THIS BULLETIN CONTAINS THE FOLLOWING ARTICLES
Pg Article Subject
* DOD * .
04 == Exchange Online Shopping  ————————– (Still in Limbo)
06 == Commissary Funding  ———— (Budget Neutrality Not Realistic)
07 == DOD Tuition Assistance  — (TA & GI Bill Most Popular Schools)
07 == GI Bill  ————— (Ashford University’s Pending Disapproval)
08 == POW/MIA Recoveries —— (Reported 01 thru 15 JUN 2016 | Twelve)
* VA * .
11 == VA Medical Staff ————————————— (APRN Utilization)
12 == VA Medical Marijuana  — (79% of Voters Support Use for PTSD)
12 == VA Care Assessment  ————————- (A Safety Net for Vets)
13 == VA Commission on Care  — (Tricare-like System for VA Proposal)
15 == VA Vet Choice Program  – (McCain Slams Vet Advocacy Groups)
16 == VA Vet Choice Program  — (VFW|DAV|AL Response to McCain)
17 == VA Vet Choice Program  —– (Long Waits for Doctors & Patients)
18 == VA Health Care Access  ——— (Fired Phoenix Director’s Appeal)
20 == VA Health Care Access  ———– (Wait Times Creeping Back Up)
21 == VA Reform  —————- (Presidential Candidate’s Fix Proposals)
22 == VA VISTA  ——— (GAO Study Requested on Moderation Effort)
23 == VA OIG  – (Senate Investigation Highlights OIG’s Tomah Failures)
25 == PTSD  —– (Study Finds VA 30% Better at Providing Medication)
26 == VA Legal Settlements ——————————— (Tripled Since 2011)
28 == Traumatic Brain Injury  —— (VA National Vet Exam TBI Review)
29 ==VA Privatization  – (Will Neither Improve Access nor Reduce Costs)
30 == VA Mustard Gas Claims —————- (90% Rejected in Last 10 Years)
31 == VA Fraud, Waste & Abuse ————— (Reported 1 thru 15 JUN 2016)
33 == VAMC Northport NY (Unable To Perform Surgeries for Most of 2016)
33 == VA HCS Phoenix  ———————- (3 Senior Officials Removed)
* Vets * .
34 == VFW To Obama —————————– (No Confused Politics Here)
34 == Vet Unclaimed Remains ———————– (Six Buried in Knoxville)
35 == Vet Unemployment  ————- (Low | Continues to Set Records)
36 == Red Cross Vet Assistance —- (Filling the Military Relief Society Gap)
38 == Veterans’ Preference  ——– (NDAA Provision Would Limit Use)
38 == Vet Fresh Vegetable Locator ———- (VA Proximity Interactive Map)
39 == Homeless Vets  — (48,000 Nationwide Still Suffer Homelessness)
40 == Atomic Vets  —————– (Retro Report | Operation Hardtack I)
42 == Trump Vet Organization Donations —— (JAN Fundraiser Goes to 41)
44 == Vet Brains Sought ———————- (Battle Related Disorders Study)
45 == AJROTC — (250 Recently-Retired Soldiers Needed to Fill Vacancies)
45 == Flag Etiquette  ————– (TWC Fires Vet for Half Masting Flag)
46 == Vet Fraud & Abuse ——————————— (01 thru 15 JUN 2016)
48 == WWII Vets 110 ———————————————— (Dallas~Paul)
50 == Trump Active Duty’s Preference  —- (Vet’s Scathing Open Letter)
52 == Veterans —————————————— (It is the Veteran Who …)
53 == Obit: Stephanie Czech Rader | OSS Agent —————- (21 JAN 2016)
54 == Retiree Appreciation Days ————————— (As of 14 JUN 2016)
55 == Vet Hiring Fairs ——————————– (16 JUN thru 15 JUL 2016)
55 == Vet State Benefits & Discounts —————————– (Arizona 2016)
* Vet Legislation * .
56 == NDAA 2017  —————————– (BAS Amendment SA 4237)
57 == NDAA 2017  ——————————— (Amendments of Interest)
57 == VA Structure  ————- (H.R. | Convert VHA to Non-Profit Corp)
59 == Vet Bills Submitted to 114th Congress ———— (160601 thru 160615)
* MILITARY * .
61 == Secret Awards —————— (Classified Missions Almost One in Five)
64 == Discharge & Examination Processing  —– (ADSEP Policy Change)
65 == BAH — (Senate Plan to Overhaul Troops’ Housing Stipends in NDAA)
66 == USAF Drones ————————- (Everyday Part of the War Machine)
68 == USAF Strategy ————————– (Air Superiority 2030 Flight Plan)
70 == Sea Wasp ——————————– (Mine Hunting Underwater Robot)
71 == Dover Port Mortuary —– (Among the Dead: My Years in the Mortuary)
73 == NDAA 2017  ——————————- (JLENS Survival Doubtful)
74 == Navy Ink ——————– (One of Fleet Week’s Best Tattoo Selections)
74 == Clinton Military Family Plan ———– (Policy Paper | 23-Point Agenda)
76 == ACTUV  ———————– (Largest Unmanned Ship in the World)
76 == MOH Awards  —————— (Green Beret Denied | Doing His Job)
80 == Fisher House Expansion  ————— (Fort Bragg | Womack AMC)
* MILITARY HISTORY * .
81 == Hiroshima  ———– (Cables Reveal Lead-Up to A-bomb Decision)
82 == WWII Operation Torch ———— (Excerpted from Battlefield Surgeon)
85 == D-Day Anniversary 2016 – (Shrinking number of Survivors Attend 72nd)
86 == Military Trivia —————————— (America’s First Military Draft)
89 == Military History ——————————– (The Patriot and the Traitor)
91 == Boxer Rebellion —————————————– (116th Anniversary)
92 == WWII Battles Q&A  ——————————————- (Questions)
93 == Military History Anniversaries —————————- (16 thru 30 JUN)
93 == WWII Battles Q&A  ——————————————– (Answers)
95 == D-Day ———————————————- (Forgotten Black Heroes)
97 == Medal of Honor Citations ——————— (Bauer~Harold W | WWII)
* HEALTH CARE * .
99 == Cohen Veterans Network ——- (Open to All Vets Regardless of Status)
101 == Tricare Preventive Health Program  ———- (Men’s Health Month)
101 == Tricare TMS Treatment ——- (Now Covered for Depressive Disorders)
102 == Tricare ECHO  ——————– (Coverage Transfer Under ECHO)
102 == XSTAT —————————— (Injectable Sponges to Stop Bleeding)
103 == Device Addiction ———————————————— (What to Do)
104 == TRICARE Healthcare Ranking ———- (Customer Experience Ratings)
105 == Blood Pressure  – (Variable Readings | Cognitive Decline Predictor)
105 == PTSD  ——————— (Treatments | Transcendental Meditation)
* FINANCES * .
106 == Saving Money ——————————————– (Cooling Tips – 01)
108 == TSP  —————- (When Should You Make changes to Your TSP)
110 == Federal Pay  ——————————— (Disabled Vet Sick Leave)
112 == Travel Destinations ————- (Financial Aspects | Overseas Bargains)
112 == Social Security Reset Option  —————– (Collection Strategies)
114 == Tipping —————————————— (No-Tipping Policy Impact)
115 == Cremation  ——– (Cost Can Vary from Less than One to $9,000+)
116 == Sweepstakes Scam  ———————– (WWII Vet Loses $43,000)
116 == Kidnap Scam ———————————————— (Parents Beware)
117 == Tax Burden for Idaho Retired Vets ———————- (As of Jun 2016)
* GENERAL INTEREST * .
119 == Notes of Interest ————————————– (1 thru 15 JUN 2016)
121 == US-Philippines Relations —— (New RP President Impact on Defense)
122 == China Territorial Claims  —– (ADIZ Issue Sparks Sharp Warning)
123 == Army Times —————————- (Jim Tice Retirees After 46-years)
124 == American Sniper —————– (Court Vacates $1.8M Ventura Award)
125 == Internet Speed —— (How fast should your high-speed connection be?)
126 == Renters ———————————- (10 Reasons for Non-Acceptance)
127 == Intelligence Briefings —————- (Presidential Pre-election Briefing)
129 == Brain Teaser —————————————————- (Movies Stars)
130 == Have You Heard? —————- (Puns for Educated Minds & FF or EF)
132 == Brain Teaser Answer —————————————— (Movies Stars)
1. The page number on which an article can be found is provided to the left of each article’s title
2. Numbers contained within brackets [ ] indicate the number of articles written on the subject. To obtain previous articles send a request to [email protected].
* ATTACHMENTS * .
Attachment – Veteran Legislation as of 15 JUN 2016
Attachment – Arizona Vet State Benefits & Discounts JUN 2016
Attachment – Military History Anniversaries 16 thru 30 JUN
* DoD *
Exchange Online Shopping Update 05 ► Still in Limbo
Two years after they received a proposal to expand online shopping at military exchanges to all honorably discharged veterans, Pentagon officials are still mulling over the idea. “The policy office has identified some things that need to be included in the proposal, and await the final version so it can be staffed for approval,” said Defense Department spokesman Eric Pahon. “As these recommendations are pre-decisional, it would be inappropriate to say anything more.” He did note that DoD program managers “are aware of the interest in expanding the service benefit that would facilitate online exchange purchases by honorably discharged veterans.”
The idea was initially proposed in May 2014 by Army and Air Force Exchange Service CEO Tom Shull. Navy Exchange Service Command CEO and retired Rear Adm. Robert Bianchi and Cindy Whitman Lacy, director of the Marine Corps Business and Support Services Division, have said they support the idea. The AAFES online site is
ShopMyExchange.com; the NEXCOM site is MyNavyExchange.com. The proposal would allow all honorably discharged veterans to shop at the online stores but it does not extend to brick-and-mortar stores. At the time he proposed it, Shull said the move would increase the online customer base for the military exchange stores, but it would also offer a modest benefit to veterans who didn’t serve long enough to retire from the military, including a number who have served multiple tours in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Currently eligible shoppers include all ranks of active-duty, National Guard and reserve members; retirees; Medal of Honor recipients; honorably discharged veterans with 100 percent service-connected disabilities; DoD civilian employees stationed outside the U.S. and authorized family members. If the concept is approved, the online benefit for all honorably discharged veterans could be rolled out in as little as six months. “With the veterans online shopping benefit, all we’re doing is adding customers to a successful e-commerce business,” said Shull. Over the last two years, AAFES officials have upgraded ShopyMyExchange.com and are scaling up their distribution centers to handle the increased volume if more veterans are allowed to shop; they will also add additional personnel to the call center. The website will be able to handle four times the number orders without straining the system, Shull said. They could scale the online business to handle $1 billion in sales within a year, he said.
To break even on the cost of expanding to these veterans, sales through ShopMyExchange.com would have to increase by about $30 million. In 2015, online sales were $208 million, an increase of 20 percent over sales in 2014, according to AAFES spokesman Chris Ward. The expansion would mean that about 18 million additional veterans would be eligible to shop online; AAFES would break even on costs if fewer than 50,000 of those newly authorized veterans shopped online. The expansion could also benefit the military community, by increasing sales and providing more profits that could be contributed to morale, welfare and recreation programs and to improve brick-and-mortar stores. The current customer base is made up of a finite number of active-duty, Guard and reserve members and retirees and their family members, and that customer base has been shrinking with the drawdown of the military.
In 2011, AAFES profits were $278 million. When Shull took over as CEO in 2012, there was a shrinking customer base and resulting shrinking sales, and he was under increasing pressure to provide more money to MWR programs. Shull cut costs rather than raise prices, including reducing the number of employees worldwide from 42,000 to 35,000. He’s also made changes the shopping experience, such as adding more national brand items, a move that has resulted in increased sales. AAFES upgraded and improved the shopmyexchange.com website, which, after a bumpy start, has also paid off. Sales are up by 32 percent in the first four months of 2016, compared to the same time in 2015. As a result, the profits for 2015 were $402 million, and AAFES provided $236 million to MWR programs. If the cost-saving measures and operational changes hadn’t been taken, officials said, the profits would have decreased to $69 million in 2015.[Source: Military Times | Karen Jowers | June 1, 2016 ++]
Commissary Funding Update 28 ► Budget Neutrality Not Realistic
The only way to entirely eliminate taxpayer funding for commissaries is to shut them all down, according to Pentagon officials who have explored a number of alternatives. But that’s not an option, nor is drastically increasing prices, Pentagon officials said in a report to Congress: “Either action would significantly reduce the benefit available to commissary patrons, and would adversely impact the customer base of the military exchange system, reducing the availability of dividends for morale, welfare, and recreation activities as well.” And those eligible are using their benefit: 80 percent of eligible, active-duty households shopped at least once at a commissary in the 12 months ending Jan. 31, the report noted. More than 50 percent of those who shopped in commissaries during that period were active-duty households, according to the report.
Defense officials were tasked by Congress last year to develop a plan to achieve “budget neutrality” for the commissary and exchange systems by Oct. 1, 2018 — without diminishing commissary and exchange benefits. That task came after increased efforts within DoD to drastically reduce the taxpayer subsidy in the face of continuing budget pressures. DoD proposed in 2014 and 2015 to gradually cut $1 billion from the commissary annual operating budget.
“Budget neutrality” would mean eliminating the commissary taxpayer subsidy of $1.4 billion and the $400 million taxpayer subsidy received by the three military exchange services. The commissary subsidy allows stores to sell groceries at cost, plus a 5 percent surcharge used for construction. The exchanges are mostly self-supporting, deriving their operating costs by marking up the prices of goods and services. But they receive taxpayer dollars to pay for shipping merchandise overseas, so that prices there are comparable to those at exchanges in the continental U.S.
In their report, defense officials said various initiatives they explored would fall $1.5 billion short of the $1.8 billion in savings to eliminate the taxpayer subsidy, without affecting customer savings, contributions to morale, welfare and recreation programs, or customer service. Instead, DoD predicts it could achieve $300 million per year in savings for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2018. To get rid of the entire taxpayer subsidy, prices would have to increase by 27 percent, officials said. That would essentially eliminate the existing commissary savings benefit, which is an average of 30 percent compared with local stores. The downward spiral caused by the increases would continue until the commissary system priced itself out of existence, the report noted.
While the taxpayer cost is $1.4 billion a year, the patron savings equates to $2.35 billion a year, DoD officials stated. And there are a number of second- and third-order effects of the commissary benefit, including qualify of life, military readiness and cost avoidance. For example, in the areas of cost avoidance and military readiness, the loss of transportation volume of commissaries and exchanges would increase U.S. Transportation Command fees for the remaining users, increasing the taxpayer funding requirements for military transport across the board. And the commissary prices are a factor in the formula used to compute Cost of Living Allowance rates; the absence of commissary savings could cause the rates to increase for the government.
“The Department believes that, with some legislative relief, it will be possible to maintain current benefits and still achieve efficiencies that result in meaningful savings for the taxpayer,” the report noted. The variable pricing program is among the initiatives DoD is planning to get some savings. Legislation giving DoD that authority passed the House and is being considered in the Senate. This breaks from the decades-old model of commissaries selling groceries at cost plus a 5 percent surcharge. Officials will test variable pricing concepts that will raise or lower prices on individual products. Another initiative is developing commissary private label brands. DoD officials have also explored other alternatives, including privatization of the commissary system; and using discount saving agreements with local grocery stores. However, the report noted, “the Department does not believe that either approach could replicate the range of benefits, level of savings, and geographic reach provided by the Defense commissary system and achieve budget neutrality.”
In spite of this determination, officials said, DoD is continuing to seek more information on the feasibility of privatizing all or part of the commissary system, based on interest from the private sector. Defense officials contacted chief executive officers of 10 major private-sector grocery chains earlier this year, and three expressed interest in pursuing the matter in greater depth, according to the report. Thus, DoD is continuing its research on privatization through a request for information posted on FedBizOpps.gov on May 27. Information is due back to DoD by 15 JUL The request makes clear it is not a solicitation for proposals, but states: “The information gained will assist in developing a plan to privatize all or portions of the Defense Commissary Agency and Defense Commissary System. … The result of this market research will contribute to determining the method of procurement (if any).”
Some senators are once again pushing this privatization concept, as they attempted last year. The Senate Armed Services Committee has included a provision in its version of the fiscal 2017 defense policy bill that would require a pilot program testing privatization at no more than five commissaries on major military bases. But other senators, led by Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) are pushing back, trying to get an amendment considered that would instead require DoD to study the idea and submit a report to Congress by 1 FEB. [Source: Military Times | Karen Jowers | June 7, 2016 ++]
DOD Tuition Assistance Update 04 ► TA & GI Bill Most Popular Schools
For data on TA/GI schools refer to the following:
- Most popular TA colleges http://ec.militarytimes.com/charts/military/2015/most-popular-ta-colleges
- Top TA colleges by service http://ec.militarytimes.com/charts/military/2015/top-ten-TA-by-service
- Tuition assistance decreases http://ec.militarytimes.com/charts/military/2015/tuition-assistance-decrease
- Most popular GI Bill colleges http://ec.militarytimes.com/charts/military/2015/most-popular-GI-Bill-colleges
- Methodology www.militarytimes.com/story/veterans/best-for-vets/2015/07/15/methodology/30124095
[Source: Military Times | George Altman | July 16, 2015++]
GI Bill Update 206 ► Ashford University’s Pending Disapproval
Over 6,000 veterans attending Ashford University may find their school no longer approved for GI Bill benefits after June 30, 2016. The state of Iowa will be withdrawing its approval for GI Bill benefits after that date. Ashford is attempting to gain approval for its programs from the state of California before the Iowa approval runs out. This would keep GI Bill benefits flowing to enrolled students. However, Bridgepoint Education, the parent company of Ashford, is currently under investigation by the California Attorney General for the company’s scholarship and institutional loan programs and other extensions of credit made by Bridgepoint to students, as well as enrollment and retention details. Refer to www.ashford.edu/military.htm for Ashford’s online degree program. [Source: “NAUS Weekly Update” | June 10, 2016 ++]
POW/MIA Recoveries ► Reported 01 thru 15 JUN 2016 | Twelve
“Keeping the Promise”, “Fulfill their Trust” and “No one left behind” are several of many mottos that refer to the efforts of the Department of Defense to recover those who became missing while serving our nation. The number of Americans who remain missing from conflicts in this century are: World War II (73,515) Korean War (7,841), Cold War (126), Vietnam War (1,627), 1991 Gulf War (5), and Libya (1). Over 600 Defense Department men and women — both military and civilian — work in organizations around the world as part of DoD’s personnel recovery and personnel accounting communities. They are all dedicated to the single mission of finding and bringing our missing personnel home. For a listing of all personnel accounted for since 2007 refer to http://www.dpaa.mil/ and click on ‘Our Missing’. If you wish to provide information about an American missing in action from any conflict or have an inquiry about MIAs, contact:
- Mail: Public Affairs Office, 2300 Defense Pentagon, Washington, D.C. 20301-2300, Attn: External Affairs
- Call: Phone: (703) 699-1420
- Message: Fill out form on http://www.dpaa.mil/Contact/ContactUs.aspx
Family members seeking more information about missing loved ones may also call the following Service Casualty Offices: U.S. Air Force (800) 531-5501, U.S. Army (800) 892-2490, U.S. Marine Corps (800) 847-1597, U.S. Navy (800) 443-9298, or U.S. Department of State (202) 647-5470. The remains of the following MIA/POW’s have been recovered, identified, and scheduled for burial since the publication of the last RAO Bulletin:
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains and burial updates of two U.S. servicemen who had been previously listed as missing in action from Korea. Returning home for burial with full military honors are:
— Army Sgt. Harold Sparks, 21, grew up in Seattle and went to Ballard High School, graduated from West Seattle High in 1946, and then entered the Army. He went into the Korean Conflict after his first tour of duty in the Army cleaning up Concentration Camps in Germany at the close of WWII. In early November 1950, Sparks was assigned to Company L, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, which was deployed near Unsan, North Korea, when enemy forces compelled the unit to withdraw. Sparks would be declared missing in action as a result of the battle that occurred Nov. 2, 1950. Harold passed away there about April 30, 1951. Sparks will be buried June 16 in Kent, Wash. He is survived by sister Lois Ahrens, nieces Christine Ager, Rene Swayze, Joanne Hansen, nephews Jim Ahrens, Bill Pendleton, Lee Thomas and Brett.
— Army Sgt. Bailey Keeton, 20, of Scott County, Tenn., is scheduled to be buried June 25 in Oneida, Tenn. In late November 1950, Keeton was assigned to Company D, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, which was deployed east of the Chosin River in North Korea, when they were attacked by an overwhelming number of Chinese forces. He would be reported as missing in action on Dec. 2, 1950.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains and burial updates of one U.S. serviceman who had been previously listed as missing in action from Vietnam. Returning home for burial with full military honors is:
— Air Force Col. Patrick H. Wood, 36, of Kansas City, Mo. On Feb. 6, 1967, then-Major Wood was piloting an HH-3E Jolly Green Giant on a search and rescue mission near the Mu Gia Pass in North Vietnam when it was shot down, killing three of the four-man crew. He was assigned to Det. 5, 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron. The date and location of his burial has yet to be announced. His Air Force Cross citation reads:
Major Patrick H. Wood distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in connection with a military operation against an opposing armed force as a Rescue Crew Commander of an HH-3E helicopter near Mu Gia Pass, North Vietnam on 6 February 1967. On that date, Major Wood flew two sorties in an attempt to rescue a pilot downed deep in heavily defended hostile territory. An intensive search under constant fire failed to locate the pilot and the first sortie was cancelled due to rapidly deteriorating weather. Major Wood undertook a second attempt fully aware that fighter cover and flak suppression support were unavailable due to marginal weather. Despite intense and accurate 37mm fire, Major Wood successfully located and hoisted the downed pilot into his aircraft. At this point, the hostile forces, thwarted in their attempts to capture the downed pilot, and the possibility of luring other aircraft to destruction, directed all their fire-power toward Major Wood’s aircraft. Heavy 37mm fire exploded above the aircraft on climb out, and one hit was taken in the cabin. Although his aircraft was severely damaged, Major Wood attempted to clear a ridge line which would have provided a sufficient altitude for a safe bailout for his crew. In the face of a known highly dangerous area, extremely adverse weather conditions, and exceptionally heavy hostile fire, Major Wood pressed his humanitarian efforts to save a fellow airman. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness, Major Wood reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
World War II
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains and burial updates of eight U.S. servicemen who had been previously listed as missing in action from World War II. Returning home for burial with full military honors are:
— Navy Seaman 2nd Class Vernon N. Grow and Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Alfred F. Wells, 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. Wells, 32, will be buried June 11 in his hometown of Syracuse, N.Y.
— Marine Corps Pfc. John Saini and Navy Pharmacist’s Mate 3rd Class Howard P. Brisbane, had died fighting on the Pacific atoll of Tarawa on Nov. 20, 1943. Saini, 20, was assigned to Company H, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, and will be buried June 11 in his hometown of Healdsburg, Calif. Brisbane was assigned to Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division.
Pfc. John Saini
— Marine Pfc. John F. Prince, 19, of New York City, will be buried June 17 in Calverton on Long Island. In November 1943, Prince was assigned to Company F, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, which landed against stiff Japanese resistance on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands. Prince reportedly died on the first day of the battle, Nov. 20, 1943.
— Navy Ensign Joseph P. Hittorff Jr., 25, of Collingswood, N.J., and Navy Ensign Lewis B. Pride Jr., 23, of Madisonville, Ky., were stationed aboard the battleship USS Oklahoma, which was moored off Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, when the ship capsized after sustaining multiple torpedo hits on Dec. 7, 1941. Both men will be buried on June 18 –– Hittorff in South Kent, Conn., and Pride in Providence, Ky.
Joseph Hittorff had managed his high school football team during his senior year and had attained the rank of Eagle Scout. After graduation, he attended Brown Preparatory School for English and math. Joseph had always wanted to go to sea, and so he chose to start a career in the Navy. In June of 1936, he entered the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis and graduated in 1940. His initial assignment was serving on board the battleship USS Oklahoma, a 583 foot battleship attached to the Pacific Fleet in Hawaii. Joe had completed all of the requirements for being promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade but his commission had not come through at the time of his death. Joe sent frequent letters home. In one from November 2, 1941, he expressed concern that there were war clouds on the horizon, and he was “expecting the worst — and hoping for the best.” Joe’s Naval Academy ring was recovered from the wreckage at a later time. Also returned to the family was a ceremonial sword from Annapolis. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, the Victory Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the American Defense Medal. A funeral has been planned for June 18 at 11:00 in the Kent Congregational Church, Kent CT with burial immediately after in the Kent Congregational Cemetery.
Ensign Joseph P. Hittorff
Ensign Pride was assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma which arrived in Pearl Harbor on December 6, 1940, and spent the next several months participating in exercises and conducting patrols. On the morning of December 7, 1941, a fleet of Japanese aircraft carriers launched formations of dive bombers, torpedo planes and fighters against the vessels. Ensign Pride was killed in the attack along with 428 of his fellow sailors and Marines aboard the Oklahoma. On November 13, 1943 in Orange, Texas a Destroyer Escort was commissioned the USS Pride (DE-323) in honor of Ensign Pride. The USS Pride earned three battle stars for World War II service. The vessel was decommissioned in June 1954. Ensign Pride’s service and legacy will always be remembered and honored throughout the City of Madisonville, especially along Bailey Drive and Pride Avenue and through the halls of Pride Elementary School and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5480, all of which were named in honor of Ensign Pride. An official military burial ceremony at Oddfellows Cemetery is scheduled for Saturday, June 18th at 11 am.
— Army Cpl. George G. Simmons, 27, of Hamilton, Mont., will be buried June 18 in Corvallis, Mont. On Dec. 8, 1941, Simmons was assigned to Battery H, 60th Coast Artillery Regiment on the Philippine Island of Corregidor when the Japanese invaded. After the fall of Corregidor, it would be later learned Simmons had died in captivity on Nov. 19, 1942.
— Army Air Forces Pvt. Evans E. Overbey, is scheduled to be buried July 15 in Johnston City, Tenn. In December 1941, he was assigned to the 93rd Bombardment Squadron, 19th Bombardment Group at Clark Field in the Philippines, when the Japanese attacked. It would be later learned he died in captivity on Nov. 19, 1942.
[Source: http://www.dpaa.mil | June 2016 ++]
* VA *
VA Medical Staff ► APRN Utilization
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is proposing a rule which will improve veteran access to care and use of resources. The rule grants full practice authority to Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN) when they are acting within the scope of their VA employment. Full practice authority will help optimize access to VA health care by permitting APRNs to assess, diagnose, prescribe medications and interpret diagnostic tests. This action proposes to expand the pool of qualified health care professionals authorized to provide primary health care and other related health care services to the full extent of their education, training, and certification to Veterans without the clinical supervision of a physician.
