying the airplanes under a separate contract. The two airplanes now serving as Air Force One are Boeing 747-200Bs, with the tail codes 28000 and 29000. The first was delivered in 1990.
According to the White House’s website, the iconic aircraft has onboard electronics designed to protect against an electromagnetic pulse and a secure communications system that would allow it to operate as a mobile command center in case of a nuclear or other serious attack on the United States. The current Air Force One has 4,000 square feet of floor space on three levels. There is a suite for the president including an office and conference room, two galleys capable of producing 100 meals, quarters for Secret Service, senior advisers and others who accompany the president, and a medical suite that can be used as an operating room. A doctor is always on board Air Force One. [Source: Air Transport | May 11, 2016 ++]
Anderson AFB Guam ► B-52H Crashes on Takeoff
Seven crew members of a B-52 Stratofortress that crashed around 8:30 a.m. 19 MAY while attempting to take off at Andersen Air Force Base avoided a more catastrophic accident, the base’s 36th Wing commander said. “We are thankful that the air crew are safe,” said Brig. Gen. Douglas Cox, 36th Wing commander. “Because of their quick thinking and good judgment in this emergency situation, the air crew not only saved their lives, but averted a more catastrophic incident.” The crew members weren’t injured after having safely evacuated from the aircraft, which was on its way to a training mission. The Air Force didn’t release any statement Thursday about what might have caused the crash. The incident was being investigated.
Crashed B52H Stratofortress at Anderson AFB Guam May 19, 2016
B-52s can carry a wide assortment of weapons, including cruise missiles, but during the accident, the aircraft was only carrying what the base’s leadership called “inert munitions.” These practice munitions posed no danger to the local community, according to the base’s leadership. Andersen environmental specialists are assessing any potential impacts that may have resulted from leaked fluids or burning aircraft materials to prevent damage to the ecosystem, the base leadership stated. Emergency response personnel from Andersen, Navy Base Guam, Joint Region Marianas and the government of Guam promptly established a cordon and extinguished the flames, according to a release from Andersen. “Our personnel regularly train to respond to crises like the one we experienced today,” said Cox. “We’re also grateful for the support from our Government of Guam and U.S. Navy partners in addressing this serious incident.”
The B-52 was deployed to Andersen from Minot Air Force Base, in North Dakota, as part of the military’s continuous bomber presence mission in the Pacific. The crew members are from the 69th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron and were performing a routine training mission, according to Andersen. It’s the second crash involving a B-52 in Guam in eight years. In July 2008, a B-52 crashed into the ocean about 35 miles northwest of the island, killing all six flight crew on board, according to an Air Force investigation report. The 2008 crash occurred five minutes before its scheduled flyover during the 64th Guam Liberation Day parade. The aircraft crashed because of a mechanical failure in one of the aircraft’s wings, according to the report.
The B-52 Stratofortress long-range, heavy bomber aircraft has a wingspan of about 185 feet and a length of 159 feet. The H model, first delivered in 1961, is capable of delivering conventional air-launched cruise missiles, and has been used in several operations such as Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. B-52Hs can carry a maximum capacity of 20 missiles per aircraft, according to the Air Force. Pacific Command has maintained a rotational strategic bomber presence in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region for more than a decade to foster partnerships with allies, and to keep adversaries at bay. In January, a B-52 from Andersen conducted a low-level flight near Osan Air Base, South Korea, after North Korea days earlier purported a successful hydrogen bomb test. B-52s deploy several times a year globally for rotational exercises. In the Middle East, several B-52s from from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, are currently using precision-guided bombs against the Islamic State. “Today’s incident is a reminder of the danger our men and women in uniform put themselves in every single day, whether flying a mission or for training,” Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo said. [Source: Pacific Daily News | Jerick Sablan & Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno | May 19, 2016 ++]
POSYDON ► DARPA Underwater Navigation Project
BAE Systems has been selected by DARPA to develop a system that will allow underwater craft to navigate accurately even when sailing below the surface of the water. The project, called Positioning System for Deep Ocean Navigation (POSYDON), “aims to replace current navigational methods that pose a detection risk for undersea vehicles forced to surface periodically to access the space-based Global Positioning System (GPS), which cannot sufficiently penetrate seawater,” according to a BAE news release. “In addition, access to above-water GPS may be denied by hostile signal jamming. Under DARPA’s POSYDON program, a BAE Systems-led team will create a positioning, navigation, and timing system designed to permit vehicles to remain underwater by using multiple, integrated, long-range acoustic sources at fixed locations around the oceans.” “The vehicle instrumentation needed to capture and process acoustic signals for accurate navigation will also be developed under this program,” BAE said. “The company will leverage its expertise and capabilities in signal processing, acoustic communications, interference cancellation, and anti-jam/anti-spoof technologies for the program.” The BAE team also includes the University of Washington, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Texas at Austin. [Source: C4ISR & Networks | Michael Peck | May 19, 2016 ++]
USMC Occupational Titles ► Gender Neutral Assessment
One of the most time-honored phrases in the Marine Corps — “every Marine a rifleman” — could get an update as the service’s top leaders consider new gender-neutral job titles for all positions. The Marine Corps is conducting a sweeping review of its military occupational specialty titles, Capt. Philip Kulczewski, a Marine spokesman at the Pentagon, told Marine Corps Times. The move follows a January directive from Navy Secretary Ray Mabus that Navy and Marine leaders ensure all job titles are gender neutral as ground combat jobs opened to women. Mabus specifically wanted the word “man” dropped from all titles. That could mean that female Marines — or even men — heading to ground-combat jobs may not pick up traditional titles like rifleman or artilleryman.
Kulczewski declined to answer questions about how many titles could change, when the review would be complete or what the new job names could be, since the review is still ongoing. Navy Capt. Patrick McNally, a spokesman for Mabus, also declined to comment on the status of the sea services’ reviews. Initially, a Navy official told Marine Corps Times that Mabus didn’t intend to change iconic titles like “infantryman,” “rifleman” or “midshipman.” Instead, the official said, he only wanted titles to change if the word “man” stood alone as a separate word, like reconnaissance man or field artillery sensor support man. But a Marine official with knowledge of the review said “every single” title, billet and job description is being looked at.
The Corps’ most senior leaders — including the commandant and assistant commandant — along with members of Training and Education Command; Marine Corps Combat Development Command; Manpower and Reserve Affairs; Plans, Policies and Operations; and Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, are involved in the assessment, the official said. Mabus ordered the Marine Corps to conduct the review the same day he instructed Commandant Gen. Robert Neller to develop a plan to make the service’s entry-level training coed. Within days, it was determined that men and women would continue training separately at Marine boot camp. But the job title review forged ahead. “As we achieve full integration of the force … this is an opportunity to update the position titles and descriptions themselves to demonstrate through this language that women are included in these MOSs,” Mabus wrote in the January order. “Please review the position titles throughout the Marine Corps and ensure that they are gender-integrated as well, removing ‘man’ from the titles and provide a report to me as soon as is practicable.”
The Navy took its review one step further. In addition to finding gender-neutral job title options, its leaders are also on the hunt for rating titles that better match what sailors do. Navy yeomen, for example, could end up with a title like administrative specialist. “I was talking to a corpsman the other day and guess what they used to be called? Pharmacist’s mate,” Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens told Navy Times in January. “… Maybe there [are] rating titles out there that just don’t make sense anymore.” Stevens, the Navy’s top senior enlisted leader, kicked off a canvassing of the fleet earlier this year in order to get sailors’ thoughts and recommendations on the new titles. “This has to come from the fleet,” he said. “It needs to work its way up through enlisted leadership. … They are the voice of their people.” [Source: Marine Corps Times | Gina Harkins | May 19, 2016 ++]
USCG Icebreakers ► U.S. 1 | USSR 41 + 14 Under Contract
The Coast Guard is in the very early stages of building a second heavy icebreaker, but it’s still about 10 years away and a California congressman is calling for the Navy to help its sister service out with design acumen and money. For now, the heavy icebreaker Polar Sea is the Coast Guard’s only option, but it’s into its fifth decade of service, and doesn’t have a backup if it breaks down. In a 17 MAY letter to Assistant Navy Secretary Sean Stackley, who’s in charge of research, development and acquisitions, Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter asked the Department of the Navy to provide some insight on the service’s Arctic capabilities and outlook.
The goal, Hunter’s chief of staff told Navy Times, is to start a conversation about whether the Navy should put some of its money into the Coast Guard’s acquisition program, or help pay to lease a heavy icebreaker until the Coast Guard finishes its own. While the Coast Guard has taken the lead in operating in the Arctic, it’s really the Navy that will benefit from the cleared ice, Hunter’s chief of staff, Joe Kasper, told Navy Times. “The Navy’s going to have to put some skin in the game,” he said. “The Navy’s going to have to support efforts to enhance ice-breaking capability in the Arctic if the Navy truly believes that capability is necessary.” Hunter is concerned that the Coast Guard’s acquisition process, which puts a new icebreaker in the water by 2025, is going to leave the U.S. too far behind.
The U.S. will need eight icebreakers if it decides to have one patrolling either pole at all times according to former Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp. The new icebreakers must also be able to:
- Continuously push through up to six feet of ice — but preferably eight — going at least 3 knots.
- In ice-free waters maintain a sustained speed of 15 knots, or the speed at max horsepower.
- Sail a range of 21,500 nautical miles at 12 knots.
- Go 80 days underway without replenishment.
- Run at least 3,300 operational hours a year.
- Visually evaluate ice conditions for 12 nautical miles in each direction.
- Land a range of military and federal helicopters.
- Hangar two Coast Guard helicopters or future unmanned systems.
Russia, a competitor for operating space in the Arctic, has 41 heavy icebreakers and 14 under contract, according to Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft. “Every time we blink, Russia puts more icebreakers in the water in the Arctic,” Kasper said. “We are seriously behind the curve.” The Navy has received Hunter’s letter and “will respond through appropriate channels,” said Capt. Thurraya Kent, Stackley’s spokeswoman. The Navy and Coast Guard are working closely on the Arctic, she said, as Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson mentioned in congressional testimony earlier this year. “With respect to icebreakers, we’re working very closely with our partners in the Coast Guard,” Richardson said. “That part of the mission will remain theirs. The security part will remain ours, and we’ve had a steady presence.”
To get up to speed, the Navy could join the Coast Guard’s icebreaker acquisition program to provide ship design oversight and production management. It took this step in the early 2000s when the Coast Guard began its national security cutter program, according to a defense expert with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, D.C. “The National Security Cutter program was originally managed by the Navy … the Coast Guard didn’t really have the acquisition wherewithal to manage a large ship program like that,” Bryan Clark said. “They hadn’t run a big acquisition program since they acquired the Hamilton class, which was like 30 years before.” By teaming up, the Navy can use money from its shipbuilding account to fund an icebreaker as a noncombatant ship, then transfer the program to the Coast Guard later, Clark said. The Coast Guard doesn’t have access to that pot of Defense Department overseas contingency operations money, but Military Sealift Command does, so they can be the Coast Guard’s partner.
Hunter’s office has looked into the possibility of leasing an icebreaker from the Coast Guard — from Finland, for example — but medium-to-heavy icebreakers are hard to come by, and the congressman isn’t enthusiastic about the idea of using a foreign ship, Kasper said. In that case, Clark said, MSC could lease the ship and operate it with a civilian ship’s master, but also a Coast Guard detachment aboard. “MSC would lease this ship and then they would operate it in conjunction with the Coast Guard,” he said. Again, DoD money for noncombatant operations would foot the bill. “What it would cost the Coast Guard to lease an icebreaker is more or less budget dust to the U.S. Navy,” Kaper added.
The plan would not be, however, to find a way for the Navy to build its own icebreaker — just to use some of its budget muscle to help out the Coast Guard. In his letter, Hunter asked Stackley to weigh in on the capability gap created by having one aging, heavy icebreaker on hand, whether the Navy could help support the Coast Guard’s efforts, and how closing that gap would benefit a naval presence in the Arctic. [Source: Navy Times | Meghann Myers | May May 23, 2016 ++]
USCGC Donald Horsley ► 17th Cutter Welcomed to the Fleet
With a max speed of more than 28 knots and a range of nearly 3,000 nautical miles, the Coast Guard’s fast response cutters are crucial to curbing illegal maritime activity. The cutters perform or assist with a variety of missions, including law enforcement, counter-drug patrols, search and rescue and enforcing fisheries regulations. The Coast Guard welcomed the 17th fast response cutter, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Donald Horsley, to the fleet in the cutter’s new home port of San Juan, Puerto Rico, May 20, 2016. “This latest patrol boat will serve throughout the Caribbean as a vital instrument in strengthening the security and stability of the Western Hemisphere and enhancing the Nation’s maritime safety and security,” said Rear Adm. Scott Buschman, commander of the Coast Guard 7th District.
USCGC Donald Horsley Graphic of Coast Guard fast response cutters
The cutter’s new commanding officer, Lt. Colleen Denny, also looks forward to the cutter’s future. “We are excited to be homeported in San Juan and look forward to serve and protect the people of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands,” Denny said. “Upon commissioning we will be prepared to execute the most challenging maritime security, law enforcement, and national defense missions.” The ceremony also honored the cutter’s namesake, Master Chief Petty Officer Donald Horsley, a boatswain’s mate who served on active duty for more than 44 years. “I am truly honored and excited to welcome the Donald Horsley and to pay homage to its namesake, a service member who we remember today for his heroism, leadership and the positive impact he had on the lives and careers of so many Coastguardsmen,” Buschman said.
Throughout his career, Horsley demonstrated exceptional skill and leadership while serving aboard 34 vessels and numerous shore units. His lengthy career spanned three wars, including World War II, where he served aboard the USS Cepheus as a coxswain on landing craft and participated in Operation Dragoon (the invasion of southern France) in the European Theater and Operation Iceberg (the invasion of Okinawa) in the Pacific Asian Theater. During the Vietnam War, Horsley was the senior petty officer assigned to Division 13, Coast Guard Squadron One, serving two tours for a total of 41 months. The Division’s fleet 82-foot patrol boats were tasked with the maritime interdiction of the reinforcement and re-supply vessels for Communist forces fighting in South Vietnam. It was during this assignment that Horsley earned the Bronze Star with a Combat “V,” in part due to his participation in over 100 combat patrols while coming under intensive enemy fire on 11 separate occasions. [Source: Coast Guard Compass | PA2 Connie Terrell | May 20, 2016 ++]
Military Bands ► House NDAA Calls for GAO Study
The Government Accountability Office would study the cost and size of military bands under the defense authorization bill passed last week by the House. The study could lead to moving some positions now held by clarinet players to combat roles. The same legislation would require Defense Secretary Ash Carter to study the possibility of combining some of the bands. Politico reported last week that some lawmakers question the wisdom of fielding bands while cutting force structure. Quoting Pentagon figures, the publication said the military spent $437 million on bands in fiscal 2015, including paying $12,000 for a tuba and $33,000 for three flutes. The Army has 99 bands and 4,350 musicians across all three components, Politico reported. The Air Force has 15 bands and 800 musicians. According to the House Armed Services Committee’s report on the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, “The committee believes that the services may be able to conserve end strength by reducing the number of military bands.” [Source: NGAUS Washington Report | May 24, 2016 ++]
* Military History *
U-858 Post WWII ► Chuck Kline’s Service Aboard
At the height of World War II, German submarines, also known as U-boats, gained a reputation as the terror of the high seas. With more than 1,100 built, Hitler’s U-boat fleet was infamous for disrupting enemy supply lines, sinking more than 2,600 Allied ships during the course of the war. Toward the war’s end, one of these U-boats, U-858, was sent to wreak havoc along the east coast of the United States. But two weeks after Hitler’s suicide, on May 14, 1945, U-858 became the first-ever Nazi submarine to surrender to U.S. forces. It’s a boat that Chuck Kline remembers well. That’s because, for nine months after its surrender, Kline served aboard U-858.
Kline, now 93, is one of a dwindling number of American sailors who served aboard submarines during World War II, and the last to come from Wyoming. Born March 19, 1923, in Boulder, Colorado, Kline grew up in the town of Rifle, located in the western part of the state. Records show he began his naval service in July 1943, starting out in the V-12 Navy College Training Program at the University of Colorado in Boulder. “I went to classes to major in engineering, but I got into trouble with some of the math in there,” Kline said. “So they called me and gave me a choice. ‘We can put you on probation, or you can go to boot camp,’ and I chose boot camp. And I’m glad I did now.”
U-858 is brought to anchor May 14, 1945 at Cape Henlopen, Delaware, just off Fort Miles where U-858’s crew was landed – a Coast Guard HNS-1 Helicopter is overhead
Rather than take his chances on the top of the water as a motor machinist, Kline said he had the opportunity to volunteer for the Navy’s submarine program. He was selected as an alternate, and got in when the man ahead of him had to withdraw due to some physical problem. “I ended up in the training program at a submarine base in New London, (Connecticut),” Kline said. “There I learned the big diesel stuff, and I already had a lot of mechanical background, welding and everything, which helped a lot.”
His first assignment began in the spring of 1945 aboard the USS Pollack, which had spent much of its time patrolling the Pacific Theater before being converted to a “school boat” by the time Kline joined the crew. But Kline’s time aboard the Pollock would be short-lived. Just months after he took his post, Kline was selected as part of a special detail to take control of U-858 after its surrender. “They sent an escort out to bring it back to the States, and eventually go it up to New London,” Kline said. “I’d had a lot of mechanical background and had already been on a submarine, so lo and behold, I was selected as part of the special detail.”
Rather than combat, the U-858 was given a special mission: fundraising for the war effort. The U-boat toured around various ports as a sort of floating publicity stunt for the war bond effort. But even though her combat days were behind her, the U-858 posed its own challenges to its new American crew. Contemporary reports referred to the vessel as “a sewer pipe with valves,” and Kline said that wasn’t too far off. “The Germans had no regard for creature comfort on their submarines,” he said. “The first time we got into cold weather, we were up at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and getting into that cold water, it was like a rain storm inside that boat. We put oil cloth over our sacks so they wouldn’t get wet.”
Aside from the leaks, Kline said he can still vividly recall just how messy the boat was when the American crew first took over. It had nothing in the way of shower or laundry facilities, and Kline remembers having to clear out cans of bread floating in putrid water. Since all the controls were originally in German, Kline said the new crew had to draw up English tags and place them around all the controls to know what they were doing. And even then, the mere construction of the U-boat could pose issues for its sailors. “It also had a snorkel we didn’t have, and when the snorkel mast went up, it looked like a big wastebasket floating on the surface,” Kline said. “With that, we could operate at 33 feet submerged, and it had a fitting on it that went to the main (air) induction valve. “When you were operating that, most of the guys in the engine room … had their eyes glued on the barometer in there, because if you didn’t keep a close eye on that thing, you start pulling suction and it was liable to pop your eyeballs right out of your head!”
A motor machinist mate, Kline described himself as the “fuel oil king” of the U-858, taking on the responsibility of getting all of the sub’s fuel on board. As an enlisted man, this was unusual, and Kline remembers some non-commissioned officers were “a little upset” at the responsibility he commanded. After nine months aboard the U-858, Kline officially separated from the Navy in March of 1946, while U-858 was stationed at Key West, Florida. He returned to Colorado to finish up a degree in industrial arts. U-858, meanwhile, was brought back to New England, where the Navy used it for torpedo practice before scuttling her toward the end of 1947.
Kline’s wartime service prepared him well for civilian life; after matriculating at Colorado A&M (now Colorado State University), Kline moved to Cheyenne to help launch an auto mechanic shop program in Laramie County School District 1, which continues to this day. He also became heavily involved with the United States Submarine Veterans of World War II, a congressionally chartered veterans organization first formed in 1955 and formally chartered in 1981. One of Kline’s proudest accomplishments with that group was working to develop a carved outdoor memorial at the Oregon Trail State Veterans Cemetery in Evansville, to commemorate the crew of the USS Barbel, who were lost to a Japanese bombing attack in February 1945.