APRNs are clinicians with advanced degrees and training who provide primary, acute and specialty health care services. APRNs complete masters, post-master or doctoral degrees. There are four APRN roles: Certified Nurse Practitioner, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist and Certified Nurse Midwife. All VA APRNs are required to obtain and maintain current national certification. b “The purpose of this proposed regulation is to ensure VA has authority to address staffing shortages in the future,” said VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. David J. Shulkin. “Implementation of the final rule would be made through VHA policy, which would clarify whether and which of the four APRN roles would be granted full practice authority. At this time, VA is not seeking any change to VHA policy on the role of CRNAs, but would consider a policy change in the future to utilize full practice authority when and if such conditions require such a change,” Shulkin said. “This is good news for our APRNs, who will be able to perform functions that their colleagues in the private sector are already doing.”
The American Nurses Association (ANA) applauds VHA’s leadership for proposing to grant full practice authority to the four types of Advanced Practice Registered Nurses. “VA will be able to more effectively meet the health care needs of our nation’s Veterans,” said ANA President Pamela Cipriano. “This proposal removes barriers that prevent APRNs from providing a full range of services and will assist VA in its ongoing efforts to address staff shortages and improve Veterans’ access to care. APRNs are critical members of the health care workforce and an integral component of the health care delivery system with a proven track record of safe quality care and high patient satisfaction.”
The proposal has several physician groups seeing red. “We feel this proposal will significantly undermine the delivery of care within the VA,” Stephen Permut, MD, JD, chair of the American Medical Association’s (AMA) board of trustees, said in a statement, adding that the association was “disappointed” by the VA’s “unprecedented proposal.” “All patients deserve access to physician expertise, whether for primary care, chronic health management, anesthesia, or pain medicine … The AMA urges the VA to maintain the physician-led model within the VA health system to ensure greater integration and coordination of care for veterans and improve health outcomes,” Permut said. The proposed rule can be found for comment at www.regulations.gov. [Source: OPIA News Release | May 29, 2016 ++]
VA Medical Marijuana Update 22 ► 79% of Voters Support Use for PTSD
The Quinnipiac University National poll said that among every party, gender, age or racial group, at least 79 percent of voters expressed support for marijuana to treat PTSD. “The fact that a majority of American voters favors legalizing marijuana in general shows how attitudes about the drug have changed,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. Among voters from military households where at least one member is active duty or a veteran, 82 percent of respondents supported marijuana for PTSD. Malloy said the ramifications of PTSD are “life-threatening” and appropriate measures should be taken for doctors to treat PTSD accordingly.
“If you serve your country and suffer for it, you deserve every health remedy available, including medical marijuana in pill form,” Malloy said. “That is the full-throated recommendation of Americans across the demographic spectrum, including voters in military households.” Additionally, the poll divulged that 89 percent of Americans supported use of medicinal marijuana for any patient, if prescribed legally by a doctor. However, the issue became more contentious when voters were asked if marijuana should be legalized in general: 54 percent supported legalization and 41 percent opposed. The poll was conducted 24 thru 30 May and included 1,561 registered voters nationwide contacted by telephone with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. [Source: Washington Examiner | Diana Stancy | June 7, 016 ++]
VA Care Assessment Update 02 ► A Safety Net for Vets
Veterans are an older and more diverse group than they were 15 years ago, and they are also much more dependent on the health care and other benefits provided by the Veterans Affairs Department, according to a new study. The VA “continues to be a health care safety net for many veterans,” concluded a study published in the June 2016 issue of Health Affairs Journal, based on two surveys of vets conducted in 2001 and in 2010. Vets in 2010 were twice as likely as vets in 2001 to have used VA health services, the study found; the 2010 group also were more likely to have applied for VA disability compensation and to have received higher ratings, despite being less likely to have served in a combat zone than those vets surveyed in 2001
The greater reliance on VA services and benefits in the post-9/11 era could partly be due to better technology and VA outreach, the study authors said. But they also found that more VA service users in 2010 had lower incomes, were in poorer health and were more likely to be unemployed than those in 2001, indicating a greater need for a safety net among that population, particularly following the 2008 recession and the passage of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. VA health coverage fulfills that law’s health insurance mandate. There are roughly 20 million vets now, fewer than in 2001, and VA provides benefits and services to between 15 percent and 26 percent of that group each year. The numbers and demographics of the population are fluid though, given the aging veteran population, increase in female service members and the growing racial diversity of the armed services. That means their needs and expectations are changing as well.
For instance, the number of vets using VA mental health services alone jumped from just over 700,000 in 2001 to more than 1.2 million in 2010, according to the study. “This increase may be due to collective efforts by the VA, the Department of Defense, and community-based providers to engage veterans in VA health care and improve their access to mental health services,” the study’s authors, Jack Tsai and Robert Rosenheck said, adding that their results did not support the wide public perception that “post-traumatic stress is a problem among recent veterans especially.”
The study underscores the importance of the VA system to a growing, aging and possibly at-risk population at a time of turmoil for the department. VA continues to struggle with the rise in disability compensation claims and appeals, as well as providing timely and quality health care to vets. Then there are the systemic problems it faces in managing its 300,000-plus workforce. As if that weren’t enough, a new threat looms: multiple calls from Capitol Hill and elsewhere to completely privatize the VA’s health care system. “The VA faces new opportunities and challenges in developing and allocating resources for a changing population of veterans in the next decade,” the study concluded, in the understatement of the year about the government’s second-largest department. [Source: GovExec.com | Kellie Lunney | June 7, 2016 ++]
VA Commission on Care Update 07 ► Tricare-like System for VA Proposal
The Commission on Care was created by Congress in 2014 under the legislation that established the Veterans Choice program. It is tasked with reviewing the VA health system and making recommendations on its future. The panel’s final report is due by the end of June but on 7 JUN, commissioners met in Washington to revise a rough draft of the final report. The blue ribbon panel studying the future of Veterans Affairs health care is poised to recommend an overhaul to the system that would create a structure similar to the Pentagon’s Tricare program, where veterans could choose to use either the VA for their care or see a network provider. The goal, according to Commission on Care members, would be a more efficient version of the VA’s current system, in which the department provides direct care to most veterans, and those who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility or who cannot get an appointment in a month offered private care.
“With the never-ending wait times and the VA secretary doubling down on his comparison to Disney, the time has long passed for the VA to make the necessary changes to ensure that our veterans are treated effectively, seen efficiently, and cared for with respect,” McMorris Rodgers said in a released statement. “Veterans should be freed from a system that offers them little or no choice.” McDonald was appointed to fix the VA’s many problems, including bottlenecks for veterans seeking health care, but many lawmakers are getting frustrated by what they see as a slow pace and steady stream of missteps by the department. The VA’s Health Administration now runs more than 1,700 hospitals, clinics and care facilities that serve nearly 9 million veterans. It is the nation’s largest integrated health care system. Under Roger’s discussion proposal, the health care arm of the VA would turn over its facilities, staff and responsibilities to a newly created Veterans Accountable Care Organization,
Under the draft of the commission’s final report, all veterans enrolled in VA care would choose either a primary care provider at the VA or from a civilian network. The plan would do away with the 30-day and 40-mile restrictions of the Veterans Choice program and create networks of physicians to care for former troops who prefer to see non-VA doctors. That draft calls for:
- Creating a new structure, the VHA Care System, responsible for overseeing VHA facilities as well as preferred provider networks managed by contractors.
- An appointed board of directors to provide oversight to the entire Veterans Health Administration consisting of the VA secretary, eight members appointed by Congress, and two members appointed by the president. At least five of the 11 members would be veterans.
- Phasing in the new system, starting in areas where it is most needed.
- Giving VA the authority to close underperforming VA hospitals and clinics. “Under this proposal, [VHA] becomes a care system, a more integrated model where every component of it is designed to deliver the best care to veterans,” commission chairwoman Nancy Schlichting said.
- Giving some veterans who received other than honorable discharges access to VA health services. Under the draft, troops who have “substantial honorable service” before they got bad paper discharges would be considered for VA health care eligibility.
- Allowing VA to establish pilot programs that would provide veterans and spouses the option to purchase health care at VA.
- Enrolling all new veterans into VetsCare Choice, which covers private health care. Veterans who are already enrolled in the VA system could opt in or stay with their existing coverage.
- Veterans older than 65 will be enrolled in coverage that will defray Medicare payments.
The estimated costs of these reform proposals were not available on Tuesday, but commissioners tossed out figures ranging from $100 billion to $1 trillion over 20 years. Schlichting said many factors contribute to cost estimates, including demand, cost savings from closures and realignments and improving information technology systems. But, she concurred, the reforms could be pricey. “I think we all agree if we increase choice, we increase costs,” Schlichting said. “Given the level of reform we are recommending, [VA] is going to need resources.” The department last year began a reform process known as MyVA, which aims to fix issues ranging from health care quality and access problems to information technology problems and the benefits appeals backlog.
The 14-member commission has met 12 times since last September. Its work has been contentious, with veterans organizations, the White House and the VA speaking against any proposals to expand private care for veterans at the expense of VA medical centers and clinics. The commission will send its final report to Congress this month. Whether lawmakers will act on it remains to be seen, however. The Senate and House are considering legislative proposals to change the Veterans Choice program, ranging from expanding it to all enrolled veterans to requiring most veterans use private care.
McMorris Rodgers said, “With this draft legislation, my goal is for veterans to have the ability to choose what health care plan best fits their individual needs. This proposal should serve as the starting point for putting veterans in charge of their health care.” The National Association of Uniformed Services (NAUS) comment on the proposal was, “NAUS trusts that this proposal finds adequate shelf space somewhere”. [Source: Military Times | Patricia Kime | June 7, 2016 ++]
VA Vet Choice Program Update 42 ► Sen. McCain Slams Vet Advocacy Groups
Most of the time, major political figures try to stay on the good side of the nation’s leading veterans’ organizations, but Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is comfortable going in a different direction. The Republican senator appeared on his daughter’s radio show late last week – just a few days before Memorial Day – and Meghan McCain asked about the need for improvements in the VA system. The GOP lawmaker, facing a tough re-election fight this year, didn’t hold back.
JOHN MCCAIN: I blame some of the old veterans’ service organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Disabled American Veterans and American Legion. They are against the Choice Card. Why would they be against the Choice Card
MEGHAN MCCAIN: Why are they against it?
JOHN MCCAIN: They have been co-opted by that system. They have this symbiotic relationship with the VA bureaucracy. For them to say they are against a veteran having a choice to me is unconscionable.
After expressing his deep “disappointment” with some of the nation’s largest advocacy groups working on behalf of veterans, the Republican senator added that veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan “are best represented by the Concern Veterans of America.” The CVA, for those unfamiliar with the group, is a far-right organization funded in part by the Koch brothers’ operation, and has been an enthusiastic proponent of privatizing veterans’ care. So what’s behind John McCain’s broadside? Military.com reported last week on the senator’s efforts to expand the so-called Veterans Choice Program, which the nation’s largest veterans’ service organizations are skeptical of for an obvious reason: the goal is to “steer vets to private health care providers.”
- While advocates see expanding the program as a way to provide veterans with more options, the groups – including The American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Disabled American Veterans and Paralyzed Veterans of America – say it would lead to a fraying and shrinking of an integrated managed care system they say serves veterans best.
- “The American Legion appreciates Senator McCain’s efforts to improve the provision of health care for America’s veterans. However, one of the central, core elements of the bill expands care in the community in a way that is concerning,” Lou Celli, veterans affairs and rehabilitation division director for the Legion, said Tuesday during a hearing of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
- Celli said the Legion supported the Choice Program when it was proposed and passed but not as a broad replacement for VA health care. “Veterans should be provided with the option of receiving care in the community as a supplement to VA health care and not to supplant VA care,” he said.
This, evidently, has sparked the senator’s indignation. Obviously, given McCain’s decorated and heroic service, he can go after groups like the VFW, the DAV, and American Legion in ways most politicians cannot – but that doesn’t mean the senator is correct and the veterans’ service organizations are wrong. McCain appears to be pursuing an ideological agenda and it’s hardly surprising that these veterans’ groups are reluctant to get on board. As for the underlying policy matter, the Washington Monthly reported earlier this year on the results of the “Choice Card” system championed by McCain and other congressional Republicans.
- The basic idea of the VA partnering more with private providers was not flawed in principle. Indeed, the agency already had programs through which it contracted private doctors to perform certain kinds of specialty care or care in remote regions where it lacked facilities. The VA also had an extensive history of collaborating with academic medical centers. Done right, closer collaboration between VA and non-VA providers could improve care for everyone in many areas.
- But the new legislation set in motion a “choice” program in which the government would be paying for bills submitted by private providers for care that was unmanaged, uncoordinated, and, to the extent that it replicated the performance of the private health care system, often unneeded. This is the very opposite of the integration and adherence to evidence-based protocols that has long made VA care a model of safety and effectiveness.
- Worse, implementation of the Choice Card was a disaster from every point of view. Congress gave the VA only 90 days to stand up the program. Largely because of that insane time line, the VA was able to attract bids from only two companies. Each of these has a sole contract that gives it a monopoly wherever it operates, and each put together networks that were so narrow and poorly administered that that for many months vets who received Choice Cards typically could not find a single doctor who would accept them.
- Over the course of 2015, many of these problems of implementation were at least partially sorted out, but the basic flaw in the model remains.
This is precisely what John McCain is so desperate to expand – even if that means condemning some of the country’s largest veterans’ service organizations in the process. [Source: MSNBC | Steve Benen | June 1, 2016 ++]
VA Vet Choice Program Update 43 ► VFW|DAV|AL Response to Sen. McCain
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) attacked the nation’s largest and most influential veterans’ service organizations on 27 MAY by alleging they were opposed to the Veterans Choice Program that created a new, but temporary, option for veterans to receive health care from non-Department of Veterans Affairs providers. The senator’s comments specifically targeted the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Disabled American Veterans, and the American Legion during an interview on his daughter Meghan’s syndicated radio program, America Now.
“Senator McCain was factually wrong when he said our organizations oppose the Choice Program, which all of us supported as part of the VA Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 to address an emergency access to care crisis,” said VFW Executive Director Bob Wallace, DAV Executive Director Garry Augustine, and American Legion Executive Director Verna Jones. “The senator also appears unaware of the many reform proposals we have since offered to expand access to community care, improve quality inside the VA health care system, and strengthen accountability throughout the entire VA,” they said.
“We do not oppose efforts to increase the use of community care; in fact we have offered our own plans to expand access to non-VA care by developing local networks that integrate the best community providers into the VA system,” they said. “What we are against is unrealistic proposals that promise unlimited choice, which in itself is unsustainable, and in reality could force millions of veterans to lose the option to use VA health care, which could ultimately shift the financial cost of care onto every veteran.
“Grandiose proposals such as Senator McCain’s plan to give every veteran a Choice Card to purchase unlimited health care in the private sector without any management could cost hundreds of billions of dollars, according to estimates by the Office of Management and Budget. This while Congress balks at spending just a few hundred million to fund critically needed VA hospitals and clinics,” they said. “Just because a veteran has a Choice Card doesn’t necessarily mean private providers will see them, because they have long wait times, too, and many will not accept low government reimbursement rates,” the three executive directors said. “We hope to have the opportunity to work with Senator McCain and others interested in improving veterans’ health care. We want to find realistic ways to expand access by supplementing VA care whenever and wherever necessary, while maintaining VA as the premier provider of care for wounded, ill and injured veterans.” [Source: VFW Action corps Weekly | June 3, 2016 ++]
VA Vet Choice Program Update 44 ► Long Waits for Doctors & Patients
When clinical psychiatrist Cher Morrow-Bradley and other health care providers call the Veterans Choice program, they are greeted with a recorded, 90-second “thank you” from Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald. It’s not having the intended effect. “Why don’t you make this easier? The process is so cumbersome, and I have to listen to you thanking me for spending all this time and then I get put on hold,” says Morrow-Bradley, adding that she hasn’t figured out how to skip the message.
She and many others say this is emblematic of the Veterans Choice program that was intended to quickly work through the backlog of vets waiting for medical care. Anyone more than 40 miles from a Veterans Affairs facility or waiting more than 30 days for an appointment could go get private care outside the VA system. But nearly two years in, there are more vets waiting than before. Health care providers are frustrated with the program, which makes it hard to keep them in the network. Without enough providers to see them, vets end up waiting anyway. Or, in Morrow-Bradley’s case, the vets get the care and the doctors don’t get paid in a timely fashion, if at all. She moved to North Carolina to work with veterans, first at the VA and now in a small private practice. Previously she gave VA patients care as a private doctor through a program called PC3. When Veterans Choice started in 2014, she was happy to participate, because she knows VA mental health specialists are overwhelmed.
A Satisfied Patient. One Afghanistan vet, Jacob Hansel, gives Morrow-Bradley a rave review. “I believe therapy is stronger than medicine,” says the former Marine, who returned from deployment with serious anxiety and depression issues. When the local VA told him it would be a four-month wait for a therapist, he used the Choice program to see Morrow-Bradley. “I have days when I almost have panic attacks. … A lot of it is just realizing when the anxiety comes; she’s helped me figure how to keep it under control,” says Hansel. Morrow-Bradley has treated Hansel since last year, along with others in the Choice program. She has submitted her bills to a company called Health Net, which administers Veterans Choice across most of the Eastern United States. “I just assumed I was being paid. I found out six months later I had five, six [thousand dollars] outstanding to Veterans Choice,” says Morrow-Bradley. It took her most of a year to get paid. Health Net refused requests for an interview.
Dr. David Shulkin, the head of the Veterans Health Administration, acknowledges this problem has hindered the Choice program in getting providers big and small. “One thing I know is that when you perform a service, when you see a patient, you want to be paid. And these hospital systems don’t have the cash flow to be waiting around for months and months to get paid,” he says. Shulkin points to one rule that has been scrapped to speed up reimbursement — originally providers wouldn’t get paid until they had returned an updated medical record to the VA.
Challenges In Getting Certified. Other providers say they want to join the Veterans Choice program but can’t jump through the hoops to get certified. Psychologist Diane Adams devotes a portion of her practice in Renton, Wash., to veterans, saying it’s something she considers important. She sees patients at her home office at the midpoint of a steep winding hill. Adams has provided counseling to veterans as part of the VA’s community care programs for nearly a decade. Last July, she got a letter inviting her to join the Choice program, from TriWest Healthcare Alliance, the company that administers Veterans Choice in most of the Western U.S. Adams went online together to begin the credentialing process. It all seemed pretty straightforward. “We checked that box and waited and waited,” Adams said.
In December, after hearing nothing for five months, Adams finally gave TriWest a call. “I spoke with somebody and yes, they had received my information and they thought, well maybe it’s just taking a long time for the contractual process,” Adams said. Adams called back again in January and March. Each time a courteous TriWest representative took a message. No one called back. Tri West’s chief medical officer, Frank Maguire, acknowledges the Veterans Choice program isn’t exactly nimble. “Things have gotten much better but I’ll tell you we still have persistent educational confusion issues. The program itself is not uncomplicated,” Maguire said. As a result, small mistakes can mean big problems. Turns out, way back, when Adams filled out the first form, she checked the wrong box. And that held everything up. Finally, in March, Adams was informed that she’d been credentialed since January and should have gotten a welcome letter. It never arrived.
Maguire says the program is still new and may need more time. “We think we’ve done consistently a much better job as time has gone on,” Maguire said. “At the same time there’s not a lot of patience. People want it perfect right away and it’s a new program. I think still needs more time to mature.” Now that she’s in, Adams faces a new hurdle: Some of her regular veteran patients can’t get Veterans Choice to approve visits to see her. Vets are supposed to be able to call the number on the back of their Choice card and get an appointment. But so far it’s been like climbing that steep winding hill to her office — more phone calls, more faxing, more forms. “I guess what I’m worried about is what happens to the veterans who can’t handle it and they just don’t have the internal resources to put up with it and so they throw up their hands and they give up,” Adams said.
Interrupting Care. A possible interruption in treatment is a particular problem for mental health care, where continuity is paramount. It’s no accident that both Adams and Morrow-Bradley are mental health care providers. That’s one of the areas in shortest supply at the VA. Unfortunately the Choice program hasn’t been well-suited to fixing that problem. In North Carolina, Morrow-Bradley keeps seeing her Choice patients. Some come free. Others use secondary insurance that at least pays some of the bill. She says she can’t just halt treatment. “It’s not like I’m a dentist. If I start working on your teeth then you could go [elsewhere to] be seen and the work would be completed,” she said. “Post-traumatic stress disorder work is very sensitive. You need to have a relationship with the person; it’s stressful for the therapist and the client.”
And Healthnet won’t authorize enough visits at a time, she says. For patients she needs to see twice a week it would take a new authorization almost every month. “People have been not very interested in participating,” said Chuck Ingoglia, with the National Council on Behavioral Health, a group of 2,800 mental health organizations nationwide.
He says the Choice program doesn’t cover much beyond basic therapy. If you do anything additional you won’t get reimbursed. “Participating in the Vets Choice program would limit the kind of robust mental health and substance use treatment they have historically been able to provide to veterans.” For those reasons and others, at least two states, Maine and Montana, have taken the extraordinary step of excluding mental health care from their Choice program. They use other programs to pay for it and have sent harshly critical letters to the VA about the Choice program. [Source: NPR | Quil Lawrence | June 6, 2016 ++]
VA Reform Update 04 ► Presidential Candidate’s Fix Proposals
With an influx of military veterans returning stateside from Iraq and Afghanistan, and in the wake of reports exposing massive bureaucracy in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs leading to poor care and, in some cases, the death of retired service members while awaiting care, all three presidential candidates have put forth detailed plans for how best to reform the system. While Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump agree in principle that there is a problem, their proposals for how to solve it differ widely.
The problems first bubbled up in 2014 at one VA hospital in Phoenix, but it soon became clear long waits and intentionally misleading records were a systemic problem within the Veterans Health Administration. The central problem in Phoenix and up to 42 other VA hospitals:
- A backlog of patient requests overwhelmed the system, causing administrators to cook the books, leaving many patients off official lists in order to make it look like VA facilities were meeting federal guidelines for patient care, when in reality thousands of veterans were shut out. In Phoenix alone, 1,700 veterans were intentionally omitted from patient waiting lists and placed on “informal” lists to prevent regulators from cracking down.
- The result: Official documents shows an average wait of 24 days for a patient to see a doctor, but subsequent investigations showed the real wait time averaged 115 days — nearly four months. Subsequent investigations by the VA inspector general found 35 of those veterans awaiting care in Phoenix died without having received treatment at the facility. Subsequent investigations by the FBI, the Obama administration and Congress placed the number of vets left waiting or denied care at up to 120,000 nationwide.
- A Senate report released by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., estimated 1,000 veterans died while awaiting treatment at VA facilities since 2004. The scandal forced Veterans Affairs Secretary retired Gen. Eric Shinseki, to resign in May, 2014.
Trump, seeking convenience, turns to competition.
- Wait Times: The Republican presumptive nominee proposes a simple, but significant reform when it comes to veterans’ health care. Trump would allow all veterans eligible for VA health benefits to bring their VA card to any healthcare provider who accepts Medicare and receive treatment. One of the major problems exposed in the VA scandal was the wait time many veterans had to endure in order to see a doctor. In some cases, months went by before they were able to get an appointment. Trump says diverting some veterans out of the VA system will cut down on wait times.
- Access: Another major problem is the inconvenience many veterans face in getting to a VA facility. Allowing them to seek treatment closer to their home could improve access to care. Trump also says forcing the VA to compete with the private sector for veterans’ healthcare dollars will require the agency to correct the long backlogs that would otherwise lead veterans to seek care elsewhere if they could. Trump calls for “firing the corrupt and incompetent VA executives who let our veterans down.”
- Funding: He also proposes increasing funding to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and suicide prevention, and to address the epidemic of veteran suicides and mental health problems.
- Female Vets: Like his presidential adversaries, Trump is also critical of a VA policy that does not require every hospital to staff a full-time OB-GYN, calling it “an utter lack of respect for our growing number of female veterans.” He proposes requiring every VA hospital to be “fully equipped” to address women’s health issues.
Clinton seeks a ‘new Bradley Plan’ to address shortcomings
- Backlog: The Democratic front-runner said the backlog of cases at VA hospitals can be fixed and avoided in the future by revitalizing the agency. Clinton proposes technological fixes, including better communication between the Department of Defense and the VA, to help VA officials better anticipate when surges in care requests might happen.
- Funding: She also proposes increasing funding, simplifying the claims process and paying overtime to VA staff to help get the backlog that already exists under control.
- Bradley Plan: She also points to the need for a “new Bradley Plan” to fundamentally retool the agency and make it better suited for the needs of 21st century veterans. The original Bradley Plan was enacted by Gen. Omar Bradley, the VA secretary after World War II, and created much of the infrastructure in place now.
- Effort Synchronization: New council: Her policy paper on veterans’ affairs calls for creating a standing President’s Council on Veterans to “to ensure the highest levels of government are fully involved and synchronizing their efforts to get veterans the benefits they’ve earned.” “I believe in making sure that people who sacrifice for us are given all the care and the benefits and support that they need. And I believe strongly that taking care of our veterans is part of our solemn duty as Americans.”
- Female Vets: Clinton also calls for revamping VA care options for women, saying the department needs to do more than simply hire more OB-GYNs. She calls for more gender-specific health services, daycare facilities at VA hospitals to help single parent veterans and requiring the full provision of “reproductive services” across the VA.
- Sexual Abuse: She also says soldiers who have suffered sexual abuse while in the military should be eligible for the same health benefits as those who suffer medical problems as a result of combat duty.
- Security Protocols: She calls for loosening security protocols to allow the Pentagon to notify the VA when a service member has participated in a classified or sensitive mission that could put them at greater risk for mental health issues, like post-traumatic stress disorder.
Sanders’ legislative history offers glimpse into future
- Funding: Sanders served as chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs committee when the VA scandal came to light. When it did, he worked to write legislation that appropriated an additional $5 billion to the department to help address shortcoming in staff and infrastructure and cut down on wait times. As president, he says he would “fully fund” the VA and increase programs included in the post-scandal legislation that offers financial incentives for young doctors to work for the VA.
- Private Sector Care: While he stops short of Trump’s call to open up veterans care to nearly the entire private sector via Medicare, Sanders does favor making it “easier” to allow veterans to see private doctors or go to community health centers.
- Dental Care: Another provision unique to Sanders’ plan would be giving comprehensive dental care available at all VA facilities.
- Taxes: As is the case frequently with Sanders’ positions on various issues, income inequality is not far from his central view on veterans’ health care. “Instead of cutting benefits for the men and women who have served our country, we should ask the most profitable corporations and the wealthiest among us to pay their fair share,” Sanders said.
[Source: UPI | Eric DuVall | June 1, 2016 ++]
VA Health Care Access Update 40 ► Fired Phoenix Director’s Appeal
The Justice Department is siding with a legal argument by a fired Veterans Affairs Department official at the center of a nationwide scandal over long wait times for veterans seeking medical care and secret lists covering up the delays. Sharon Helman, the former director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, is suing the VA to win back her old job. Helman argues in court papers that a key portion of a 2014 law passed in response to the wait-time scandal is unconstitutional and denies her an important step to appeal her firing.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a letter to Congress that the Justice Department has decided not to contest that element of Helman’s challenge, essentially agreeing with her legal position. Still, the Justice Department will continue fighting against Helman’s reinstatement, Lynch said. “I note that the scope of this decision is narrow” and the Justice Department “will continue to defend the vast bulk of the statute,” Lynch wrote this week to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).
Sharon Helman, the former director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System
Helman is serving two years’ probation for failing to disclose more than $19,000 in gifts she received while supervising the Phoenix hospital where whistleblowers revealed veterans on secret waiting lists faced scheduling delays of up to a year. As many as 40 veterans died while awaiting care at the hospital, according to an investigation by the VA’s office of inspector general. McCarthy and other Republicans reacted with outrage, saying the attorney general’s failure to defend the 2014 law could make it easier for Helman — a convicted felon — to get back her job. “When Congress passed the Veterans Choice Act, a key provision allowed for incompetent and indifferent executives whose inaction allowed veterans to die to be more easily fired,” McCarthy said in a statement. “Now, even after the president signed this provision into law, his administration is refusing to defend this measure of accountability. This decision by the Obama administration puts our veterans at further risk. ”
Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said Lynch’s decision was “reckless” and “remarkably hypocritical given the fact that President Obama enthusiastically supported this law.” The effect of Lynch’s action is clear, said Miller (R-FL): “It undermines very modest reforms to our broken civil service system supported in 2014 by the president and an overwhelming majority of Congress.” Helman was fired in November 2014, nearly seven months after the wait-time scandal came to light. The scandal led to the ouster of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and a $16 billion law overhauling the labyrinthine veterans’ health care system and making it easier to fire VA employees accused of wrongdoing. The inspector general found that workers at the Phoenix VA hospital falsified waiting lists while their supervisors looked the other way or even directed it, resulting in chronic delays for veterans seeking care. [Source: The Associated Press | Matthew Daly | June 2, 2016 ++]
VA Health Care Access Update 41 ► Wait Times Creeping Back Up
Wait times for veterans seeking medical appointments at the VA have remained stubbornly stagnant in the past five months, with the number of patients who have waited more than a month to see a doctor topping 505,000, according to newly released data. Of the nearly 6.7 million medical appointments at Veterans Affairs Department facilities nationwide, 92 percent — roughly the same percentage for the past year — were scheduled within a 30-day standard set by Congress in 2014. But the number of veterans who had to wait a month or more was up 23,000 from April, including the 297,013 veterans who have waited one to two months for an appointment. Although VA has implemented the Veterans Choice program, which allows veterans to see a private physician if they can’t get an appointment at VA in fewer than 30 days, some clinics and medical centers still struggle to provide patients with timely medical care, the data released Wednesday indicate.
Some hospitals and clinics have no waits. But at other facilities, veterans can wait months. According to the data, those seeking primary care at Evansville VA Health Care Center, Illinois, wait an average 34.6 days. Patients at the Aberdeen, South Dakota, VA clinic wait an average 38.4 days for specialty care, and those at the Fort Benning VA Clinic, Georgia, wait more than 50 days for mental health services. The average wait time across the system as of 15 MAY was 6.89 days for primary care, 10.15 days for specialty care and 4.4 days for mental health appointments, according to the report.
VA Secretary Bob McDonald has said that wait times are not a valid measure of health care services at VA and VA medical centers have a higher than 90 percent patient satisfaction rate, according to surveys taken at kiosks located in the medical centers. He told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor last month that wait time measures can create problems, such as the scandal that enveloped the VA in 2014 when employees maintained alternate appointment calendars to dodge the official system that monitors wait times. VA releases its wait time data roughly every two weeks, providing information for every medical center and clinic in its system.
Under the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, veterans who face waits of more than 30 days can see a private physician under the Veterans Choice program. But the Choice initiative has come under fire for mismanagement that has prevented patients getting appointments and kept doctors from receiving payment for their services. VA has asked Congress for legislation that would allow the department to consolidate several community care programs under Choice. Several veterans bills now under consideration by the House and Senate contain language that would streamline the program but not give VA the flexibility it seeks to eliminate several outside care programs. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is pressing his colleagues to support legislation that would expand the Veterans Choice program to all former troops enrolled in VA health care. That measure is opposed by the VA and several veterans service organizations who believe it would undermine VA’s ability to provide direct medical care, including specialty care for service-connected conditions, to veterans. [Source: Military Times | Patricia Kime | June 3, 2016 ++]
VA VISTA Update 09 ► GAO Study Requested on Moderation Effort
The top tech official at the Veteran Affairs Department raised eyebrows earlier this year when she said the agency needed to “take a step back” from a planned upgrade of its long-running electronic health records system, known as VistA. At the time, VA was putting together a business case for various options for the future of “VistA Evolution” and CIO LaVerne Council told lawmakers “we have not made up our minds” about what direction to take with the upgrade. Now, the two top members of a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee that handles federal IT management issues want a government watchdog to step in and review VA’s plans.
VA CIO LaVerne Council
“Given the significance of VA’s electronic health record information system to the performance of its health care mission, and in light of VA’s repeated attempts to modernize VistA, the subcommittee is requesting information on the efforts to modernize VistA,” wrote Reps. Will Hurd, R-Texas, chairman of the IT Operations subcommittee, and Robin Kelly (D-IL), the ranking member, in a May 27 letter to the head of the Government Accountability Office. The lawmakers want GAO to conduct a study of the VistA modernization effort, including a history of past attempts to modernize the home-grown EHR system, which dates back to the 1980s and consists of more than 100 different computer applications. The letter requests a cost breakdown of those previous efforts, “the key contractors that have been involved” and VA’s current plans and estimated costs for modernizing the system.
VA doctors and nurses still rate the home-grown IT system highly, though critics contend it is inefficient and outdated. An independent report last fall by the MITRE Corps said VA’s in-house system was “in danger of becoming obsolete.” There have been numerous attempts over the years to upgrade the system, including an ill-fated effort between VA and DOD begun in 2011 to develop a fully integrated EHR system to be shared by both. In February 2013, faced with ballooning cost estimates, officials backed away from plans for a fully integrated joint system. Instead, the departments decided to continue upgrading their respective systems to make them more interoperable. Later that year, VA unveiled a new plan to upgrade its legacy system — a modernization effort known as VistA Evolution. But the agency requested less funding for development of the system in its most recent budget request, calling into question the system’s long-term future.
“Everyone says it’s like tapping the brakes,” Council said in a Q&A with FCW last month. “That’s not how we see it.” The last phase of the VistA Evolution effort runs through 2018, Council said — and that’s still the plan. But she said VA needs to come up with “the next digital health platform,” for the long-term future. [Source” Nextgov | Jack Moore | June 2, 2016 ++]
VA OIG Update 07 ► Senate Investigation Highlights OIG’s Tomah Failures
A Senate investigation of poor health care at a Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Tomah, Wis., found systemic failures in a VA inspector general’s review of the facility that raise questions about the internal watchdog’s ability to ensure adequate health care for veterans nationwide. The probe by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee found the inspector general’s office, which is charged with independently investigating VA complaints, discounted key evidence and witness testimony, needlessly narrowed its inquiry and has no standard for determining wrongdoing. One of the biggest failures identified by Senate investigators was the inspector general’s decision not to release its investigation report, which concluded two providers at the facility had been prescribing alarming levels of narcotics. The facility’s chief of staff at the time was David Houlihan, a physician veterans had nick-named “candy man” because he doled out so many pills.
Witnesses from the Department of Veterans Affairs, from left, Gavin West, a senior medical adviser, Sloan Gibson, a deputy secretary, Michael Missal, an inspector general, and John Haigh, an assistant inspector general for health care inspections, are sworn in during a field hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee May 31, 2016.
Releasing the report would have forced VA officials to publicly address the issue and ensured follow up by the inspector general to make sure the VA took action. Instead, the inspector general’s office briefed local VA officials and closed the case. A 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran, Jason Simcakoski, died five months later from “mixed drug toxicity” at Tomah days after Houlihan signed off on adding another opiate to the 14 drugs he was already prescribed.
The 350-page Senate committee report obtained by USA TODAY also chronicles instances where other agencies could have done more to fix problems at the Tomah VA Medical Center, including the local police, the FBI, DEA, and the VA itself, but it singles out the inspector general. “Perhaps the greatest failure to identify and prevent the tragedies at the Tomah VAMC was the VA Office of Inspector General’s two-year health care inspection of the facility,” the report concludes, adding that despite the dangerous drug prescriptions, the IG did not identify any wrongdoing.
After news reports chronicled Simcakoski’s death last year, VA officials conducted another investigation with very different results and ousted Houlihan, a nurse practitioner, and the medical center’s director. “In just three months, the VA investigated and substantiated a majority of the allegations that the VA OIG could not substantiate after several years,” the committee report notes. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), chairman of the committee, which is holding a hearing on the findings in Tomah on 31 MAY, told USA TODAY the failures were “systemic” and indicative of a troubling pattern. “The reasons the problems were allowed to fester for so many years is because in the inspector general’s office, for whatever reason, for years, the inspector general lacked the independence and had lost the sense of what its true mission was, which is being the transparent watchdog of VA system,” he said.
The conclusions echo other recent findings about the office tasked under federal law to be an independent watchdog exposing problems at the VA and making recommendations for improvement. The Office of Special Counsel, a federal agency that reviews whistleblower reports of wrongdoing, issued blistering critiques in recent months of the office’s investigations in Illinois, Louisiana, and Texas, which it said were incomplete and overly narrow. USA TODAY also has reported that the VA inspector general failed to release the findings of 140 health care investigations and sat on the results of more than 70 wait-time probes for months. While a new inspector general, Michael Missal, took over the office last month and promised comprehensive investigations and greater transparency, the lead investigators on health care remain in place, including John Daigh, the physician who made the decision to keep the Tomah report secret.
Assistant Inspector General for Healthcare Inspections John Daigh
A spokesman for the Office of Inspector General, Mike Nacincik, said 27 MAY that IG officials had not finished reviewing the Senate report and so could not comment on the findings. But he said that at the time, Daigh felt it was appropriate not to release the Tomah report when it was finished in 2014 because the investigation did not substantiate wrongdoing. “The OIG has learned important lessons from the Tomah VA Medical Center health care inspections,” Nacincik said. Daigh’s office opened its Tomah investigation in 2011 after receiving complaints that Houlihan and a nurse practitioner, Deborah Frasher, were prescribing “massive doses of opiates to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder” and employees feared retaliation if they raised concerns. The complaints also said some patients kept getting early refills, suggesting they were abusing or selling their medications.
Little progress was made on the case until February 2012, when Alan Mallinger, a physician in the inspector general’s Washington, D.C., office, was put in charge. It was his first case as lead investigator, the Senate committee found. Over the next two years, he and his team conducted dozens of interviews, pored through more than 225,000 emails and analyzed opioid prescription rates at hospitals and clinics across the Great Lakes region. But they didn’t look into whether Houlihan and Frasher were prescribing opiates in dangerous combinations with other drugs – something the VA later concluded was rampant. One of the inspector general’s employees who reviewed charts from patients of Houlihan and Frasher actually noted during the investigation “A LOT of polypharmacy – patients on both uppers and downers, would really love to have a pharmacist look at some of these combos.”
But that didn’t happen because it was outside the scope of the investigation. “The allegation that we had was that he was using opioids to treat PTSD, and that was the allegation we looked at,” Mallinger told Senate investigators. They did have independent experts listen to audio of interviews with former Tomah pharmacists who recounted dangerous amounts of narcotics prescribed at the facility and said Houlihan would get hostile if they didn’t fill them. The experts told Mallinger’s team they were alarmed by what they heard. One said the facility could be in danger of losing its DEA license. But Mallinger said his team did not have those experts review prescription data and could not independently corroborate the concerns with evidence and so discounted them. “It was not valuable in terms of supporting allegations,” he told Senate investigators.
In the end, the IG didn’t have a standard for deciding when to substantiate allegations and instead decided ad hoc by committee. Their report, released after intense media scrutiny last year, concluded Houlihan and Frasher were among the highest prescribers of opiates in a multistate region, raising “potentially serious concerns.” But those conclusions “do not constitute proof of wrongdoing,” the report concluded. The IG investigation team had intended all along to publish a public report on the findings, but Daigh decided instead to brief local VA officials and close it privately. “I do not publish reports that repeat salacious allegations that I can’t support,” he told Senate investigators. “So to write a report with all sorts of accusations that I can’t support and throw that into a small community destroys the community and destroys the VA.”
After the report was released last year, a separate VA clinical review found Houlihan had failed to meet standards of care in 92% of cases and Frasher failed in 80%, according to a VA report provided to the Senate committee. Houlihan and Frasher could not be reached for comment. Houlihan’s lawyer did not respond to a message seeking comment. Houlihan defended his record in an interview with WKOW in March. “I am a good doctor, I do care very much for my patients,” he said. “There is a need for good care, great care for our veterans and I think my record really has shown that I’ve done that.” Nacincik, the spokesman for the new inspector general, Missal, said he is reviewing the office’s operations “with an eye towards making enhancements.” “We believe that our actions will enhance OIG investigations and increase the confidence that veterans, veterans service organizations, Congress and the American public have in the work of the OIG,” Nacincik said. [Source: USA TODAY | Donovan Slack | May 31, 2016 ++]
PTSD Update 209 ► Study Finds VA 30% Better at Providing Medication
A recent study published online in a journal produced by the American Psychiatric Association found that the VA is up to 30 percent better at providing medication to veteran patients than the private sector is for its patients. That was largely due to the VA’s ability to provide a one-stop shop for timely medication to patients with appropriate follow-up care, such as therapy and blood-level checks, to ensure proper medication dosages. Patients in the private sector also have other hurdles like insurance programs that don’t cover certain mental health care costs, such as medication associated with mental health disorders.
The study was approved by Congress and funded by the VA. According to one of the primary authors, it compared data from veterans and patients in the private sector who were being treated for five mental health disorders: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, PTSD, major depression and substance abuse disorders. Dr. Alfonso Carreno, chief of mental health and behavioral sciences at the C.W. Bill Young campus, explained that study findings are partly explained by the fact that the private sector is driven by profits, whereas the VA is not. “In for-profit systems, you have to minimize the costs,” said Carreno, whose own brother suffered from a mental health disorder and committed suicide. “Sometimes under those systems, they may say or suggest to providers, physicians and others, ‘Only medically necessary testing, please, or in life or death, if you really need it,’ even though these tests are recommended by the American Psychiatric Association, or the American Diabetic Association.”
The Bay Pines facility is able to see 100 percent of its first-time mental health patient referrals within 30 days, Carreno said. Various specialized mental health programs treated 21,067 unique patients in fiscal year 2015, he said. Dr. Katherine Watkins, a primary author of the study at the RAND Corp., said the study compared more than 830,000 veterans against 545,000 nonveterans. Watkins said that the VA was allowed to review the study before it was published, but that “it was only to check for potential errors in execution. All of the conclusions and interpretations are from the authors of the study,” she said. And all RAND studies, she said, are scrutinized by “at least two external reviewers.”
She said many veterans who suffer from various psychological conditions are especially vulnerable, making them more prone to homelessness or drug and alcohol addiction. “It’s generally harder to take care of people who are sicker and more economically disadvantaged,” Watkins said by telephone from Santa Monica, Calif. “So it’s harder to take care of that population. … It either points to how good of a job the VA is doing or how bad of a job the private sector is doing.” [Source: Tampa Bay times | Les Neuhaus | May 30, 2016 ++]
VA Legal Settlements ► Tripled Since 2011
The number of legal settlements made by the Department of Veterans Affairs has more than tripled over the past five years largely due to a spike in medical malpractice cases and bungled construction projects, the Daily News has learned. The yearly total payments skyrocketed to $338 million in 2015 from $98 million in 2011, according to Treasury Department data obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request. The cases include multiple examples of blown diagnosis, botched procedures and substandard care, records show.
- A Gulf War tanker in Atlanta suffering from serious depression who suffocated to death following an electro shock therapy session that went awry.
- A Vietnam veteran in St. Petersburg, Fla. who died from colon cancer after his doctor ignored red flags on an annual medical test for three years.
- An army veteran (Shane Ream, 40) who died from internal bleeding in Cleveland after complications from a routine gallbladder removal surgery.
These cases are some of the deadly medical mishaps that resulted in a large part of the $848 million in payouts doled out by the VA over the past five years. Veteran advocates say that reflects years of substandard care at the 152 federal hospitals at a time when additional troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan returned from combat tours. Critics contend the federal government has done little to improve treatment and prevent new cases. VA officials downplayed the costly spike in litigation, noting the number of payouts in fiscal year 2013 represents less than 1% of total number of patients treated each year. But the agency did not respond to multiple requests seeking comment regarding the latest stats.
All the tort claims are carefully investigated and action is taken if necessary, said VA deputy director for media relations Walinda (Linda) West. “When an adverse event arises, [Veterans Health Administration] facility leadership may refer the case for a peer review for quality management, conduct a Root Cause Analysis review, perform a fact-finding investigation, or initiate an Administrative Investigative Board,” she said. The department cared for 6.6 million veterans in fiscal year 2014, a 56% jump from fiscal year 2001, records show. And many of the new cases are complicated and require extensive treatment. That’s little solace to the Ream family. Nurses at a Cleveland VA medical center missed obvious signs that he had internal bleeding after his gallbladder was removed in February 2010, according to a federal lawsuit. Five years later, the VA paid the Ream family $1 million to settle the suit, records show.
They are not only loved ones of a veteran left searching for answers, and compensation, through litigation. William Halverson, 64, died from colon cancer after a VA doctor failed to order up a colonoscopy despite a positive fecal test three years in a row.
Brian Campeau, 40, was suffering from depression due to his three years of service during the first Gulf War. “He came home from war ill,” his mother, Maryellen, 66, from Flint, Mich., said. “He just wanted to feel better.” In August 2010, he was set to receive his first elector-convulsive therapy treatment, a remedy recommended by several of his veteran friends. But Campeau immediately struggled to breathe after the session, records show. After 16 hours of distress, a third year resident and a repertory therapist decided to insert a breathing tube. They tried 11 times but were unable to insert it, and then finally called for a physician to put it in, leaving him without sufficient oxygen for 63 minutes. Campeau died three days later. “The care was so horrible,” Maryellen said. “The experts said if they would’ve put the tube back in him…he would be alive today. I lost my only child.” The resident and the respiratory therapist were never disciplined, according to the family.
That’s a pattern in many of the big payouts, critics say. “The failures and lapses in care that led to these judgments are not the result of a lack of money or resources,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican and chairman of the House Veterans Committee. “Rather they stem from VA’s long and well documented history of refusing to seriously hold accountable those who can’t or won’t do their jobs.” The VA’s budget has nearly quadrupled over the past 15 years, increasing 73% in the last seven years alone, he said. The added money did nothing for William Halverson who served in the Philippines as a helicopter mechanic during the Vietnam War. Each year, Halverson dutifully visited his doctor for an annual checkup at the Bay Pines VA Medical Clinic. The exam included a basic Fecal Occult Blood Test to check for a host of possible ailments. The test came back positive three years in a row starting in 2008. But Halverson was never told.
In August 2011, he switched doctors, who instantly noted the test results in his medical file and ordered up a full colonoscopy. It was too late. Halverson had a massive lesion on his colon and the cancer had already spread to his lymph nodes. “He was in disbelief,” recalled his wife, Jill Halverson. “We both cried. It was very said. We didn’t want to give up.” In a telling move, execs at the hospital called him in for a meeting where they explained how he could file a suit against the department. “That was the clincher,” his wife recalled. The family hired a lawyer, Alan Wagner, who helped them navigate through the intricate process. Halverson was 64 years old when he died on Feb. 6, 2013. It took the family two more years to receive a $1 million settlement from the VA. Wagner says the case actually moved exceptionally fast before a single deposition was conducted.
The VA has tried to keep the settlement data private. In January, the department rejected a request filed by the Daily News seeking individual case amounts and lawyer information, arguing the records were exempt from disclosure due to an “unwarranted invasion of personal policy.” “Any potential general public interest in the agency’s conduct of its business in resolving claims is outweighed by privacy interest of those who believe they have been individually injured by the VA and may have received monetary settlements which they would not want to be publicly disclosed,” a department lawyer wrote. But the Treasury Department had no such qualms releasing the data. That federal department covers payouts against the VA, and other federal agencies, via its so-called “judgement fund.”
Critics of the VA say the setup allows the VA from keeping better tabs of the payouts issued after mess ups. The settlements aren’t just tied to medical mishaps. The VA paid out more than $200 million to the contractor of the maligned Orlando VA Medical Center. VA officials repeatedly blamed lengthy delays on the 1.2 million-square-foot facility on the contractor, Brasfield & Gorrie. But less than a year after the project was finally finished, the VA quietly agreed to pay the Birmingham, Ala.-based firm a series of eight multi-million dollar settlements, totaling some of the largest payouts issued in years, records show. The contractor argued that VA officials lied about how much it would actually cost to build the 134-bed hospital. That deceitfulness forced the firm to pay its subcontractors out of pocket to finish the promised work. “It’s really unfortunate for one agency to have so much money and responsibility to be really rotten to the core,” Brasfield & Gorrie lawyer Larry Schor said. “It’s a shame for the taxpayers of the United States.”
“After nearly a decade, major reform at the Department of Veterans Affairs is long overdue,” said Daniel Epstein, executive director of the Washington-based group Cause of Action, a government watchdog group. [Source: New York Daily News | Creela Beele Howard & Reuven Blau May 30, 2016 ++]
Traumatic Brain Injury Update 52 ► VA National Vet Exam TBI Review
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald has granted equitable relief to more than 24,000 Veterans following a national review of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) medical examinations conducted in connection with disability compensation claims processed between 2007 and 2015. This action by the Secretary allows the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to offer new TBI examinations to Veterans whose initial examination for TBI was not conducted by one of four designated medical specialists and provides them with the opportunity to have their claims reprocessed. Equitable relief is a unique legal remedy that allows the Secretary to correct an injustice to a claimant where VA is not otherwise authorized to do so within the scope of the law.
“Traumatic Brain Injury is a signature injury in Veterans returning from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and VA is proud to be an organization that sets the bar high for supporting these, and all, Veterans,” said Secretary McDonald. “Providing support for Veterans suffering from a TBI is a priority and a privilege, and we must make certain they receive a just and fair rating for their disabilities.” To ensure that TBI is properly evaluated for disability compensation purposes, VA developed a policy in 2007 requiring that one of four specialists – a psychiatrist, physiatrist, neurosurgeon or neurologist – complete TBI exams when VA does not have a prior diagnosis.
Since 2007, medicine around TBI has been a rapidly evolving science. VA designated particular specialists to conduct initial TBI exams because they have the most experience with the symptoms and effects of TBI. As more research became available, VA issued a number of guidance documents that may have created confusion regarding the policy. VA has confirmed that its TBI policy guidance is now clear and being followed. “We let these Veterans down,” Secretary McDonald said. “That is why we are taking every step necessary to grant equitable relief to those affected to ensure they receive the full benefits to which they are entitled.”
VA understands the importance of an accurate exam to support Veterans’ disability claims. The Secretary’s decision to grant relief will enable VA to take action on any new examinations without requiring Veterans to submit new claims. If additional benefits are due, VA will award an effective date as early as the date of the initial TBI claim.
VA will contact Veterans identified as part of this national TBI review to offer them an opportunity to receive a new examination and have their claims reprocessed. More than 13,000 of these affected Veterans are already receiving service-connected compensation benefits for TBI at a 10-percent disability evaluation or higher, which means that the diagnosis has already been established. [Source: VA News Release | June 1, 2016 ++]
VA Privatization Update 04 ► Will Neither Improve Access Nor Reduce Costs
Next month, the congressionally established Commission on Care will release its final recommendations on how to best reorganize the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). Expect the report to call for “bold” reforms and to lay out a new plan to “improve” health care for veterans. Whatever the language, it will be critical to see this for what it is: a call to privatize the VHA. It is important to understand how the Commission arrived at this conclusion. Following the wait-time problems at the Phoenix VA, a bipartisan group of 28 Congressional representatives, myself included, passed a compromise bill to triage the immediate needs of veterans waiting for care and to begin to address the systemic issues at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and VHA. That legislation also established the Commission on Care, which was tasked with “examining veterans’ access to Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare.”
Over the last two years, the Commission has held its meetings and heard testimony largely out of the public eye. As a result, without anyone noticing, a group of for-profit hospital executives and representatives of a Tea Party veterans group aligned with the Koch donor network has quietly attempted to lead the Commission to a point where its final recommendation is the privatization of the VA’s healthcare system. Put another way, the commissioners who stand to benefit the most from privatization are the ones leading the charge to dismantle the VHA.
Let’s be perfectly clear: privatizing the VHA will neither improve access to care nor reduce total costs. Instead, it will turn public revenue into private profits while shifting the financial burden onto taxpayers and veterans, whose total cost of care may not be fully covered by any new voucher program. It will also likely to reduce, not improve, access to care. One of the strengths of the VHA is that it can provide a variety of services in one location, limiting the need for travel to multiple doctors’ offices. Eliminating that convenience will only increase the burden on our veterans, particularly those in rural areas. Most importantly, privatization would ignore the wishes of the men and women this system is meant to serve: a survey conducted for the Vet Voice Foundation found that 64% of veterans oppose privatization.
To be sure, the VHA faces a number of systemic issues, but it is important to remember that this is a system that treats millions of veterans every year, and it treats them exceptionally well. It is not, as the commissioners supporting privatization would like you to believe, “seriously broken.” When tested, the VHA has proven that it is up to the challenge of caring for today’s injured servicemen and women. Independent research by MITRE, RAND and Grant Thornton/McKinsey found that the VHA performed the same or better than non-VA providers on 12 of 14 inpatient care effectiveness measures. The VHA also did the same or better on 16 outpatient effectiveness measures, compared with commercial health maintenance organizations.
If the Commission on Care would like to see serious improvements at the VHA, it should use this opportunity to recommend legitimate funding increases for the agency. Today, the VHA faces mounting pressure to deal with injuries, including cases of traumatic brain injury and traumatic stress disorder, at a rate its people have never before experienced. For years, Republicans in Congress have deliberately underfunded the VA and VHA, leaving the agency unable to hire the doctors, nurses, and administrative staff it needs to care for our returning servicemen and women. No other agency is asked to do so much with so little, and we have recently seen the tragic consequences of continued underinvestment. Only by providing the VHA with the resources it needs — while continuing to ensure that they are used correctly — can we give our veterans the care they deserve.
We must not be swayed by the misleading claims of a group that is only interested in its bottom line. The VHA is and should continue to be an example of what good government can do. Congress should ignore the calls of the healthcare industry and instead give the VHA the tools, resources and time it needs to provide our veterans with the care they have earned. It is my hope that the Commission will take this opportunity to truly try and improve healthcare for our veterans. [Source: Defense One | John D. Rockefeller IV | May 31, 2016 ++]
Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (1937 – ) In Congress 1985 – Present
VA Mustard Gas Claims ► 90% Rejected in Last 10 Years
The military has acknowledged for decades it performed secret mustard gas tests on troops at the end of World War II but a Senate investigation released 31 MAY found 90 percent of related benefit claims have been rejected by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) said she discovered shortfalls in the benefits process that took her breath away during a yearlong investigation into treatment of the test victims. The release of her findings is accompanied by a new bill – named after an 89-year-old former soldier from Missouri – that fast-tracks VA benefits for possibly hundreds of survivors.