Chuck Kline, 93, talks about his experiences in WWII
Though he was too young for World War II, Ed Galavotti is a fellow local submarine veteran who has been working to promote Kline’s legacy in the run up to Armed Forces Day. Although Kline would never suggest it, Galavotti believes Kline is a living legend, and one Cheyenne should feel privileged to still count among its residents. “There are hardly any submarine veterans of World War II left, and how do you capture that experience?” Galavotti said. “People don’t realize what the transition was like, going from the crash of 1929 to going to war, the end of the war, and then going all the way to today. “Today’s nuclear navy has much more capabilities, much more comfort for the crew,” Galavotti added. “Back then, they had a battery and a snorkel. They couldn’t go down and stay down all day; they had limited time. “I think it’s important to let people know we have a veteran here who did all that stuff.” [Source: Wyoming Tribune Eagle | James Chilton | May 15, 2016 ++]
Army Jeep No. 1 ► Icon of WWII
Seventy-five years after it wowed the U.S. Army, the oldest known Jeep is getting its due as a symbol of the Greatest Generation’s fight and Detroit’s role in what Franklin D. Roosevelt called “the Arsenal of Democracy” — the manufacturing might that helped the Allies win World War II. “It’s an icon of WWII and a symbol of wartime production by the auto industry,” said Matt Anderson, transportation curator at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI. “It’s also the grandfather of all SUVs. It’s very rare to be able to trace a whole class of vehicles to a single one, but this is where it all began.” Ford GP-No.1, a prototype for a light, rugged four-wheel-drive vehicle for reconnaissance and other military use, was delivered to the Army for tests Nov. 23, 1940. “The Army still had horse cavalry then,” said 97-year-old Ed Welburn Sr., who served in the U.S. Army in Papua-New Guinea and Australia in WWII. “They brought horses to the island, but you can’t use horses in the jungle.
The 1940 Ford Pilot Model GP-No.1 (Pygmy), during initial testing after delivery to the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps at Camp Holabird in Baltimore, Maryland 23 November 1940.
The Jeep was small and tough. It could travel most anywhere. The cavalry liked the Jeep much better than horses. “It was very durable,” said Welburn, who was a mechanic. “But if you had to work on one, you could get 2-3 men to flip it on its side, pull the transmission, then set the Jeep back down and drive it off”. News reports, photos and films quickly made the Jeep famous and nearly indistinguishable from the American GIs who relied on it. “Good Lord, I don’t think we could continue the war without the Jeep,” wrote war correspondent Ernie Pyle, who won a Pulitzer Prize for describing what life was like for the average GI. “It does everything. It goes everywhere. It’s as faithful as a dog, strong as a mule, and as agile as a goat.” Pyle was killed by a sniper as he rode in a Jeep on a small Pacific island near Guam on April 18, 1945.
GP-No.1 is on display in the U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum, 2060 Airport Rd SW, Huntsville, AL 35801. The museum and the Historic Vehicle Association just finished verifying its history and documenting that GP-01 is one of five original test vehicles – two from Ford, two from Willys Overland and one from American Bantam. Originally called the “Pygmy” and built and tested by Ford engineers in Dearborn and Detroit, GP-No.1 is the only one of those prototypes known to still exist in North America. The Pygmy had features that remain prominent on Jeeps today, including the upright grille with vertical slots that are literally the brand’s trademark, Historic Vehicle Association President Mark Gessler said. “The government didn’t really know what it wanted,” when Jeep development began, Fiat Chrysler historian Brandt Rosenbuch said. The Army began work on specifications for a light four-wheel-drive reconnaissance vehicle in 1937 with American Bantam of Butler, Penn. “Bantam deserves the vast majority of the credit for developing the basic concept and capabilities that became the Jeep,” Gessler said.
The 1940 Ford Pilot Model GP-No.1 (Pygmy), featured a low silhouette a flat-hood and a slat-grille incorporating the headlights within the body for protection. GP-No.1 remains almost entirely unrestored
Henry Ford was a staunch pacifist with little interest in the war brewing overseas, but he thought a little four-wheel-drive vehicle could be useful for agriculture, one of his passions. His more globally minded son Edsel used that opening to spearhead the GP-No.1 project, beginning a process that would see Ford become a vital supplier of wartime equipment. The Army evaluated hundreds of vehicles from Bantam, Ford and Willys. It cherry-picked the best features of each to create the military-spec Jeep, a vehicle of unrivaled durability and capability. “It was the finest engineering of the day,” Rosenbuch said. “The Jeep brought together everything the best minds in Toledo and Detroit could create.” Willys built 362,894 wartime Jeeps, all at its headquarters plant in Toledo, Ohio. Ford built 285,660, initially at the Rouge plant in Detroit that today produces F-150 pickups. Ford later added Jeep production in several other plants around the country, including Louisville, KY, where it still builds pickups and SUVs. American Bantam got the short end of the stick, building just 2,676 Jeeps. The Army threw the little company a bone with a contract to build the trailers that hauled equipment behind Jeeps.
Specifications of 1940 Ford “Pygmy” prototype GP-No.1
- Vehicle type: Quarter-ton four-wheel-drive reconnaissance truck.
- Curb weight: Approximately 2,150 pounds.
- 42 horsepower Ford 119.5 cubic-inch four-cylinder modified tractor engine.
- Spicer transfer case and axles.
- Suspension: beam axles on leaf springs.
- Length: 133 inches.
- Width: 59 inches.
- Height: 59 inches
The Jeep remained in military service for decades, but it was popular with civilians before the guns of WWII even fell silent. Willys got special permission to begin building civilian Jeeps months before other automakers were allowed to switch from wartime production and resume their usual businesses. “It was initially marketed as a farm vehicle,” Rosenbuch said. “That’s why the government allowed civilian production, to help get the economy up and running after the war.” Henry Ford donated GP-No.1 to the museum that bears his name in Dearborn in 1948. It remained there, getting surprisingly little attention, until the museum sold it and some other “minor” items from its collection in 1982. History buff Randy Withrow of Huntsville snapped it up. “It gave me a chill,” he said. “I couldn’t believe they’d auction it off. “It’s a survivor. People come to the museum from all over the world specifically to see that Jeep. It’s the one that started it all.” [Source: Detroit Free Press | Mark Phelan | December 6, 2015 ++]
Military History ► WWII Home Front War Effort
When America was catapulted into World War II, life on the home front changed in ways it never had before—and probably never will again, according to people who lived through those times. “So many people don’t know what it was like then. Everything was for the war effort,” said Shirley Compton, a vivacious 80-year-old who lives in Colonial Beach. “Everyone was close and loving and patriotic. I remember that feeling most of all.” She grew up in Arlington, where families were encouraged to rent out rooms to workers who flocked to Washington to keep the war machine chugging.
Her childhood memories are of air-raid drills at school and blacked-out windows at home. She confesses she “did carry on a bit” when factories that made Coca–Cola and Double Bubble Bubble Gum shifted their focus to war supplies and stopped making her favorites. But even 6-year-old girls quickly learned to support the cause when everyone else was doing it, she said. “I never saw such a good feeling about everything, people working together,” she said. “I remember that still.”
So does Wayne Colton, a 78-year-old with an incredible memory for detail. Perhaps he paid so much attention to adults because he was an only child. His family lived on the outskirts of Fredericksburg when it was still rural enough to be considered the country. He was only 4 when Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941, but he sensed the seriousness of the situation—and the subsequent four-year effort to defeat Japan and Germany. “I knew it was a life-and-death struggle,” he said. “It made a profound impression on me.”
LIFE WITH RATION BOOKS
To those in the city or country, an account of life on the home front starts and ends with one word. Rationing. Almost any item that families used was in limited supply during the war. There were several reasons, according to the National World War II Museum’s website. Processed and canned goods were shipped overseas for Allied soldiers; gasoline was used to transport troops and supplies instead of food; and sugar and coffee were limited due to war-related restrictions on imports. Because of the shortages, the government established a system to make sure the few items available were distributed fairly. Each American got ration books with stamps for particular items, such as cooking oil, shoes or meat. No one could buy any rationed items without the stamp that went with them. When a shopper used up all her ration stamps for, say, sugar, for the month, she couldn’t buy any more.
The books were such an integral part of life that Compton kept one of her mother’s all these years. The problem was, she put it in such a safe place, she couldn’t find it when she was interviewed. Luckily, a neighbor still had a ration book, and she borrowed hers. Colton also starts off his list of wartime memories with rationed items. In addition to those Compton mentioned, his mother and all her friends and female relatives mourned a different loss. Nylons. Oh, how they longed for a pair of nylons. “For every woman,” Colton said, “that was on their lips.”
‘NO ONE COMPLAINED’
Living in the country, Colton and his family raised chickens and got pork from relatives who had a farm. They were able to grow most of the food they needed, unlike city-dwellers who relied on the market. The mere mention of meat brought up a subject that made Compton cringe. Spam, a spiced ham served in a can, became popular during the war to supplement the meat shortages. “I hate it to this day,” she said. “I don’t ever want to see it again.” She didn’t turn her nose up at another product available in lean times. This one was ground like burger. “They used to sell horse meat at the store, and we were lucky to get it,” Compton said.
Americans learned other ways to make do. Not only did Colton’s mother and her friends paint a stripe down the back of their legs when they couldn’t get nylons, but they also made dresses from flowered feed sacks. When margarine was introduced as a replacement for butter, it came with a cup of yellow coloring so it would at least look authentic. Copper was needed for wiring for every piece of equipment that rolled, floated or was flown in the war, along with the millions of radios being produced. Zinc replaced copper as the coating on pennies, Colton said. As much as civilians felt the shortages, they were also keenly aware of the need—and “no one complained about it,” Compton said. Radio programs, movies and school events stressed the need to support the war because the American way of life depended on it. “You woke up every day, realizing we were in a conflict,” Colton said. “The war was the predominant theme, and you were totally aware of how much people were sacrificing for it.”
GUARDING THE HOMELAND
In the months after the Pearl Harbor attack, communities appointed civilians to keep an eye on the sky and water. Volunteer spotters, who learned to identify aircraft from their silhouettes, were posted around the Fredericksburg region. Guards were placed at the Falmouth Bridge, as well as other bridges and railroad crossings. Civil defense patrols in Fredericksburg had air-raid drills—the same kind Compton experienced in Arlington—when all the lights had to be blacked out. No one wanted to give would-be bombers a target to hit. As a boy, Colton saw these exercises and the regular troop trains that ran through Fredericksburg, headed for training at Fort A.P. Hill. He was absolutely fascinated by the war machine. Life magazine published weekly then, and he consumed every story and photo showing battles in far-off places. He learned that the nylons his mother coveted were used to make parachutes, that the metal and paper he and other children saved were used in weapons, armament and posters asking people to buy war bonds and further support the effort. Even the fat left over from cooking was saved and turned into soap. “It was significant to see these things,” Colton said, realizing at a young age that this wasn’t normal.
Colton was so fascinated by the military, he eventually joined the Air Force and earned a Bronze Star in Vietnam—the same medal an uncle received at the Battle of the Bulge. He retired after 20 years in the military, then worked as a defense contractor. About 25 years ago, he answered a different call of duty: to become a minister. At 78, he’s the senior pastor at Triangle Baptist Church. Colton never forgot the wartime experiences of his childhood. “It gave me a sense of pride in the country and the sacrifices men and women were making,” he said. “It was a life-forming orientation.” [Source: The Free Lance–Star | Suzanne Carr Rossi | December 27, 2015++]
Hiroshima ► Atomic Bomb Decision
According to White House officials, on 27 MAY the President will visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, a site at the center of Hiroshima where the United States dropped an atomic bomb in 1945 in an effort to end World War II.
“He will not revisit the decision to use the atomic bomb at the end of World War II,” Benjamin J. Rhodes, Mr. Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communication, said. “Instead, he will offer a forward-looking vision focused on our shared future.” A useful perspective of the decision to drop the bomb is provided in the book As I Saw It, written by Dean Rusk, the 54th Secretary of State under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.
Emperor Hirohito Dean Rusk
Rusk, who served at the time in August 1945 on the General Staff planning the invasion of Japan, writes: “It was clear to us that taking the main islands would be a frightful affair. We planned first to launch sustained saturation bombing attacks on Japan’s coast and its cities; these attacks by themselves would have killed millions of Japanese. Then we planned to invade. Millions more Japanese would have been killed then. Estimates of American casualties ranged from four or five hundred thousand all the way to MacArthur’s figure of a million. Harry Truman’s decision to drop the bomb should be viewed in this light. Truman wanted to end the war quickly and avoid the hideous casualties of landing on the main islands.”
There’s no question that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unspeakable tragedies. Although the exact death toll from the attacks will never be truly known, it’s nearly certain that at least 200,000 people perished in the two attacks In fact, the casualties from the U.S. strategic conventional bombing campaign greatly eclipsed the number of individuals who died from the atomic bombings. The March 1945 firebombing of Tokyo alone killed some 120,000 Japanese. A ground invasion would have resulted in nearly immeasurable more casualties. As one scholar who studied the U.S. invasion plan, Operation Downfall, notes: “depending on the degree to which Japanese civilians resisted the invasion, estimates ran into the millions for Allied casualties and tens of millions for Japanese casualties.”
That being said, a strong case can be made that Operation Downfall, at least as it was planned, wouldn’t have been necessary even if the U.S. hadn’t resorted to nuclear weapons. In particular, the Soviet Union’s decision to enter the Pacific War against Japan would have certainly hastened Japan’s surrender, and thereby saved lives. Indeed, some have argued, quite convincingly, that “the bomb didn’t beat Japan… Stalin did.” But even if Operation Downfall as planned wouldn’t have been necessary, Hiroshima and Nagasaki still almost certainly saved lives. Although the Soviet’s entrance into the war further sealed Japan’s fate, it’s nearly unthinkable that — given Imperial Japan’s views of surrendering — the Japanese Emperor and other leaders would have surrendered immediately after the Soviet invasion. Instead, domestic politics and the need to save face would have compelled them to try and fight the two future superpowers simultaneously for a while, even though they knew the effort was futile.
Every year the City of Hiroshima holds the Peace Memorial Ceremony to console the souls of those who were lost due to the atomic bombing. The floating lanterns symbolize the journey to the afterlife.
The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki gave Japanese leaders the excuse they needed to take the absolutely unthinkable action of surrendering. Indeed, the atomic bombings figured prominently in Emperor Hirohito’s unprecedented speech to the nation announcing Japan’s surrender. “The enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization,” the Emperor told a stunned Japanese nation (stunned partly because they had never heard the Emperor speak and partly because they couldn’t believe Japan was surrendering.)
Arthur Ishimoto believes dropping the atomic bombs on Japan saved a million American lives — including his own — as well as at least 5 million Japanese lives. The 93-year-old served in the Military Intelligence Service, a U.S. Army unit made up of mostly Japanese-Americans who interrogated prisoners, translated intercepted messages and went behind enemy lines to gather intelligence. he was a technical sergeant scheduled to join the invasion of Japan in November 1945, and believes he would have died in the assault. President Barack Obama doesn’t need to apologize for the atom bombs, Ishimoto said, but it’s good for him to go to Hiroshima and “bury the hatchet.” “War is hell. Nobody wins,” Ishimoto said. “There’s no victor, really.”
Arthur Ishimoto, 93, a Japanese-American and U.S. Army Military Intelligence Service veteran, poses
with archival photographs of himself as he is interviewed in Honolulu.
He was born in Honolulu to parents who hailed from western Japan. He read Japan’s plans for fiercely defending its home islands when he served in Tokyo during America’s postwar occupation of the defeated nation. He recalls the plans calling for using kamikaze aircraft, submarines and piloted torpedoes followed by beach mines and suicide units. He met civilians who showed him weapons they had planned to use against the invaders, including a 15-foot-long bamboo spear. “A lot of these people telling us we shouldn’t have dropped the bomb — hey, what they talking about?” said Ishimoto, who after the war became an Air Force major general and commander of the Hawaii National Guard. “They weren’t there. They don’t know what we faced or what we would have faced. It would have been terrible.” [Source: NAUS Weekly Update & ap | May 20 & 24, 2016 ++]
Nagasaki ► 20 Minutes After Bombing | Leaflets
Nagasaki, 20 minutes after the atomic bombing in 1945. A similar bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Subsequently Americans dropped the below leaflets warning of what was going to happen to all Japanese cities. Some people still refused to leave.
TO THE JAPANESE PEOPLE: America asks that you take immediate heed of what we say on this leaflet. We are in possession of the most destructive explosive ever devised by man. A single one of our newly developed atomic bombs is actually the equivalent in explosive power to what 2000 of our giant B-29s can carry on a single mission. This awful fact is one for you to ponder and we solemnly assure you it is grimly accurate.
We have just begun to use this weapon against your homeland. If you still have any doubt, make inquiry as to what happened to Hiroshima when just one atomic bomb fell on that city.
Before using this bomb to destroy every resource of the military by which they are prolonging this useless war, we ask that you now petition the Emperor to end the war. Our president has outlined for you the thirteen consequences of an honorable surrender. We urge that you accept these consequences and begin the work of building a new, better and peace-loving Japan.
You should take steps now to cease military resistance. Otherwise, we shall resolutely employ this bomb and all our other superior weapons to promptly and forcefully end the war.
EVACUATE YOUR CITIES.
ATTENTION JAPANESE PEOPLE. EVACUATE YOUR CITIES. Because your military leaders have rejected the thirteen part surrender declaration, two momentous events have occurred in the last few days.
The Soviet Union, because of this rejection on the part of the military has notified your Ambassador Sato that it has declared war on your nation. Thus, all powerful countries of the world are now at war with you. Also, because of your leaders’ refusal to accept the surrender declaration that would enable Japan to honorably end this useless war, we have employed our atomic bomb.
A single one of our newly developed atomic bombs is actually the equivalent in explosive power to what 2000 of our giant B-29s could have carried on a single mission. Radio Tokyo has told you that with the first use of this weapon of total destruction, Hiroshima was virtually destroyed.
Before we use this bomb again and again to destroy every resource of the military by which they are prolonging this useless war, petition the emperor now to end the war. Our president has outlined for you the thirteen consequences of an honorable surrender. We urge that you accept these consequences and begin the work of building a new, better, and peace-loving Japan.
Act at once or we shall resolutely employ this bomb and all our other superior weapons to promptly and forcefully end the war.
EVACUATE YOUR CITIES.
Military Trivia 122 ► Operation Santa Claus
Christmas in America had been anxious and somber during the four years of World War II. The peril and sacrifice of war was hard to reconcile with memories of the joyfulness of pre-War holidays, and by 1944 many American servicemen and women shared one particular Christmas wish: to be “Home Alive by ’45.” That year, as war drew to a close in both Europe and the Pacific, it seemed possible that the wish might come true. But the war’s end hardly meant that the 2,000,000 men and women eligible for separation—those who could be done with active duty—were home in their civvies by the time the holiday rolled around. With all resources dedicated to winning the war, neither the Army nor the Navy had spent much time thinking through the logistics of bringing everyone home until after the fighting was finished. And so it was without too much preparation that Operation Magic Carpet began in September 1945 to bring the troops back home to the United States.