Members of the U.S. military who were exposed to mustard gas in secret experiments during World War II (from left): Harry Maxson, Louis Bessho, Rollins Edwards, Paul Goldman and Sidney Wolfson.
About 60,000 servicemembers were exposed to mustard gas and another chemical agent called Lewisite as part of a clandestine defense research program in the 1940s. Of those servicemembers, about 4,000 had their entire bodies exposed to the chemical weapons. Mustard gas and Lewisite burn the skin and lungs, are linked to a variety of serious health problems and have been banned by the international community. McCaskill said she believes about 400 of the veterans could still be alive and eligible for benefits. “I think the people who are still living deserve to have their claims met and not denied, and I do think it is important to the families of those who have died for [the VA and Defense Department] to say, ‘We believe you’.” However, the majority of claims – 90 percent – made from 2005-2015 by potentially exposed veterans were rejected by the VA, McCaskill said.
The VA said it was reviewing the senator’s findings. “VA greatly appreciates the service and sacrifices of every World War II veteran, and any veteran who may have been injured in mustard gas testing,” the department wrote in a statement to Stars and Stripes. “Nothing is more important to us than serving the veterans who have so nobly served our nation.” To be eligible for benefits, veterans must prove full-body exposure and have an illness linked to the chemicals. There are 14 covered health conditions, including lung cancer, heart disease and asthma. So far, only 40 veterans have been granted the health benefits, McCaskill said. Veterans have been frustrated by a lack of documentation, including an incomplete VA and Defense Department database of servicemembers exposed to chemical weapons and differing VA and DOD lists of the military facilities involved in the clandestine testing programs, according to the investigation titled “Cruel and Unusual Service.” “It has been very difficult for veterans to reach the very high standards held by the VA for proving this,” McCaskill said. “You make it all their responsibility to prove that it happened to them.”
The senator unveiled a new bill, the Arla Harrell Act, that is named after a Missouri veteran who has been denied benefits four times over the past two decades, most recently in April, the Associated Press reported 30 MAY. Harrell, 89, lives in a nursing home. His repeated claims for compensation have been denied by the VA, as recently as last month. Harrell said he was exposed to mustard gas at a World War II-era military facility in Missouri called Camp Crowder, but the VA has said there is no proof of the testing there. The bill orders an expedited review of Harrell’s case and every other denied benefits claim. During the review, the VA must assume all the claimants experienced full-body exposure to the chemicals despite any lack of documentation. The Defense Department would also be required to build a new list of testing sites based on veteran claims and other evidence. McCaskill said the Army Corps of Engineers discovered and has photographic evidence of vials and gas chambers that prove the testing was conducted at Camp Crowder as Harrell has claimed.
VA Secretary Bob McDonald was provided the new evidence last week and directed staff to review Harrell’s case, according to the department. “Due to privacy laws as they apply to any public discussion of any individual veteran’s claim, we cannot address the specifics of Mr. Harrell’s case,” the VA statement said. [Source: Stars and Stripes | Travis J. Tritten | June 1, 2016 ++]
VA Fraud, Waste & Abuse ► Reported 1 thru 15 JUN 2016
Maricopa County, AZ — Police arrested an undocumented immigrant who had been using a deceased veteran’s identity to get medical and Social Security benefits. Rene Ortiz Quintana, 69, took the identity of Ruben J. Gallardo, who has been dead since 1994, to get Social Security, VA and other Federal, state and local benefits since 2012. Quintana received benefits totaling $29,062.19, according to ABC News. Quintana, who has lived in the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant for around 50 years, used Gallardo’s information to an Arizona identification card, a state health card, a Phoenix health plan card and a VA choice card. The choice card allows veterans to get medical care at Non-VA facilities. Police charged Quintana with fraudulent schemes, theft and seven counts of identity theft along with six counts of forgery. It is not clear whether the immigrant will have to pay back the money. [Source: Fox News Latino | May 27, 2016 ++]
Tempe, AZ — A man is accused of telling a tall tale about his supposed military service to obtain veteran status for his driver’s license and vehicle plates. The Arizona Department of Transportation says the agency’s detectives have arrested 45-year-old Eric Wolfe on suspicion of forgery and using falsified documents. Wolfe was booked 7 JUN into the custody of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office filed a direct complaint against Wolfe for three felony counts of forgery and possessing a forged instrument. Wolfe’s initial court appearance was JUN. ADOT officials say Wolfe submitted a falsified DD form 214 in March to a Motor Vehicle Division representative to get the special license designation. That form is a separation document military members receive when they are formally discharged from the military. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General, however, determined Wolfe never served in the U.S. Air Force as he claimed.
Wolfe also allegedly used the forged documents to get license plates designated for veterans in March and last month — one for his car and another for his new motorcycle, investigators say. ADOT’s Office of the Inspector General says it’s continuing its investigation of Wolfe to determine if he used the fraudulent credentials to defraud businesses and other organizations for a business, Project 22 LLC and a non-profit organization called Freedom K-9 Rehab. On the Arizona Corporation Commission website, Wolfe is listed as the sole member of Project 22, a limited liability corporation. He’s president and director according to that same database for Freedom K-9 Rehab, again, a non-profit organization. Wolfe purported he founded Project 22 because he lost too many comrades to suicide. He supposedly partnered with the Arizona Animal Welfare League where he allegedly works as a dog trainer to train dogs to become service dogs to help veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. [Source: The Augusta Chronicle | Sandy Hodson | May 18, 2016 ++]
Cleveland VAMC — A former director of two Veterans Affairs medical centers in Ohio who provided confidential information to companies seeking work with the VA received was sentenced to more than 4 ½ years in prison 10 JUN and ordered to pay $390,000 in restitution. Attorneys for William Montague, 64, had asked a federal judge in Akron to sentence him to just over four years. Instead, he was given 57 months. The Brecksville man had pleaded guilty to 64 corruption-related counts in September 2014 and agreed to cooperate with the government. Montague served as director of a Cleveland VA medical center from 1995 until his retirement in 2010. He became interim director of a VA medical center in Dayton in March 2011 for nine months after an investigation found that a dentist at the facility didn’t regularly change latex gloves or properly sterilize equipment, prompting concerns that patients may have been infected with diseases such as hepatitis.
Prosecutors said in an indictment that while Montague served as director of both facilities, he funneled undisclosed information to companies seeking VA contracts to give them a head start on competitors. The companies paid Montague through a consulting business called House of Montague that he formed in 2008. One of those businesses was owned by Michael Forlani, a central figure in long-running corruption probe that ensnared top Cuyahoga County officials and dozens of business owners. An indictment included excerpts of telephone conversations between Montague and Forlani captured by FBI wiretaps. The indictment said Montague continued to help Forlani after the FBI raided Forlani’s offices in August 2008. According to the indictment, Montague, while a VA director in Cleveland, interceded on behalf of Forlani, whose company built a $125 million office and parking garage complex next to the Cleveland medical center and was seeking to lease space to VA affiliates. The indictment said Montague accepted gifts and money from Forlani for information about VA projects in Ohio, Erie, Pennsylvania, and Buffalo, New York. Forlani was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2013 after pleading guilty to racketeering conspiracy and fraud charges. [Source: The Associated Press | June 10, 2016 ++]
VAMC Northport NY ► Unable To Perform Surgeries for Most Of 2016
The top health official for the Department of Veterans Affairs quietly met with administrators at the Northport VA Medical Center Friday, seeking answers as to why Long Island’s only veterans hospital has been unable to perform surgeries for most of 2016, federal officials said. [Source: Newsday | Martin C. Evans | May 31, 2016 ++]
The interior of the three closed operating rooms at the VA hospital in Northport are seen through a window.
VA HCS Phoenix Update 21 ► 3 Senior Officials Removed
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced 8 JUN that it has removed three senior officials at the Phoenix VA Health Care System. The move follows an announcement in March in which VA proposed the removal of Lance Robinson, the facility’s Associate Director; Brad Curry, Chief of Health Administration Service; and Dr. Darren Deering, Chief of Staff. In addition to other causes, the three were removed for negligent performance of duties and failure to provide effective oversight for not ensuring Veterans were either properly scheduled for appointments or placed on an appropriate wait list. “We have an obligation to Veterans and the American people to take appropriate accountability actions as supported by evidence,” said VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson. “While this process took far too long, the evidence supports these removals and sets the stage for moving forward.”
All three employees can appeal the removal decision, should they wish to exercise that right. As General Schedule employees, Mr. Robinson and Mr. Curry have 30 days from the effective date of their removal to file an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board. As a Title 38 employee, Dr. Deering has the right to appeal his removal through VA’s administrative grievance process. He will have 15 days from the date of delivery of the decision to formally grieve the decision to the Secretary of VA. The employees will not be paid during the appeals process should they exercise that right. [Source: VA OPIA Notice | June 8, 2016 ++]
* Vets *
VFW To Obama ► ‘No Confused Politics Here’
In defending his administration’s handling of the economy, President Obama took a swipe at the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States yesterday by alleging it was confused by rightwing media pundits and outlets. During a speech in Elkhart, Ind., the president said “I’m concerned when I watch the direction of our politics. I mean, we have been hearing this story for decades — tales about welfare queens, talking about takers, talking about the 47 percent. It’s the story that’s broadcast every day on some cable news stations, on rightwing radio. It’s pumped into cars and bars and VFW halls all across America, and right here in Elkhart. And if you’re hearing that story all the time, you start believing it. It’s no wonder people think big government is the problem. No wonder public support for unions is so low. No wonder that people think the deficit has gone up under my presidency when it’s actually gone down.”
“I don’t know how many VFW Posts the president has ever visited,” said VFW National Commander John A. Biedrzycki Jr., “but our near 1.7 million members are a direct reflection of America, which means we represent every generation, race, religion, gender, and political and ideological viewpoint. We don’t have confused politics, we don’t need left or rightwing media filters telling us how to think or vote, and we don’t need any President of the United States lecturing us about how we are individually affected by the economy. “Our nation was created and continues to exist solely because of the men and women who wear the uniform,” he said. “Let’s not denigrate their service, their sacrifice or their intelligence.” [Source: VFW Action Corps Weekly | June 3, 2016 ++]
Vet Unclaimed Remains ► Six Buried in Knoxville
The flag was at half-staff, the parking areas overflowing, many cars bearing military and veteran plates or insignia. Around 200 people gathered 6 JUN to ensure that six East Tennessee military veterans who died unclaimed were remembered in death. Active-duty servicemen and servicewomen from each branch of the military escorted the remains of Sgt. Deborah Elaine Easler; Spec. 4th Class Leonard David Fairchild Jr.; Seaman Recruit Michael Lee McRill; Pvt. Calvin Coolidge Cherry Jr.; Pvt. Richard Eugene Traxler; and Fireman Robert Lowell Burk into the chapel at East Tennessee Veterans Cemetery on Gov. John Sevier Highway.
Cesar Correa, pastor of NorthStar church’s South campus, delivered a eulogy, reading names, dates and branches of service, and what few other details were known. “As I thought about these men and this woman, I couldn’t help but wonder, what were their stories?” Correa said. “We know so precious little about these veterans, their lives, their hopes, their struggles. … How sad it is for us that we know so little of them.” Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, whose father served in World War II, said he is “in awe” of veterans and expressed remorse that untreated post-traumatic stress disorder and other issues might have marred their years after service. “As a nation, this is an indictment of us, that we have homeless veterans who are not getting the care they need,” Burchett said. “This should never happen in this great country of ours.” This is the sixth such ceremony Berry Funeral Home has helped coordinate in Knoxville.
Veterans move the casket (left) of Frank Traxler and John Sevier on June 6, 2016 and Staff Sergeant Jeff Slover, of Knoxville, hands a flag (right) to Sergeant William Broyles, of Morristown, during a memorial service for six veterans at the East Tennessee Veteran’s Cemetery on Gov. John Sevier Highway Monday, June 6, 2016.
Speakers broadcast the service to those who came to pay their respects but couldn’t squeeze inside. Flag-holding veterans circled the back and sides of the building through the ceremony, as six shots were fired, “Taps” played, and six doves released. As the service concluded, the veterans’ flags were presented.
- Representatives of the local Women’s Veterans of America and Volunteers of America, respectively, accepted Easler’s and Cherry’s flags.
- Burk’s flag went to the staff of East Tennessee Regional Forensic Center, which works to identify unclaimed dead who might be eligible for burial with military honors.
- Retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. Ken Guest accepted McRill’s, which will be sent to a recently located sister in Colorado.
- Libby Huffaker came to accept Fairchild’s flag. Huffaker graduated with Fairchild from Fulton High School in 1963 and plans to display his flag there. “We have little mini-reunions about every six months, and David always came,” Huffaker said. “When I read this in the paper, I was just heartsick.”
- Maryville Mayor Ed Mitchell accepted the flag for Traxler, who died 21 MAY at Blount Memorial Hospital. Friend Kenneth McCollum said Traxler last resided at Liberty Assisted Living. “I called him ‘Pop,’ and he called me ‘Son,’ ” McCullom said. “We went places and did things together. …I’ll miss that smile. He’d always light up with that smile.”
[Source: Knoxville News Sentinel | Kristi L. Nelson | June 6, 2016 ++]
Vet Unemployment Update 09 ► Low | Continues to Set Records
Even as hiring slowed for the nation as a whole in May, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans continued to set records, government data shows. Unemployment for such vets was 4 percent in May, edging out the previous record low of 4.1 percent, set the previous month. And the 4.2 percent record before that wasn’t set long ago either — November 2015. Such small differences in the rate are likely not very meaningful, particularly for this unemployment measure, which is based on a small sample size. But with the rate so low, statistically significant drops may be hard to come by. The broader picture for the country was less rosy in May, with just 38,000 jobs gained, a sharp decrease from the previous month’s 160,000 new jobs, and the lowest number seen in years. The nation’s unemployment rate dropped from 5 percent to 4.7 percent in May.
That seasonally adjusted rate is not the best measure to compare with the post-9/11 vet unemployment rate, which is not seasonally adjusted. The nonveteran unemployment rate, which makes for a better comparison, was 4.4 percent in May — higher than the comparable unemployment measure for the latest generation of veterans for the second straight month. Since May 2015, eight of the last 13 unemployment rates were either the lowest ever recorded, or the second lowest, at the time they came out. Over this unprecedented hot streak, seemingly every other month sets a record low rate, only to be eclipsed the following month. And for veterans as a whole, the employment outlook may be even better. Just 3.4 percent of veterans of all generations were unemployed in May, down from April’s 3.9 percent mark. [Source: Military times | George R. Altman | June 3, 2016 ++]
Red Cross Vet Assistance ► Filling the Military Relief Society Gap
The American Red Cross is testing the idea of providing financial assistance to veterans who don’t qualify for help through military agencies. When a veteran has left the military before retirement, he or she isn’t eligible for financial assistance through the military relief societies — Army Emergency Relief, Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, and Air Force Aid Society. The Red Cross is examining how it might fill that gap, said Kevin Boleyn, director of the organization’s Hero Care Network. The network includes Red Cross emergency call centers, financial assistance and referrals to other organizations in communities. It is creating a national registry of services for veterans and working on a system where trained case workers can use the registry to connect those in need to the appropriate agencies.
The Red Cross also has reorganized its Service to the Armed Forces division, which will help expand the financial assistance it provides to veterans as well as to active-duty members. It has turned its Springfield, Massachusetts, emergency communications site into a Center of Excellence for Financial Assistance. The center’s staff will focus on referring military families and veterans who need financial help. The call centers in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and Louisville, Kentucky, are still the initial entry points for emergency communications, but financial assistance requests will be transferred primarily to the Springfield office. These requests generally take more time to process because staff members have to validate them and work with landlords, financial institutions, utility companies and others to prevent eviction, foreclosure and utility shut-offs.
Two pilot Red Cross programs also are underway on a smaller scale. One began in April in Southern California and Clark County, Nevada, helping veterans who need emergency financial assistance. The other began a year ago in western Missouri, helping active duty, retirees and veterans with financial needs that don’t qualify under the military relief societies’ regulations. Donations from sources other than the military relief societies provide the assistance in these pilot programs. Currently, the Red Cross acts as an agent for the military relief societies when a request comes in after hours, or for service members or retirees who can’t get to one of the installation relief societies or live more than 50 miles away. The relief societies reimburse the Red Cross for the financial assistance; the Red Cross pays for administrative costs. “It’s one big entire support network, like this quiet safety net under service members and retirees,” said Cheri Nylen, director of case work for Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society.
A number of advocates have expressed concern about transitioning service members and their families, who are leaving the military and lose various assistance. The Red Cross has seen an upward trend in requests for help, said spokesman Peter Macias, and that played a role in the organization’s focus on the problem. Providing emergency financial assistance to veterans “is definitely a needed service, because the rules change when the service member gets out. They fall into financial traps more,” said Letty Stevens, who until recently was a financial coach for veterans in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. “It can be a pretty desperate situation when they get out, especially if they have debt,” she said. One need among Vietnam veterans is assistance in paying for dental work, she said.
Nylen said Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society gets around 15 calls a day from veterans who are not retirees, and thus don’t qualify for assistance. “By having this Red Cross network, it will be easier to direct them more quickly. … This will open up a lot of avenues. Even if it’s a clearinghouse, it’s helpful because the case workers are so knowledgeable. This will save veterans time, and may make the difference in preventing them from going to a payday lender or becoming homeless,” she said. “I hope they can find some dedicated funding from other sources for veterans,” she said.
The Red Cross will also direct veterans to groups that may be able to assist them with their particular need. “Sometimes it’s a matter of knowing where to go in the community,” Boleyn said. Currently if a case worker doesn’t have a contact for a veteran who calls for assistance, the veteran will be placed into the community referral process where the local chapter may help with access to a food pantry or other financial assistance, he said. The Red Cross toll-free emergency hotline is 877-272-7337. [Source: Military Times | Karen Jowers | June 6, 2016 ++]
Veterans’ Preference Update 10 ► NDAA Provision Would Limit Use
Veterans’ preference would only apply to a vet’s first job in federal service under a provision in the Senate fiscal 2017 Defense authorization bill. The provision, which is new this year, would not allow veterans’ preference – a confusing and often controversial factor in federal hiring – to be an advantage in any subsequent federal jobs that an eligible employee applies for. In other words, vets would receive the additional points that veterans’ preference confers during the application process for their first jobs in federal government, but not for any future positions within the competitive service. The measure also would affect certain close relatives of veterans, including spouses and parents, who are eligible for veterans’ preference under specific circumstances when applying for federal jobs.
While the provision is part of the annual Defense policy bill, it would apply government wide. The House NDAA, which lawmakers in that chamber passed last month, does not contain a similar provision. Many hiring managers, human resources specialists, and veterans do not understand how vets’ preference works in federal hiring. It’s played a role in complaints filed over whether the benefit — designed to help former service members find jobs and increase diversity in government – was applied fairly. Veterans and non-veterans have complained about being shut out of government service because of it.
The “rule of three” in competitive service hiring required that eligible vets receive an extra 5 to 10 points during the application process. But since 2010, agencies have increasingly used the “category rating” system (the “rule of three” is still on the books, however) which splits candidates into different “qualified” categories, resulting in a list of the most qualified applicants that HR specialists send to hiring managers. So, if a veteran and a non-veteran are equally qualified for the job, the veteran will prevail because of vets’ preference. But not all applicants have the necessary basic qualifications for a job, and sometimes you might have two qualified vets competing against one another for a job that only one of them will get. Cheston McGuire, press secretary for the American Federation of Government Employees, said by email that the union opposes the proposed change to vets’ preference in the Senate NDAA, and doesn’t support “the limiting of veterans’ preference across government.”
Another provision in the Senate NDAA would repeal the Defense secretary’s authority to waive the 180-day restriction on military retirees leaving the service and taking a civilian job in the department, based on “a state of national emergency.” Lawmakers expressed concern over the influx of military retirees – more than 41,000 — hired by Defense within 180 days of retiring between 2001 and 2014, according to the Senate Armed Services Committee’s NDAA report. More than one-third of those hires were made before the service member retired, and more than half were appointed within one pay period post-retirement.
“These figures strongly imply a significant number of these members were hired directly into the offices which they supported while in the military,” the report said. “While not improper, per se, it does, as the MSPB report noted, create suspicions.” The committee was referring to a 2014 Merit Systems Protection Board report on veteran hiring into the civil service. “The committee appreciates the unique and broad experience military retirees bring to the civil service, but the committee also recognizes the virtues afforded by career civil servants,” the Senate report said. “Most military retirees and other veterans already receive hiring preferences in recognition of their service. Beyond that, the committee believes veterans and retirees should compete on equal footing with other qualified applicants.” [Source: GovExec.com | Kellie Lunney | June 3, 2016 ++]
Vet Fresh Vegetable Locator ► VA Proximity Interactive Map
Looking for fresh veggies? A new interactive map helps veterans find farmers markets near VA medical centers and clinics. Washington, D.C.-based Community Foodworks launched the VA-Farmers Market Finder this month to give Veterans Affairs Department nutritionists and social workers an easy way to refer vets to healthy, affordable food, but anyone can use the map at http://www.community-foodworks.org/veterans
A veteran redeems his V2Rx vouchers at the Brookland farmers market in 2015.
More than 6,000 farmers markets and direct marketing farmers are equipped with the USDA’s Electronic Benefits Transfer system, which allows recipients to transfer their government benefits to pay for products. Veterans who are part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program can use their SNAP cards to make purchases at the farmers markets. Dalila Boclin, food access and outreach manager at Community Foodworks, said the group pulled the locations of the farmers markets from the USDA database. If a market wants to be added to the map, it can register with the USDA, she said.
In 2015, Community Foodworks launched the Veteran Vegetable Prescription Program, or V2Rx, which provides eligible veterans with vouchers to use each week at farmers markets. A household with one veteran receives $5; a household with two to three receives $10; and a household with three or more vets receives $15. If the households also receive SNAP benefits, they can double their funds. “If you have $15 [in vouchers], then you use $10 of SNAP, you receive a match of another $10,” Boclin said. [Source: Military Times | Charlsy Panzino | May 27, 2016 ++]
Homeless Vets Update 71 ► 48,000 Nationwide Still Suffer Homelessness
In 2010, federal officials launched an unprecedented plan to end veterans homelessness by late 2015. Now, six months after that deadline was missed, advocates are working to make sure the goal isn’t forgotten altogether. This week, more than 500 community leaders joined with state and federal leaders to discuss progress and challenges in getting veterans off the streets as part of the annual National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. Much of the conversation focused on continued collaboration among agencies and models for success. But there is also plenty of concern that the end of the initial public push on the issue and looming change in the White House will drain both momentum and support for the effort. “It’s our job to make it clear that there is still work to be done,” said Baylee Crone, executive director for NCHV. “Veterans Affairs had a five-year plan to tackle this, but that was really a pilot program or a testing ground. Their investment in this can’t stop.”
At last count, around 48,000 veterans still struggled with homelessness nationwide. That’s down more than one-third from 2010, but not close to the zero figure officials have been targeting for the last five-plus years. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe urged the conference crowd to keep building out their local networks to sustain progress. “In Virginia, we have built the necessary network to make sure veterans homelessness is rare, brief and most importantly non-recurring,” he said. “But it’s a continuing effort to keep it that way.” New national estimates aren’t expected until late fall. Two states — Virginia and Connecticut — have declared an end to veterans homelessness within their borders, meaning they have enough resources and space to quickly shelter any veteran within need. Twenty-six other cities and communities have also been certified as ending veterans homelessness, including New Orleans, Houston and Philadelphia. But most of them made their declarations last year, and progress in 2016 has been slower.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe speaks to community activists at the Annual National Coalition for Homeless Veterans conference in Washington DC June 2, 2016.
On 2 JUN, Interim VA Chief of Staff Robert Snyder told the conference crowd that his department’s focus and commitment has not changed. “We’ve made tremendous progress in reducing veterans homelessness,” he said. “Now let’s end it.” Crone said that will require not only sustained financial support from VA, but also improvements in VA operations. National officials still do a better job coordinating services with local charities than regional medical centers and benefits offices. Data sharing among agencies remains spotty and complicated. The department plans to spend about $1.6 billion in homelessness assistance programs in fiscal 2017, money that lawmakers have agreed to support for now but have warned may see drawndowns in the future. And Beverley Ebersold, director of national initiatives for the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, warned the NCHV conference crowd this week that even with continued federal support, “without private sector involvement it will take too long to end veterans homelessness.”
So far, that support has continued. On Wednesday officials from the Home Depot Foundation announced plans to spend $250 million on veterans support programs over the next four years, an extension of their previous investment in homelessness assistance efforts. Crone said she is optimistic about the larger advocacy community’s effort to solve the problem, as long as they can stay focused on their goal. “For a long time, we were only really doing maintenance on the issue, and that wasn’t good enough,” she said. “When (President) Obama and (former VA Secretary Eric) Shinseki announced the goal of getting to zero, it changed the way we talked about veterans homelessness. “We didn’t accomplish that yet. But we can.” [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane | June 2, 2016 ++]
Atomic Vets Update 11 ► Retro Report | Operation Hardtack I
In 1958, Frank Farmer was a young sailor on the USS Hooper Island, one of many deckhands who took part in an operation so secret, they couldn’t talk about it for almost 40 years. Afloat in the Pacific, the ship participated in Operation Hardtack I, a series of 35 nuclear tests conducted in the throes of the Cold War arms race with the Soviet Union. Farmer personally witnessed 18 of the explosions. “You feel the heat blast from it, and it’s so bright, you actually can see your bones in your hands,” Farmer said in a new documentary highlighting the service of thousands U.S. troops who participated in nuclear weapons testing from 1946 to 1968.
The “Atomic Vets” installment of Retro Report, released on Memorial Day weekend, is a collaboration of Reveal News, from the Center for Investigative Reporting and The New York Times. Reveal reporter Jennifer LaFleur said the journalists decided to tackle the year-long project to spotlight a forgotten group of veterans and call attention to their ongoing fight for recognition as well as disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs. LaFleur, whose father served in the Marine Corps and participated in the largest atmospheric nuclear test ever conducted in the continental United States during Operation Plumbbob, was surprised by how little Americans know about the secret history of the Cold War. “I hope people are able to learn, and the Atomic Veterans could get some sort of recognition as they’ve been fighting for all these years,” LaFleur said.
Following the bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, that ended World War II, the United States embarked on a nuclear testing program that began at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands and moved to the Nevada desert as well as parts of Alaska, Colorado and Mississippi. The country conducted more than 1,000 nuclear tests before 1996 when the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was introduced. The precise number of veterans who participated in the tests is a topic of debate but could be as high as 400,000, according to LaFleur. They have never received any commendations or ribbons related to their service and many have had to fight for health care benefits to treat illnesses they believe are related to ionizing radiation exposure.
The VA has deemed a number of cancers as presumed to be related to radiation exposure, meaning that a veteran who develops a recognized disease doesn’t need to prove a connection between his or her illness and their military service. VA has designated several other diseases as associated with radiation exposure but the veteran must provide proof of exposure during the claims process. Many have been denied, however, and more are not recognized as Atomic Veterans because their military records were lost or they participated in post-test cleanup that isn’t considered by VA as part of the group. “The veterans who went back to the Marshall Islands [in the 1970s] are fighting for health care and benefits,” LaFleur said.
One of the veterans interviewed for the video at https://vp.nyt.com/video/2016/05/29/40294_1_retro-atomic-vets_wg_360p.mp4 and http://nyti.ms/1X7hiuP, Army engineer Steve Harrison, said he spent months moving dirt and concrete on the island of Runit, where a concrete dome covers the debris. “One of my buddies there just recently came down with lung cancer,” Harrison said. “There were (a) number of guys, though, that are sick with different kinds of cancers, skin rashes, and they’re all being denied by the VA,” Harrison said. Last November, Rep. Mark Takai (D-HI) introduced a bill that would extend health benefits and disability compensation to those who served on cleanup crews. Sens. Al Franken (D-MN) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced similar legislation in April.
Although the film focuses on the plight of a specific group of military veterans, LaFleur says it is likely to resonate with troops who have been exposed to other environmental toxins while serving in the military, from chemical testing in World War II to Cold War biological testing, Agent Orange, nerve and mustard gas, tainted vaccines, burn pits and depleted uranium. Her father, Lee LaFleur, died in 2012 of heart disease but had Parkinson’s for much of his life. He never completed an application for VA benefits, she said. “The one thing that came off from all these guys is even though many of them feel they were guinea pigs, they don’t regret their service at all and are very proud to have served this country,” LaFleur said. [Source: Military times | Patricia Kime | June 2, 2016 ++]
Trump Vet Organization Donations ► JAN Fundraiser Goes to 41
Presumed Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on 31 MAY named 41 military-themed organizations receiving donations from his veterans fundraiser in January, hinting that even more could receive money in the months to come. “These are checks that have been delivered, that have been cashed, that are now being used to help veterans,” Trump said during a contentious news conference in New York. The handouts total $5.6 million, and Trump said additional donations are still coming in. The list below was released in response to media questions about the money raised after several veterans groups pledged cash reported not having seen the money. It includes a mix of large, well-known charities — like AMVETS and the Fisher House Foundation — with a host of smaller groups whose annual budgets will jump significantly with the new donations
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump distributes a check to Puppy Jake during a campaign event at the Adler Theater, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016 in Davenport, Iowa.
- 22 Kill — $200,000
- Achilles International — $200,000
- American Hero Adventures — $100,000
- Americans for Equal Living — $100,000
- America’s Vet Dogs — $75,000
- AMVETS — $75,000
- Armed Services YMCA — $75,000
- Bob Woodruff Family Foundation Inc. — $75,000
- Central Iowa Shelter and Services — $100,000
- Connected Warriors Inc. — $75,000
- Disabled American Veterans’ Charitable Service Trust — $115,000
- Fisher House Foundation — $115,000
- Folds of Honor Foundation — $200,000
- Foundation for American Veterans — $75,000
- Freedom Alliance — $75,000
- Green Beret Foundation — $350,000
- Hire heroes USA — $75,000
- Homes for our Troops — $50,000
- Honoring America’s Warriors — $100,000
- Hope for the Warriors — $65,000
- Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund — $175,000
- K-9s for Warriors — $50,000
- Liberty House — $100,000
- Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation — $1,100,000
- Navy Seal Foundation — $465,000
- Navy Marine Corps Relief Society — $75,000
- New England Wounded Veterans Inc. — $75,000
- Operation Homefront — $65,000
- Partners for Patriots — $100,000
- Project for Patriots — $100,000
- Puppy Jake Foundation — $100,000
- Racing for Heros Inc. — $200,000
- Support Siouxland Soldiers — $100,000
- Task Force Dagger Foundation — $50,000
- The Mission Continues — $75,000
- The National Military Family Association Inc. — $75,000
- Veterans Airlift Command — $100,000
- Veterans Count — $25,000
- Veterans in Command Inc. — $150,000
- Vietnam Veterans Workshop Inc. — $75,000
- Warriors for Freedom Foundation — $50,000
Trump’s charitable giving had been put in the spotlight after media reports questioned whether the business mogul was following through on his promised fundraising for veterans groups. Trump said he didn’t release the names of the veterans organizations sooner because he wanted to respect their privacy. He insisted that the money for a number of these groups was delivered some time ago and said the process of vetting the many organizations delayed the process in some cases.
According to Sam Kille, the Bob Woodruff Foundation’s communications manager, the Donald J. Trump Foundation first contacted them 24 MAY, and a day later a $75,000 check showed up at the office. “We received a check for $75,000 last Wednesday,” Kille told The Hill. “We were told a day before a check would be coming.” Kille said the donation was a surprise because the Woodruff Foundation did not have a past relationship with Trump or his foundation. When someone from the Trump Foundation called to notify the group of the incoming money, Kille said, the caller didn’t specify an amount. “We were pleasantly surprised when we opened the envelope,” Kille said. “We had no idea how much it was going to be.”
The Woodruff Foundation was co-founded in 2006 by ABC News journalist Bob Woodruff and his family after he was seriously wounded while covering the Iraq War. Kille said no demands were made in return for the donation and that the foundation has never received any donations from any organization affiliated with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. He said the foundation weighed whether or not to accept a check but reasoned that the money was not from Trump himself, but from his foundation and donors across the country. “The funds do go to veterans,” Kille said. “We’re very grateful for the generosity.”
The Woodruff Foundation is at least the second organization that received a donation from Trump’s foundation last week. Sue Boulhosa, executive director of the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation (MC-LEF), said Trump sent a $1 million from his personal bank account. “We received a $1 million check from his personal account,” Boulhosa said in a telephone interview 31 MAY. “The check is dated May 24.” She said the group also received $100,000 in March from the Trump Foundation. The combined $1.1 million was by far the largest of the 41 donations Trump announced Tuesday. The MC-LEF currently provides a $30,000 scholarship account for every child who loses a parent serving in the United State Marine Corps or any Federal Law Enforcement Agency. They report 98.4 cents of every donated dollar goes to their mission.
One of the charities that Donald Trump selected to receive a $75,000 donation is a group with a rating of “F” from CharityWatch, and has been criticized in the past for spending less than half of its incoming donations on programs that help veterans. The Foundation for American Veterans, based in Michigan on which The Better Business Bureau issued an “alert” about the in January, citing “a pattern and high volume of complaints and customer reviews” that alleged customers received “a high volume of what they consider to be harassing phone calls” from the group’s solicitors. The BBB said the group had blamed the problem on its telemarketer. An examination of the group’s tax filings shows that the foundation spent just $2.4 million of its total $8 million budget on helping veterans directly in 2014. The group spent the rest of the money in 2014 on fundraising and management expenses, with $3.5 million paid out to professional fundraising companies. Another $2 million went toward salaries and general expenses, including billing and collection services. [Source: Military Times & The Hill | Leo Shane & Kristina Wong | May 31, 2016 ++]
Vet Brains Sought ► Battle Related Disorders Study
Brain scientists in Washington state are asking the families of armed services members to consider one last contribution. Researchers at the University of Washington and the local Veterans Affairs health care system have begun collecting the donated brains of service members to examine for possible dementia and other disorders linked to repeated blast injury and head trauma. The program, the Pacific Northwest Brain Donor Network, is aimed at understanding the impact of mild traumatic brain injury on active-duty military members and veterans. “We are going to study these brains to the full extent that we are capable,” said Dr. C. Dirk Keene, who leads the neuropathology core at UW Medicine. “They are so rare, so valuable and just so precious, and can give us so much information about what these exposures mean.”
Keene and his colleagues, including Dr. Elaine Peskind, who co-directs the Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Centers at the Puget Sound Veterans Administration hospital, will look for signs that service members with mTBI also may have developed disorders including Alzheimer’s disease or CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). CTE has received wide attention recently after a large number of former American football players were diagnosed with the neurological disorder. Like football players, troops who suffer repeated concussions or other head trauma may develop the debilitating condition, which is diagnosed only after death. But, so far, little research has confirmed any military connection. “What’s been published previously is on the brains of five Iraq veterans,” Peskind said. “Another paper will be published soon with another five veterans. There’s just nothing out there.”
Since the program started in March, researchers have acquired three brains. They include donations from one military veteran, a middle-age man who was not exposed to blast injury, and a military contractor, a woman, also middle-age, who worked in a war zone. The donations also include the brain of Cody Duran, 30, of Lakewood, who died 5 APR from an unknown cause, said his mother, Victoria Padron. “I donated everything,” she said. “Whatever they could use, they could have.” Padron’s son wasn’t a veteran, but his young brain will serve as a control, an example of normal tissue against which scientists will measure changes. For every brain from a veteran that researchers acquire, they’ll also need the brain of someone who didn’t serve, Keene said. Researchers expect to receive one brain a month for the study.
The brains will be stored at UW’s brain bank, which already holds about 2,000 brains donated to study dementias and other diseases of aging. Although there are at least eight brain banks across the U.S., none is focused on studying military injuries, Keene said. One reason is that many brain banks focus on collecting samples from people with fatal disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Participants in those studies know their fate and agree in advance to donate their brains after death. “The approach we have to take for our service veterans is very different, because they are young people and we don’t expect them to die soon,” Peskind said. For Padron, the request to donate her son’s brain within days of his death was a “bizarre question,” she said. But she quickly agreed because it was what her son, a father of three young children, would have wanted. “That’s how Cody was, a super-generous person,” she said. “By giving his eyes, his eyes will continue living. By giving his brain to science, learning will continue.” Information from the study will be open to other researchers, Keene said.
The pilot study was paid for in part by a $30,000 grant from the federal Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers obtained by Dr. Desiree Marshall, an assistant medical examiner at the King County Medical Examiner’s Office who has also been working with Peskind. Combining the study of military injuries with dementias and other disorders makes sense, Marshall said. It will be interesting to see whether the brains of veterans have signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, including a newly defined marker, a particular brain lesion caused by abnormal accumulations of proteins called tau. Tau proteins are considered a prime cause of Alzheimer’s disease. The goal now is to increase the number of brains collected and to find more funding, either through philanthropy or grants, the researchers said. “It’s so limited, the amount of information we have now,” Marshall said. “Each brain, each case, is going to be so important.” [Source: The Seattle Times | Jonel Aleccia | May 29, 2016 ++]
AJROTC ► 250 Recently-Retired Soldiers Needed to Fill Vacancies
The Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Command (AJROTC) program instills the values of citizenship, service and personal responsibility in high school students through education and mentoring. At least one retired Army officer and noncommissioned officer (NCO) are assigned to each unit. AJROTC instructors are retired military members who continue to wear the Army uniform with their retired grade during the performance of their duties. Instructors are required to maintain Army uniform wear and grooming standards while serving as instructors. Officers (captain to colonel) and NCOs (staff sergeant to command sergeant major) with the following prerequisites may apply:
- Bachelor’s degree (officer – required; NCO – preferred)
- Retired with at least 20 years of active duty
- Retired less than 3 years ago
- Meet Army/AJROTC height/weight/body fat standards (30% male/36% female)
AJROTC instructors receive, as a minimum, an amount of pay equal to the difference between their retired and active duty pay, which includes base pay plus allowances for quarters, subsistence, and clothing (NCOs only). Schools must pay the minimum but may pay more subject to negotiations between the instructor and the school. The Army reimburses the school for one-half of the minimum. Each active duty pay raise will result in increased AJROTC pay. AJROTC instructors are not on active duty or inactive duty for training. Only their pay is computed as though they were on active duty. Their net pay may be different because allowances are not taxable on active duty, but AJROTC instructors’ allowances are considered part of their gross pay and are taxable. Retired status does not change.
- To learn more visit: http://www.usarmyjrotc.com/employment/faq
- For a current list of vacancies visit: http://www.usarmyjrotc.com/employment/jrotc-vacancy-list
[Source: Army Echoes | Lt. Col. Adam Grim, Employment Director, Soldier for Life Office | Jun-Sept 2016 ++]
Flag Etiquette Update 02 ► TWC Fires Vet for Half Masting Flag
A Marine veteran’s attempt to remember his fallen comrades has reportedly cost him his job. Allen Thornwell, who identifies himself as a former sergeant on his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ajthornwell, was fired by Time Warner Cable on 31 MAY after lowering his workplace’s American flag to half-staff in honor of Memorial Day, according to the Charlotte Observer. Thornwell, of Charlotte, North Carolina, told the paper that he lowered the flag in honor of those who had given the ultimate sacrifice. He also said he was inspired by the memory of his late best friend, a fellow Marine who committed suicide after returning from an overseas deployment.
Thornwell was picking up a new security badge at his company’s service center on Memorial Day when he noticed the flag there was flying at full-staff. “Without a word to anyone, Thornwell says he marched, Marine-style, to the pole, lowered the flag to a midway point, came to full attention, then about-faced and walked away,” the story states. He said it didn’t cross his mind to ask his company for permission first, according to the Observer. Corporate security later told him that touching the flagpole was against company policy, he said, and the flag was later raised to full-staff.
The next day, he found out that his contract had been canceled when a manager told him that the company was disturbed by Thornwell’s “passion for the flag and (his) political affiliation,” the Observer reported. A Time Warner official confirmed to the paper that his contract had been canceled, but declined further comment. Thornwell took to social media after the incident, posting a video to Facebook — which has since been removed — in which he named Time Warner as the company that fired him. As the newspaper noted (and said Thornwell acknowledged), though, the timing of Thornwell’s flag-lowering — 2:30 p.m. — was actually inconsistent with the U.S. Flag Code, which states that the flag should be flown at full-mast after noon on Memorial Day, thereby complicating the situation. According to his LinkedIn page, Thornwell served as a data chief and tactical network specialist in the Marine Corps. [Source: Military Times | Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory | June 6, 2016 ++]
Vet Fraud & Abuse ► 01 thru 15 JUN 2016
Seattle WA — A federal employee in Seattle helped expose a fraud in which an Army veteran lied his way to a Purple Heart and hundreds of thousands of dollars in government benefits. Her reward? The agency Cristina Jackson works for repeatedly tried to punish her for what it said were violations of the man’s privacy, according to an AP review of hundreds of pages of personnel and investigative records. U.S. Commerce Department officials proposed suspending her for at least a month — even as they reached one of two settlements with the veteran. Darryl Lee Wright was paid for skipped work and legal fees he incurred complaining about a hostile work environment. They tried to downgrade Jackson’s annual rating, then proposed a shorter suspension.
Jackson says she has racked up $20,000 in legal bills fighting the discipline. The Commerce Department, which did not respond to requests for comment, has refused to reimburse her. “To this day I don’t understand it,” Jackson, 55, said. “What does ‘vindication’ even mean when the agency I work for doesn’t see it that way?” Wright, 48, pleaded guilty to federal charges in February, more than six years after Jackson told her bosses that he had submitted fake National Guard orders to be paid for a week of missed work. He’s due to be sentenced in August. Through his lawyer he declined an interview request. “Cristina Jackson’s willingness to come forward was critical to uncovering the truth,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David Reese Jennings said. “But for her actions, law enforcement would not have had what they needed to uncover the fraud.”
C.J. Jackson poses 12 ay 2016 for a photo in front of the Henry M. Jackson Federal
Building where she works, in Seattle
Wright joined the Economic Development Administration, a job-promoting agency within the Commerce Department, in 2008. His absences quickly mounted, and he announced he was dealing with PTSD stemming from service in Iraq. Jackson, the office’s administrative director, oversaw his attendance records. Late in 2009, Wright asked to convert missed work into paid leave for “emergency” National Guard duty. The orders he provided were unsigned or didn’t have his name. Jackson, who previously worked in administrative roles with the Navy and Army reserve, asked for more documentation. He told her to check with the Washington National Guard. With permission from her boss, that’s what she did. The Guard determined Wright “purposely falsified Washington Military Department orders to defraud his civilian employer,” according to a December 2009 investigation report.
The Commerce Department began planning to fire Wright, according to a memo written by Jackson’s immediate boss. But Wright went on the offensive. In 2010 he accused Jackson of violating the Privacy Act by informing the National Guard about his PTSD, the records show. The federal law governs disclosure of personal information kept by federal agencies. Officials quickly reached the first settlement with Wright. They agreed to allow him to convert up to 240 hours of missed work to sick leave, paid $5,500 for his legal fees, and even required Jackson and others in the office to take a class about PTSD and other combat injuries. After Jackson learned about that settlement, she filed a complaint with the Commerce Department’s inspector general, who in 2011 recommended Wright be disciplined “based on the gravity of his misconduct.” Those findings made their way to federal prosecutors.
In a 2014 indictment, they alleged an audacious scam stemming from a single lie: that Wright was injured in Kirkuk, Iraq, on Aug. 30, 2005. Wright, then a first lieutenant with the Idaho National Guard, was near a battalion headquarters building when two rockets landed about 100 yards away, he and others in his unit wrote. Their reports referenced no casualties. “As far as anyone on our team getting hurt, no, that didn’t happen,” then-Capt. Mark Moeckli said last month. But in 2010, Wright successfully applied for a Purple Heart. In his paperwork, he claimed he “was violently thrown and knocked unconscious from the percussion of the rockets’ impact.” Wright also claimed Social Security disability benefits, insisting he was frequently bedridden. Social Security paid his sister to be his live-in caregiver, though she performed no such service. By May 2013, the siblings were bringing in benefits totaling $10,000 per month, prosecutors said.
Meanwhile, Wright was employed by the Commerce Department until 2012, coaching high school basketball in the Seattle suburb of Woodinville, and serving on the planning commission in Snoqualmie, the city east of Seattle. Jackson’s direct boss, A. Leonard Smith, defended her. In 2011, when he learned a human resources investigator proposed suspending Jackson for at least a month, he wrote a blistering memo, calling the investigation of her “severely deficient.” He noted that the Privacy Act typically does not bar the release of information gleaned outside agency files and that Wright had spoken freely about his purported medical condition. “It is an egregious mistake to penalize an employee who has done nothing in this case other than what is expected of her position,” Smith wrote.
The 30-day suspension was never imposed. “They were false charges with regard to C.J., if you want my opinion,” said Bettye Atkinson, Wright’s former supervisor, who retired after 40 years at the Commerce Department. “A lot of this was handled out of the D.C. office and they didn’t listen to us in the regional office.” The department did eventually propose firing Wright. In response, his attorney blamed Wright’s actions on war injuries and recommended in 2012 the department allow him to pursue a disability retirement instead. A settlement that year resulted in his departure from the agency. But Jackson’s troubles continued. Even after receiving Smith’s memo, Thomas Guevara, the Economic Development Administration’s deputy assistant secretary for regional affairs, docked her annual rating for 2011 and in early 2012 proposed suspending her for two days . Guevara declined to answer questions from the AP. Jackson’s lawyer, Saphronia Young, helped have Jackson’s excellent annual rating re-instated, but the proposed two-day suspension has not been withdrawn, Young said. “She went from being this highly regarded, stellar employee with an unblemished record to being treated like dirt,” Young said. “It’s just not fair.” [Source: The Associated Press | Gene Johnson | June 6, 2016 ++]
WWII Vets 110 ► Paul Dallas
For a dead man, the scratchy voice on the other end of a long-distance phone line sure sounded insistent. Weak, nearly skeleton-thin and “yellow as corn bread” from the effects of jaundice, Paul Dallas’s voice was wavering on the phone from a hospital ward in New York to Decatur, Mississippi. The fellow at the other end was in no mood for what was surely a cruel prank. “He kept saying, ‘Who is this? What are you trying to pull?'” Dallas said. “He kept saying I was missing in the war, likely dead by now. “I said, ‘Get my twin sister on the line. Get Pauline. She’ll know the truth of things.” A few minutes later, Paul Dallas was back from the dead. And one of the countless stories of the men who fought and were captured in the Allied invasion of Europe had a happy ending.
Ex-POW Paul Davis at age 91 recalls hardships of surviving World War II
Of the estimated 16 million Americans who served in the armed forces during World War II, roughly 675,000 were injured in battle and 120,000 were captured as prisoners of war. The number who were injured, captured and made it home is unknown, but few could come home with the tale that Paul Dallas lived. From fighting through France, to staring down a Tiger tank to a forced march across half of central Europe, the long-time Fayetteville resident made it home – barely. “The Lord was looking out for me,” Dallas, who is 91, says softly from his home in west Fayetteville. His wife of 42 years, Doris, settles back in her chair on the opposite side of the room and nods slightly. It’s a long story, but she doesn’t mind hearing it again.
Dallas is looking out the window into a warm, steamy afternoon. It was a lot like this when Dallas, then a recent class of 1943 graduate from House School in Neshoba County, Mississippi, received a telegram of greetings from the president of the United States. “I didn’t know he knew me,” Dallas jokes, quickly explaining that the letter was a draft notification. He had 30 days to report to Camp Shelby, Mississippi. “One day I was looking at tall rows of corn stalks,” he says. “The next, I was one of 100,000 soldiers at Camp Shelby, standing in khaki rows.” After summers of farm work, basic training was a breeze for Dallas. He was also a decent marksman from years of hunting. And folks seemed to like the gangly youngster with the deep Southern drawl. Soon he joined several thousand other soldiers on their first train ride – halfway across the country to Fort Meade, Maryland. “Along the way, we were passing through South Carolina,” he recalls. “I looked out the window and remarked about what fine collards folks in South Carolina were growing. “A friend laughed and said those weren’t collards. That was tobacco. I had never seen it in the field before.”
His first train ride became his first boat ride, sardined with 2,700 other soldiers bound for Europe. Dallas spent months in Italy, training for an amphibious landing. His division, the 45th Infantry, would land in southern France in August, taking pressure off of forces arriving in Normandy. “It was quiet, really quiet when we landed,” Dallas recalls. “The Germans had took off. But they left some snipers behind, and they would pick off officers. “I was standing next to our squad leader, when this little puff of smoke came from a church steeple. He just fell over at my feet. The next day our platoon leader, a first lieutenant, found me and said, ‘Dallas, you’re the new squad leader.'” During the fall of 1944, the squad had near-daily skirmishes with enemy infantry, but continued to drive toward Germany. “We crawled through mud and mine fields,” Dallas says. “A lot of men were killed. The rest of us were lucky.” Just after Thanksgiving, the squad’s luck ran out.
Company F had been ordered to take three small towns near the German border. They had all three wrapped up by lunchtime and started looking at a fourth, Muhlhausen. As they paused for an anticipated artillery barrage, they discovered why the other towns had fallen so quickly. “As we were sitting there looking down on this pretty little town, we heard a rumbling. It looked like 100 Tiger tanks rolling toward us. The Germans had regrouped and were coming hard. “I’d been in the infantry long enough to know that shooting an M-1 rifle at a tank was like throwing peas at a wall. We started digging in, hoping the tanks wouldn’t squash us as they arrived.” One tank rolled toward Dallas and his squad. It paused, pointed its 88 mm cannon at the group and fired. “It was a dud,” Dallas says. “It shot into the mud, but didn’t go off.” A second shot wasn’t a dud. It exploded near the men, showering them with a deafening blast of mud and debris.
The tank advanced to about 50 feet away, but didn’t fire again. “Instead a German officer with a burp gun popped out of the top of the tank,” Dallas says. “I had my rifle pointed at him, but he had a burp gun pointed at me. “He said in English, ‘If you pull the trigger, you are dead.’ I looked around at all the German guns pointed at us and decided not to pull the trigger.” Twenty-eight men who survived the attack were loaded onto German trucks and taken to interrogation. In time, many of the men, including Dallas, were driven by truck and cattle cars to a small POW compound in what is now eastern Germany. Prisoners were marched out each morning to cut 100-pound blocks of ice from a frozen pond. Meals, for lack of a better word, were cold coffee in the morning and a small cup of soup seasoned with grass and rock-hard black bread in the evening. In the spring, as the ice melted, work shifted to digging out sewer lines of a nearby town. The crews would dig, then hide from Russian bombers intent on destroying an ammunition plant near the town. It was probably in those ditches that Dallas contracted the illnesses that nearly killed him.
In the spring of 1945, advancing Russians troops “liberated” the soldiers, beginning a forced march across central Europe. Though the POWs were less than a two days march from American troops to the west, the Russian troops ordered the POWs to march north into Poland. They sent armed guards to make sure the POWs did so. “We were liberated, but we were still prisoners,” Dallas says. He said the POWs feared they were being marched to Siberian salt mines. After weeks of walking across Poland, the group arrived at a Soviet facility. They were deloused, had their first showers since the previous November and got the news that they were finally to be herded back toward American forces – by truck, rather than walking. On the way, the caravan was stopped in a small town by people dancing in the street. “We didn’t know what was going on,” Dallas says. “It was May 8, the day the war in Europe ended.”
They also learned why they were marched away from American forces. They were to be part of a convoluted prisoner swap, Americans for Eastern Europeans. On May 20, 1945, Dallas crossed the Elbe River bridge back into American hands. At the American repatriation compound, known as Camp Lucky Strike, liberated POWs received medical care and were given clearance to be shipped home. Rather than a ticket home, Dallas was told he’d need to come back the next day for additional tests. “That didn’t sit well with me,” he says. “I had gone through a lot, and I was ready to go home. “I went outside to cool off and met another fellow – from Meridian, Mississippi, of all places. I said we had a lot to talk about … and then I just fell over.” Months of malnutrition and illness caught up with Dallas. He woke up three weeks later in a French hospital in excruciating pain. He lapsed into another two-week coma. Upon awakening, Dallas was told he was suffering from hepatitis, jaundice, double pneumonia and spinal meningitis. “The upshot was that I ought to be dead,” Dallas says. “I guess the Lord wasn’t done with me yet.”
He finally recovered enough to be placed on a hospital ship and sent to the United States. “My 21st birthday, July 2, 1945, was spent flat on my back out in the middle of the Atlantic,” he says with a laugh. He was still weak, recovering in Harlem General Hospital in New York City, when one of the nurses brought a phone to his bed so he could call home. “I said, ‘Ma’am, our farm is way out in the country,'” Dallas recalls. “‘There’s no phone out there.'” “Then I thought of my sister Pauline and that she might be in school at East Central Junior College.” The nurse dialed through to the school. School President L.O. Todd picked up. “To say he was skeptical would be modest,” Dallas recalls. “He thought I was pulling his leg. I kept saying ‘It’s me! It’s me! I’m here!’ “But when I mentioned my twin sister Pauline, he stopped cold. He said ‘Good gracious, Paul Dallas, it really is you! Pauline isn’t here, but Winifred (his younger sister) is. I’ll have someone run and fetch her.’ “Winifred’s voice was the sweetest thing I ever heard. We had ourselves a good crying spell on the long-distance telephone.”
Todd offered to drive his sister “right then and there back to the farm to share the news.” It turned out by the time they arrived, the family was at nearby Antioch Baptist Church at a revival. “It was quite a story she had to tell them,” Dallas says. In August, he was moved by train to a hospital in Georgia, where he had to learn to walk again. He was hoping to make it home for Thanksgiving, nearly one year to the day he had been taken prisoner. As it was, Dallas was given a disability discharge and walked into his home on Dec. 1, 1945.