As Christmas approached, the Army and Navy launched Operation Santa Claus to expedite Operation Magic Carpet, with the goal of rushing as many eligible men and women home for the holiday as possible. But violent storms at sea and the volume of eligible servicemen conspired to thwart the high ambitions of these operations. And so throngs of American military personnel—some 250,000 in all, some with brand new discharge papers and some just a day or two away from separation—found themselves back on American soil for Christmas 1945, but not quite home. Instead, they faced the worst air, rail and automobile traffic jams in history. The rule of thumb in the days immediately preceding Christmas 1945 was that a westbound train would be about 6 hours late, and an eastbound train about 12 hours. The predicament was met with overwhelming understanding and good nature among the servicemen. Upon being asked by a newspaper reporter what he thought about being among the 150,000 who were stranded along the West Coast for Christmas, an Army Private trying to get home to Texas responded that simply stepping on U.S. soil was, “the best Christmas present a man could have.”
Personnel sling hammocks (left) where available and (right) killing time on the hanger deck during transport back to the States on board Intrepid (CV 11) as part of Operation Magic Carpet.
Civilians near the West Coast “separation centers,” where soldiers and sailors were being relieved from active duty, enthusiastically opened their homes to the new and soon-to-be veterans, while many of the 50,000 men and women awaiting discharge from points along the Eastern Seaboard were required to have Christmas dinner at the separation center itself, or sometimes even on the ships which had just brought them there. But even then hardly a complaint was heard, as the troops enjoyed hearty meals provided by the Army and Navy while noting that this year ration tins were nowhere to be found. As reported in the New York Times: “tens of thousands of tired troops, dreaming of a white Christmas, are seeing enough of it from (train) car windows to last them a lifetime.” A full 94% of the passengers on trains originating from the West Coast on Dec. 24, 1945, were military or recently discharged military personnel. Even recently minted veterans unfortunate enough to still be in route between their separation center and home on Christmas were cheerful about their holiday circumstances. Christmas dinner with their families would be eaten on whatever day they arrived home, it hardly mattered whether it was December 25 or a few days later.
Goodwill was everywhere. Civilians gifted their train tickets to returning servicemen and women. Others threw spirited, though condensed, parties for the trainloads of veterans who had even just short stopovers at their town’s station. In at least one instance, a trainload of vets returned the favor by spending their 20-minute layover in Salt Lake City taking up a collection of $125 ($1,650 in 2015 dollars) for a local charitable cause they learned about at the newsstand during the stop. Citizens even volunteered to sacrifice Christmas with their own families to get veterans home before the New Year. A Colorado trucker drove 35 veterans marooned in Denver to their homes in Dallas and 34 points in between. The driver refused to accept payment, insisting the men spend the money on presents for their families. A Los Angeles taxi driver drove a carload of six new veterans 2,700 miles home to Chicago. Another drove six veterans from L.A. to their homes in Manhattan, The Bronx, Pittsburgh, Long Island, Buffalo and New Hampshire in exchange for nothing but the cost of gas.
“This is the Christmas that a war-weary world has prayed for…” proclaimed President Truman at the National Tree lighting ceremony on Dec. 24, 1945 – and Americans did everything they could to give their servicemen and women the holiday they deserved. [Source: TIME | Matthew Litt | December 21, 2015 ++]
WWII Battles Q&A (2) ► Questions
1. Which 4th largest city in the USSR was the site of four battles back-and-forth between the Germans and the Soviets?
Kiev | Kharkov | Berlin | Hamburg
2. Which of the following battles was the first major offensive by Allied forces against the Empire of Japan?
Battle of Medenin| Battle of Guadalcanal | Operation Lüttich | Battle of Rimini
3. After which battle, deemed a stunning success, did Churchill cautiously advise, “We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations.”?
Battle of Timor | Battle of Keren | Battle of La Ciotat | Battle of Dunkirk
4. What is the name of the bridge in the Netherlands which was the pivotal objective of the Battle of Arnhem?
Stari Most | Great Belt Bridge | John Frost Bridge | Alcántara Bridge
5. Which of the following is true about the Battle of Badung Strait?
- This was the first battle along the Western Front.
- Four Japanese destroyers handily defeated a much larger and more heavily armed Allied force.
- The combined air-and-sea attack was conducted by the British Royal Navy off the coast of North Africa.
6. When did the Japanese first start leveraging kamikaze attacks in WWII?
Late 1943 | Middle of 1944 | Late 1944
7. Which Western Front battle heralded the first time that a significant German force fought on the defensive yet emerged victorious in the end?
Battle of Palembang | Battle of Prokhorovka | Operation Battleaxe | Battle of the St. Lawrence
8. When did the Battle of Nancy begin?
September 5, 1944 | January 15, 1940 | August 17, 1948 | March 4, 1939
9. Which general was awarded the Medal of Honor for extreme bravery early in WWII and then went on to preside over the Japanese Unconditional Surrender in 1945?
Douglas MacArthur | George Patton | Maurice Gamelin | George Marshall
10. Which battle was the only battle in which American forces sustained a greater number than total casualties than the Japanese?
Battle of the North Cape | Battle of Iwo Jima | Battle of Dakar | Battle of Zeeland
11. Towards the end of the war, which U.S. general led a force of over 1.3 million troops (America’s largest to serve under one man)?
Petre Dumitrescu | Maxime Weygand | Omar Bradley | Hugh Dowding
12. Which battle prevented Germany from gaining air superiority, eventually forcing Hitler to cancel Operation Sea Lion, the planned amphibious and airborne invasion of Britain?
Battle of Britain | Battle of Timor | Battle of Okinawa | Battle of Rotterdam
[Source: http://www.zoo.com/quiz/world-war-ii-battles | May 2016 ++]
Military History Anniversaries ► 1 thru 15 JUN
Significant events in U.S. Military History over the next 15 days are listed in the attachment to this Bulletin titled, “Military History Anniversaries 1 thru 15 JUN”. [Source: This Day in History http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history | May 2016 ++]
WWII Battles Q&A (2) ► Answers
1. Answer: During WWII, Kharkov was the site of four major military engagements. The city was captured and recaptured by Nazi Germany on 24 October 1941; there was a disastrous Red Army offensive that failed to capture the city in May 1942; the city was successfully retaken by the Soviets on 16 February 1943, captured for a second time by the Germans on 15 March 1943 and then finally liberated on 23 August 1943. Seventy percent of the city was destroyed and tens of thousands of the inhabitants were killed.
2. Answer: The Guadalcanal campaign was a significant strategic combined arms victory by Allied forces over the Japanese in the Pacific theater. The Japanese had reached the peak of their conquests in the Pacific. The victories at Milne Bay, Buna-Gona, and Guadalcanal marked the Allied transition from defensive operations to the strategic initiative in that theater, leading to offensive operations, such as the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, and Central Pacific campaigns, that resulted in Japan’s eventual surrender and the end of World War II.
3. Answer: The Allied forces were split in two by a German armored advance to the Channel coast at Calais after being taken by surprise at the speed of the advance. In one of the most widely-debated decisions of the war, the Germans halted their advance on Dunkirk, giving time for the Allies time to organize the Dunkirk evacuation and build a defensive line. Despite the Allies’ gloomy estimates of the situation, with Britain discussing a conditional surrender to Germany, in the end over 330,000 Allied troops were rescued.
4. Answer: In World War II, during Operation Market Garden (September 1944), the British 1st Airborne Division and the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade were given the task of securing the John Frost Bridge at Arnhem. The units were parachuted and glider-landed into the area on September 17th but the bulk of the force was dropped rather far from the bridge and never met their objective. A small force of British 1st Airborne managed to make their way all the way to the bridge but was unable to secure both sides. The British force at the bridge eventually ran out of ammo and were captured on September 21st, and a full withdrawal of remaining forces made on September 26th.
5. Answer: The Battle of Badung Strait was a naval battle of the Pacific campaign of World War II, fought on the night of February 19, 1942 in Badung Strait (not to be confused with the West Java city of Bandung) between the American-British-Dutch-Australian Command (ABDA) and the Imperial Japanese Navy. In the engagement, the four Japanese destroyers defeated an Allied force that outnumbered and outgunned them, escorting two transports to safety and sinking the Dutch destroyer Piet Hein.
6. Answer: Some sources claim the first kamikaze mission occurred on September 13, 1944 when a group of Japanese pilots on Negros Island decided to launch a suicide attack the following morning. Two 220 lb (100 kg) bombs were attached to two fighters, and the pilots took off before dawn, planning to crash into carriers however they never returned and there is no record of an enemy plane hitting an Allied ship that day. According to other sources, on October 14 1944, the USS Reno was hit by a deliberately crashed Japanese plane. Kamikaze tactics were undoubtedly used on October 17, 1944, at the beginning of the Battle of Leyte Gulf when the Japanese 1st Air Fleet was massively overwhelmed and purposefully resorted to suicide attacks.
7. Answer: Operation Battleaxe was a British Army operation in June 1941 to clear eastern Cyrenaica of German and Italian forces and raise the Siege of Tobruk. The British lost over half of their tanks on the first day and only one of the three attacks succeeded. They achieved mixed results on the second day, being pushed back on their western flank and repulsing a big German counter-attack in the center. On the third day, the British narrowly avoided complete disaster by withdrawing just ahead of a German encircling movement.
8. Answer: The Battle of Nancy in September 1944 was a 10-day battle in which the U.S. 3rd Army defeated German forces defending the approaches to Nancy, France and crossings over the Moselle River to the north and south of the city. When the 3rd Army began its attempt to capture Nancy, it had only recently recovered from a severe fuel shortage which had caused it to halt on the Meuse River for five days. During this time, German defenders in the area had reinforced their positions. The battle resulted in U.S. forces fighting their way across the Moselle and liberating Nancy.
9. Answer: His strategy of maneuver, air strikes and force avoidance meant that soldiers under his command faced relatively low casualties. Douglas MacArthur also managed the occupation of Japan from 1945 to 1951 and as the effective ruler of the country, he oversaw sweeping economic, political and social changes.
10. Answer: American losses for Operation Detachment during the Battle of Iwo Jima were a staggering 6,821 killed/missing and 19,217 wounded. During the struggle for the island, twenty-seven Medals of Honor were awarded, fourteen posthumously. A bloody victory, Iwo Jima provided valuable lessons for the upcoming Okinawa campaign. In addition, the island fulfilled its role as a waypoint to Japan for American bombers. During the final months of the war, 2,251 B-29 Superfortress landings occurred on the island. Due to heavy cost to take the island, the campaign was immediately subjected to intense scrutiny in the military and press
11. Answer: From the Normandy landings to the end of the war in Europe, Bradley had command of all U.S. ground forces invading Germany from the west. After the war, Bradley headed the Veterans Administration and became Army Chief of Staff. In 1949, Bradley was appointed the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the following year oversaw the policy-making for the Korean War, before retiring from active service in 1953. He was the last of only nine people to hold a five-star rank in the United States Armed Forces.
12. Answer: The Battle of Britain has been described as the first major campaign to be fought entirely by air forces. The primary objective of the Nazi German forces was to force Britain to agree to a negotiated peace settlement.
[Source: http://www.zoo.com/quiz/world-war-ii-battles | May 2016 ++]
Medal of Honor Citations ► Barrett~Carlton W | WWII
The President of the United States in the name of The Congress
takes pleasure in presenting the
Medal of Honor
CARLTON W. BARRETT
Rank and organization: Private, U.S. Army, 18th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division
Place and date: Near St. Laurent-sur-Mer, France, 6 June 1944
Entered service: October 29, 1940 at Albany, N.Y.
Born: November 24, 1919 in Fulton N.Y.
For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, in the vicinity of St. Laurent-sur-Mer, France. On the morning of D-day Pvt. Barrett, landing in the face of extremely heavy enemy fire, was forced to wade ashore through neck-deep water. Disregarding the personal danger, he returned to the surf again and again to assist his floundering comrades and save them from drowning. Refusing to remain pinned down by the intense barrage of small-arms and mortar fire poured at the landing points, Pvt. Barrett, working with fierce determination, saved many lives by carrying casualties to an evacuation boat lying offshore. In addition to his assigned mission as guide, he carried dispatches the length of the fire-swept beach; he assisted the wounded; he calmed the shocked; he arose as a leader in the stress of the occasion. His coolness and his dauntless daring courage while constantly risking his life during a period of many hours had an inestimable effect on his comrades and is in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.
Carlton William Barrett enlisted voluntarily in the United States Army about one month before his twenty-first birthday. In civilian life, Barrett had left school after his sophomore year in high school and had been working as a cook. Little information is available about Barrett’s military experience prior to being part of the 18th Regimental Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The 18th RCT was the second of the 1st Division’s regiments to hit the beach, beginning their landing at about 1000 hours. They landed amidst a carnage of shredded landing craft and vehicles, mounting casualties from the 16th RCT that had landed before them, and a gigantic fight remaining to get off the beach and attack inland. Barrett’s assigned role during the landing was as a guide; assisting other soldiers ashore. He became one of three 1st Division soldiers to earn the Medal of Honor on D-Day.
The motto of the 18th Infantry Regiment is “In Omina Paratus” – “Prepared For All Things”. Carlton Barrett certainly was when liberty needed him the most. He survived World War II and remained in the Army until retiring in June 1963 as a Staff Sergeant. Carlton Barrett passed away on May 3, 1986. He rests in peace in the Napa Valley Memorial Park, Napa, California. [Source: http://www.history.army.mil/moh/wwII-a-f.html May 2016 ++]
* Health Care *
TRICARE Reform Update 02 ► House/Senate Committee Proposals
The House and Senate concur that the military health system should be overhauled starting in fiscal 2017; they just disagree on how to reach their similar vision for a system that serves more than 9 million beneficiaries. The draft defense policy bill rolled out last week by the Senate calls for consolidating Tricare into two plans — the current Tricare Prime and Tricare Choice, a meld of Tricare Extra and Standard — and adds a Tricare supplement for beneficiaries with other health insurance. The proposal is similar to the House’s draft bill, but the two bodies disagree on who should pay for revised benefits, with the House proposing to charge new beneficiaries, including active-duty families, an enrollment fee for all plans after Jan. 1, 2018.
The Senate version does not include any enrollment fees for active-duty personnel, and it phases in Tricare Choice fees more slowly than requested by the Pentagon in its proposed budget. “We came to similar conclusions, but we didn’t go about it in similar ways,” a Senate Armed Services staff member said 16 MAY. “[The House version] would implement for the first time ever enrollment fees for active-duty family members. This is not a place our senators wanted to go.” Under both the Senate and House proposals, military retirees not eligible for Medicare will pay more for health care, regardless of which plan they choose.
The Senate has proposed that enrollment fees for Tricare Prime increase for these retirees by $68 per year for an individual and $135 for families starting in 2018 and increase each year by the same formula now used. Retirees electing Tricare Choice would pay $150 for an individual and $300 for a family, increasing over five years to $450 per year for an individual and $900 per year for a family. The idea, Senate staffers said, is to make “modest increases” to ensure that the Pentagon can sustain its health budget while improving quality. “We get input … every year, and their biggest issue was if we are going to tinker with the system, we had to increase the quality of care,” a staff member said.
The House bill also reorganizes Tricare, into the existing Tricare Prime and Tricare Preferred, similar to the Senate’s “Choice.” The House version has the same fee structure for those enrolled before 2018 until 2020, if the Defense Department meets certain standards for patient access and care. After that, if DoD has proven it has met standards, retirees using Tricare Preferred would start paying an annual enrollment fee: $100 for an individual and $200 for a family. And anyone enlisting after Jan. 1, 2018, would pay an annual fee, including the active-duty family members, of either $180 for an individual and $360 for a family for Tricare Prime, or $300 for an individual or $600 for a family for Tricare Preferred, under the House version.
Both legislative proposals also make changes to the military health system to “ensure medical readiness and streamline administrative structure,” staff said. The House would place oversight of the military medical facilities under the Defense Health Agency. The Senate has not released its specifics on the structural overhaul but hinted at creating a unified medical command, eliminating the service medical “stove pipes” and “realigning the DoD medical command structure” while shrinking headquarters staff. For the first time, the Senate Armed Services Committee is proposing to fine beneficiaries who miss medical appointments. According to staff members, military beneficiaries missed 1.7 million appointments last year, including 700,000 active-duty or active-duty family member appointments. Staff members did not say how much DoD would charge for the missed appointments; the bill language is expected to be released this week.
Pharmacy fees also would rise, under the Senate plan, mainly at retail pharmacies and for brand-names ordered by mail. The Senate supports the DoD’s nine-year cost table, which has prescription co-pays for brand-name medications rising incrementally to more than $45 per 30-day prescription by 2026. But, staff pointed out, prescriptions would remain available at no cost through the military treatment facility, and generics also would be available at no cost through mail. “Ninety-two percent of active duty live within a service area of a military hospital and clinic. … What does that tell you? They can get free health care,” the staff said. Agreeing with a Pentagon budget proposal to raise the catastrophic cap, the Senate version would increase the cap for active-duty families to $1,500 for network care, up from $1,000, and for retiree families, from $3,000 to $4,000. Participation fees would not count toward the caps. Both drafts must be approved by their respective legislative bodies and reconciled before becoming law. [Source: Military Times | Patricia Kime | May 16, 2016 ++]
TRICARE Reform Update 03 ► Senate Package Highlights
The Senate Armed Services Committee is embracing some TRICARE fee increases proposed by the Obama administration, particularly for working age retirees and their families. But it links those fee hikes to some surprising and long overdue improvements in patient access and quality of care. This is a far different and seemingly less strained approach than adopted by the House, which would delay most TRICARE fee increases for a generation so they impact only persons who enter the military after 2017 and begin to retire 20 or more years later. On TRICARE fees alone, military beneficiaries almost certainly would prefer that the House provisions prevail when a conference committee meets to iron out differences in the two versions of the fiscal 2017 defense authorization bill. But Democrats charge that the House only was able to defer hard decisions on military compensation by voting to fund just seven months of Iraq and Afghanistan war operations next year.
The threat of a presidential veto if the House budget blueprint prevails, and the attraction of Senate initiatives to expand patient access, seem to give the Senate’s approach to reform better odds of becoming law, though the outcome isn’t near certain. Steve Strobridge, director of government relations for Military Officers Association of America, said MOAA opposes the TRICARE fee increases but the Senate committee does deserve credit for following through on a promise to link them to concrete steps to improve care access and care quality.
Here are highlights of the fee increases and system improvements endorsed by senators:
TRICARE for Life – No fee increases for disabled retirees or for retirees and family members age 65 and older who rely on TRICARE for Life, the military’s prized supplement to Medicare coverage.
Learn more about TRICARE for Life.
TRICARE Prime – The enrollment fee to use military managed care would be raised only for non-disabled retirees under age 65 and their families. For family coverage, retirees would pay $700 a year versus the current $565. Individual retirees would pay $350, up from $282.
Learn more about TRICARE Prime.
TRICARE Choice (Standard) – TRICARE Standard, the military fee-for-service insurance option, would see a name change, to TRICARE Choice. This would underscore that users get to pick their providers. But that freedom to choose would become more costly. Active duty family members or retirees and families would pay a first ever annual enrollment fee. Senators rejected the administration’s call for the fee in fiscal 2018 to be set at $450 for individuals and $900 for families. It opted for a lower fee to start, with a climb to $450/$900 over five years.
TRICARE Supplemental – Working spouses and military retirees would be offered a new lower-cost Choice option if they have alternative health insurance through civilian employers. TRICARE Supplemental would cover costs that alternative insurance wouldn’t pay. And so beneficiaries would pay only half of the annual enrollment fee of full Choice coverage.
Deductibles – The bill accepts the administration’s proposal to establish an annual deductible for Choice beneficiaries who use out-of-network providers. For family members of pay grades E-4 and below, the deductible would be $100 for individuals and $200 for families. For dependents of higher grades and for retirees, the deductible would be $300 per individual or $600 for families.