In time, Dallas graduated from Mississippi State University and moved to Raeford selling Bibles in 1953. He later because a salesman for Dickinson Buick in downtown Fayetteville, and opened a sales office for the Public Works Commission in 1960. In 1990, after successful careers with the PWC and Lumbee River Electric Membership Cooperative, Dallas retired. In 1980, he helped organized Fayetteville’s chapter of the American Ex-Prisoners of War. He now travels with his wife, Doris, around the country supporting former POW issues. As the group’s national commander, he’s been invited to the White House three times – four if you include the time he and a buddy sneaked in during the summer of 1944. “I don’t think I could do that now,” he says with a laugh. “I’m a little bit slower.” Dallas still tears up at times when he thinks about the friends he lost, and those who helped pull him through. “It was a long, hard struggle, but I never lost my faith,” he says. “I knew I would get home.” For more info on Paul refer to http://www.axpow.org/dallaspaul.htm. [Source: Fayetteville Observer | Chick Jacobs | June 5, 2016 ++]
Paul and Doris Dallas, Baton Rouge at AXPOW Nat. Convention 1998
Trump Active Duty’s Preference Update 01 ► Vet’s Scathing Open Letter
A Marine veteran who was severely wounded while serving in Iraq has written a scathing open letter to Donald Trump explaining why he thinks no veteran should vote for him. “It’s critical that all veterans take a close look at you and what you stand for,” retired Lt. Col. Justin Constantine wrote in the letter, which was publicized 6 JUN on the Huffington Post. “Many of the outrageous statements you’ve made over the last year not only provide us insight into your mindset and desired agenda, but demonstrate what little regard you have for veterans and the national security issues which affect all of us.”
Retired Marine Lt. Col. Justin Constantine survived a sniper’s bullet that struck him in the head during a 2006 deployment in Iraq. Now a motivational speaker, he wants to help civilians better understand how to talk to wounded veterans.
On Oct. 18, 2006, a sniper’s bullet hit Constantine behind his ear and exploded out of his mouth. His recovery has been grueling, including about two dozen surgeries to reconstruct his face. He is a motivational speaker who explains to civilians how they should interact with wounded warriors. Constantine told Marine Corps Times on 6 JUN that he wrote his open letter to Trump after listening to Trump’s comments, which he felt lacked thought and introspection. “My personal feeling is that Trump does not represent veterans,” Constantine said. “He is someone who deferred from military service by choice. He had an opportunity to serve; he chose not to. As far as I know, Trump has done very little for vets besides recently raising $6 million, and the Washington Post reported that he did not make those donations until pressured by the media.” I haven’t seen anything that he proposes that would support veterans.”
Since his letter was posted online, Constantine has received a lot of feedback from veterans and civilians, most of which has been positive, he said. “A very small percentage of people attacked me personally, which was hard to read but kind of expected. Stuff like I’m a weak Marine; I don’t know anything about the military; I’m not even a real person; I’m some POG; I don’t know what I’m talking about — stuff like that,” Constantine said. In his letter, Constantine wrote that he was outraged when Trump allegedly mocked a disabled New York Times reporter last year: “Why should we think you would treat wounded warriors like myself any differently?” In November, Trump flailed his arms while criticizing a disabled New York Times reporter who suffers from a condition that limits flexibility in his arms. Even though Trump has repeatedly denied he was impersonating the reporter, Constantine thinks that’s exactly what he was doing, he wrote. “What type of person does that?” Constantine wrote. “I do not want that kind of person representing me or my nation. As a wounded warrior who has had to deal with very severe physical and mental challenges since being shot in the head in Iraq, your juvenile actions could not offend me more.”
Constantine slammed Trump for saying that Sen. John McCain of Arizona was not a war hero and claimed that Trump has shown “a shocking lack of integrity and has lied to us over and over again.” He also took issue with Trump’s affinity for world leaders whom veterans consider a security threat, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, and he lambasted Trump’s comments about Mexicans being rapists, noting that Medal of Honor recipient Alfred Rascon was born in Mexico. “But perhaps you are most known for your proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, although the Pentagon and a wide number of U.S. leaders countered that this would be a direct threat to our national security,” Constantine wrote. “This in fact led to an open letter specifically against you authored by a long list of GOP national security leaders. Your tone and message resonate with white supremacists and you have not only been endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan former Grand Wizard David Duke, but a slew of other white supremacist organizations.”
On Monday, Constantine stressed that the United States’ commitment to protecting democracy and human rights around the world is key to defeating extremists. “That will bring down terrorism, not saying ‘No Muslims can come to our country,'” he said. Trump’s spokeswoman did not respond to phone calls and emails requesting comment by deadline on 13 JUN. [MarineCorpsTimes | Jeff Schogol | June 13, 2016 ++]
Veterans ► It is the Veteran Who …
It is the
not the preacher,
who has given us freedom of religion.
It is the
not the reporter,
who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the
not the poet,
who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the
not the campus organizer,
who has given us freedom to assemble.
It is the
not the lawyer,
who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the
not the politician,
Who has given us the right to vote.
It is the
who serves under the Flag,
Obit: Stephanie Czech Rader ► 21 JAN 2016
For nearly six decades, she was the wife of a famed military aviator. Nobody knew she was a hero in her own right, a spy who reported on Soviet troop movements from behind what came to be called the Iron Curtain. Now Stephanie Czech Rader is finally being recognized for her work. Rader received the Legion of Merit on 1 JUN. It was awarded posthumously, during funeral services with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. She died at home on 21 January at the age of 100, a longtime resident of Alexandria and native of Poughkeepsie, New York.
Rader worked for the Office of Strategic Services, a forerunner of the CIA. The daughter of Polish immigrants, her fluent Polish caught the attention of the OSS. The office recruited her from her job with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Corps and put her in Poland from October 1945 to February 1946. She was employed as a clerk at the U.S. embassy in Warsaw, but her real job was to report on Soviet troop movements. She traveled the countryside on her own. Her bosses offered her a gun for protection but she refused it, saying “What was I going to do with a dumb gun?” according to Charles Pinck, president of The OSS Society in Falls Church. Carrying a gun, after all, could blow her cover. In January 1946, Pinck said, Rader was carrying sensitive documents when she was arrested by Polish security, but she was able to dispose of the compromising papers before she was taken into custody. She remained under 24-hour surveillance for the rest of her tour, Pinck said.
Her bosses recommended her for the Legion of Merit in 1946, but the recommendation was never acted upon — perhaps because she was a woman, and perhaps because the OSS soon dissolved and there was no organization to advocate for her. Pinck said OSS was ahead of its time in employing women. About a third of the 13,000 people who served in the OSS were women, he said. He estimated that OSS veterans still alive number only in the hundreds now. Rader served in the OSS under her maiden name, Stephanie Czech, but went on to marry William S. Rader, a decorated World War II bombing commander who became an Air Force brigadier general and himself received the Legion of Merit. They had been married for 57 years when he died in 2003.
In 2008, when records of the OSS were declassified, The OSS Society and other historians learned of Rader’s work and began to lobby for her to receive the award. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) also took up her cause, and last week the Army announced that Rader would receive the award posthumously. For years, her family knew nothing of her spy craft. Niece Kathy Roxby of Santa Barbara, California, said she didn’t learn her aunt had been a spy until Rader’s 100th birthday, well after her service had been declassified. “She said she was supposed to keep it a secret,” Roxby said. Another niece, Linda Hobbs of Charleston, South Carolina, said that while the revelations about Rader were a surprise, it makes sense in retrospect. “She was tough, let me tell you. As a kid, I was a little scared of her,” Hobbs said.
Despite Rader’s best efforts, she wasn’t able to keep her secret from everyone. The Raders became good friends and business partners with Ken and Judie Elder, often traveling together. Once, about 30 years ago, they traveled to Poland together, Ken Elder recalled Wednesday. As they toured the old town square in Warsaw, she told a story about Eisenhower touring the rubble in the immediate aftermath of the war. The next day, on a guided tour, the tour guide talked about some of the exact same things, casually mentioning that few people remembered the details of Eisenhower’s visit. That piqued Elder’s curiosity, and he started questioning Rader about the source of her knowledge. He eventually asked: “Were you a spy?” “I guess that might be what you call it,” she replied. To view a video on her exploits go to http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/25435/stephanie-czech-rader-one-the-most-successful-intelligence-agents-of-post-wwii-poland. [Source: AP | Matthew Barakat | Jun. 1, 2016 ++]
Retiree Appreciation Days ► As of 14 JUN 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 | June 14, 2015 ++]
Vet Hiring Fairs ► 16 JUN thru 15 JUL 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 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 Vet & Caregiver Employment Conference Details Register
June 29 – 8:30 am to 2:30 pm
June 29 – 11:00 am to 1:00 pm
July 7 – 8:30 am to 1:30 pm
July 12 – 8:00 am to 1:00 pm
July 12 – 1:00 pm to July 13 – 4:00 pm
July 15 – 9:30 am to 2:00 pm
[Source: U.S. Chamber of Commerce Assn June 14, 2016 ++]
Veteran State Benefits & Discounts ► Arizona 2016
The state of Arizona 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 – AZ” 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/arizona.html &
- Housing Benefits
- Financial Assistance Benefits
- Employment Benefits
- Education Benefits
- Other State Veteran Benefits
[Source: http://www.military.com/benefits/veteran-state-benefits/arizona-state-veterans-benefits.html | June 2016 ++]
* Vet Legislation *
NDAA 2017 Update 12 ► BAS Amendment SA 4237
Five senators have proposed legislation to help offset the effects on troops if commissary prices increase under proposed changes to the decades-old method of pricing groceries. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) filed an amendment 26 MAY that would require defense officials to produce a report on whether to change the rates for Basic Allowance for Subsistence if commissaries increase grocery prices. Co-sponsors for the amendment are: Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Mike Rounds (R-SD).
Currently, commissaries sell items at the cost from the manufacturer or distributor, plus a 1 percent charge to cover spoilage and loss and a 5 percent surcharge. Proposals working their way through the House and Senate would allow commissaries to set prices, marking them up or down, in order to make a profit that would be used to offset the cost of operating commissaries. In 2016, it costs taxpayers $1.4 billion to operate commissaries worldwide. Service members’ basic pay and Basic Allowance for Subsistence don’t vary by location, nor do commissary prices, but defense officials reportedly are considering a plan that would set the prices — and savings — to the local market. Thus, the price of a can of peas, for example, might be higher in some geographic areas than others.
In 2016, the Basic Allowance for Subsistence is $368 a month for enlisted members, and $253 a month for officers. The allowance is meant to offset costs of a service member’s meals. It’s not intended to offset costs of meals for family members. Inhofe’s proposal would require DoD to submit a report to Congress by March 31, 2017, on the feasibility of changing the amount of BAS. The report would include an assessment of the potential for price increases at commissaries, and an assessment of changing BAS in light of potential price increases, including different BAS rates in different locations.
According to DoD’s legislative proposal, laying out the fundamental changes in how the commissary benefit is delivered, the current pricing system — selling all items at cost — “constrains sales margins and limits potential savings benefits across disparate geographic markets.” It will become clearer once senators decide on whether the Inhofe amendment will be considered or not. In a 70-28 vote, senators voted 7 JUN to defeat a proposal by the Senate Armed Services Committee to conduct privatization pilot programs at commissaries at five major installations, similar to what that committee proposed last year. [Source: Military Times | Karen Jowers | May 29, 2016 ++]
NDAA 2017 Update 13 ► Amendments of Interest
There have been over 530 amendments introduced in the Senate, and although it is unlikely all of the amendments will come to a vote, there are several MOAA would like to see incorporated into the defense bill:
- VA Benefits: Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) submitted an amendment to authorize potential veterans’ benefits to Navy veterans who served onboard ships in the territorial waters of Vietnam during the conflict. Many of these veterans have contracted diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange, but they are denied service-related benefits from the VA due to an arbitrary and unfair limitation to veterans who served “boots on the ground” in Vietnam.
- VA Benefits: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) offered an amendment that would include reserve active duty for preplanned missions as qualifying service for GI Bill eligibility.
- Survivor Benefit Plan: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced an amendment that would provide equal benefits under the Survivor Benefit Plan for families of Reserve Component members who die in the line of duty while performing inactive-duty training.
- Veteran Status: Sen. John Boozman (R-AK) submitted an amendment that would grant veteran status to members of the Reserve Components who served a career of 20 years or more and are military retirees, but who through no fault of their own are not recognized by our government as “veterans.”
- Spouse Employment: Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) championed an amendment making DoD positions noncompetitive for military spouses after a permanent change of duty station.
- Housing Allowance: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) submitted an amendment that would strike the removal of housing stipends from the defense bill. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) joined with Murkowski on the senate floor on 9 JUN supporting the effort to stop the cut to the housing benefit.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) limited defense bill debate by s filing a motion for cloture. Cloture usually limits not only debate time, but also puts restrictions on what kinds of amendments can be considered. In the past, this has meant limiting amendments to issues already covered in the bill, which could be used to block Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) concurrent receipt amendments, for example. In other cases, leaders have agreed to limit amendments to a specific number for each party. McConnell’s bill was passed on 10 JUN with a vote of 68-23. [Source: MOAA Leg UP | June 10, 2016 ++]
VA Structure Update 01 ► H.R. | Convert VHA to Non-Profit Corp
A member of the House Republican leadership on 7 JUN introduced a bill to completely overhaul the way veterans receive health care, in part by turning the Veterans Affairs Department’s health care component into a government-chartered nonprofit corporation. The Caring for our Heroes in the 21st Century Act, introduced by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, would create the Veterans Accountable Care Organization to manage the VA’s brick and mortar health care facilities. It also would launch the Veterans Health Insurance Program to manage VHA’s insurance programs, creating two separate entities to handle VA’s payer and provider functions. The bill, which she introduced as a “discussion draft,” would:
- Seek to expand choice for veterans by creating a “premium support” model to receive care from non-VA sources. Critics contend that premium support is a voucher system that cuts benefits and leaves veterans on their own to receive care.
- Create significant changes for the 330,000 employees of the Veterans Health Administration. The new government corporation would have “more latitude to reward high performers, fire poor performers and monitor the quality of overall veteran health care delivery,” an individual briefed on the bill told Government Executive. Veterans would be able to choose either the VetsCare Federal program — allowing them to continue receiving care exclusively though the traditional VA system — or VetsCare Choice — which would provide them with subsidized private care. Those choosing the latter option could still opt to go to facilities run by the corporation (VACO) to receive care for service-related injuries.
- Open up the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program, currently only available to federal employees and administered by the Office of Personnel Management, to the entire veteran population.
McMorris Rodgers also wants an independent commission to identify underutilized VA facilities for closure, while giving Congress final veto power. The commission would have to ensure that veterans located in areas with scheduled facility closures would not experience diminished access to care. The 15-member commission would oversee the implementation of the law generally and continuously monitor veterans health care to make recommendations to Congress and VA for future reforms.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., introduced a bill to overhaul VHA
The proposal in many ways mirrors a “strawman report” issued by seven members of the Commission on Care, a panel created by the 2014 Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act to suggest a new path forward for VHA. The full commission is holding its final meeting this week before it issues its recommendations at the end of the month.
While the authors of the strawman report say they were simply seeking to align the VA with the needs and desires of veterans, most veterans service organizations — such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars — oppose the proposals.
Garry Augustine, executive director of the group Disabled Veterans of America, told Government Executive in April that a focus on private care would rob future veterans of the all-inclusive assistance he received upon returning from Vietnam, ranging from vocational training to educational assistance to rehabilitation. “If I was just given a card and told to go get this taken care of, I would’ve been lost,” Augustine said. He also suggested the proposals would lead to a deficiency of hospitals and clinicians equipped and trained to deal with issues specific to veterans. “Some of these injuries don’t show up in the private sector that often,” he said. Augustine added that he does not philosophically oppose augmenting integrated care, but cautioned that the providers must become familiar with the intricacies of receiving government reimbursements before accepting veteran patients.
Concerned Veterans for America, a conservative-aligned group controversial for its ties to Republican mega-donors Charles and David Koch, threw its support behind the measure. CVA’s Vice President for Political and Legislative Action Dan Caldwell said the bill would “give every veteran eligible for VA care the ability to choose where he or she receives care.” “The reality of the VA’s failure is undeniable,” Caldwell said. “The department is not structured to provide timely, sustainable care to veterans, and is in desperate need of ‘system-wide’ reform. The Caring for Our Heroes in the 21st Century Act will reverse the tide of inefficiency and failure at the VA while offering veterans the health care choice they deserve.” He said he expects dissension from the “usual chorus” of special interests and “entrenched bureaucrats” but called on Congress to “do the right thing” and support the bill. John Cooper, a CVA spokesman, said the bill would enable veterans to use the same facilities and see the same doctors, “with the only difference being how those clinics and doctors are managed.” Congress would continue its oversight and funding responsibility for the newly created government corporation.
The reforms are unlikely to receive President Obama’s support or a veto-proof majority, making the chances for passage of McMorris Rogers’ bill dim. Obama told The Colorado Springs Gazette earlier in June he would not support any move toward VHA privatization. “The notion of dismantling the VA system would be a mistake,” Obama said, touting the progress he said his administration has made in improving the department since the waitlist scandal was unearthed in 2014. Nevertheless, that the third-ranking House member in the Republican Party would throw her weight behind the transition shows the political winds may be blowing in that direction. [Source: GovExec.com | Eric Katz | June 7, 2016 ++]
Vet Bills Submitted to 114th Congress ► 160601 thru 160615
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 ARE THE 11 VETERAN RELATED BILLS INTRODUCED IN THE HOUSE SINCE THE LAST BULLETIN WAS PUBLISHED
- 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)
- H.R.5343 : VA Transparency Enhancement Act of 2016. A bill to require increased reporting regarding certain surgeries scheduled at medical facilities of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Sponsor: Rep Dingell, Debbie [MI-12] (introduced 5/26/2016)
- H.R.5355 : Veteran Opportunities on Local Transportation Act of 2016. A bill to amend title 49, United States Code, to assist veterans to obtain certain public transportation jobs, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep Ashford, Brad [NE-2] (introduced 5/26/2016)
- H.R.5392 : No Veterans Crisis Line Call Should Go Unanswered Act. A bill to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to improve the Veterans Crisis Line. Sponsor: Rep Young, David [IA-3] (introduced 6/7/2016)
- H.R.5399 : Ethical Patient Care for Veterans Act of 2016. A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to ensure that physicians of the Department of Veterans Affairs fulfill the ethical duty to report to State licensing authorities impaired, incompetent, and unethical health care activities. Sponsor: Rep Roe, David P. [TN-1] (introduced 6/7/2016)
- H.R.5416 : VA Vet Burial; Benefit Expansion. A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to expand burial benefits for veterans who die while receiving hospital care or medical services under the Veterans Choice Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep Lamborn, Doug [CO-5] (introduced 6/9/2016)
- H.R.5426 : Justice for Servicemembers Act of 2016. A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to clarify the scope of procedural rights of members of the uniformed services with respect to their employment and reemployment rights, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep Cicilline, David N. [RI-1] (introduced 6/9/2016)
- H.R.5428 : Military Residency Choice Act. Bill to amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to authorize spouses of servicemembers to elect to use the same residences as the servicemembers. Sponsor: Rep Forbes, J. Randy [VA-4] (introduced 6/9/2016)
- H.R.5431 : Expanding Care for Female Veterans Act. A bill to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish a pilot program to award grants to health care entities to lease, purchase, or build health care facilities for female patients to provide hospital care and medical services to qualified female veterans.Sponsor: Rep Israel, Steve [NY-3] (introduced 6/9/2016)
- H.R.5435 : Providing Leadership and Improving Veterans Care Act. A bill to prohibit the payment of bonuses to certain Department of Veterans Affairs employees pending filling of Department of Veterans Affairs medical center director positions, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep Luetkemeyer, Blaine [MO-3] (introduced 6/9/2016)
- H.R.5458 : Veterans TRICARE Choice Act. A bill to provide for coordination between the TRICARE program and eligibility for making contributions to a health savings account, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep Stewart, Chris [UT-2] (introduced 6/13/2016)
FOLLOWING ARE THE 9 VETERAN RELATED BILLS INTRODUCED IN THE SENATE SINCE THE LAST BULLETIN WAS PUBLISHED
- S.3019 : TRICARE Expedited Evaluation and Treatment for Prenatal Surgery Act of 2016. A bill to require the Secretary of Defense to implement processes and procedures to provide expedited evaluation and treatment for prenatal surgery under the TRICARE program. Sponsor: Sen Rounds, Mike [SD] (introduced 6/6/2016)
- S.3023 : The Arla Harrell Act. A bill to provide for the reconsideration of claims for disability compensation for veterans who were the subjects of experiments by the Department of Defense during World War II that were conducted to assess the effects of mustard gas or lewisite on people, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen McCaskill, Claire [MO] (introduced 6/6/2016)
- S.3032 : Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2016. A bill to provide for an increase, effective December 1, 2016, in the rates of compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities and the rates of dependency and indemnity compensation for the survivors of certain disabled veterans, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen Isakson, Johnny [GA] (introduced 6/8/2016)
- S.3033 : A bill to provide for an Atomic Veterans Service Medal. A bill to provide for an Atomic Veterans Service Medal. Sponsor: Sen Markey, Edward J. [MA] (introduced 6/8/2016)
- S.3035 : Maximizing Efficiency and Improving Access to Providers at the Department of Veterans Affairs Act of 2016. A bill to require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to carry out a pilot program to increase the use of medical scribes to maximize the efficiency of physicians at medical facilities of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Sponsor: Sen Heller, Dean [NV] (introduced 6/8/2016)
- S.3042 : Justice for Servicemembers Act of 2016. A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to clarify the scope of procedural rights of members of the uniformed services with respect to their employment and reemployment rights, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen Blumenthal, Richard [CT] (introduced 6/9/2016)
- S.3043 : Faster Care for Veterans Act of 2016. A bill to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to carry out a pilot program establishing a patient self-scheduling appointment system, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen Klobuchar, Amy [MN] (introduced 6/9/2016)
- S.3051 : VA Service Dog Pilot Program. A bill to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to carry out a pilot program to provide service dogs to certain veterans with severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Sponsor: Sen Fischer, Deb [NE] (introduced 6/13/2016)
- S.3052 : VA Live Donor Use for Transplant Operations. A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide for an operation on a live donor for purposes of conducting a transplant procedure for a veteran, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen Kirk, Mark Steven [IL] (introduced 6/13/2016)
* Military *
Secret Awards ► Classified Missions Almost One in Five
Citations for two Navy Crosses and more than 100 Silver Star medals awarded secretly to Navy SEALs and a Marine for “extraordinary heroism” in the last 15 years reflect the fierce battles that have been fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to records obtained by USA TODAY. The Navy decorated the Marine for saving the lives of civilians in Benghazi in September 2012. Several SEALs earned theirs for intense combat in Ramadi, others for rescuing hostages in Afghanistan. The Navy also honored the deadly efficiency of the “American Sniper,” the late SEAL Chris Kyle.
Almost one in five of the military’s most prestigious honors in all the services have been awarded privately since America went to war in 2001 because the missions were classified. The Medal of Honor is the highest commendation, followed by service crosses and the Silver Star. In February, the Pentagon announced plans to review more than 1,000 of the nation’s top awards bestowed since 9/11 to determine if they should be upgraded. The secret Navy Crosses and Silver Stars are among those under review, along with a similar number issued for the Army’s classified commando missions “Awards and medals have a sacred role in military culture,” said Brad Carson, the Pentagon’s former civilian chief for personnel who advocated for the review. “They are a small ribbon symbolizing enormous sacrifice. It is important that we recognize service members for their heroism. And after 15 years of war, it is appropriate to review awards to make sure we applied the criteria correctly and uniformly. That’s especially true when so many missions were necessarily classified and awards given quietly. That’s why we pushed this review. It is about keeping faith with the troops.”
The citations that accompanied the two Navy Cross and 112 Silver Star medals begin as form letters under letterhead from the Secretary of the Navy. The Pentagon withheld names to protect the service member and his family, and deletes details that could affect national security. “The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the NAVY CROSS or SILVER STAR to…” The rank of the SEAL or Marine follows but the names are redacted in the documents. For those killed in action, the President “takes pride” in awarding the medal. Next, in less than a page, come astounding feats of bravery, selflessness and will.
Two Navy Crosses, second only to the Medal of Honor, are among the Navy documents. The first, on Aug. 9, 2009, a Navy SEAL, his name blacked out like others in the report, was leading a small unit when their base came “under an intense coordinated attack” in Afghanistan. A sniper wounded the unit’s medic, and the SEAL braved direct gunfire to drag the man to safety. At the same time, a rocket-propelled grenade smashed through the wall of the unit’s arsenal, sparking a major fire. “With a catastrophic explosion imminent,” the SEAL evacuated the base. He then ran repeatedly into the arsenal to haul out crates of explosives to uncover the “smoldering and undetonated warhead, which he removed with his bare hands.” He left the compound, making several trips to dump explosives in a nearby river, all the while being shot at. “His repeated heroic actions and decisive leadership, under fire, saved the lives of United States soldiers and several Afghan elders and prevented the sole hardened structure in the village from being breached,” the citation reads.
Missing from the citations is any mention of SEAL Team 6 and its mission into Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011. President Obama did provide the commandos with the Presidential Unit Citation, the highest honor for a military unit. The Navy did not rule out the possibility that individual medals were awarded. “Due to the sensitivity surrounding the composition and conduct of the raid, and concern for the personal security of the service members involved, at this time the department cannot comment on any individual recognition,” said Navy Lt. Jackie Pau, a Navy spokeswoman.
Benghazi. The most tersely worded citation accompanied the only other Navy Cross, awarded to a Marine gunnery sergeant. His heroism on the night of Sept. 11, 2012, came amid the chaos and controversy that surrounds the attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. A House committee continues to investigate the attack, the U.S. response and the role of Hillary Clinton, then the Secretary of State and now the likely Democratic nominee for president. It’s possible, through the citation and congressional reports on Benghazi, to sketch out his actions that night. The citation refers to his actions “in support of Overseas Contingency Operations in Sept. 2012” but does not say where. The Navy has acknowledged that it did award a Navy Cross to the Marine for his actions that night.
A House intelligence committee report on Benghazi refers to a two-person detachment of military personnel and other security personnel who flew from Tripoli that night to rescue Americans. They arrived at the besieged compound, and within 11 minutes were under attack by mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire. The attack killed two and severely wounded two others. The Marine helped treat the wounded, repel attackers and organize the evacuation. His “valorous actions, dedication to duty and willingness to place himself in harm’s way for the protection of others was critical to the success of saving numerous United States civilian lives,” the citation says.
A man walks through the rubble of the U.S. consular in Benghazi
Ramadi. In 2006, U.S. troops and al-Qaeda terrorists scratched and clawed in brutal street-by-street fighting in in western Iraq. “It was pretty intense urban combat,” Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland recalled in an interview. He commanded a brigade in Ramadi as colonel at the time and now leads the coalition fighting the Islamic States. “What the SEALs were doing in particular for us was sniper, counter-sniper operations. That was a pretty critical element of our ability to establish, first of all, our combat outposts in the city, and disrupt the enemy counterattacks against them.” The SEALs, MacFarland said, would venture deep behind enemy lines, setting up “hide sites” where small teams would await inevitable attacks on the outposts. Setting up a hide site was relatively simple, he said. Getting out, once discovered, often by children sent as scouts, could be deadly.
On 29 SEP an insurgent threw a grenade on the roof where Michael Monsoor and two fellow SEALs had set up to protect another unit. Monsoor, who had a clear exit, chose instead to leap on the grenade, sacrificing his life for those of his colleagues, according to the citation for the Medal of Honor awarded to him posthumously. The lieutenant, who fought through “heavy enemy fire” to retrieve Monsoor and his wounded SEALs, was awarded a Silver Star in secret for the mission. In all, from spring to fall in 2006, SEALs earned at least 14 Silver Stars. Monsoor earned one of those as well, according to his Medal of Honor citation. On May 9, he “exposed himself to heavy enemy fire” to help rescue another SEAL who had been shot in the leg, according to the citation. Monsoor kept firing at insurgents while he and another SEAL dragged their wounded comrade to safety. They loaded him on a Humvee and returned to the fight.
Navy SEAL Chris Kyle
His fellow SEAL, Chris Kyle, no doubt fired fewer rounds. But the secret Silver Star citation that belongs to him shows that in Ramadi from April 24 to Aug. 27, 2006, “he personally accounted for 91 confirmed enemy fighters killed and dozens more probably killed or wounded.” “Chris Kyle, among them, racked up some pretty heavy-duty numbers there,” MacFarland said. he citation refers to Ramadi as the “epicenter of al Qaeda and insurgent activity in Iraq,” and Kyle’s “heroic actions, professionalism and incredible sniper skills” in seizing key areas of the city. Over the summer of 2006, he was credited with saving the lives of U.S. and Iraqi troops with his rifle through “enemy rocket-propelled grenade and mortar teams eliminated, five enemy snipers with scoped weapons eliminated, and dozens of insurgent fighters destroyed.” Kyle was portrayed by actor Bradley Cooper in American Sniper, the 2014 movie based on his autobiography. Kyle was killed in 2013 by a veteran he had been mentoring at a shooting range in Texas.
“I lost about 100 soldiers, marines and SEALs in a nine-month period and hundreds more wounded, close to 600,” MacFarland said. Heroism had become so commonplace, he said, that he had grown numb to it over 15 months of fighting. “I would tell you one of my biggest regrets as a brigade commander is that I didn’t push harder for more valor citations for my marines and soldiers,” he said.
Hostage rescue. In February, President Obama awarded another SEAL, Senior Chief Petty Officer Edward Byers, the Medal of Honor for his acts of courage in shielding an American doctor from his Taliban captors while bullets zipped through the hideout. It was a rare public acknowledgement of SEALs’ heroism, made even more unusual in that Byers belonged to SEAL Team 6, the legendary unit that killed bin Laden. The details of the night of Dec. 8, 2012, were sketched out in the citation for Byers: Taliban gunmen cut down the lead SEAL in the team that assaulted the compound, Petty Officer 1st Class Nicolas Checque, mortally wounding him. Byers followed Checque, tackled one of Dr. Dilip Joseph’s captors and held another with his bare hands, allowing another SEAL to kill the militant. Byers then leaped atop Joseph to protect him from gunfire. At http://bcdownload.gannett.edgesuite.net/militarytimes-mobile/201602/479/44862801001_4777582260001_4777491703001.mp4 can be viewed the Senior Chief’s 8 minutes account of what transpired.
“Given the nature of Ed’s service, there is a lot that we cannot say today,” Obama said at the White House ceremony. “Many of the operational details of his mission remain classified. Many of his teammates cannot be mentioned.” Their names remain secret, but the citations reveal that three teammates of Byers and Cheque received Silver Stars for their “bold initiative, undaunted courage, and complete dedication to duty.”
- The first SEAL, the leader of the assault team, killed several of Joseph’s captors, including the man Byers held with his hands, according to the citation. After the firefight ended, the SEAL organized medical evacuation for his wounded teammate, secured a landing zone and escorted Joseph to the helicopter.
- Realizing Joseph might soon be killed, the second SEAL charged into the compound amid gunfire. “Displaying calm tactical prowess under fire, he immediately moved down his wall and engaged an armed enemy combatant, while calling out to the hostage.” His help of Byers in protecting Joseph was “pivotal” to the rescue.
- The third SEAL burst into the compound under fire and dragged out Checque for emergency first aid. He bounded back and cut down the last of Joseph’s captors who was pointing a gun at Byers and the hostage. The citation credits him with saving Joseph’s life and those of his teammates.
[Source: USA TODAY | Tom Vanden Brook | May 16, 2016 ++]
Discharge & Examination Processing Update 01 ► ADSEP Policy Change
To protect Sailors and Marines suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI) or any other diagnosed mental health condition, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has made his department the first in the military to assure such conditions are considered before separating a service member. Previously a service member’s misconduct took precedence over diagnosed mental health conditions when considering separation, which impacted the veteran’s ability to receive benefits. Now, if it contributed to the misconduct, the medical condition will take precedence. Effective immediately, Sailors and Marines being processed for any type of involuntary administrative separation (ADSEP) who have a diagnosed mental health condition may be referred into the Disability Evaluation System.
Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Ray Mabus 1 JUN signing of the Administrative
Separation (ADSEP) policy
Additionally, if the Sailor or Marine is being administratively processed under provisions that authorize a characterization of service of other than honorable, the case must be referred to the first general officer/flag officer in the chain of command for a final determination. Any service member previously separated under similar circumstances may also petition to have their discharge reviewed through either the discharge review board or Board for Correction of Naval Records (BCNR). “It is one of the great maxims of naval history that Sailors and Marines are the sea services’ greatest advantage and most important asset. For more than a decade, we’ve asked a tremendous amount of our people and their families,” Mabus said. “In turn, we have a responsibility to support their needs, whether they are serving the Navy and Marine Corps mission around the globe or transitioning from uniformed service to civilian life.”
Mabus signed the new policy into effect during a visit to the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at the NYU Langone Medical Center, a Cohen Veterans Network (CVN) clinic in New York. CVN describes its mission as striving “to improve the quality of life for veterans and their families, including Guard and Reserve, by working to strengthen mental health outcomes and complement existing support, with a particular focus on post-traumatic stress.” “Keeping faith with veterans under all circumstances is our solemn vow,” said Mabus. “It is vitally important to address those service members whose separation is a result of PTSD/TBI. Mabus later in the day formally announced the policy signing at an event hosted by the Veterans on Wall Street (VOWS) initiative. For more information on the Naval Discharge Review Board, visit www.secnav.navy.mil/mra/CORB/pages/ndrb/default.aspx. [Source: http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=94996 | June 1, 2016 ++]
BAH ► Senate Plan To Overhaul Troops’ Housing Stipends in NDAA
Military advocates are baffled over a Senate plan to overhaul troops’ housing stipends, saying the change appears unneeded and potentially crippling to family finances. “We view Basic Allowance for Housing as an earned benefit, and we don’t agree with trying to reduce that benefit,” said Michael Barron, deputy director of government relations at the Military Officers Association of America. “This is not just frivolous money being spent by troops.” Included in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s draft of the annual defense authorization bill are plans to overhaul how BAH is paid out troops. Instead of flat fees based on rank and ZIP code, the new system would refund only what troops pay out in rent and utilities costs, stopping troops from pocketing leftover stipends if they find cheaper housing.
The Defense Department opposes the idea, calling the housing stipends part of troops’ larger compensation package. But Senate officials say the change could save the department tens of millions while still providing adequate housing benefits for troops. Both Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) have amendments which would strip the BAH changes out of the measure when it reaches the Senate floor next week. Outside critics support that move. “If it isn’t broke, don’t try and fix it,” said Kelly Hruska, government relations director for the National Military Family Association. “The [Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission] looked at this issue last year, and they found the system wasn’t perfect, but it works.”
Michael Little, director of legislative affairs for the Association of the United States Navy, said the Senate plan still has too many unanswered questions, such as how utilities costs will be calculated into the new housing stipend and how exactly the change will impact family finances. “We should be trying to find ways to keep men and women interested in the military,” he said. “But by putting restraints on them and taking away pay and benefits, we are making the military a place where morale is low and retention is even lower. “Our government should want to find a way to make the military a career decision for more Americans. Cutting benefits will not do that.” House lawmakers did not include the change in their draft legislation. If the proposal passes the Senate, a conference committee with lawmakers from both chambers will have to work out a compromise in coming months. [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane | June 5, 2016 ++]
USAF Drones ► Everyday Part of the War Machine
When U.S. drones obliterated a car carrying Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour last month, it was the kind of targeted killing that unmanned aircraft are best known for. But 15 years after a drone first fired missiles in combat, the U.S. military’s drone program has expanded far beyond specific strikes to become an everyday part of the war machine. Now, from control booths in the United States and bases around the Middle East, Afghanistan and parts of Africa, drone crews are flying surveillance missions and providing close air support for troops on the ground. “In the wars we fight, this is the future,” said drone pilot Lieutenant Shaw, as he stood in a hangar at the Air Force’s drone base in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar. Crews spoke to Reuters on condition that only their first names and rank be used to identify them.
The increased use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in a wide range of battle applications comes as the United States looks to reduce the number of soldiers fighting abroad. The U.S. military declined to provide statistics breaking down drone activity into types of missions, but dozens of interviews with people working in the secretive programs show UAVs have become an integral tool on the battlefield. That is likely to raise further objections from critics who say drones often miss their intended targets, can only partly relay what is happening on the ground and encourage warfare with impunity waged by people at computer screens far from danger.
U.S. airmen prepare a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone as it leaves on a mission at Kandahar
Air Field, Afghanistan March 9, 2016.
In Afghanistan, the United States has around 9,800 troops left and plans to cut the level to 5,500 by early 2017. At its peak a few years ago, the U.S. military had around 100,000 soldiers there, yet the dramatic decrease does not mean the conflict is winding down. In fact, the Taliban insurgency is as potent now as at any time since 2001. As part of its expanding program, the Air Force aims to double the number of drone squadrons over the next five years. Even some proponents, like retired Lieutenant Colonel T. Mark McCurley, a former Air Force drone pilot, say over reliance on remote killing and electronic intelligence has hurt efforts on the ground. “Too often, remotely piloted aircraft are being used as a tool to wantonly kill individuals, rather than as one of many tools to capture and shut down whole terrorist networks,” he said.
Central to the shift toward remote operations is Afghanistan, where weak local forces, a dwindling troop presence and rugged terrain have made it something of a testing ground. Drones there log up to eight times as many flight hours as the few remaining manned fighter aircraft. They also release more weapons than conventional aircraft, Reuters reported in April. For the first time, the top Air Force general in the country was trained as a drone pilot before he deployed, a move he said reflected the importance of unmanned aircraft in the broader military mission. “Our airmen are flying persistent intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and strike missions all across Afghanistan,” Major General Jeff Taliaferro told Reuters in Kabul, referring to the drone program. “They’re performing everything from counterterrorism to base defense, and really it’s a capability a lot of our missions have come to rely on.” The latest generation of drones carries more and bigger weapons and an expanding payload of hi-tech sensors designed to handle a wider range of missions for the conventional military. The number of hours flown by the Air Force’s newest attack drone, the MQ-9 Reaper, more than doubled globally between 2010 and 2015, to nearly as many hours as F-16 fighter jets, according to statistics from the Air Force Safety Center.
In a plan announced late last year, the Air Force proposed roughly $3 billion in funding to expand its attack drone force further, adding 75 of the latest Reaper aircraft. It already fields at least 93 Reapers and 150 of the older MQ-1 Predators, both built by General Atomics, as well as 33 much larger Global Hawk surveillance UAVs, manufactured by Northrop Grumman. The U.S. Army also operates a fleet of roughly 130 MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft, an upgraded version of the Predator, and all military services have thousands of smaller, mostly unarmed surveillance drones. One challenge for the U.S. military is recruiting enough staff to operate a growing fleet and expanding range of roles. As many as 3,500 new personnel may be added to a workforce of roughly 1,700 pilots and sensor operators in a bid to expand the program and relieve stress and overwork, according to proposals released by the Air Force’s Air Combat Command.
While Afghan missions are flown via satellite link by pilots at bases in the United States, aircraft take off and land under the control of crews deployed to the airfields in Afghanistan. As a steady procession of Reapers rolled down the runways and into the bright Afghan sky, operators at Kandahar described life in one of the fastest-changing sectors of the military. “My old job was going away, while this field is rapidly expanding,” said Captain Bryan, a pilot who used to fly KC-135 refueling aircraft. Kandahar’s role as a drone center in Afghanistan brings the drone full circle.
Fifteen years ago, a U.S. drone made history over Kandahar when it fired the first weapon deployed by unmanned aircraft in combat, during a failed attempt to kill then-Taliban leader Mullah Omar in the first days of the U.S.-led operation that ousted the hardline Islamists from power. On its way back to base, the drone fired its second missile at Kandahar airfield, then suspected of being occupied by Taliban and al Qaeda fighters. At the height of the NATO coalition mission, Kandahar, which is also a civilian airport, hosted a range of military aircraft including F-16 fighter jets and C-130 cargo planes. Now, the only attack aircraft deployed here are about two dozen drones. Squeezed into sand-colored shipping containers just off the tarmac, pilots and sensor operators flip through checklists amid an array of monitors, touch screens, radio consoles and a secret chat system with which they talk to pilots in the United States.
At the beginning of the year, the squadron at Kandahar began flying new, extended-range Reapers, usually carrying four Hellfire missiles, one 500 lb GBU-12 bomb and an external fuel tank under the wings. That load has allowed the aircraft to be used for more than just hunting individuals, including close air support for troops fighting on the ground.
Almost 8,000 miles away, pilots sitting at another sun-bleached desert base, this time in the United States, are among the crews that take over a few minutes after takeoff and guide the aircraft during the mission. Sitting in dark, air-conditioned booths at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, pilots and sensor operators work closely with large teams of intelligence analysts who sift streams of real-time data transmitted by the drones on the other side of the planet. While air strikes often grab the headlines, the vast majority of missions in Afghanistan involve hours of mind-numbing surveillance and intelligence gathering, crews say. The most revolutionary aspect of unmanned aircraft, crews add, is the combination of weapons and surveillance capabilities, which often provide more information than analysts can process. At Creech, crews handle nearly half of all the Air Force’s 60 global drone flights on any given day. “For us it’s anything but a video game,” said Captain Tim, a pilot based at Creech, addressing one of the main criticisms leveled at the drone program. “From here you’re having an impact on the battlefield.” [Source: Reuters | Andahar, Afghanistan/Creech Air Force Base, Nevada | Josh Smith | June 7, 2016 ++]
USAF Strategy ► Air Superiority 2030 Flight Plan
The U.S. Air Force has just released its latest official strategy for controlling the sky for the next 15 years. And for the first time in generations, the “air-superiority” plan doesn’t necessarily include a new fighter jet. That’s right—the world’s leading air force, the operator of the world’s biggest and most sophisticated fleet of fighter planes, isn’t currently planning on developing a major new fighter. The Air Force may be getting the F-35—its current fighter. But it probably won’t get an F-36 any time soon. And that’s a real shame for fans of thunderous air shows and Hollywood blockbusters. The Air Force has a plan to replace its traditional fighters, but it involves technology that’s not as impressive at a public event or on the silver screen.
The U.S. Air Force May Have Just Built Its Last Fighter Jet
Instead of deploying squadrons of supersonic, manned jets to directly battle enemy planes with missiles and guns—the traditional approach to air superiority—in 2030 the Air Force will wage aerial warfare with a “family of capabilities,” according to the “Air Superiority 2030 Flight Plan” strategy document which is available for review at http://www.af.mil/Portals/1/documents/airpower/Air%20Superiority%202030%20Flight%20Plan.pdf. These capabilities could include hackers who can target an enemy’s aerial command-and-control systems, electronic jammers to blind rival planes’ sensors, and new B-21 stealth bombers that can, in theory, destroy enemy aircraft on the ground before they can even take off. The closest thing to a new fighter jet that the strategy document mentions is a so-called penetrating counterair system, or PCA, that can fight or sneak its way into enemy air space to find, and ultimately help destroy, other planes.
That’s what today’s F-15 and F-22 fighters do—and what the F-35 might do, once it finally overcomes vexing technical problems and becomes combat-ready. But with Russian- and Chinese-made air defenses steadily growing more sophisticated, the U.S. Air Force isn’t assuming that existing or future fighters will be able to keep up for very long. “Advanced air and surface threats are spreading to other countries around the world,” the strategy notes. In other words, more and more countries are getting fighters, radars, and surface-to-air missiles that can reliably shoot down American planes. In the direst scenario, Air Force fighters simply won’t survive over enemy territory long enough to make any difference during a major war. In that case, the penetrating counterair system, or PCA, might not be a fighter jet as we currently understand it. Instead, it could be a radar-evading drone whose main job is to slip undetected into enemy air space and use sophisticated sensors to detect enemy planes—and then pass that targeting data via satellite back to other U.S. forces. “A node in the network,” is how the strategy document describes the penetrating system’s main job.
The Air Force could start work on the penetrating counterair system in 2017, according to the new air-superiority plan. The document proposes that this possible stealth drone could team up with an “arsenal plane”—an old bomber or transport plane modified to carry potentially hundreds of long-range missiles. Flying safely inside friendly territory, the arsenal plane could lob huge numbers of munitions over a long distance to overwhelm enemy defense and wipe out aircraft on the ground and in the air—all without a single American pilot risking his or her life on the aerial front line. Not coincidentally, the Pentagon announced early this year that its Rapid Capabilities Office, a secretive research-and-development organization based in Virginia, had begun work on an arsenal plane, possibly a modified B-52 bomber. The drone-arsenal-plane combo could prove devastatingly effective. But it’s also a kind of bandaid on a self-inflicted technological wound. The Air Force needs upgraded older planes because its new planes are late and over-budget—and, as a result, dangerously close to being obsolete despite still having that new-car smell.
Besides being progressively outclassed by fast-improving enemy defenses, America’s fighters have proved increasingly expensive and difficult to develop, buy, and maintain. A single new F-35, currently the Air Force’s only in-production fighters, costs no less than $150 million—tens of millions of dollars more than the older planes it’s replacing. In development since the late 1990s, the F-35—which bakes pricey new sensors and computers into a complex airframe—could finally become operational with the Air Force in late 2016. Budget woes and problems with the engine and software have delayed the plane’s introduction by no less than 10 years.
In order to have any hope of hanging on to the very idea of a fighter jet in 2030 and beyond, the Air Force must rethink its approach to developing planes. The service “must reject thinking focused on ‘next-generation’ platforms,” the air-superiority plan advises. “Such focus often creates a desire to push technology limits within the confines of a formal program… Pushing those limits in a formal program increases risk to unacceptable levels, resulting in cost growth and schedule slips.” Instead, the strategy documents recommend that the Air Force separate airplane-development from the invention of new electronics. The military could develop new weapons, sensors, and communications technologies like commercial firms devise consumer products—quickly and incrementally updating a piece of equipment in order to minimize delays and keep down costs. The Air Force could then add this rapidly-improving new gear to a basic airframe whose own development could proceed at a much slower pace. Instead of buying more than 1,700 identical F-35s over a period of 30 years—that’s the Air Force’s current plan—the flying branch could acquire a slightly-improved new plane model every year. Same fuselage, wings, and engines. New electronics and weapons.
Just like Apple releases a new, slightly better version of the iPhone every year or so, the Air Force could get a small batch of new jets on an annual basis, each batch possessing that year’s best tech. An incremental approach to buying jets could help prolong the fighter’s usefulness in the Air Force’s arsenal. But even that won’t solve the fundamental problem America’s air arm faces at it looks ahead 15 years. Rivals have caught up to U.S. air power, and could soon make it impossible for American fighter jets—and their pilots—to survive over enemy terrain. For that reason, the Air Force is far more likely to simply replace fighters with drones. True, air shows and movies could get a lot more boring. But the fighter’s demise could keep U.S. pilots from throwing away their lives on aerial suicide missions. [Source: The Daily Beast | David Axe | June 6, 2016 ++]
Sea Wasp ► Mine Hunting Underwater Robot
Most of the machines developed to help navies hunt the stealthy underwater predators called mines require a big crew and a ship or helicopter, which is why the U.S. military is excited about a two-person underwater robot that weighs less than 200 pounds. The Saab Waterborne Anti-IED Security Platform, or SEA WASP, is a small remote-operated drone outfitted with an electric arm, sonar, and radar to collect information on where it is and what’s around it. A mine-hunting drone may not sound that advanced compared to space planes and autonomous swarming vessels, but it actually represents a real technological feat. The WASP weighs just 90 kilos, light enough to be carried to by two people. It’s hard to get a machine that light to stay in one place to probe for mines against underwater currents.
The US military has been looking for an underwater bomb disposal robot for years. It finally has one
“One of the reasons we selected Saab,” said Ed Bundy, who works for the of Pentagon’s Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office, or CTTSO. “They were the only company that actually told us this was a really hard problem.” The Navy’s explosive ordnance disposal, or EOD, community is particularly interested, said Bundy. “Low visibility is a problem wherever the Navy EOD guys work,” he said at the Navy League’s Sea Air Space conference.
SAAB began marketing the machine just after Christmas and so far has sold three to various government bodies in the United States but has seen “huge interest worldwide” according to Bert Johansson, Saab’s director of unmanned underwater vehicle systems. Mines are a devilishly hard problem to solve. A 2002 study from the University of California, Berkeley, found that just a few mines could be an enormous problem for the United States, potentially bringing shipping to a halt and costing tens of billions in lost revenue. And of the 19 U.S. warships heavily damaged or sunk by enemies since World War II, 15 were the victims of mines. [Source: Defense One | Patrick Tucker | May 17, 2016 ++]
Dover Port Mortuary ► Among the Dead: My Years in the Port Mortuary
The quiet pace of working at Dover Port Mortuary ended for John Harper when hijackers crashed a Boeing 757 passenger jet into the Pentagon on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Memories of the moments that followed remain vivid for Harper, who was an Air Force dental technician. The rush of helicopters. Black body bags stacked everywhere. The stench of death. “We didn’t go into combat,” Harper said. “Combat came to us.” Since that day, the remains of those killed at the Pentagon and nearly 7,000 killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere around the globe have arrived at Dover Air Force Base, Del., to be identified and turned over to their families. Harper, now 54 and living in Haines City, said it was an honor reuniting the fallen with their families, but it came at a high cost.
Those who work in the morgue endure the unseen wounds of war, Harper said. Posttraumatic stress disorder. Hypervigilance, a debilitating state of constant alert. In some cases, heavy drinking and marital discord. For Harper, Memorial Day is far more than time off, grilled food, beach balls and price-slashing. “Memorial Day is a very sacred, sacred time,” he said. Harper worked at Dover from 2001 until the end of 2002, when he was transferred to South Korea. He came back in 2004 and stayed through the end of 2005. Harper didn’t work on every body that came in. But during his time at the mortuary, about 1,900 troops came to Dover for identification and autopsies, according to Pentagon records.
The pressure to get things right and handle each body with dignity, he said, was compounded by the nature of the work. He and his team used digital X-ray equipment to record the dental structures of the deceased, which would be used by forensics experts to match dental records taken of everyone in the service. Sometimes the bodies were intact. Often they weren’t. “They would come in terribly beaten up,” he said. “Or burned. Or fragmented. Or squished. Bad stuff.” Seeing his fellow troops like that took its toll, Harper said, adding that while never diagnosed, he has suffered from the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder. “Probably there were times when I was drinking too much,” Harper said. “A lot of times, I was exhausted. Not from the drinking, but if we had a big contingency, like after 9/11 when it was 12, 14 hours a day for three weeks in a row.” Harper’s colleagues suffered, too.
- Summer Chamberlain, 36, was at Dover between 2000 and 2004, until the stress became too much. “I was becoming too emotionally withdrawn,” said Chamberlain, now an Air Force technical sergeant and a recruiter in Newburgh, N.Y. “Everything was depressing.”
- From 2004 to 2006, Heather Barone was a senior airman, working at Dover as a dental technician. Familiar odors can trigger sad memories of that time. “Any time I had to deal with burn victims, it was something that cannot be unseen or unsmelled,” said Barone, 35, now a technical sergeant with the Air National Guard and living in Monroeville, Pa. Eating charred meats is difficult, she said, because their texture can also bring back those memories.
- Ed Anderson, a retired Air Force technical sergeant who worked on the dental team from 2000 to 2006, said his marriage fell apart and he is overly protective of his children as a result of seeing so many bodies. “There was no time to mentally process,” Anderson said. “You were almost on robot mode the whole time. We could have anywhere from one or two bodies a day to 30 or 40, if it was a long day.” After a while, the shock wore off, said Anderson, 49, who still lives in Dover. “My biggest challenge was trying to avoid the news. Trying to avoid putting a name with the body.”
But the bodies have names. Army Spc. Corey Kowall was 20 when he was killed in Afghanistan on Sept. 20, 2009. The Humvee he had been riding in rolled over. His right arm was sliced off and his left leg was nearly severed, said his mother, who lives in Apollo Beach. There was also head trauma. Days after learning about her son’s death, Kelly Kowall went to Dover Air Force Base. She arrived for a dignified transfer — when a flag-draped metal case is taken off the airplane. But she wasn’t allowed to see her son’s body, or, as a safety precaution, to even touch the case. Kowall asked if the morgue would be able to make a positive ID on her son’s arm so it could be reattached for his burial. If not, it would have to be cremated separately. She also asked to have an open casket at her son’s funeral.
Dover personnel couldn’t initially answer either question. She later learned that officials there, knowing how badly she wanted an open casket, assigned two morticians to the case. Three days before the body was due to be flown to Tennessee for burial, she was told that they had identified her son’s arm. They could reattach it for the service. “We were very grateful,” said Kowall, 58, who now runs My Warrior’s Place, a Ruskin-based retreat for service members, first-responders and their families. It was one thing to know that her son would come home intact, Kowall said. But she wanted to see his body just to make sure it was him. “You hope that there is some miracle and that they got the identification wrong,” she said. A few days after getting the call from Dover, she would get the chance to see for herself. “I knew my son had been through a lot of trauma,” she said. “I steeled myself for the worst.”
It was pouring on the morning of Sept. 28, 2009, as people lined up along the roads of Smyrna, Tenn., to pay respects to a young soldier most of them never knew. Kowall and her ex-husband, C.J. Kowall, waited in the hangar for the airplane that was carrying Corey. “We didn’t know what we were going to see,” Kowall said. When the casket arrived, the funeral director called over the parents. Were they sure they wanted to look inside? “We both said yes,” Kowall said. And with that, she and her ex, a bassist who plays country music, held their breaths. The casket was opened. Corey Kowall was in his dress blues. His mother said he looked like he was sleeping. “I broke down and started crying,” Kowall said. “He looked better than I thought he was going to look. I was so grateful they had done such a good job.”
John Harper remembers the last X-ray. It came in late 2005, when he examined a young woman killed in action. He doesn’t want to share the details of who she was or what happened, but Harper said she was his last one. “Here was this young kid who enlisted after the war started,” Harper said. “All she wanted to do is serve her country and she was going home in a box.” Harper said he is not sure why the woman had this effect. “I did the exam, got her taken care of and identified, then I went back to the locker room and just sat there until everyone else was gone and I cleared out my locker and left.”