Outpatient Cost Shares – The Senate bill largely embraces the administration’s call to replace existing co-shares for Choice (Standard) with flat cost-shares for active duty family members and retirees who use healthcare providers outside the network. The aim is to incentivize patients to use TRICARE network contractors and base facilities more efficiently.
Pharmacy Co-Payments – The bill largely accepts the administration’s plan to phase in higher co-pays for off-base pharmacy benefits to spur greater use of generic drugs and mail order. The administration wanted co-pays for brand name drugs at retail outlets or by mail order to climb from $24 this year to $46 by 2026. Instead, co-pays for generic drugs at retail would stay at $10 through 2018 and then climb to $14 by 2025. Generic drugs filled by mail order would have no co-pays through 2019, but rise thereafter to reach $14 by 2025. Brand names not on TRICARE’s drug formulary would be unavailable at retail outlets. Through mail order, non-formulary brand drugs would cost beneficiaries $54 per prescription in 2017, and climb to $92 by 2026. Prescriptions would continue to be filled on base at no charge.
Health Fee Indexing – Senators reject the administration’s call to index TRICARE fees and co-pays to the annual rise in health care costs as measured by the National Health Expenditures (NHE) index. They found a different index to use that that should keep fee increases somewhere between the NHE index and annual retiree cost-of-living adjustments.
Here are highlights of Senate package aimed at ensuring the military health system delivers better value:
Commercial Insurance for Reservists – DoD would have authority to test a program to offer drilling Guard and Reserve members access to the commercial health insurance plans for federal civilian employees. The benefits and premiums might be more attractive than those offered under the TRICARE Reserve Select program, which would not be changed.
End Pre-Authorization Requirement – TRICARE beneficiaries no longer would need pre-authorization from TRICARE managers to seek urgent or special care. This is expected to vastly expand timely access to care.
Appointment Schedules – Military treatment facilities would be required to adopt a single standardized appointment system.
Improved Dental/Vision Coverage – Military retirees would be allowed to enroll in the same dental and vision insurance plans offered to federal civilian retirees. The dental benefits, in particular, are seen as an improvement over the plan now offered to military retirees.
Value-Based Co-Payments – DoD would gain authority to lower beneficiary co-pays on health services and drugs critical to health care outcomes, and to raise them elsewhere. This should encourage wiser choices in use of health resources, replacing a one-size-fits-all approach to fees.
No-show appointment fees – Beneficiaries would be charged a “no-show” fee if they fail to appear for scheduled appointments at military treatment facilities, a move to curb current widespread abuse that limits patient access to care and leads to system-wide inefficiencies.
Telemedicine Expansion – The healthcare system would be required to offer a full range of telehealth services to military beneficiaries.
[Source: NCOA Advocate | Tom Philpott | May 19, 2016 ++]
CMI ► Chronic Multisymptom Illness | Iraq/Afghanistan Vets
A majority of veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan are reporting symptoms of a condition known as chronic multisymptom illness (CMI), according to a new Veterans Affairs study of more than 300 enlisted Army National Guard and Army Reserve troops. The data was collected one year after their return. The condition presents itself as a combination of chronic symptoms, including memory problems, insomnia, fatigue, headache, dizziness, joint pain, indigestion, and breathing problems. “As a whole, CMI can be challenging to evaluate and manage,” said lead author Dr. Lisa McAndrew from the University at Albany. “CMI is distinct from PTSD or depression. It contributes to significant disability.”
CMI has previously been associated with service during the Persian Gulf War in the early 1990s with at least a quarter of those veterans affected. Experts are unsure, however, if that condition is the same one that is emerging with such force among recent veterans. Last year, for example, researchers with the Millennium Cohort Study reported that about one-third of combat veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan had CMI symptoms. “This condition appears to be similar to that experienced by many Gulf War veterans, in terms of the symptoms, but we don’t really know if it’s the same condition,” says McAndrew. “That still requires study.”
For the new study, the researchers surveyed 319 soldiers about their overall health before they deployed and one year after they returned. The findings show there were 150 soldiers who did not report many symptoms before they deployed but who reported symptoms of CMI one year after deployment, suggesting a link between deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan and CMI. Overall, nearly 50 percent of the overall group met the criteria for mild to moderate CMI, and about 11 percent met the criteria for severe CMI, one year after deployment. The most common symptoms reported were trouble sleeping, moodiness or irritability, joint pain, fatigue, difficulty remembering or concentrating, headaches, and sinus congestion. Not surprisingly, veterans who screened positive for CMI scored significantly lower on measures of physical and mental health function.
In total, 166 of the veterans suffered from chronic pain, lasting more than three months. Almost all of those with chronic pain — 90 percent — also met the criteria for CMI. Similarly, 82 percent of those with CMI reported chronic pain. The finding underscores the strong link between chronic pain and CMI, say the researchers. Furthermore, nearly every veteran with PTSD symptoms also showed signs of CMI — about 98 percent. Only seven patients had PTSD and did not meet the criteria for CMI. In contrast, though, about 44 percent of the veterans with CMI did not have PTSD. In other words, the link between PTSD and CMI was not as robust as that between chronic pain and CMI. The authors caution that the study looked only at pain and PTSD as factors associated with CMI. It did not document other conditions that could possibly account for CMI symptoms, such as depression, traumatic brain injury, or substance abuse. However, they say that these other conditions are unlikely to completely account for the frequency of symptoms seen in the study.
All in all, the research team advises that the results be interpreted with caution. “We’re taking the approach that an abundance of caution is necessary in the clinical implications of the findings. Respondents self-reported symptoms on pen and paper surveys. The symptoms were not confirmed or evaluated by a clinician,” says McAndrew. “While the CDC case definition is fairly clear-cut, in clinical practice there is a lot of gray area around applying the label of CMI. We used the term ‘symptoms consistent with CMI’ to indicate the uncertainty due to the self-reported, clinician-unverified nature of the classification.”
McAndrew’s group says clinicians should consider CMI when evaluating Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans, especially those with chronic pain. Once the condition is identified, clinicians in VA and the Department of Defense do have a clinical practice guideline for managing the condition. “Acknowledging the presence of multiple symptoms and taking a holistic approach to achieving patient goals is critical in managing CMI,” says McAndrew. The WRIISC study notwithstanding, McAndrew says not enough attention has been focused on the issue to date. “There have been few studies of CMI among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Our findings suggest this could be an overlooked problem.”
The findings are published in the Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development. [Source: VVA Web Weekly | Traci Pedersen | | May 24, 2016 ++]
NDAA 2017 Update 10 ► SASC Defense Health Agency Proposal
Calling the military health system slow and inefficient, the Senate Armed Services Committee has proposed eliminating the Army, Navy and Air Force medical commands and folding them into the Defense Health Agency. Under the committee’s draft of the National Defense Authorization Act, the military medical commands would be absorbed into the DHA. The service surgeons general would become advisers to the service chiefs and secretaries as well as the Defense Health Agency, while DHA, led by a three-star, would oversee four two-star organizations: military treatment facilities, personnel and training; current DHA duties; and medical force readiness.
Senators said the current structure, with more than 12,000 military and civilian employees, has “failed to recognize and rapidly correct systemic problems in health care delivery.” “The committee believes that the current inefficient organizational structure … paralyzes rapid decision-making and stifles innovation in producing a modern health care system,” members wrote in the report accompanying the bill, S 2943. The proposal to dismantle the three military medical commands and create a single one has been the topic of debate since the end of World War II, when Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower first pitched it. More than 15 studies have been done on the topic since, with GAO in 2011 finding that the Defense Department could save from $281 million to $460 million annually by reorganizing medical commands and consolidating common functions.
But that review was done before a DoD task force released its recommendations on reforming the military health system, a two-year effort that resulted in the establishment of the DHA, which oversees core functions like Tricare management, information technology, pharmacy services, training and education, and more. The Pentagon estimates DHA saved the department $236 million in the first two years of operation. A blue-ribbon commission last year recommended a revision of the military health system to include a broad four-star “Joint Readiness Command” with a subordinate unified joint medical command. Group members argued that the proposal would help preserve the combat medical capabilities achieved in the past 15 years of war.
The House version of the defense policy bill also calls for reorganizing the military health system but falls short of abolishing the military medical commands. Instead, it would place military health facilities under the administration of the Defense Health Agency, with the three service surgeons general being responsible for command of military medical personnel, medical readiness, manpower, training and equipment. Since the DoD task force report was released in 2012, the military services have sought to preserve medical capabilities unique to their departments — skills and services that medical leaders say has contributed to the lowest case fatality rate of any U.S. war. Earlier this year, Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Nadja West warned against extreme proposals to reform the system. “Reforms must not degrade our combat-tested system or readiness in an environment where we must remain rotationally focused and surge-ready [because] the next large-scale deployment could be tomorrow,” West told a Senate Armed Services subcommittee. [Source: Military Times | Patricia Kime | May 23, 2016 ++]
TRDP Update 18 ► Program Eligibility Includes “Gray Area” Retirees
TheEnhanced TRICARE Retiree Dental Program is available to all military retirees (including gray area retirees) and their eligible family members, un-remarried surviving spouses and their eligible children, as well as MOH recipients and their eligible immediate family members. The program covers cleanings, exams, fillings, root canals, gum surgery, oral surgery and dental accidents on the first day that coverage becomes effective; after 12 months of being in the program, it then covers crowns, bridges, partials, braces and dental implants. (New retirees who enroll within four months after retirement from the Uniformed Services or transfer to Retired Reserve status are eligible to waive the 12-month waiting period for major services; supporting documentation is required)
The Enhanced TRDP provides every enrollee an annual maximum of $1,300 per person, a $1200 annual maximum for dental accidents and a $1750 lifetime maximum for orthodontics. It is important to note that the money that the TRDP pays out for preventive and diagnostic services doesn’t count against the annual maximum – those benefits are in addition to the $1300. Retirees can find more information on the program, as well as enroll 24/7/365, online by visiting trdp.org.
TRDP enrollees realize the maximum program savings (an average of 22%) when seeing a network provider. To find a network provider, as well as utilize the Consumer Toolkit to view processed claims, see annual maximum information, sign up to receive paperless EOBs and more, visit www.trdp.org . You can also obtain more information by contacting Doug Schobel at [email protected]. [Source: TRDP Press Release |13 May 2016 ++
UV-A Radiation ► Car Window Protection
Even if your car windows are closed and tinted, they may fail to protect your skin or eyes from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. New research, published online 12 MAY in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology, shows that side windows offer significantly less protection from UV-A rays than windshields provide. The research was conducted by eye surgeon Dr. Brian S. Boxer Wachler of the Boxer Wachler Vision Institute in Beverly Hills, California. The study involved 29 automobiles from 15 manufacturers. The vehicles’ years ranged from 1990 to 2014, with 2010 being the average year. Boxer Wachler analyzed these vehicles by measuring the level of UV-A radiation:
- Behind the front windshield
- Behind the driver’s side window
Here’s what he found:
- The front windshields blocked 95 percent to 98 percent of UV-A radiation, with 96 percent being the average amount blocked.
- The side windows blocked 44 percent to 96 percent of UV-A radiation, with 71 percent being the average amount blocked.
- Only four of the 29 vehicles’ side windows (14 percent) blocked what the study considered “a high level” (90 percent of more) of UV-A radiation.
- Windshields offer greater protection because, unlike side windows, they are made from two planes of glass, the study explains. Between a windshield’s glass planes is a layer of plastic to make the windshield shatterproof, and most of the UV-A protection is in that plastic layer.
These results may in part explain the reported increased rates of cataract in left eyes and left-sided facial skin cancer. Cumulative UV-A exposure is “a significant risk factor for skin cancer,” according to the study. Multiple studies have found that skin cancer is more common on the left side of the face in countries where cars are driven on the right side of the road. A study from Australia, where cars are driven on the left, found that skin cancers are more common on the right side of the face. Dr. Doris Day, a dermatologist and skin cancer expert at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, tells HealthDay that UV-A rays can be especially dangerous: “While UV-B is a shorter wavelength of light and is blocked by glass, UV-A is longer and goes deeper into the skin — causing both skin cancer and premature aging as it breaks down collagen. UV-A also goes through glass, making it a potential issue for those who have daily commutes or spend extended periods in the car.” [Source: MoneyTalksNews | Karla Bowsher | May 13, 2016 ++]
TRICARE Help ► Q&A 160515
(Q) I am writing this on behalf of my retired Air Force father. He has Medicare as his primary insurance and Tricare for Life as secondary insurance. His question is: Does Tricare cover any long-term care expenditures other than co-pay for skilled nursing facility?
A. As you mentioned, Tricare covers skilled nursing care for beneficiaries living in the United States and U.S. territories. This type of care — live-in care usually required after a hospital stay — provides nursing and rehabilitative services until a patient is able to return home or to a family’s care. Tricare does not cover what many people usually think of as “long-term care,” like a nursing home or assisted living facility. But it does cover some forms of long-term care, to include durable medical equipment when prescribed by a doctor, home health care and hospice care.
Regarding in-home care, Tricare covers part-time and intermittent skilled nursing care; home health aide services; physical, speech and occupational therapy; and medical social services — basically the same in-home services covered under Medicare. But you must obtain prior authorization from Tricare and may be charged separately for certain types of equipment and medications. Hospice care, including continuous home care, general hospice inpatient care, inpatient respite care and routine home care, also is covered. For more details, contact the Tricare for Life contractor, Wisconsin Physician Services, at 866-773-0404.
(Q) Will any of the Tricare managed care plans be subject to the Affordable Care Act’s “Cadillac Tax” in the future? I understand the health benefits are pretty robust.
A. The term “Cadillac” to describe an Affordable Care Act tax to be levied on insurers in 2018 refers to the cost of high-priced insurance policies, not the benefits and treatments provided by individual insurance plans. The tax is a 40 percent excise to be paid by insurers who charge beneficiaries more than $10,200 for an individual annual premium or $27,500 for a family. It is designed to discourage companies from offering high-cost health plans to employees as they trim their spending on plans to get under the excise tax cap. While military beneficiaries are required to carry health insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, much of the law does not apply to Tricare, under the law itself and restated in the Tricare Affirmation Act signed in 2010. Still, none of the Tricare plans would meet the Cadillac tax threshold.
Have a question for the TRICARE Help column. Send it to [email protected] and include the word “Tricare” in the subject line. Do not attach files. [Source: MilitaryTimes | 15 thru 31 May 2016
Penis Transplant ► Groundbreaking Operation Could Help Some Vets
A 64-year-old cancer patient has received the nation’s first penis transplant, a groundbreaking operation that may also help accident victims and some of the many U.S. veterans maimed by roadside bombs. In a case that represents the latest frontier in the growing field of reconstructive transplants, Thomas Manning of Halifax, Massachusetts, is faring well after the 15-hour operation last week, Massachusetts General Hospital said 16 MAY. His doctors said they are cautiously optimistic that Manning eventually will be able to urinate normally and function sexually again for the first time since aggressive penile cancer led to the amputation of his genitals in 2012. They said his psychological state will play a big role in his recovery. “Emotionally he’s doing amazing. I’m really impressed with how he’s handling things. He’s just a positive person,” Dr. Curtis Cetrulo, who was among the lead surgeons on a team of more than 50, said at a news conference. “He wants to be whole again. He does not want to be in the shadows.”
Manning, who is single, did not appear at the news conference but said in a statement: “Today I begin a new chapter filled with personal hope and hope for others who have suffered genital injuries. In sharing this success with all of you, it is my hope we can usher in a bright future for this type of transplantation.” The identity of the deceased donor was not released. In Boston, Cetrulo said the transplanted penis has good blood flow and so far shows no signs of rejection. He said that Manning should be released from the hospital soon, and that the surgery had three aims: ensuring the transplanted penis looks natural, is capable of normal urination — which he hopes will resume in a few weeks — and eventually normal sexual function. Reproduction won’t be possible, he said, since Manning did not receive new testes.
Thomas Mannig gives a thumbs up on 13 MAY after being asked how he was
feeling following his penis transplant.
The operation is highly experimental — only one other patient, in South Africa, has a transplanted penis. But four additional hospitals around the country have permission from the United Network for Organ Sharing, which oversees the nation’s transplant system, to attempt the delicate surgery. The loss of a penis, whether from cancer, accident or war injury, is emotionally traumatic, affecting urination, sexual intimacy and the ability to conceive a child. Many patients suffer in silence because of the stigma their injuries sometimes carry; Cetrulo said many become isolated and despondent. Unlike traditional life-saving transplants of hearts, kidneys or livers, reconstructive transplants are done to improve quality of life. And while a penis transplant may sound radical, it follows transplants of faces, hands and even the uterus. “This is a logical next step,” said Dr. W. P. Andrew Lee, chairman of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
His hospital is preparing for a penis transplant in a wounded veteran soon, and Lee said this new field is important for “people who want to feel whole again after the loss of important body parts.” Still, candidates face some serious risks: rejection of the tissue, and side effects from the anti-rejection drugs that must be taken for life. Doctors are working to reduce the medication needed. Penis transplants have generated intense interest among veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, but they will require more extensive surgery since their injuries, often from roadside bombs, tend to be more extensive, with damage to blood vessels, nerves and pelvic tissue that also will need repair, Lee noted. The Department of Defense Trauma Registry has recorded 1,367 male service members who survived with genitourinary injuries between 2001 and 2013. It’s not clear how many victims lost all or part of the penis.
A man in China received a penis transplant in 2005. But doctors said he asked them to remove his new organ two weeks later because he and his wife were having psychological problems. In December 2014, a 21-year-old man in South Africa whose penis had been amputated following complications from circumcision in his late teens received a transplant. Dr. Andre van der Merwe of the University of Stellenbosch told The Associated Press that the man is healthy, has normal sexual function and was able to conceive, although the baby was stillborn. But his recovery was difficult, with blood clots and infections, the doctor said. For congenital abnormalities or transgender surgery, doctors can fashion the form of a penis from a patient’s own skin, using implants to achieve erection. But transplanting a functional penis requires connecting tiny blood vessels and nerves.
A bigger challenge than the surgery itself is finding donor organs. “People are still reluctant to donate,” van der Merwe said. “There are huge psychological issues about donating your relative’s penis.” In the U.S., people or their families who agree to donate organs such as the heart or lung must be asked separately about also donating a penis, hand or other body part, said Dr. Scott Levin, a hand transplant surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania and vice chairman of UNOS’ committee on reconstructive transplants. [Source: AP | Philip Marcelo & Lauran Neergaard, May 16, 2016 ++]
Blood Pressure Guidelines Update 03 ► Potato Consumption
Eating too many potatoes might be bad for your blood pressure. The results of a study published in the medical journal BMJ this week suggest that eating four or more servings of potatoes or french fries per week is associated with an increased risk of hypertension, or high blood pressure. Specifically, when compared with eating less than one serving per month, researchers found these increased risks associated with eating four or more servings per week of:
- Baked potatoes –11 percent higher
- Boiled potatoes — 11 percent higher
- Mashed potatoes — 11 percent higher
- French fries — 17 percent higher
- Potato chips were not found to be associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure.
The researchers also found that replacing one serving of baked, boiled or mashed potatoes per day with one serving of a non-starchy vegetable was associated with a decreased risk of high blood pressure. The study was based on data on more than 187,000 men and women who had taken part in three large U.S. studies over a period of more than 20 years. Their diets were assessed with questionnaires and their blood pressure levels were based on professional diagnoses. The researchers, based in Boston at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, took several other risk factors for high blood pressure into account before coming to the conclusion linking potatoes to an increased risk of high blood pressure.
The authors note that such an observational study has limitations and is not proof of a direct cause-and-effect relationship between potatoes and high blood pressure risk. Instead, it only finds an association between the two. Still, the authors conclude the study by noting: These findings have potentially important public health ramifications, as they do not support a potential benefit from the inclusion of potatoes as vegetables in government food programs but instead support a harmful effect that is consistent with adverse effects of high carbohydrate intakes seen in controlled feeding studies.
According to a news release from health care information provider BMJ, potatoes were recently included as vegetables in the federal government’s healthy meals programs due to their high potassium content. One possible explanation for the connection between potatoes and hypertension, according to the researchers, is that potatoes have a high glycemic index compared to other vegetables. Foods with a higher glycemic index can trigger a steeper rise in blood sugar levels.
You can look up the glycemic index of common foods on Harvard Medical School’s website www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/glycemic_index_and_glycemic_load_for_100_foods and learn more about glycemic index in general on the American Diabetes Association’s website http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/understanding-carbohydrates/glycemic-index-and-diabetes.html?referrer=http://www.moneytalksnews.com/eating-potatoes-might-raise-your-blood-pressure/ [Source: MoneyTalksNews | Karla Bowsher | May 19, 2016 ++]
Osseointegration ► Titanium Rod Implantation for Amputees
Good health hasn’t been with one Iraq War Veteran. Because of complications from a war injury, Sgt. Justin Anderson had to have his left leg amputated in 2014. Months after the amputation, Anderson received a brain cancer diagnosis. Now one year into remission, Anderson is receiving some good news when it comes to his health. Next week Anderson will be flying to Australia to have a medical procedure only about two dozen Americans have had.
Anderson enlisted in the army before September 11th, but the day’s events didn’t deter him from his decision. “It just made me even more motivated to go serve my country and do my due diligence,” said Anderson. After boot camp Anderson took part in the initial invasion of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In June of 2003, Anderson was shot by the enemy. “I took a gunshot wound to my left knee and then had some shrapnel injury to my lower back,” said Anderson. A few months later Sgt. Justin Anderson was honorably discharged. “I had a total of 14 surgeries over ten years just to try to save my limb,” said Anderson. Two year ago Anderson’s left leg had to be amputated above the knee.
When KMTV caught up with the veteran in 2014, amputation wasn’t stopping him from being active. A Nebraska winter can’t even slow the veteran. In January, Anderson’s snowplow wheelchair turned him into a viral sensation. So when Anderson began experiencing painful irritation because of the socket he had to wear over his stump, you better believe he found a way to win that battle. “I will be undergoing surgery on June 1st of this year in Sydney, Australia,” said Anderson. Anderson is the first Iraq War Veteran to undergo Osseointegration, a procedure not yet approved in the US. A titanium rod will be implanted into Anderson’s femur. That rod will protrude about three inches out of his stump and act as an adaptor for his prosthetic leg. “I can just click into my leg and go, I don’t have to rely on my crutches, my wheelchair or my walker,” said Anderson.
Coincidentally the doctor behind the breakthrough medical procedure is an Iraqi refugee. “This technology is proprietary to him,” said Anderson. Dr. Munjed Al Muderis fled to Australia to get away from Saddam Hussein’s regime. Anderson hopes one day Dr. Muderis can bring the advanced technology to the United States to help other veterans change their lives for the better. “It’s really going to transform everything,” said Anderson. Anderson will be in Australia for five weeks after surgery. Refer to http://www.osseointegrationaustralia.com.au for more on the procedure which will cost close to $80,000. Anderson says a major chunk of that is paid for by insurance, but he still has many medical bills to pay for. A GoFundMe account has been set up for Anderson and can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/gulg5g. [Source: CBS KMTV 3 Omaha NE | May 19, 2016 ++]
* Finances *
Saving Money ► Buying Used | 10 No-No’s
Buying used items is one of the top ways to consistently save money on everything you purchase. However, not every used item is a good value. Here are 10 things we think are better when bought new.
1. Cribs – Back in 2011, the government changed safety standards for baby cribs in response to infant deaths related to old designs. Whereas drop-side cribs used to be common, they are now banned. Plus, the new rules require stronger supports and hardware. The problem with buying a used crib is the chance you might end up with one of the millions that have been recalled. It may be easy to avoid drop-side cribs, but unless the seller can provide the original sales information, you may not know whether your purchase meets the new safety requirements. Better safe than sorry. Skip the used crib and invest in a new, safer one.
2. Car seats – Another no-no when it comes to buying used. Again, safety is the reason. A used car seat could have been in an accident or exposed to extreme elements, either of which could compromise the seat’s durability. In addition, older seats may not be made to the latest safety standards. You could save a few bucks and get a used seat or spend a little more and give your child the best protection possible. If you can’t afford a new seat, contact your local social services agency or community wellness organization. They may have leads on programs offering free or low-cost car seats.
3. Helmets – Again a safety issue. This could be a helmet for a bike or a helmet for a motorcycle. Here, the main concern with buying used is that the helmet could be compromised from a previous accident. Play it safe and purchase yours new.
4. Computers – A used computer is a giant question mark. You don’t necessarily know how it’s been used, and unless you’re tech-savvy, you might not be able to see what programs are lurking on the hard drive. Laptops, in particular, are prone to all sorts of abuse, from being banged around in a bag to being dropped on the ground. There is one exception when it comes to buying used computers and laptops: We’re talking about buying refurbished computers. These are either used or open-box items that have been inspected and cleared for resale. Buying refurbished items can be a safe way to get a bargain on used electronics. You can learn more at http://www.moneytalksnews.com/refurbished-electronics-101-how-save-50-percent .
5. Digital cameras – Like laptops, a second-hand digital camera may not only be used, it could also have been abused. It’s hard to look at one and determine how well its previous owner cared for it. If you just need a basic point-and-click camera or video recorder, new models aren’t all that expensive. Or you could just use your smartphone and skip the expense completely.
6. Shoes – If you’re interested in having comfy feet and minimizing back pain, you might want to skip past the used shoe section at the thrift store. Shoes often conform to their first owner’s feet, which can make them uncomfortable for you.
7. Makeup – You can find used mascara, lipstick and eye shadow at thrift stores, garage sales and on eBay. There’s even a Reddit makeup exchange board at https://www.reddit.com/r/makeupexchange for people to swap their barely used cosmetics. Used makeup can be a completely harmless bargain — or it might contain scary bacteria or spread disease. It’s not worth the risk, and you’re better off buying your beauty products new.
8. Mattresses – Like shoes, mattresses tend to conform to the bodies of their users. Buying used might mean you end up with a lumpy bed that leaves you tossing and turning all night long. Even worse, a used mattress can harbor all sorts of nasty things like allergens, dust mites and bed bugs. In some cases, retailers may try to pass off used mattresses as new ones. The Federal Trade Commission has some tips help you avoid inadvertently buying a used mattress that has been recovered at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0099-shopping-used-mattresses
9. Stuffed animals – Stuffed animals are another item that can contain dust mites and allergens. In addition, some animals may have safety issues, such as eyes that pop off and become a choking hazard. Buying used means you can end up with a toy that has been recalled or one that harbors unpleasantness that you may not want to bring into your house.
10. Underwear – Your call on the “eww factor.” Some people might be concerned that used underwear may carry bacteria or germs, but I’m not convinced it’s anything that can’t be killed with a hot water wash and bleach. The bigger question is why would you want to wear someone else’s stretched out, used undies when so many stores will sell you a new pack for $10? All except the most destitute among us can certainly scrounge up that much money. You’re worth the luxury of spending $10 once a year on new underwear.
Source: MoneyTalksNews | Maryalene LaPonsie | May 12, 2016 ++]
Military Retiree State Tax | SC ► Tax Deduction Bill 2 JUN Deadline
The South Carolina General Assembly is considering a bill that would offer state income tax deductions for military retirees. The plan would offer military retirees with at least 20 years of service a deduction of $17,500 a year for those under 65 or $30,000 a year for those 65 or older. A caveat is that the military retirees under 65 must embark on a second job in the state with an annual salary of at least $17,500. The bill unanimously passed the House in 2015 and was carried over to the Senate this year. It has passed the Senate Finance Committee twice, but has been held up mainly by state Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington.
Malloy has logged an objection to the bill, which means his presence is necessary before it can be debated and voted upon by the entire Senate. He was out of town 23 MAY and said by text that the issue warranted further discussion, but didn’t elaborate. The legislative session ends 2 JUN. If senators don’t vote on the bill by then, it will have to be reintroduced next year. About 58,000 military retirees live in South Carolina, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. The bill would cost the state about $18 million a year, according to the S.C. Department of Revenue. But the bill’s backers — including the S.C. Military Base Task Force, which is charged with keeping military bases open and retaining and creating military jobs in the Palmetto State — said the benefits outweigh the cost.
The tax break would retain disciplined, skilled workers, said task force chairman Bill Bethea of Bluffton, who was appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley. The cost would be offset by taxes on the retirees’ new jobs and those of their spouses. “We’re very fortunate to have Boeing and Volvo and BMW and all these tire companies in South Carolina,” said Bethea, an 8-year veteran of the Marine Corps who fought in Vietnam. “They require good, dependable, reliable workers. Someone who has been in the military for 30 years makes an ideal employee. “Keeping those people here strengthens our workforce,” he said. “It also brings in a replacement stream of income that exceeds their retirement income.” The bill’s passage would also help cement South Carolina as one of the most military friendly states in the nation. That’s a distinction which will bolster the state’s standing with the Pentagon when new rounds of base closings and realignment, called BRAC, kicks in, perhaps in 2019.
Currently, the Military Officers Association of American rates South Carolina yellow — or average — when it comes to military issues. The rating is not green — the highest — primarily because of the income tax issue. Red is the lowest rating. Currently, 26 states have no state income tax at all or exempt military retires from paying state income taxes, according to the S.C. Department of Commerce. “Every retiree looks at that when they are making their decision to retire,” said Tom Robillard, who is a state vice president of the national officers association. “And that extends to enlisted retirees as well as officers. This legislation benefits all retirees.”
Boosters said another benefit of the bill is that it would say “thank you” to retirees for their lengthy service, which often includes combat. “These are people who for 20 or 30 years moved every two years, lived like gypsies, put their lives on the line and weren’t able to put down roots,” Bethea said. “We feel this is a way that South Carolinians can give back to those veterans for the sacrifices they made for our freedom.” [Source: The State | Jeff Wilkinson | May 23, 2016 ++]
Life Insurance Update 02 ► PTSD Impact on Eligibility
An Army veteran and his wife said they were “shocked and saddened” when they learned he was denied life insurance because of his history of post-traumatic stress and depression. “There have to be a lot of veterans with this diagnosis,” said the wife, who asked to remain anonymous as they continue the process of getting insurance through another company that specializes in life insurance for service members and veterans. The denial letter they received from USAA cited his history of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain and asthma. The Army veteran said a USAA representative emphasized his PTSD and the depression in explaining the denial. Insurers don’t talk about a particular individual’s situation for privacy reasons, but they do offer general information about how they make their decisions. And comparing companies’ policies is often like comparing apples and oranges. The veteran said one difference is that he was applying for an individual term policy with USAA. The policy he has been approved for with another company is a group term policy. In group term policies, the risk is spread over a broader category of people and the underwriting requirements aren’t as strict. He also applied for a lesser amount of coverage initially.
Can you qualify for commercial life insurance if you have PTSD? It depends on each individual’s circumstances, as well as the insurance company’s policies, according to officials at four companies that are among a number that specialize in providing life insurance to the military community. “The great majority of members with histories of PTSD are offered life insurance, many at our very best price,” said Alex Gairo, a spokeswoman for USAA. “As with so many health issues ranging from diabetes to depression, it is a question of degree and duration. “The applicant’s health history is reviewed to determine the following: how severe are the symptoms, what was the date of the onset of symptoms, how necessary are the medications to achieve effective control, does the applicant need counseling/psychotherapy? All these factors weigh in on the decision of the applicant.” “Talk to us and other insurers.
All of us have different underwriting rules,” advised Mike Meese, a retired Army brigadier general who is chief operating officer at AAFMAA. At AAFMAA, “we probably, as a percentage, have more people with PTS that we underwrite and insure than any other condition,” said Meese. The company looks at each individual’s case, including the treatment, the medications, and the doctor’s diagnosis. Depending on the situation, he said, the applicant might pay a higher rate, but it’s usually cheaper than Veterans Group Life Insurance. When he left the Army in 2008, the veteran didn’t sign up for Veterans Group Life Insurance, which is available to those who have been insured under the Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (SGLI) program. “Unfortunately he missed his window to get insurance under VGLI,” his wife said. “We were both in our 20s and were not really thinking about this. We now have two kids.” That’s changed their thinking about their family’s financial situation if something happened to her husband.
Under VGLI, service members have one year and 120 days from the date of separation from the military to apply for the insurance. If service members apply for VGLI within 240 days after separation, they will not need to answer health questions. Since being turned down for insurance, the couple has applied for coverage elsewhere and initially applied for a lesser amount of coverage. They were accepted by another company that specializes in coverage to the military community, and are now trying to increase the amount of coverage. The wife said the rate is competitive with the life insurance she has as a federal employee. Insurers also look at whether the applicant has a VA disability rating, “The decision is made based on the risk. That’s how the insurance industry works,” said Mike Reyna, a retired Air Force colonel who is president of Military Benefit Association. “A high percentage of veterans have a PTSD diagnosis,” he said. “That’s usually disclosed in the application process. But there are no automatic disqualifiers. Like other medical issues, there are levels of severity.”
Navy Mutual has insured people with PTSD, but again, it depends on the individual circumstance and the whole health picture, said Stephen Pietropaoli, a retired Navy admiral who is chief operating officer at Navy Mutual. Post-traumatic stress itself is not disqualifying, he said, but the applicant may be denied or have to pay more for insurance when the PTS is more severe and if he or she is on medication for other physical injuries, for example. Navy Mutual tries to come down on the side of approving the application. “We exist to provide life insurance for those who serve and their families,” he said. But if they don’t assess the risk properly, it could affect the financial strength of the company. “We have to be around for 30, 40, 50 years from now to pay the claims,” he said. He and others advise applying for commercial life insurance before transition or soon after leaving the military. That gives the option of applying for VGLI when you’re still eligible. And like this veteran and his wife learned, it’s wise to shop around to find options. [Source: Military Times | Karen Jowers | May 23, 2016 ++]
Bargains ► 50% Off – Not Really
Is your favorite store trumpeting a 50 percent off sale or other price-slashing offers that seem too good to resist? Think twice before you plunk down your hard-earned cash. Most of us love bargains and feel the thrill of victory when we snare them. But what you might not realize is that the 50 percent off sales are likely not where you’ll find the “bargains.” In fact, when an item is advertised as half off, you may really be paying more than if you bought it at the “regular” price. And, some of those screaming deals you think you’re getting through online discount and coupon sites are the digital equivalent of the brick-and-mortar price deception. So, understand this and avoid being manipulated:
The fiction of the ‘list price’
JCPenney, Kohl’s, Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s all have been sued for misleading bargain-hunting customers with the use of high-percentage-off deals. In some cases, the price listed as the “original” was two times the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, reported Money. That meant the 50-plus percent “discount” left a buyer with more than the original manufacturer suggested retail price. Here’s an idea of how it works,
- In an example noted by Time: A Lenox ornament was seemingly discounted at Macy’s from $60 to $17.99. The problem? There was no evidence that Macy’s ever sold that ornament for the $60 price.
- In an example from Stacy Johnson, founder of Money Talks News: A Samsung TV on Amazon is selling for about $600 — 20 percent, or about $150 off the “list price” of $750. Looks like a good deal, right? But with just a little research you can find the same TV on Google Shopping, with lots of places selling this TV, shipping included, for about $550. That’s $50 less than Amazon.
- One of the sites that pops up on Google Shopping selling this TV for $550, B&H Photo, claims the TV really costs $947.99, and lucky you are instantly saving $400.
As you can see, retailers take a lot of liberties with “list” prices. “If you’re selling $15 pens for $7.50, but just about everybody else is also selling the pens for $7.50, then saying the list price is $15 is a lie,” David C. Vladeck, the former director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection told The New York Times.
Be aware of the digital version
And sadly, yes, many online “bargains” including those by Groupon and Living Social are also not true deals, reported The Wire, a division of Atlantic Media. Their reporting (based on limited data) suggested that many original prices provided by these sites were inflated and, thus, so were the savings offered. Here’s what Consumer Reports had to say on the topic:
- We’ve seen similar issues with merchant references to manufacturer list prices. For example, while researching a recent story about buying prescription eyeglasses, we found several instances in which eyeglass websites gave different list prices for the exact same frames. We found other cases in 2011, including one website showing an $86 list price for Hewlett-Packett Deskjet 3000 printer with an actual MSRP of $69.99. The site’s $66.99 price, purported to be a $19 savings, was in fact a reduction of only $3 off the list price.
- Don’t be blinded by the sea of “sales” signs you’ll see in some stores. And forget references to list price, MSRP, street price, retail price, or a retailer’s “regular” or “original” price. Instead, comparison shop to find the best price before buying. Use an Internet search with the exact product name and model number so you’re sure you’re comparing the same item. So, what the lesson here? Always assume the list price and savings on such “deals” are simply made up. Research is the key to make sure that you’re really getting the bargain you want. The Internet makes it easy to do!
Not sure where to start? Try http://dealnews.com, where bargain researchers keep their eyes on “millions of products” and surface the best deals. Ben’s Bargains (http://bensbargains.com ) is another one they suggest for its price history data and “Cheaper Than Amazon” feature. And then, even when you think you have a great deal in hand, do a little more research on your own. Remember, every retailer — whether you are shopping in a store or online — is trying to get the most money out of you. Only with some effort will you see whether the price they ask is fair or not. [Source: MoneyTalksNews | Nancy Dunham | May 23, 2016 ++]
Senior Discount Update 06 ► Accommodations/Activities/Entertainment ++
Keep this list and send a copy to your senior friends and relatives. Note: YOU must ASK for your discount!
- Best Western: 40% off (55+)
- Cambria Suites: 20%-30% off (60+)
- Waldorf Astoria – NYC: $5,000 off nightly rate for Presidential Suite (55 +)
- Clarion Motels: 20%-30% off (60+)
- Comfort Inn: 20%-30% off (60+)
- Comfort Suites: 20%-30% off (60+)
- Econo Lodge: 40% off (60+)
- Hampton Inns & Suites: 40% off when booked 72 hours in advance
- Holiday Inn: 20-40% off depending on location (62+)
- Hyatt Hotels: 25%-50% off (62+)
- InterContinental Hotels Group: Various discounts at all hotels (65+)
- Mainstay Suites: 10% off with Mature Traveler’s Discount (50+); 20%-30% off (60+)
- Marriott Hotels: 25% off (62+)
- Motel 6: Stay Free Sunday nights (60+)
- Myrtle Beach Resort: 30% off (55 +)
- Quality Inn: 40%-50% off (60+)
- Rodeway Inn: 20%-30% off (60+)
- Sleep Inn: 40% off (60+)
ACTIVITIES & ENTERTAINMENT
- AMC Theaters: Up to 30% off (55 +)
- Bally Total Fitness: $100 off memberships (62+)
- Busch Gardens Tampa, FL: $13 off one-day tickets (50 +)
- Carmike Cinemas: 35% off (65+)
- Cinemark/Century Theaters: Up to 35% off
- Massage Envy – NYC: 20% off all “Happy Endings” (62 +)
- U.S. National Parks: $10 lifetime pass; 50% off additional services including camping (62+)
- Regal Cinemas: 50% off Ripley’s Believe it or Not: @ off one-day ticket (55 +)
- SeaWorld, Orlando , FL : $3 off one-day tickets (50 +)
- AT&T: Special Senior Nation 200 Plan $19.99/month (65+)
- Great Clips: $8 off haircuts (60+)
- Jitterbug: $10/month cell phone service (50 +)
- Supercuts: $8 off haircuts (60+)
- Verizon Wireless: Verizon Nationwide 65 Plus Plan $29.99/month (65+).
SNAP Update 04 ► Are you Eligible to Receive Benefits
Families with limited financial resources may be eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP). It is a federally-funded program to help low-income individuals and families buy food. States and counties manage their own SNAP offices. Formerly known as “food stamps,” the benefits you’ll get from SNAP are loaded onto an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, similar to a credit or debit card. The card is easier, faster, and more discreet than the former food stamp system. You can use the card to purchase eligible food items at local retailers like grocery stores and at some farmer’s markets. To see if you are eligible for the program:
- Gather your income and asset information and use the pre-screening eligibility tool at http://www.snap-step1.usda.gov/fns. It will tell you if you’re likely to qualify for food benefits and how much you may receive. This is not an application; you will still need to apply through your state’s program.
- Find the online application for your state at http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/apply . You’ll find local office addresses and phone numbers in the same place. You can also apply in person at a state or local office.
- Wait to learn if you are eligible for benefits. If your state determines that you qualify for food benefits, they will send you an EBT card.
- Use your EBT card to access food benefits at your local authorized SNAP retailers. You can use the card at a cash register like a credit or debit card to pay for food.
Many states have EBT websites set up for managing your benefits. Check http://www.fns.usda.gov/ebt/state-ebt-websites. If your state doesn’t have an EBT management website, you can contact your state SNAP office to check your benefits at http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/state-informationhotline-numbers. You may also be eligible to receive other government benefits. Visit http://www.benefits.gov to learn more. If you suspect an individual or a retailer is committing SNAP fraud, you can report it to your state online or by phone. If you suspect your SNAP application was declined because of age, sex, color, race, disability, religious creed, national origin, or political beliefs, please write to: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Civil Rights Division, 3101 Park Center Dr., Room 942, Alexandria VA 22302. [Source: CFL News & Chat | Michael Isam | May 18, 2016 ++]
Retiree States ► 10 Worst to Grow Old In
Where you choose to grow old is a highly personal decision, ruled by considerations like proximity to family and friends, home prices, and how you like to spend your time. But experts say you should be thinking even farther ahead, to a day when you’re less independent and will need assistance and support. For some seniors, this may mean living close to family, for others, it will entail finding a place with excellent senior living options. While the factors that make a particular state an ideal environment to grow old are highly individual, there are certain elements that make some states a better bet than others. These include the availability of quality healthcare, affordability of senior care, support for seniors and family caregivers and overall quality of life for seniors.
In research conducted by Caring.com, the following 10 states had the lowest combined rankings in these categories.
We assembled these ratings by examining data on quality of life for residents over 55, quality of healthcare, long-term care, support for seniors and family caregivers, senior care costs and more than 105,000 consumer ratings of senior care providers in each state. Sources included:
- The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index http://www.well-beingindex.com,
- Genworth’s 2015 Cost of Care Survey https://www.genworth.com/about-us/industry-expertise/cost-of-care.html, and
- The Long-term Scorecard http://www.longtermscorecard.org , a joint effort by AARP, The Commonwealth Fund and The SCAN Foundation.
10. Alabama – Alabama is the 10th worst state in which to grow old, according to our research. While it’s home to numerous historical monuments and some scenic beaches, the state ranked second to last in the nation in quality of life and health care. On the other hand, the state also has the country’s second-cheapest senior care – with the average yearly cost of a home health aide at under $38,000 and a year in an assisted living community at roughly $37,000.
8. Ohio (tied with Pennsylvania) – Although Ohio can be a great place to live for many families, boasting world-renowned museums, universities, and sports teams, it also ranks among the lowest for residents aged 55 and older. The state is tied with neighboring Pennsylvania for the eighth-worst place to grow old. Its spot on the bottom 10 list is due to its low rankings in quality of life and health care (it ranked the sixth lowest). It ranked 14th in the nation for elder care costs, with a year of assisted living services running roughly $47,000 on average, and a home health aide about $45,000.
8. Pennsylvania (tied with Ohio) – Home to the city of brotherly love, numerous historical monuments, world-renowned universities and more, Pennsylvania has a lot going for it – but it didn’t rank well in any of the categories we measured. The northeastern state is 40th on the list for quality of life and healthcare, and 31st for senior care costs, making it one of the most expensive places in the nation for assisted living ($42,660 per year on average), home health aides (about $48,000 yearly) nursing homes (about $105,000 for a semi-private room).
7. Mississippi – Similar to its neighbor to the east, Mississippi is home to a number of historical landmarks, world-class barbecue and excellent blues music. But seniors considering living here also have reason to feel the blues, due to the state’s low quality of life and healthcare ranking (the third-lowest in the nation). On the bright side, the southern state has some of the country’s most affordable senior care – with either a year in assisted living or a home health aide’s yearly fees both running about $38,000.
6. Rhode Island – It may be home to some impressive historical sights, scenic seaside towns and a world-renowned Ivy League school, but the nation’s smallest state also appears to be one of the worst bets for those looking for a place to spend their later years. While this New England state fared alright in the quality of life and healthcare ranking at 29th place, its senior care costs run far higher than the national average. A year’s worth of home health aide services runs about $57,000, while assisted living costs in the state are a whopping $64,000 on average.
5. Indiana – Also known as the “Crossroads of America,” Indiana is a great home for many residents, but this Midwestern state is a less than ideal place to grow old, our research finds. Although it placed right in the middle for affordability of senior care in the 26th spot, Indiana’s ranking was pulled down with the fifth-lowest rating for quality of life and healthcare. The state also had especially lower scores on support for seniors and family caregivers.
4. Kentucky – Home to the world-famous Kentucky Derby, vibrant cities like Louisville and the majestic Appalachian Mountains, Kentucky has plenty to offer. But when it comes to a place to spend your golden years, the southern state ranks among the lowest in the nation. It ranked 13th in the nation for affordability of senior care (a year in an assisted living community here is roughly $40,000 while a home health aide costs about $44,000 per year on average), but was dragged down by its poor quality of life and health care ranking at the fourth lowest in the nation.
3. New York – Claiming one of the most beloved, most-visited cities in the world, New York is second to none when it comes to many things – but as a place to grow old, the state is in the bottom three. New York has the third-most expensive senior care in the country. A year in an assisted living community costs about $49,000 on average and a home health aide is around $52,600, while a semi-private room in a nursing home in New York runs about $131,700 on average. And the Empire State didn’t fare much better in the healthcare or quality of life categories – ranking 36th in the nation on these criteria.
2. New Jersey – New York’s oft-mocked neighbor to the west has reason to defend itself – its seaside towns, impressive historic landmarks and world-class universities like Princeton are nothing to sneeze at. Yet, when it comes to a great mix of affordable senior care and quality of life for those 55 and over, New Jersey doesn’t deliver. The Garden State places 40th in the country for quality of life and healthcare for seniors. What’s more, it’s among the most expensive in the U.S. for senior care – with average yearly costs for a home health aide at about $48,500 and roughly $69,000 for assisted living.
1. West Virginia – The worst state to grow old is West Virginia, our research shows. Coming in at 20th place for senior care costs, long-term senior care here is relatively affordable (a year in an assisted living facility will run you $42,000 on average and a home health care aide costs about $36,600 per year). And while the Mountain State boasts plenty of natural beauty and Civil War-era landmarks, it’s sorely lacking in important quality of life and healthcare offerings for seniors, ranking dead last in this category.
[Source: Caring.com | Editor Laura Dixon| May 2016 ++]
Retiree States ► 10 Best to Grow Old In
When you picture the place where you’ll live out your golden years, what do you see? For many people, it’s a family home with plenty of relatives and friends living close by. For others, it may be a far-flung destination they’ve long dreamed of retiring in. Whether or not you plan to stay in your current state of residence or relocate, there are some important considerations to take into account. While proximity of family and friends is the top factor when deciding where to live in your later years, things such as access to quality healthcare, the cost of senior care and support for seniors in a given area are also important to consider. These types of considerations are especially key when deciding where to live in your late 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond, as more and more people now do, says Sara Zeff Geber, Ph. D, an author and retirement planning expert. “At that age, we really need to start thinking about someplace that’s stable, someplace that’s safe and someplace that we can afford,” she says. “Those things don’t always add up to the Sun Belt.”
Caring.com’s own research found that the states that offer the best mix of quality healthcare, long-term care, affordability and selection of senior care and overall quality of life aren’t always found in the typical retirement destinations like Florida or Arizona. In fact, the states that offer ideal conditions for those 55 and older will probably surprise you. We assembled these ratings by incorporating data on quality of life in a given area for residents over 55, quality of healthcare, long-term care, support for seniors and family caregivers, affordability of senior care and more than 100,000 ratings of senior care providers in each state. Sources included:
- The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index http://www.well-beingindex.com,
- Genworth’s 2015 Cost of Care Survey https://www.genworth.com/about-us/industry-expertise/cost-of-care.html, and
- The Long-term Scorecard http://www.longtermscorecard.org , a joint effort by AARP, The Commonwealth Fund and The SCAN Foundation.
1. South Dakota – The land of Mount Rushmore, sweeping prairielands, buffalo, and just over 853,000 residents is the best state to grow old, outranking all other states on a combination of quality of life, healthcare and financial categories. Seniors in South Dakota have access to high-quality healthcare and senior care, with costs of care hovering around the national average (about $36,000 yearly for an assisted living community, and around $52,000 for a home health aide). In addition to financial considerations, our survey incorporated The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which measures purpose, social, financial, community and physical well-being. As of 2015, the Mount Rushmore State boasted one of the highest combined rankings in these categories for residents 55 and older.
2. Iowa – Known for its endless cornfields, rolling plains and location at the heart of the Midwest, Iowa is the second-best state to spend your golden years. Like South Dakota, the Hawkeye State is far from the typical Sun Belt retirement destinations. Also like South Dakota, senior care costs here are around the national average. But the state ranked among the top 10 in the nation for quality of life and healthcare for residents over 55.
3. Minnesota – Sharing a border with Canada, it may be one of the coldest spots in the union, but it turns out, Minnesota is also one of the best states to grow old. Compared to the first two states on the list, senior care in Minnesota is pricier (an assisted living facility costs roughly $42,000 per year on average, while a home health aide runs about $57,000). Still, the state ranked especially high (#3) in quality of health care and overall quality of life for seniors.
4. Alaska – The “Last Frontier” is also one of the best places to spend your later years, according to our research. Of all 50 states, Alaska topped the list for quality of life and health care, and also ranked very high for quality and access to long-term care services and supports for seniors. At the same time, the state is also home to the most expensive senior care in the nation (a year in a nursing home costs a whopping $281,000 on average and assisted living runs more than $68,000 yearly), dragging its overall ranking down to the fourth spot.
5. Oregon – According to one highly cited study, Oregon was the most popular state to move to in 2015. And our research shows, there’s good reason for people 55 and older to jump on the Oregon-bound bandwagon. The state ranked fourth in the quality of life and healthcare studies and also very high in long-term care and supports for seniors. The ranking dipped somewhat due to pricier cost of senior care here– a year in an assisted living community runs about $50,000 on average and a home health aide costs over $51,000.
6. Colorado – With its abundant natural beauty and vibrant cities, Colorado is another great place to live for people of all ages. And for those 55 and older, the Centennial State ranks seventh in overall quality of life, well-being and healthcare quality. Its relatively high senior care rates (roughly $50,000 on average for either assisted living or a home health aide) pulled down the state’s ranking slightly.
7. Hawaii – In addition to being one of the world’s most popular vacation destinations, beautiful Hawaii boasts a great mix of quality of life, health care and support for people 55 and over. The state scored the highest marks in the nation on support for family caregivers, and among the highest for quality of long-term care and supports for seniors. But with senior care costs here among the highest in the nation (home health aides cost around $56,000 per year on average, while a year in an assisted living community runs about $48,000), not everyone can afford to spend their later years in the Aloha State.
8. South Carolina – South Carolina not only draws plenty of tourists to its beachfront vacation towns, pastel-colored houses and Civil War monuments, it’s also a smart choice for seniors looking for affordable long-term care. The only southern state to make the top 10, South Carolina boasts the nation’s fifth-cheapest elder care. A year in an assisted living community costs $37,500 on average, while a home health aide costs roughly $42,000 per year. Meanwhile, the state’s overall quality of life and healthcare rankings for seniors are around the national average.
9. Nebraska – While it’s mostly known for its agriculture, with cornfields blanketing the landscape, Nebraska is also an excellent choice for people looking for a place to spend their later years. The Cornhusker State also ranks high in the quality of life, healthcare and well-being indexes, and scores high marks for its quality of senior care and support for seniors and family caregivers. As far as affordability of senior care, Nebraska’s costs are around the national average (roughly $53,000 annually for a home health aide and about $43,500 a year for assisted living expenses).
10. Wisconsin – Wisconsin isn’t just for fans of cheese, beer and football – it’s also an excellent place to live for the 55-and-older crowd. While senior care here is relatively expensive ($48,000 per year on average for an assisted living community and about $50,000 yearly for a home health aide), the state ranks eighth in the nation for quality of life and health care. Wisconsin’s long-term care options and support for seniors and family caregivers also scored some of the highest marks in the country, cementing its place among the top 10.
[Source: Caring.com | Marilyn Lewis | May 2016 ++]
Skimmer Scam ► Card Reader Machine Attachment
Next time you use the self-checkout lane at a store, be sure to take a second look at the machine you use to swipe your credit or debit card. Scammers are installing “skimmers,” devices that collect the data from credit, debit or ATM cards, on these machines.
How the Scam Works:
- You are checking out at the supermarket or another large store, and you decide to use the self-checkout lane. You ring up your purchases and swipe your credit or debit card to pay the bill. You may not notice anything strange about the card processor, but scammers have attached a skimmer to some registers. These devices “skim” your card’s information off the magnetic strip.
- Skimmers are most commonly installed on ATM card readers. But in the past few months, several big box stores have found them attached to the payment processors in self-checkout aisles. Be careful when using these lanes and follow the advice below for spotting a skimmer.
Protect Yourself from a Skimmer:
- Pay with a credit card or cash: You aren’t liable for fraudulent charges on your credit card (but be sure to report them to your bank). But if scammers gain your debit card info, they may be able to drain your account.
- Protect your PIN. Place your hand or a piece of paper over the keypad when entering your number. Some scammers set up a video camera nearby to record customers entering their PINs.
- 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.
- Use chip readers when available: The new credit/debit card processors — which require you to “dip” a chip card instead of swipe the magnetic stripe — are more secure. Check to see that your credit and debit cards have them, and use them whenever possible.
- Be wary of strange signs. Some con artists attach signs to ATMs or card processors 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 machine and report it to the store manager or the police.
For More Information Read more about the scam on http://krebsonsecurity.com/2016/02/safeway-self-checkout-skimmer-close-up [Krebs on Security], a blog about computer security run by former Washington Post reporter Brian Krebs. To find out more about other scams, check out BBB Scam Stopper at www.bbb.org/scam. To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker at www.bbb.org/scamtracker . [Source: BBB Scam Alert | May 27, 2016 ++]
Tax Burden for Iowa Retired Vets ► As of May 2016
Many people planning to retire use the presence or absence of a state income tax as a litmus test for a retirement destination. This is a serious miscalculation since higher sales and property taxes can more than offset the lack of a state income tax. The lack of a state income tax doesn’t necessarily ensure a low total tax burden. Following are the taxes you can expect to pay if you retire in Iowa:
State Sales Tax: 6% (food and prescription drugs exempt); local option taxes can add up to another 6.8%.
Gasoline Tax:: 50.4 cents/gallon (Includes all taxes)
Diesel Fuel Tax: 57.9 cents/gallon (Includes all taxes)
Cigarette Tax: $1.36/pack of 20
Personal Income Taxes
Tax Rate Range: Low – 0.36%; High – 8.98% Note: Iowa now exempts active duty military pay from state income taxes.
|Tax Bracket (Single) ||Tax Bracket (Couple) ||Marginal Tax Rate|
|$69,255+||$69,255+||8.98% (Highest in the U.S.)|
Income Brackets: Above Nine.
Personal Tax Credits: Iowa has no personal or dependent exemptions. The Federal Income Tax, however, does allow a personal exemption to be deducted from your gross income if you are responsible for supporting yourself financially.
Standard Deduction: Unlike many other states, Iowa has no standard deduction. Certain itemized deductions (including property tax, qualified charitable contributions, etc) may be allowed depending on the income level and filing type of the taxpayer. Keep in mind that not all deductions allowed on your federal income tax return are necessarily going to be allowed on your Iowa income tax return. Iowa allows itemized deductions, and you can claim the same itemized deductions on your Iowa tax return as you do on your Federal tax return. You must choose between itemizing your deductions and choosing the Iowa standard deduction, so it’s generally only worth itemizing your deductions if your itemized total is more then the Iowa and Federal standard deductions.
Medical/Dental Deduction: Federal amount
Federal Income Tax Deduction: Full
Retirement Income Taxes: If you receive a pension, annuity, self-employed retirement plan, deferred compensation, IRA or other retirement plan benefits, you may be eligible to exclude from Iowa income tax a portion of the retirement income that is taxable on your Federal return. The exclusion can be up to $6,000 for individuals and up to $12,000 for married taxpayers. For details refer to www.iowa.gov/tax/educate/TY2011Changes2.html. Social Security benefits are not included. Iowa does not tax Social Security benefits in the same manner as the IRS. In calculating the taxable amount of Social Security, single persons can exclude $25,000, married filing jointly can exclude $32,000. The state is implementing a gradual phase-out of the tax on Social Security income. For tax year 2012 the phase out percentage is 89%. To qualify for the exclusion you must be either age 55 or older on December 31, disabled or a surviving spouse or a survivor having an insurable interest in an individual who would have qualified for the exclusion during the year. Out-of-state government pensions qualify for exemptions. For more information refer to http://www.iowa.gov/tax/1040EI/Line/10Line21.html.
Retired Military Pay: Up to $12,000 can be excluded for joint filers and up to $6,000 for all other filing statuses for those 55 and older, disabled or surviving spouse of qualifying person.
Military Disability Retired Pay: Retirees who entered the military before Sept. 24, 1975, and members receiving disability retirements based on combat injuries or who could receive disability payments from the VA are covered by laws giving disability broad exemption from federal income tax. Most military retired pay based on service-related disabilities also is free from federal income tax, but there is no guarantee of total protection.
VA Disability Dependency and Indemnity Compensation: VA benefits are not taxable because they generally are for disabilities and are not subject to federal or state taxes.
Military SBP/SSBP/RCSBP/RSFPP: Generally subject to state taxes for those states with income tax. Check with state department of revenue office.
Iowa has more than 2,000 taxing authorities. All property is assessed at 100% of market value. Most property is taxed by more than one taxing authority. The tax rate differs in each locality and is a composite of county, city, school district and special levies. A property tax credit is available to residents whose total household income is less than $19,503 and are age 65 or older, totally disabled or are a surviving spouse (not remarried) and born before 1934. A homestead tax credit is given to residents who live in the state for at least six months of each year and actually live on the property on July 1. Once a person qualifies, the credit continues. The current credit is the first $4,850 of the actual value. Property taxes may be suspended or reduced if the property owner receives Supplemental Security Income or lives in a nursing home and the Department of Human Services is paying part or all of the costs. The suspended taxes will have to be paid when a property is sold or transferred. For more details refer to http://www.iowa.gov/tax/educate/78573.html .
Inheritance and Estate Taxes
The Iowa inheritance tax ranges from 1% to 15% depending on the amount of the inheritance and the relationship of the recipient to the decedent. If all the property of the estate has a value of less than $25,000, no tax is due. The surviving spouse’s share, regardless of the amount, is not subject to tax. Currently annual gifts in the amount of $12,000 or less are not taxable. For details go to http://www.iowa.gov/tax/educate/78517.html. Iowa estate tax is not applicable for deaths on or after 1/1/05 due to changes in the IRS Code which replaced the state death tax credit with a state death tax deduction.
[Source: www.retirementliving.com May 2016 ++]
* General Interest *
Notes of Interest ► 16 thru 31 MAY 2016
- The Black Keys. A lot of people don’t realize that just about all Negro spirituals are written on the black notes of the piano. Wintley Phipps expounds on this at http://www.karmatube.org/videos.php?id=1312.
- Drinking. Global alcohol consumption decreased last year by 0.7%. This was the first first time in more than a decade. On a regional level, though, one continent bucked the trend. In North America drinking increased by 2.3 percent.
- Donald Trump. Check out http://www.ebaumsworld.com/media/embed/84870597 to see Jimmy Kimbal’s Winners aren’t Losers Children book on Donald Trump.
- Willamette Bearcats. Check out https://vimeo.com/31857407 to see what this Oregon football team experienced when they went to Hawaii for a 6 DEC 1941 game.
- Car Insurance. Before buying another car check out what the average cost is on the vehicle by going to http://www.insure.com/car-insurance/insurance-rates-by-car.html. Location is a major factor in the cost.
- USN Drill Team. Check out the team at https://youtu.be/OgcGNDxuyoI. Very impressive.
- WWII Aerial Combat. Check out https://player.vimeo.com/video/31202906?autoplay=1 for an interesting slant on what occurred during the war in Ireland.
- COLA Watch. The April CPI is 233.438, and remains .3 percent below the FY 2014 COLA baseline. Because there was not a positive COLA in FY 2015, the FY 2014 baseline is used. The CPI for May 2016 is scheduled to be released on June 16, 2016. Note: Military retiree COLA is calculated based on the CPI for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), not the overall CPI. Monthly changes in the index may differ from national figures reported elsewhere.
- Medical Marijuana. According to the Associated Press, lawmakers in New Jersey are considering relaxing the state’s strict medical marijuana law to include menstrual cramps as an ailment authorized for medical marijuana. Whoopi Goldberg’s new line of “Whoopi & Maya” products, launched last month, include an Epsom salt bath (called Soak), raw chocolate (Savor), body balm (Rub) and tincture (Relax), all of which are infused with cannabis.
- VA Healthcare Applications. Beginning in July, 2016, all veterans will be able to complete applications for VA health care enrollment over the phone. This will eliminate paper applications, which means veterans will be able to get quicker access to medical attention. Also, VA is accelerating the applications of 31,000 combat Veterans who already have paper or online applications in the system.
- Congressional Pay Raise. The House Appropriations Committee approved a fiscal 2017 legislative branch spending bill that would freeze representatives’ pay for the eighth consecutive year. Rank-and-file members of Congress now receive an annual salary of $174,000; the House Speaker earns $223,500 per year, while the Senate president pro tempore and the majority and minority leaders in both chambers each receive an annual salary of $193,400. The last pay boost members received took effect on Jan. 1, 2009.
- Sniper Vide. Check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOxqspu46zI to see what is going on in Afghanistan.
- Yale ROTC. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter handed out commissions 23 MAY to the Yale’s first ROTC graduating class in more than four decades. ROTC programs left Yale and the campuses of several other prominent universities in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the fervor of student protests against the Vietnam War.
- Court Marital Results. The Army released the summary results of 78 courts-martial held in April. Names of soldiers acquitted of all charges were not provided. The verdicts, by judicial circuit can be seen at www.armytimes.com/story/military/crime/2016/05/23/army-releases-results-april-courts-martial/84801476.
- Vet Suicide. A new survey found that 40 percent post-9/11veterans polled had considered suicide at least once after they joined the military, up from 30 percent in 2014, and roughly a third said the VA and DoD are not being proactive in addressing the problem.
- FICO. Back in 2009, FICO, creator of the most widely used credit score, released information on exactly how some common credit hiccups affected their credit scores. The higher end of the ranges below would generally apply to those with the highest scores and the lower end to those with lower scores. Keep in mind that a perfect FICO credit score is 850, and to get the best possible deals, depending on the lender, you’ll need 730 to 760. Here’s a look:
- Maxed-out card: 10-45 points
- 30-days late: 60-110 points
- Debt settlement: 45-125 points
- Foreclosure: 85-160 points
- Bankruptcy: 130-240 points
- Russian Jets. The Navy has released new video (https://youtu.be/qJFnDfvUVGc) of two Russian jets buzzing the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea last month, as well as video of a Russian helicopter circling the destroyer.
- VA Choice Program. When a former Army Specialist, attempted to get approval from his Veteran Affairs Choice Program healthcare provider, he was told he wasn’t eligible for coverage because his son (the donor) was not a veteran. The program – available to veterans who live more than 40 miles away from a VA transplant facility – only allows veterans to receive transplants from other veterans.
[Source: Various | May 31, 2016 ++]
North Korea Defector ► U.S. James Joseph Dresnok & Sons
Their names are Ted and James, and they look like the kinds of men you might bump into on the streets of Richmond, Va., where their father was born. But they’re speaking perfect North Korean and wearing badges of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, the first two leaders of North Korea, over their hearts. Oh, and the younger one, James, is a captain in the North Korean army. They’re the Pyongyang-born sons of James Joseph Dresnok, the former American GI who defected to North Korea in 1962 when he was stationed in South Korea after the war. And they’ve just appeared in an extraordinary video published online by Minjok Tongshin, a pro-Pyongyang news service based in the United States that runs the kind of stories that wouldn’t look out of place in North Korea’s official media. “I want to advise the U.S. to drop its hostile policy against North Korea. They’ve done enough wrong and now it’s time for them to wake up from their delusions,” said Ted Dresnok, 36, who goes by the Korean name Hong Sun Chol. He was wearing a navy blue suit with a red Kim badge on it.
James (left) and Ted (Center) Dresnok
His younger brother, James, or Hong Chol, was wearing a North Korean army uniform and said he held a rank equivalent to a captain in the U.S. Army. His comments also sounded like they came out of the propaganda department. “The American Imperialists caused the division of the Korean peninsula,” James said. This led to a bizarre situation in which Roh Kil-nam, the ethnically Korean, naturalized U.S. citizen who runs Minjok Tongshin, asked the ethnically Caucasian, North Korean citizen brothers if they considered him among such ilk. “No, I mean the very top leaders of the U.S.,” James clarified. Ted and James are the sons of Dresnok, known as Joe, and a Romanian woman, Doina Bumbea, who was reportedly abducted by North Korea. Charles Jenkins, another U.S. serviceman who defected to North Korea but was allowed to leave in 2004, described Bumbea as a Romanian abductee in his memoirs and said she died of cancer in 1997.
James Joseph Dresnok
Dresnok is then thought to have married the daughter of a North Korean woman and a Togolese diplomat, and they are said to have had a son, Tony. (North Korea is big on blood purity and generally won’t allow foreigners to marry Koreans, meaning that the foreigners get matched up among themselves.) Ted and James said that Tony was at school at the time they did the interview, which was apparently carried out in Pyongyang after the much-hyped congress of the Korean Workers’ Party this month. All three sons, along with Dresnok’s third wife, appeared in “Crossing the Line,” a 90 minute British documentary [https://youtu.be/0GwBVMgPUH4] about the former American and his life in North Korea. That film showed the older boys speaking English with a Korean accent.
Dresnok came from a difficult background and was going through a difficult period — his wife had left him and he was in trouble with his superiors — when he decided to cross the demilitarized zone into North Korea in 1962. He was 21. He taught English and appeared in television shows and movies — always playing the “evil American.” Like their father, the two sons also have appeared as Americans in North Korean dramas. Now 75 and in poor health, Dresnok hasn’t been heard of for several years. But his sons were apparently trotted out to extol the glories of the “socialist paradise” into which they were born. Each contact with the media is highly scripted in North Korea, but it’s impossible to tell whether the men were saying what they’d been told to say or if, after spending their entire lives in North Korea, they really think this. Here’s what they said:
- Ted: He said he was born in Pyongyang on Dec. 13, 1980. “Under the generous care of Kim Jong ll,” he went to an elementary school and foreign language schools and then the Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies, majoring in English and Japanese. He said he is now working at a defense education facility, part of the Workers’ Party. He is married to 36-year-old Ri Ok, and they have a 7-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son.
- James: Prompted, he said he volunteered to join the military in 2014. “Thanks to the general’s hospitality, we receive gifts on every national holiday. I’m very grateful for the socialism system. Due to the worsening situation on the Korean peninsula, I decided to work for the military.” He said he met his wife through workmates, and that they have a 6-year-old daughter.
On their father:
- Ted: I heard a lot about his life. The more I hear, the more I think he chose the right path. Had he not come to North Korea, it wouldn’t have been possible for him to live as he does. He was much loved by the country and his small achievements were appreciated greatly. I think about the different life I would be living had my father been living in the U.S.
- James: He was an orphan, but his misery wasn’t due to his or his family’s fault, rather it was due to American society. It’s due to policies made by the privileged in the U.S.
On their dreams:
- Ted: My precious dream is to become a Workers’ Party member and pay back my gratitude to my general [Kim Jong Un]. I want to stand in a unified country by my general.
- James: My lifelong dream is similar to my brother’s. I want to serve my mother country with my life and bring about the unification of the Koreas so the world will see the superiority of Kim’s Korea.
On North Korea-U.S. relations:
- Ted: As Kim Jong Un said at the congress, the U.S. should sign a peace treaty with North Korea and withdraw its forces and nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula. It’s the quickest way to solve the current issue.
- James: The U.S. keeps talking about the North Korean threat, but it seems that’s the only way they can justify their East Asian strategy. When two kids fight, and one kid hits the other with a wooden stick, the other kid picks up a wooden stick too. When the enemy makes nuclear weapons and threatens us with them, we make nuclear weapons to defend ourselves.
Suggestions for the United States:
- Ted: The U.S. wants to make a big deal out of North Korean human rights issues. We are enjoying very equal and free lives here. But look at the U.S. A white police officer shoots a black citizen in clear daylight, treating black people’s lives as if they were as worthless as flies. I want to tell Americans to break away from their leaders’ mindsets and begin peace negotiations with us. That’s the only way to save yourselves.
[Source: The Washington Post | Anna Fifield | May 25, 2016 ++]
Marijuana Update 01 ► Reclassification Under Consideration
Marijuana users, researchers and investors are eager to hear whether federal officials will remove pot from the same drug classification as heroin, LSD and bath salts. Federal drug officials say they are considering removing marijuana from what’s known as Schedule 1 classification, with a decision expected this summer. The current classification makes it illegal to prescribe and declares that marijuana “has no currently accepted medical treatment use,” although 24 states permit some form of medical marijuana use. Reclassifying marijuana would make it easier for researchers to work with the plant, which is currently subject to strict limitations and officially can be acquired only from a single government garden. Schedule 2 drugs include morphine, methamphetamine and oxycodone.
“I think it’s just common sense to allow good science to be done,” said congressman Jared Polis, who supports the change. Polis, a Colorado Democrat, has repeatedly pushed President Obama’s administration to loosen restrictions and enforcement around cannabis use. The Drug Enforcement Administration routinely reconsiders drug classifications, and has several times declined to change marijuana’s categorization since it was added to the list in 1970. DEA officials this week declined to discuss the rescheduling process, although agency leaders earlier this year announced they were again considering the change in a letter sent to Congress. They didn’t specify a date by which they’d reach a decision. “No one is asking to make it legal overnight. We’re saying, let’s start doing some research on it. It’s common sense,” said David Cunic, the CEO of Pazoo, which runs marijuana testing labs in California, Colorado and Washington. “People are looking for alternatives.”
Cunic, who is also a physical therapist, said he believes marijuana could serve as a safer alternative to prescription opiate painkillers. He said medical professionals are ethically obligated to empower patients with knowledge, and many doctors are concerned about the risks associated with highly addictive and potentially deadly opiates. Not every doctor is rushing to embrace marijuana, however. Scott Krakower, an addiction disorder specialist at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y., says he’s reluctant to recommend pot to his patients because there is so little research. Unlike prescription medications, marijuana comes in a wide variety of strains and strengths, and despite centuries of use, scientists don’t know exactly how it works, especially for the range of ailments its boosters say it can aid. “Many patients are unaware that using marijuana can have devastating consequences, including higher risk of developing a mood and psychotic disorder, increased rates of other substance use and potentially dependence to the agent itself,” Krakower said in an email. “In addition, there are concerns with lack of regulation of these products and false advertising of what they contain.”
Concerns such as those raised by Krakower are precisely the reason congressman Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, wants to see marijuana rescheduled. If doctors have concerns, he said, scientists should be allowed to answer them. “Maintaining the fiction of Schedule 1 categorization just destroys their credibility,” Blumenauer said of federal regulators. The House of Representatives on 19 MAY overwhelmingly passed a Blumenauer-sponsored amendment that would allow Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend marijuana to veterans, the way a regular doctor can in 24 states. The Senate has passed a similar proposal, but the two versions must still be reconciled. The proposal doesn’t change marijuana’s classification but allows VA doctors to take advantage of existing state medical marijuana programs. Blumenauer said the fact that both branches of Congress think veterans should have access to medical marijuana should prompt regulators to think seriously about rescheduling it. “I think this moment is cresting,” he said. “The movement, the momentum, is palpable.”
John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, isn’t so sure. He said it’s unlikely the DEA and Food and Drug Administration’s doctors will reschedule marijuana this year. “Doctors are even more risk-averse than Congress is, and the DEA is staffed almost entirely by drug warriors,” he said. Hudak called on the next president to convene a summit on marijuana across America, arguing that the federal government needs to provide more clarity on the issue. “Pretty soon it’s going to be a liability to oppose reform,” he added. “We’re not there yet, but marijuana is going in that direction.”
Marijuana is rapidly becoming a big, semi-legal business across the country, with $5.7 billion in sales last year and tens of thousands of people working and paying taxes as they cultivate, package and sell cannabis. Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, Washington state and Washington, D.C. have all legalized adult recreational use, and 23 states and the District of Columbia permit some form of medical use. That’s despite the fact that marijuana remains an illegal drug and Schedule 1 controlled substance at the federal level. Across the country, thousands of people are rushing into the industry, struggling to work within a conflicting patchwork of state laws and local regulations, all the while operating largely without accounts at banks, which are fearful of running afoul of federal drug-trafficking laws. Legal marijuana sales are forecast to hit $23B in the next 4 years. [Source: USA TODAY | Trevor Hughes | May 21, 2016 ++]
Military Service Cross Stamps ► New Forever Stamps
The United States Postal Service will issue four new stamps to honor those who have received one of the four Service Cross medals. The Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, the Air Force Cross and the Coast Guard Cross stamps will be dedicated on Memorial Day at the World Stamp Show in New York City, which is held once every 10 years. The Postal Service printed more than 20 million Service Cross stamps that will be available at post offices nationwide, online at www.usps.com or through 800-STAMP-24 (800-782-6724). Cost is $5.64 per sheet of 12. Being Forever stamps, they will always be good for the current First Class Mail 1 ounce rate. Bill Gicker, creative director of stamp development at the Postal Service said, “The United States Postal Service has a long history of honoring our military. The medals are just so beautiful, and the people who receive them are obviously just so worthy. The thought was to honor them by issuing the stamps of the medals so that it represents them all as a whole.” [Source: Military Times | Charlsy Panzino | Retiree StatesMay 26, 2016 ++]
Election Betting ► Illegal With Two Exceptions
For the most part, it’s illegal for U.S. citizens to bet on elections. There are, however, two exceptions.
PredictIt. PredictIt at https://www.predictit.org is a betting platform operated by, oddly enough, Victoria University in New Zealand. Here you can bet up to $850 on wagers ranging from which party will win the White House to whether North Korea will test a hydrogen bomb by year’s end. Despite the ban on American political betting, PredictIt is legal. It got an exemption from the feds because it’s operated as a research tool. Researchers like to study betting sites to see if they’re better predictors of the future than polls. They often are, which makes sense, since expressing an opinion isn’t the same thing as backing that opinion with real money. Bettors tend to use less emotion and more facts.
If you go to https://www.predictit.org/Market/1296/Which-party-will-win-the-2016-US-Presidential-election it will show you what the White House odds were in mid-May. As you will see, the odds of a Democrat winning the White House were 63 percent, and the odds of a Republican winning were 37 percent. To place a bet, you’d pay 63 cents for one Democratic share. If a Democrat wins, your bet will pay $1, which means you’ll make 37 cents on your 63 cent bet. That translates to a 60 percent return. One fly in the ointment, however: You won’t really win 37 cents because PredictIt takes a 10 percent cut of any profitable trade.
Election Betting Iowa Graph
The University of Iowa at http://tippie.uiowa.edu/iem also offers a legal betting platform, and for the same reason as PredictIt: research. This platform has a maximum account size of $500. To participate, you first have to print out an online form, then snail-mail it with a check to the university. A week or so later, you’re notified by email that you’re ready to play. Shortly before I started this article, I bet about $500 on a Democratic White House win. At that time, the price to buy shares, called the ask price, was 62 cents. The price of shares being sold, known as the bid price, was 60 cents. I put in an order between these two prices, at 61 cents. When you specify a price, that’s known as a limit order. Within a few hours, my limit order was filled. I now own 800 shares. If I choose to wait until the election and a Democrat wins the presidency, each of my shares will be worth $1, so I’ll get $800. If I decide to sell my shares before then, I’ll get whatever the bid, or selling, price is at that time. Unlike PredictIt, the University of Iowa market doesn’t take 10 percent of any winnings. That’s why I used them.
The Iowa Electronic Markets.
ElectionBettingOdds. One site to look at often that combines the results of both polls and betting sites, and is exceedingly simple to use, is www.ElectionBettingOdds.com . Here’s a current picture of it:
Sites like this will keep you in the know. More important, they’ll save you countless hours of trying to figure out who’s ahead by reading articles and listening to the endless drivel on cable TV.
Place your bets! Betting on elections is like any other kind of betting: It’s something you only do if you’re using money you’re willing and able to lose. Unlike other types of gambling, however, these sites are fascinating even if you never bet. Because they’ve historically been more accurate than polls and pundits, they’re a sound way to stay on top of what’s likely to happen.
[Source: MoneyTalksNews | Stacy Johnson | May 20, 2016 ++]
Hurricane Preparedness Update 01 ► Protection Myths
Hurricane season 2016 is here. It starts in mid-May in the Eastern North Pacific Ocean, begins in early June in the Atlantic Ocean, and ends in both regions in late November. People from hurricane country — including the U.S. Eastern Atlantic and Gulf Coast region — know a lot about protecting lives and property ahead of a big storm. And yet, a few dangerous myths about storm preparation live on. Here are four, and the truths they obscure:
Myth No. 1: Taping windows prevents breakage – Windows and glass doors crisscrossed with electrical tape or duct tape are a familiar sight when a hurricane is coming. But tape doesn’t protect glass. “The problem of taping windows is that instead of little pieces you get big shards of glass,” says Tommy Patterson. He is a technical expert who trains glass repairers at Glass Doctor franchises across the United States. People sometimes use tape because it’s what they can afford. But if you work ahead you can buy or scrounge cheap 5/8-inch plywood for the job, doing one window at a time. Boarding up windows only works, though, if your board is attached to the window frame. Otherwise, a boarded window can fall out. “Look at storm shutters,” Patterson says. “They are designed to be attached to the frame of the window, not just the glass.” A better plan:
- Prepare boards in advance because, in an emergency, supplies are scarce or overpriced and you’re under pressure. Follow directions in this Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel guide for hurricane protection for windows.
- Measure windows separately and accurately, recording measurements.
- Next, cut 5/8-inch plywood into coverings that protect the window and overlap at least part of the window frame.
- Store the coverings in an easy-to-reach, clean, dry spot with the tools and supplies you’ll need for quick installation.
- Replacing windows with hurricane-proof glass is another option. Cost: $35-$50 per square foot (includes new window frames and layered hurricane glass).
Myth No. 2: Crack a window so glass won’t implode – Another popular myth advises opening a window or two just a crack when a storm is coming, to equalize inside and outside air pressure and prevent windows from imploding. It’s true that air pressure can be low in a hurricane. “The atmospheric pressure is so low that it can suck the windows into the house,” Patterson says. Still, cracking a window won’t prevent that. He explains: “The wind is going to be 100 miles an hour. Think about something 100 miles per hour going into your house. Cracking a window is not going to make a hill of beans difference.” A better plan: If you have the funds, install steel or aluminum storm shutters on the exterior of your home’s windows. Cost: $7-$8 per square foot and up, according to the Sun Sentinel.
Myth No. 3: Leaning against glass prevents breaking – A really dumb idea. But just in case: Low pressure could blow broken glass into the home, and high winds turn ordinary objects into flying weapons that can penetrate a window, injuring you. A better plan: Another window protection uses panels of super-tough, translucent fabrics like Kevlar. Grommets in the textile attach to fastenings or tracks on the house. The Sun Sentinel says one brand, Armor Screen, costs about $15 a square foot. See photos of installed screens on the website of AstroGuard, another hurricane fabric company at https://www.hurricanefabric.com.
Myth No. 4: High winds are the biggest danger – Storm-force winds seem scariest and most-dramatic. The fact is, though, that water — storm surges and inland flooding — are responsible for more deaths in hurricanes than the wind, says the National Weather Service. Either is a bad way to die, though. Hurricanes are seriously dangerous. Only fools ignore evacuation warnings. A better plan: No amount of home preparation will save you if you don’t leave when you should. Patterson, whose uncle died in Hurricane Katrina, says: “His neighbors, everybody, they did all the normal stuff they’re supposed to do to protect their property and their homes but they neglected to protect their lives. He lived there for 40 years and he’d been through so many hurricane seasons and he thought, ‘Oh, I can wait it out.”
Looking for more hurricane planning tips? You’ll find them here:
- The 4 Essentials for Surviving a Hurricane http://www.moneytalksnews.com/the-4-essentials-for-surviving-a-hurricane-%E2%80%8B
- 6 Ways to Ready Your Home for Hurricane Season http://www.moneytalksnews.com/how-ready-your-home-for-hurricane-season
- 3 Steps to Prepare Your Family for a Disaster http://www.moneytalksnews.com/3-steps-prepare-your-family-for-disaster/?all=1
[Source: MoneyTalksNews | Marilyn Lewis | May 19, 2016 ++]
Baby Oil ► 33 Alternate Uses
Need to unstick, untangle, soften, de-scum, smooth out, depilate, shine-up or de-squeak something? Two words: baby oil. This familiar nursery emollient is often found in homes without babies. Probably it’s left over from the childbearing era, but not necessarily. That’s because this scented mineral oil is good for dozens of applications that have nothing to do with babies. Such as:
1. Bath oil. I’ve poured it into the tub to soften my winter-weary skin. Adding a little bubble bath makes the experience even more pleasant, according to a blog called Fidgety Fingers. Note: You must use some cleanser on the tub afterward lest the oily residue cause the next bather to slip and fall.
2. Bath gel enhancer. A post on the Fidgety Fingers blog suggests adding ¼ to ½ cup baby oil to half a bottle of shower gel – again, to soften your skin.
3. After-bath moisturizer. Don’t feel like scrubbing an oily tub every time you bathe? Towel-dry yourself a little and then smooth a little baby oil on your still-damp skin to lock in moisture.
4. As a substitute for shave gel. Use a thin layer of baby oil on your legs instead of gel (or soap).
5. A replacement for after-shave moisturizers. Rub a little more baby oil on your newly shorn legs for a smooth finish.
6. Use it après-wax. If you’re waxing brows, legs or, uh, other parts of the body, use a little baby oil first to remove any lingering wax and then to soothe your startled skin.
7. Remove eye makeup. A cotton ball dampened with baby oil takes care of eye shadow and eyeliner without irritating delicate skin.
8. Remove temporary tattoos. Did Junior come home from a birthday party festooned with garish superhero tats? Rub them off with a little baby oil.
9. Frame your nail polish. When you paint your nails, does the polish sometimes seep into the cuticles? Use a cotton swab to saturate the perimeter with baby oil. After you’re done painting, use a cotton ball or tissue to remove the oil (and any polish) carefully. And speaking of cuticles…
10. Baby oil = cuticle oil. Sushmita Munda of the Makeup and Beauty blog uses it on her hands when she gives herself a manicure. Sure, there’s a product called “cuticle oil,” but she never buys it.
11. Fix your lips. Munda also makes a lip scrub with 1 teaspoon of baby oil, ½ teaspoon of sugar and a few drops of lemon juice. Every night before bed she rubs it lightly on her lips to remove dead skin.
12. Give (or get) a massage. Baby oil is an inexpensive alternative to massage unguents.
13. Fight earwax buildup. According to the Mayo Clinic, you can remove excess buildup with baby oil (as long as you don’t have tubes in your ears or a hole in your eardrum). Apply a few drops of oil twice a day; after a day or two, use a rubber-bulb syringe to (gently!) squirt warm water into the ear canal. Let the water drain out, then dry your outer ear with a soft towel or a hair dryer. Note: If the situation doesn’t improve after a few such treatments, see a doctor.
14. Fix scaly feet. Do your feet look positively saurian in the winter? Rub some baby oil on at bedtime, then don plain white socks. While you sleep, your feet will soften right up.
15. Remove a stuck ring. Hands swell up because of pregnancy or air travel? Trickle a little baby oil on the puffy digit and gradually ease off the ring.
16. Untangle a necklace chain. If the pendant you inherited from Grandma is on a knotted chain, rub just a drop of oil onto the tangle, then pick it apart with a straight pin.
17. De-paint yourself. Got latex paint on your hands or arms after painting a room? It might rub right off, or it might embed itself in your knuckles and other skin folds. A post on the Instructables website recommends rubbing paint spatters with baby oil “in concentric circles from the outside in without applying too much pressure.” Wash the oil off with soap and water.
18. De-grease your hands. Working on your car or doing some other greasy job? Baby oil is kinder to your hands than grainy soaps.
19. Shine things up. Use a little oil on a soft cloth on stainless steel or chrome, and it will shine like a good deed.
20. Dust and shine. Put a small amount of oil on your cloth and dust will stick to it. Give the wood a gentle rub with a second (dry) cloth until it gleams.
21. Lubricate squeaky hinges. A drop or two should do it – and baby oil smells a lot better than WD-40.
22. Prevent soap scum. Coat shower curtains and doors with a small amount of baby oil, being careful to wipe up any drips.
23. Get rid of soap scum. Shower curtain/door already nasty? Rub off the soap scum with a little baby oil. (Again: This stuff is slippery, so wipe up any spatters.)
24. Remove adhesive bandages. Time to change the Band-Aid on your kid’s knee? Saturate it with oil and wait a while; the adhesive should lift right off.
25. Remove price stickers. If a sticker resists removal from a glass, china or plastic item, rub in some oil and wait a bit. It sticker should peel off much more easily. (Note: Don’t do this on cloth or paper items, as the oil will stain.)
26. Polish golf clubs. Depending on which golf fan you listen to, you can protect and shine up clubs with gun oil, WD-40, special golf-club polishes, petroleum jelly, a silicone gun cloth or, yes, baby oil.
27. Improve the dashboard. A post on eHow.com notes that scratches can develop on the plastic lenses covering the odometer and other dashboard items. Rub them with a bit of baby oil to improve the look.
28. Fix a balky zipper. Apply oil with a cotton ball or swab until the zip returns to a zipper. Be careful not to get it on the main fabric of the garment, to avoid staining.
29. Oil your leather. Rub a little baby oil onto leather shoes or bags to keep them from looking dry.
30. Keep shreddin’. If you have a document shredder – and you should – keep things running smoothly with an occasional oiling. Put a couple of pieces of paper in a baking sheet and squirt on some baby oil. Once the paper has absorbed the oil, run it through the shredder.
31. Relieve cradle cap. A kind of dermatitis that causes scaly patches on the infant scalp, cradle cap is common but can be distressing to parents. Rub a small amount of baby oil onto the child’s head and let it soak in for a few minutes before shampooing.
32. DIY baby wipes. The Livewell Network offers a simple recipe that uses water, a little baby wash solution and some baby oil plus a roll of paper towels cut in half. Or use flannel or cotton fabric cut into squares; these can be laundered along with diapers and reused.
33. Bubble gum remover. Kids end up with gum on skin or in hair? Rub a small amount of oil into the mess to soften it, then gradually work it out with a comb. Also, keep gum away from them until they know to keep it in their mouths, and definitely make sure they’re not chewing when they go in for naps.
[Source: MoneyTalksNews | Donna Freedman | March 25, 2015 ++]
JASTA ► Legislation Authorizing Saudi Arabia 911 Lawsuits
The U.S. Senate passed legislation on 17 MAY that would allow families of Sept. 11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia’s government for damages, setting up a potential showdown with the White House, which has threatened a veto. The Saudis, who deny responsibility for the 2001 attacks, strongly object to the bill. They had said they might sell up to $750 billion in U.S. securities and other American assets in retaliation if it became law. The “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act,” or JASTA, passed the Senate by unanimous voice vote. It must next be taken up by the U.S. House of Representatives, where the Judiciary Committee intends to hold a hearing on the measure in the near future, a committee aide said.
If it became law, JASTA would remove the sovereign immunity, preventing lawsuits against governments, for countries found to be involved in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. It would allow survivors of the attacks, and relatives of those killed in the attacks, to seek damages from other countries. In this case, it would allow lawsuits to proceed in federal court in New York as lawyers try to prove that the Saudis were involved in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir has said his country’s objection to the bill is based on principles of international relations. “What (Congress is) doing is stripping the principle of sovereign immunities which would turn the world for international law into the law of the jungle,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.
James Kreindler, a prominent trial lawyer who represents 9/11 families and won large payouts for the victims of the 1988 bombing of Pan American Airways Flight 103 over Scotland, said he expected the bill to pass the House and become law. “It would be crazy for (President Barack) Obama to veto bipartisan legislation (which would) open (U.S.) courts to victims of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history,” Kreindler said. Republican Senator John Cornyn, also a sponsor of the bill, said JASTA does not target the Saudis, although he alluded to a still-classified section of a report on the Sept. 11 attacks that Saudi critics say might implicate Riyadh. “We have yet to see the 28 pages that have not been yet released about the 9/11 report, and that may well be instructive,” Cornyn said at the news conference. Other lawmakers who have seen the 28 pages have said releasing them would quiet such rumors. Cornyn said it was up to the court to decide whether the Saudis were liable. “I don’t believe that this will be destructive of the relationship that we have with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he said.
The White House said Obama still plans to veto JASTA. “This legislation would change long-standing, international law regarding sovereign immunity,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told a daily press briefing. “And the president of the United States continues to harbor serious concerns that this legislation would make the United States vulnerable in other court systems around the world.” Asked if Senate Democrats would back a veto, Schumer said he would vote against Obama. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who had opposed the bill, said the version passed on Tuesday eased his worries that it might leave U.S. allies more vulnerable to lawsuits, for example if groups based within their borders but not supported by their governments were behind a terrorist attack. “We don’t want to alienate allies, but we do want to create redress if a nation-state was involved in helping a terrorist organization attack American interests, and I think they should be held liable,” Graham said in a brief interview. [Source: Reuters | Patricia Zengerle | May 17, 2016 ++]
National Security ► EMP Threat
Electromagnetic pulses and violent space weather outbursts might seem like national security threats straight out of science fiction. But the House Homeland Security Committee wants to ensure federal agencies are doing their best to prepare for them. During an Oversight and Management Efficiency subcommittee hearing 17 MAY, legislators reviewed the possible ramifications that a man-made EMP weapon, detonated nuclear device or even space weather phenomena could have on the nation’s power grid. While seemingly remote, the threats drew comparisons to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
While unlikely, being unprepared could mean loss of life and could be devastating to the nation’s telecommunications and power grid, lawmakers said. One report estimates the potential cost of a large-scale solar storm, emanating from a large release of energy by the sun, could exceed $2 trillion and leave large portions of the population without power for months or longer. “Investigations determined the attack on Pearl Harbor was possible, not probable,” said Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA). “Same thing for 9/11.” In fact, small-scale solar events have occurred before and caused damage to modern critical infrastructure. In 1989, a geomagnetic storm shut down the Quebec Hydro Electricity Network for days and ultimately cost nearly $2 billion in damages. Rep. Earl Carter (R-GA) said EMP and space weather ought to be treated “as a top priority,” but questioned whether federal officials were taking it seriously, highlighting a March report by the Government Accountability Office. That report said there wasn’t a single entity within the Homeland Security Department focused on electromagnetic risks.
The first notable solar flare of 2015, as observed from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.
The White House’s National Space Weather Action Plan, published in October, establishes responsibilities for agencies in the event of space weather-related phenomena, but electromagnetic risks aren’t addressed explicitly in that policy. “I wouldn’t characterize it as a low priority,” said Brandon Wales, director of DHS’ Office of Cyber and Infrastructure Analysis. “The Space Weather Action Plan that applies across the agency demonstrates the department is extremely focused on doing what it can.” In testimony 17 MAY Chris Currie, GAO’s director of Homeland Security and Justice, said DHS and the Energy Department were not duplicating work and had addressed many of GAO’s March recommendations. But while DOE and DHS are working together to determine what EMP events would cause the most damage to power systems, Currie told the subcommittee there was otherwise “little partnering between agencies.” More industry engagement will also be important, he said, as the nation’s telecommunications and power grid infrastructure is chiefly owned by industry, not the government.
Included among that infrastructure are some 55,000 power substations across the country, any of which could require up to a year of lead time to replace. A single solar storm could knock out hundreds of them at once. “The industry argument is that we can’t protect each of these,” said Joseph McClelland, director of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Infrastructure. McClelland argued assets should be focused around functionality – prioritizing the stations that would be needed to provide skeletal services to urban areas, for example. In any case, McClelland suggested more collaboration is necessary in the near future if the U.S. wants to mitigate against sophisticated electromagnetic weaponry or Mother Nature gone mad. “The United States is falling behind in EMP and space weather preparedness,” McClelland said. [Source: Nextgov | Frank Konkel | May 17, 2016 ++]
Remember When ► Nostalgia (6)
For those who never saw any of the Burma Shave signs, here is a quick lesson in our history of the 1930s and 1940s. Before there were interstates, when everyone drove the old 2 lane roads, Burma Shave signs would be posted all over the countryside in farmers’ fields. They were small red signs with white letters. Five signs, about 100 feet apart, each contain 1 line of a 4 line couplet…..And the obligatory 5th sign advertising Burma Shave, a popular shaving cream.
DON’T STICK YOUR ELBOW
OUT SO FAR
IT MAY GO HOME
IN ANOTHER CAR.
TRAINS DON’T WANDER
ALL OVER THE MAP
‘CAUSE NOBODY SITS
IN THE ENGINEER’S LAP
SHE KISSED THE HAIRBRUSH
SHE THOUGHT IT WAS
HER HUSBAND JAKE
DON’T LOSE YOUR HEAD
TO GAIN A MINUTE
YOU NEED YOUR HEAD
YOUR BRAINS ARE IN IT
DROVE TOO LONG
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT
IS NOT AMUSING
GOOD MORNING, NURSE
TO HER RECKLESS DEAR
LET’S HAVE LESS BULL
AND A LITTLE MORE STEER
SPEED WAS HIGH
WEATHER WAS NOT
TIRES WERE THIN
X MARKS THE SPOT
THE MIDNIGHT RIDE
OF PAUL FOR BEER
LED TO A WARMER
AROUND THE CURVE
NO MATTER THE PRICE
NO MATTER HOW NEW
THE BEST SAFETY DEVICE
IN THE CAR IS YOU
A GUY WHO DRIVES
A CAR WIDE OPEN
IS NOT THINKIN’
HE’S JUST HOPIN’
LOOK EACH WAY
A HARP SOUNDS NICE
BUT IT’S HARD TO PLAY
BOTH HANDS ON THE WHEEL
EYES ON THE ROAD
THAT’S THE SKILLFUL
THE ONE WHO DRIVES
WHEN HE’S BEEN DRINKING
DEPENDS ON YOU
TO DO HIS THINKING
CAR IN DITCH
DRIVER IN TREE
THE MOON WAS FULL
AND SO WAS HE.
PASSING SCHOOL ZONE
TAKE IT SLOW
LET OUR LITTLE
HE SAW THE TRAIN
AND TRIED TO DUCK IT
HE KICKED THE GAS
AND THEN THE BUCKET !!
A MAN A MISS,
A CAR A CURVE,
HE KISSED THE MISS,
AND MISSED THE CURVE,
[Source: http://www.modelaircraft.org/insider/07_11/burma.htm May 2016 ++]
Help!!! ► Things that might make you say it (09)
Brain Teaser ► Odd Name Out
Which name in the following does not belong?
- The Dead Sea.
- The West Indies.
- Li’l Abner
Have You Heard? ► Questions 2
Can you cry under water?
How important does a person have to be before they are considered assassinated instead of just murdered?
Why do you have to “put your two cents in”.. But it’s only a “penny for your thoughts”? Where’s that extra penny going to?
Once you’re in heaven, do you get stuck wearing the clothes you were buried in for eternity?
Why does a round pizza come in a square box?
What disease did cured ham actually have?
How is it that we put man on the moon before we figured out it would be a good idea to put wheels on luggage?
Why is it that people say they “slept like a baby” when babies wake up like every two hours?
If a deaf person has to go to court, is it still called a hearing?
Why are you IN a movie, but you’re ON TV?
Why do people pay to go up tall buildings and then put money in binoculars to look at things on the ground?
Why do doctors leave the room while you change? They’re going to see you naked anyway.
Why is “bra” singular and “panties” plural?
Why do toasters always have a setting that burns the toast to a horrible crisp, which no decent human being would eat?
If Jimmy cracks corn and no one cares, why in hell is there a stupid song about him?
Can a hearse carrying a corpse drive in the carpool lane ?
If the professor on Gilligan’s Island can make a radio out of a coconut, why can’t he fix a hole in a boat?
Why does Goofy stand erect while Pluto remains on all fours? They’re both dogs!
If Wile E. Coyote had enough money to buy all that ACME crap, why didn’t he just buy dinner?
If corn oil is made from corn, and vegetable oil is made from vegetables, what is baby oil made from?
If electricity comes from electrons, does morality come from morons?
Did you ever notice that when you blow in a dog’s face, he gets mad at you, but when you take him for a car ride, he sticks his head out the window?
Brain Teaser Answer ► Odd Name Out
- October is the 10th month, not the eighth, as the name implies.
- Greenland is mostly covered with an ice sheet and is not at all green.
- The West Indies are in the Caribbean, not off the coast of India.
- Li’l Abner is big, not small.
So, the answer is Dead Sea, which is really dead. Due to its extremely high salt content, no plants, or animals can live in it. Tourists thrive there, however!
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