The pain has eased with the passage of time, Harper said. In July, he starts a doctoral program in organizational leadership at Southeastern University in Lakeland. “I might want to teach,” he said. But trying to explain what he and his team went through has been a challenge, Harper said. He and his co-workers didn’t dare to seek out the help from counselors and chaplains who were available at the Dover base to provide mental and spiritual help. “We didn’t want to admit we were having untoward thoughts or struggling in any way while on active duty,” he said. “There was a stigma of mental health in the military.” Harper didn’t even talk about his job with his wife, Mary, or his son, Jeremy, who was 12 on 9/11. “I thought I was hiding it well,” he said. “It’s hard to talk to anyone who doesn’t know firsthand what happened. I couldn’t expect my family to comfort me.”
To honor the fallen and those who helped identify and prepare them for burial, Harper wrote Among the Dead: My Years in the Port Mortuary. The self-published book was released on Amazon this month. “I am hoping it will help somebody whose son or daughter was killed so they at least know we took care of them as well as we could,” he said. Harper said that writing the book, and reaching out to the men and women he worked with for their memories, was also cathartic. “It was very helpful, talking to them again and knowing I was having feelings similar to theirs,” said Harper, who now works as a drug abuse counselor in Lakeland. “I know how bad I feel. The families have to feel a thousand times worse than me.”
About four or five months ago, Harper said, he gave his wife and son copies of his manuscript. Mary, the daughter of a battle-hardened Marine who fought in Korea and Vietnam, had an idea of her husband’s struggles, but not the grim details about why. Harper said his son, himself an Army veteran, is still processing what he read. Harper said he hopes the book will find an audience outside the military so that more people will understand the sacrifice that Memorial Day is supposed to commemorate. “A whole lot of people don’t really understand how important this day is,” Harper said. “We should all take time to reflect on it and be thankful for what we have.” [Source: Tampa Tribune | Howard Altman | May 30, 2016 ++]
NDAA 2017 Update 11 ► JLENS Survival Doubtful
The four congressional committees that deal with the defense budget and spending have virtually nailed the coffin shut on the Army’s legendary runaway blimp program. While three of the committees left some spare change in the program, presumably to close it out, the Senate Appropriations Committee took the most severe route, zeroing out funding for the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) in its fiscal 2017 spending bill approved 26 MAY. The prospects of JLENS’ survival has looked grimmer as each panel preceding the Senate Appropriations Committee cut most of the program’s funding in their respective bills.
The House Armed Services Committee dealt the first blow, leaving only $2.5 million of the $45 million President Barack Obama requested in the 2017 defense budget in its version of the defense policy bill. The House version of the National Defense Authorization Act passed last week. Then the House Appropriations Committee followed suit, but with a less punishing punch, leaving $11 million in the JLENS account. The Senate Armed Services cut the program by $41 million citing a “change in program requirement” in its version of the policy bill. The full Senate has yet to pass the NDAA. The nearly unanimous lack of funding for the program spells death for JLENS, which comes as no surprise as congressional support for the blimp has tanked since the Raytheon-made tethered aerostat broke free from its mooring in Maryland and floated into Pennsylvania, dragging its tether and causing several power outages before it landed in a field and state troopers open fired on the blimp to speed up its deflation.
The Army supports continuing the program and tried to get additional funding to keep the aerostat, capable of tracking swarming boats and vehicles as well as cruise missiles, floating above Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. The service asked for $27.2 million in a reprogramming document to continue the JLENS system’s three-year operational exercise on track but was quickly shot down by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Congress cut most of JLENS’ funding in 2016 too. The lack of funding in 2016 means the Army has to store the system this year rather than continue its operational exercise meant to determine whether JLENS should be fielded and additional systems should be procured. The answer from Congress seems to be a resounding no. [Source: Defense News | Jen Judson | May 28, 2016 ++]
Navy Ink ► One of Fleet Week’s Best Tattoo Selections
[Source: Military Times | Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory | May 31, 2016++]
Clinton Military Family Plan ► Policy Paper | 23-Point Agenda
As commander-in-chief, Hillary Clinton says she will mandate more flexibility in service members’ family leave time, increase access to military child care, and encourage more consideration of families’ preferences and needs in duty assignments, according to a policy paper released by her campaign 30 MAY. Her 23-point “Military Families Agenda” is unusual in its specificity about policies aimed at not just service members but their dependents, a topic that typically gets only passing mention at the national presidential campaign level. Clinton’s campaign provided Military Times with an advance copy of the document. Clinton, the former secretary of State and frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, spells out in the document that supporting military families “helps our nation attract and retain the most talented service members” and is “vital to the strength of our military and the health of our nation.” Among her plans are:
- A promise of “enhanced gratuity payments” to families of service members killed on duty and an expansion of mental health care resources for the military community.
- To make President Barack Obama’s Joining Forces initiative a permanent part of the White House executive office. The campaign, launched in 2011, is designed to raise awareness of military families’ sacrifices and challenges, and has focused in recent years on military spouse unemployment.
- Initiate a standing council on service members, veterans and military families to coordinate various agencies’ efforts “to best meet the needs” of those groups. That will include an annual report on “anything from schooling to housing to health care to deployment support.”
The military family leave policies outlined in the report build off ideas proposed by Defense Secretary Ash Carter in recent years, many of which have sputtered in Congress. Clinton wants to make service career intermission programs permanent, allowing troops and their families to “take a knee” to care for ailing family members or explore additional education opportunities. The proposals also detail including “life-cycle and family considerations in permanent moves, by institutionalizing flexibility into the permanent moves system.” That policy could help dual-military couples looking to stay together, and potentially minimize the number of school changes for children of career troops.
Other rule changes could come from a series of town hall meetings between senior White House leaders, Defense Department officials and family members. If elected, Clinton plans to hold the events at military bases nationwide early in her presidency. “This tour will include meetings with a diverse set of military families, including those with and without children, dual-military couples, and LGBT couples as well as coordination with state governors to incorporate key issues from National Guard service members and their families,” the paper states. The campaign is also promising to boost support for Defense Department schools, public schools with large numbers of military children, and veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill to attend college.
Clinton has provided a 5½ page briefing at https://www.hillaryclinton.com/briefing/factsheets/2016/05/31/hillary-clintons-military-families-agenda on her campaign website focused on improving military families’ access to education, employment, childcare, and health care. The Clinton campaign also has separate fact sheet at https://www.hillaryclinton.com/briefing/factsheets/2015/11/11/supporting-our-veterans-troops-and-their-families that outlines her platform on veterans and the Veterans Affairs Department. [Source: USA TODAY | Oriana Pawlyk | May 14, 2016 ++]
Battle of Midway Update 01 ► Code Breakers Honored
The more than 100 U.S. Navy intelligence code-breakers who played a key role in the World War II victory against Japan were honored in ceremonies at Pearl Harbor on 6 JUN, the 74th anniversary of the Battle of Midway. Sworn to secrecy, most of the code-breakers never received public recognition during their lifetime. “That honor was being denied them while they were doing their work here,” said Capt. Dale C. Rielage, director of intelligence and information at the Pacific Fleet. A commemoration was held before news cameras at Building 1, also known as Station HYPO, where the intelligence unit worked in secret in the basement, intercepting and interpreting Japanese communications during the war. The basement is now used mainly as a storage area.
The Battle of Midway, June 4-6, 1942, is viewed by many historians as the key turning point in the war against Japan because the United States was able to cripple Japan’s carrier fleet and halt its expansion in the Pacific. The battle resulted in the destruction of four Japanese carriers and 256 aircraft and the deaths of more than 2,204 Japanese sailors and aviators. The U.S., by comparison, lost one carrier, 150 aircraft and 307 men, according to the Navy. “That broke the back of Japanese naval aviation,” said Brad Sekigawa, historian at the Naval Air Museum at Barbers Point. After the battle, he said, the Japanese lacked a sufficient number of experienced personnel to develop its naval fleet. Burl Burlingame, historian at the Pacific Aviation Museum, said the Battle of Midway showed that, contrary to some who felt naval destroyers were the primary weapons in battle in WWII, carriers and aircraft could also play a pivotal role. He said in the battle, U.S. dive bombers were able to penetrate the Japanese defenses.
Before the battle got underway, the Pearl Harbor- based intelligence unit, led by Cmdr. Joseph J. Rochefort, knew Japan was mounting naval forces at a place called “AF” and suspected that AF was Midway but needed to confirm the location, Rielage said. Rochefort’s combat intelligence unit had the naval station at Midway send an unencrypted message noting that Midway’s desalinization unit wasn’t working. Days later the combat intelligence unit intercepted a Japanese message that mentioned the desalinization unit wasn’t working at AF, confirming that Japanese forces were mounting an attack at Midway.
Rielage said through the 1940s and the early 1950s, not even the official naval historian was aware of the code-breakers’ role in the Battle of Midway. The Navy declassified some information about the code-breakers at Pearl Harbor in the 1970s as a film about the Battle of Midway was being produced, and declassified all the information in the 1980s. Rochefort, who died in 1976, was posthumously awarded a Distinguished Service Medal in 1985 and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1986. [Source: The Honolulu Star-Advertise | Gary T. Kubota | June 7, 2016 ++]
ACTUV Update 02 ► Largest Unmanned Ship in the World
Part trimaran and part robot, this odd-shaped ship is an unusual fit at the naval pier. What’s even more unusual is this self-driving vessel is designed to travel thousands of miles through the ocean and conduct its mission without a single crew member on board. At 132 feet long, the Sea Hunter is a prototype of the largest unmanned ship in the world and Navy officials are now looking at the sea drone’s potential to revolutionize fleet operations. It is light, relatively cheap as far as warships go and can get to places that until now required human exposure, making it an appealing option for risky missions such as trailing a submarine or probing for mines at sea. And, with a price tag of $23 million for the prototype, it was far more expendable than a $1 billion battleship.
The Navy’s largest unmanned vessel prototype, the Sea Hunter, sits at the pier in
San Diego where it will undergo testing for the next two years.
“The fleet the Navy has today is a bit like playing chess, where all the pieces are kings and queens,” said Scott Littlefield, who leads the program to develop this ship at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. “So you have these extremely capable but very valuable platforms and you can’t afford to lose any of them. In a sense, what were are doing is developing something more like a pawn. You can have much more of them. You can afford to lose them.” “It just opens up possibilities — about how you configure a Navy and how you fight — that are different than what we have today,” he added.
Known officially as the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel, or ACTUV, the program started in 2010 when creative minds at the defense innovations lab decided to look at what could be done with a large unmanned surface vessel and came up with submarine tracking and trailing. Until then, the Navy had been doing lots of work with smaller, unmanned sea vehicles that were meant to be launched from larger manned warships. Wouldn’t it be cool, they thought, if they could make something bigger, that could be launched from the pier and traverse the seas on its own for long periods of time. So, instead of the 10-ton, 40-foot vessels that the Navy was launching off its Littoral Combat Ships, they developed this 145-ton automated ship that they could load with sensors and fuel pumps and send from San Diego to Guam – some 10,000 nautical miles, without a crew.
“So you get away from this idea of small things carried around inside a warship, to a future architecture that is really more a mixture of a manned-unmanned fleet,” Littlefield said. “High-end manned vessels that are really capable but we have in limited numbers, augmented by potentially a whole lot of things that are quite a bit smaller but still pretty capable.” Navy brass weren’t asking for a mid-sized surface warfare drone. But DARPA, the Pentagon’s innovation center, isn’t driven by requirements. These scientists are there to come up with “the art of the possible” and spark new ideas, Littlefield said. If they don’t know it’s possible, they aren’t going to ask for it, he said. “Sometimes, we lead the requirements a little bit.”
It made sense for a Navy that operates in tens of millions of square miles of ocean and a need to connect its platforms, said retired Vice Admiral Pete Daly, a former Fleet Forces commander who now leads the U.S. Naval Institute. “The Navy is always looking to extend its coverage,” Daly said. “So now as a service with a strong background in technology and in this environment, it makes sense to have more independent vehicles and autonomous vehicles.” Besides, unmanned is the way of the future, he said. The Navy created a new department for unmanned platforms last year and continues to budget for new drone acquisitions. In 2013, the service launched an unmanned aircraft prototype, the X-47B, from a carrier and, while that program is slow in advancing, there are plans to develop it, a Navy spokesman said.
Similarly, the Navy is investing in unmanned underwater vehicles and has requested nearly $68 million in the 2017 budget for an ongoing program and an additional $634 million for creating new prototypes, said Lt. Kara Yingling, a Navy spokeswoman. “The Navy has identified many values of unmanned warfare systems, such as reducing risk to human life, increasing situational awareness, survivability and lethality and bringing capabilities into previously inaccessible areas,” she said. “We strongly believe we are making the right investments and recognize our systems will evolve over time and enable future unmanned and optionally manned programs.” So DARPA set out to create a vessel to track submarines, went about designing the ship and it’s automated software, and then bringing Navy leadership on board to see if they liked what they saw. Ultimately, they did, but thought it could be useful in different missions, such as mine sweeping.
The big challenge – and one that commercial and military industries alike were watching – was not related to programming the ship for missions. Rather it was more basic – making an automated vessel at sea capable of driving safely, Littlefield said. If the ship couldn’t follow the international regulations for preventing collisions at sea, known as Colregs, people wouldn’t want to use it, he said. They had to be certain that the ship would not only avoid a collision on the open seas, but obey the protocol for doing so. It needed to recognize which ship had the right of way and which would move – in any number of scenarios. And it needed to behave the way an experienced human mariner would behave, and if not, at least in a way that wouldn’t throw off the other ships. At one point, the ship did obey the rule, but instead of slowing down and going behind the stern of the other vessel, it did a whole loop before going behind the other vessel’s stern, Littlefield said. At first, they tested the system in a lab, then later on a surrogate ship – a small vessel they could use to test the program at sea.
DARPA worked with a company called Leidos to design and construct the ACTUV prototype. The idea behind the trimaran design was a narrow sleek hull that could slice through the water with ease without taking up too much unnecessary space. Inside the main hull are three rooms – a machine room on either end and a center section containing banks of computer racks that are considered the brains of the ship. Here lies the most proprietary part of the Sea Hunter – the only exotic technology on the vessel, Littlefield said. And while the Navy was willing to offer a tour, it did not allow any photographs on or inside the vessel. To stabilize the ship, they designed external cross braces to hold smaller hulls at either side, giving the vessel the kind of stability it would need to navigate the high seas. They used a fiberglass construction technique, using a mold and sandwiching foam core between layers of fiberglass, then vacuuming the air and pouring in resin that would cure and harden within a few hours. There was one mold for the hull, a second for the deck.
After building the prototype in Portland, Ore., the Navy last month towed it to San Diego, where it will undergo two years of testing and software development. The Navy placed a temporary operator house atop the vessel that will allow switching between manual and autonomous operations during testing. It can be removed later. And being in San Diego, next to the fleet, they will have an opportunity to look closely at all the possible missions they can do with it. But Daly warned the Navy was still just scratching the surface with its foray into drone warfare equipment. It’s one thing, he said, to use drone aircraft in conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where the opponent has lower-end technology. But if they all get wiped out in the first face-off with a “high-end” opponent, then the technology is useless. Still, Daly said, he expects the Navy will broadly embrace unmanned technology in the coming years. “In the next decade, we will see in the major warfare areas a pairing of manned and unmanned technology,” he said. “I believe you will see a truly broad acceptance of autonomous vehicles out there, operating on their own and phoning home when they need to.” [Source: Stars and Stripes | Dianna Cahn | June 8, 2016 ++]
MOH Awards Update 05 ► Green Beret Denied | Doing His Job
A Green Beret credited by his command with taking down several enemy and saving hundreds of lives during an ambush in Afghanistan was doing the job expected of a soldier of his caliber — and therefore his actions didn’t meet the standard of the Medal of Honor. This sure-to-be controversial conclusion was drawn by a member of the Senior Army Decorations Board tasked with considering Sgt. 1st Class Earl Plumlee’s nomination for the top valor award, according to a newly released Defense Department Inspector General report. The board member, whose name is redacted, said the bar for obtaining the MoH should be much higher for a senior NCO like Plumlee “versus a private.” “One’s a leader. One’s a Soldier,” the member said, according to the investigation. “And so when I looked at the circumstances and, although the battle was ferocious and unfortunately a couple members were killed, I just thought that it wasn’t a sufficient level for the Medal of Honor based off the individual and the circumstance and that, I just felt that there was an expectation of a leader who did a phenomenal job, that there was something more that [the nominee] needed to have done in order to, in my mind, to make the recommendation for a Medal of Honor.”
Sgt. 1st Class Earl D. Plumlee, right, assigned to 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), is presented the Silver Star by Maj. Gen. Kenneth R. Dahl, I Corps Deputy Commanding General.
This logic is “absolutely insane,” said Joe Kasper, the chief of staff of Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) the Congressman who has lobbied for reconsideration for Plumlee to earn the MoH. “It was another case where Army leadership was trying to be overly-cautious, and in doing so became pessimistic and prejudicial against Plumlee, personally,” Kasper told Army Times. “This underscores the fact that the Army needs to re-examine this.” The three-member board ultimately recommended Plumlee receive a Silver Star for his heroism in the 2013 battle on Forward Operating Base Ghazni. The IG report noted two other reasons the board recommended Plumlee’s award downgrade:
- There were conflicting reports of what happened
- Plumlee wasn’t the only hero that day.
The night of 28 AUG, a car bomb blew a hole in the perimeter wall of FOB Ghazni. Seconds later, 10 insurgents armed with assault rifles and wearing suicide vests poured into the compound. About 10 minutes of intent close-combat ensued as those initially believing they were responding to give first aid to victims ended up taking fire. But thanks to Plumlee and other forces who responded, the insurgents would never reach the more populated parts of the camp. One American, Staff Sgt. Micheal Ollis, and one Polish soldier were killed. Plumlee, at times using a pistol, rifle and hand grenades, “aggressively advanced on the enemy,” according to his citation. He is credited with killing at least three insurgents though he shot more. He also pulled Ollis, who had been mortally wounded, out of enemy fire.
His nomination for the MoH had notable supporters to include Marine Gen. Joseph “Fighting Joe” Dunford and then-Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, now a four-star and the Army’s chief of staff. Former Army Secretary John McHugh and former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, however, supported the board’s recommendation for awarding the Silver Star. Hunter recently petitioned new Army Secretary Eric Fanning, imploring him to reopen Plumlees nomination. “You are in the position to make this right. The Army’s decision to downgrade SFC Plumlee’s nomination for the Medal of Honor is well known in the Special Operations Community — resubmitting his nomination will go a long way to restoring trust and morale among our warfighters at the leading edge of the fight,” Hunter said in a recent letter to Fanning.
The IG findings
Hunter’s campaigning led to the DoD IG investigation, which examined Plumlee’s nomination process and sheds new light on the board’s decision-making.
- One board member noted that Plumlee was one of several personnel who took part in the firefight. He alluded to Ollis, who died shielding a Polish coalition soldier from an explosion. The board member said not all valorous acts meet MoH criteria; he noted that Ollis was posthumously awarded a Silver Star. Several others, U.S. and Polish soldiers, receive Bronze Stars with V and Army Commendation Medals with V for their actions.
- That member also said the two eyewitness statements submitted with the packet didn’t line up with the award narrative, leaving the packet short on its burden of proof. He said the narrative said Plumlee “single-handedly eliminated 3 of 10 insurgents and wounding a 4th” but said these facts were “never mentioned in the eyewitness statements.” “We don’t have incontestable proof and we don’t — we cannot accommodate ‘conspicuous,’” the member said, according to the report.
- The report found flaws in the process for assembling packets to support valor awards; deputy IG Marguerite Garrison described it as “a potential systemic deficiency” in her cover letter for the report. A form often used in Medal of Honor recommendation packets — the same ones used in 15-6 investigations — “might not provide sufficient detail by itself to support an individual’s valor award recommendation.”
- One of the three board members recommended a Distinguished Service Cross, one valor medal below the MoH. That member did not elaborate, and told the IG he didn’t remember the specific reason.
- There had been speculation that Plumlee’s downgrade was related to the fact he was not “politcally correct” enough to serve in the public spotlight as an MoH recipient. Hunter also speculated the board had caught wind Plumlee was investigated for selling a military scope online (he was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing.) Despite these theories, the IG found no evidence either factor contributed to the board’s recommendation.
Army public affairs declined to answer specific questions for this article. “The report speaks for itself,” Army spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said. Plumlee was not immediately available for an interview. [Source: Army Times | Kyle Jahner | June 8, 2016 ++]
Fisher House Expansion Update 14 ► Fort Bragg | Womack AMC
On 10 JUN, officials from the Fisher House Foundation were joined by Womack Army Medical Center to open their new home across from the hospital. The foundation, which provides free housing for families of wounded service members receiving medical care, expects to assist 30,000 families across the country this year. The average time people stay at Fort Bragg’s Fisher home is seven days, officials said. More than 300 families stayed at the home last year. Edwin Robles was a mechanic deployed to Afghanistan in 2013. He was wounded and later suffered a stroke. All the while, his wife Deborah left her Charlotte home to be with him. “I couldn’t even imagine,” she said, describing how their lives would be different without the Fisher House.
The home originally opened on Fort Bragg in 1993. It was the 11th home built by the foundation, which now has 70 homes across the country. The new home is one-story and has 11 suites for guests. It provides more space than the older home and includes handicap-accessible features. David Coker, president of the foundation, said the home allows people to ease their minds from the financial stress of caring for their injured service member and instead focus on helping that person recover. “This house now serves as a tangible symbol of our support, our love and our respect for all those who have selflessly served our country,” he said. “It is this foundation’s goal, in fact, we believe it’s our duty, to create an environment where families can focus solely on the healing process.” For a list of current Fisher house facilities along with contact data refer to http://fisherhouse.org/programs/houses/house-locations. [Source: Fayetteville Observer | Amanda Dolasinski | June 11, 2016 ++]
* Military History *
Hiroshima Update 01 ► Cables Reveal Lead-Up to A-bomb Decision
On Aug. 6, 1945, Maj. Gen. Leslie Groves sent a top secret cable to his superiors in Washington, D.C. In the now declassified cable, Groves, who was in charge of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, described what had happened. “First there was a ball of fire, changing in a few seconds to purple clouds and flames boiling and swirling upward,” he wrote. “Entire city except outmost ends of dock areas was covered with a dark grey dust layer which joined the cloud column.” The results, Groves told Washington, were “clearcut, successful in all respects.”
Maj. Gen. Leslie Groves Hiroshima Aftermath
Groves’ memorandum, not publicly released until decades later, is just one of countless top-secret cables, meeting minutes, memorandums and decrypted Japanese messages sent in the days and weeks leading up to the decision by the U.S. to drop the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. With U.S. President Barack Obama set to visit that city on 27 MAY, the debate over the bomb’s necessity and morality has been rekindled on both sides of the Pacific. The question is often rooted in long-standing media and popular culture-generated conceptions — and misconceptions — about the period and what leaders in Washington and Tokyo were thinking in the fateful weeks leading up to the bombing. It was not until the 1960s that many primary sources about the atomic bomb decision, in the form of declassified U.S. government cables, began to become available. Today, many are stored on the National Security Archive website, offering researchers, professional and amateur, a trove of official documentation about the decision.
On April 27, 1945, as Germany was about to surrender, ending the war in Europe, U.S. military brass and nuclear scientists met in Washington for the first time to discuss the atomic bombing of Japan. Though the weapon was still under development, the meeting’s purpose was to discuss how, when and especially where it should first be dropped. In a top-secret memo of the meeting, eight possible targets — Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Yawata (a steel works area in Kitakyushu) and Nagasaki — were listed, and four — Hiroshima, Yawata, Yokohama and Tokyo — were commented upon. “Hiroshima is the largest untouched target on the 21st Bomber Command priority list. Consideration should be given to this city. Yawata is an area that should be considered … and is on the A priority list (steel industry). Yokohama is lower on the priority list of targets,” the memo said. “Tokyo is a possibility but it is now practically all bombed and burned out, and is practically all rubble with only the palace grounds left standing,” it said, referring to the March 1945 firebombing of Tokyo that killed more than 100,000 people.
By June of that year, the Battle of Okinawa was ending. U.S. leaders were looking ahead to the next step: an invasion of Japan itself. In a June 18, 1945, meeting, U.S. President Harry Truman and the Joint Chiefs of Staff prepared to dispatch over 766,000 troops for an invasion of Kyushu, to commence on 1 NOV. The meeting minutes read: “It seems that if the Japanese are ever willing to capitulate short of complete military defeat in the field they will do it when faced by the completely hopeless prospect occasioned by (1) destruction already wrought by air bombardment and sea blockade, coupled with (2) a landing on Japan indicating the firmness of our resolution, and also perhaps coupled with (3) the entry or threat of entry of Russia in the war.” Among the items discussed that day was whether the U.S. should demand Japan’s unconditional surrender. Adm. William Leahy was against it, saying he feared an insistence on unconditional surrender “would result only in making the Japanese desperate and thereby increase our casualty lists.” No decision was made.
But by the end of July, the testing of the atomic bomb in New Mexico was a success and unconditional surrender had become a firm condition. While Hiroshima remained on the target list, the ancient city of Kyoto was removed, reportedly at the insistence of Secretary of War Henry Stimson, who had honeymooned there. Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence was intercepting messages from the Japanese Foreign Ministry, which had approached the Soviet Union, seeking help to end the war. Japan appeared to be unaware that the Soviets had already decided to declare war once a neutrality pact expired the following month.
- “Tokyo again says no to unconditional surrender; Sato pleads for peace,” said a top-secret cable on July 22, summarizing discussions between the Soviet Union and Japan on July 19.
- “With regard to unconditional surrender … we are unable to consent to it under any circumstances whatever (sic),” Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo was quoted in the decrypted cable memo as telling Ambassador Naotake Sato in Moscow.
Preparations for dropping the bomb accelerated. On July 24, a secret U.S. War Department cable said the Army Air Forces “will deliver the first special bomb as soon as the weather will permit visual bombing after about 3 August 1945 on one of the targets: Hiroshima, Kokura (in Fukuoka Prefecture), Niigata and Nagasaki.” Just under two weeks later on Aug. 6, the decision was made. A top-secret memorandum Groves sent after the bombing stipulated the reason for the choice of location: “The target used was Hiroshima, the one reserved target where there was no indication of any POW camp.” The atomic bomb was then dropped. Negotiations to end the war would continue, with the Soviet Union formally entering the conflict on Aug. 9, the same day the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.
Last year, a diary from a senior U.S. official in 1945 was published. In it, the official said that a few months after the war ended, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who would later become president, said privately he had hoped the war would have ended without the use of nuclear weapons. But on Aug. 13, 1945, with no announcement of surrender from Tokyo, a memo of a phone conversation between Col. L.E. Seaman, an associate of Groves, and Gen. John E. Hull, assistant chief of staff for the War Department’s Operations Division, made it clear more atomic bombs were being prepared for the coming weeks. “You have a possibility of seven, with a good chance of using them prior to the 31st of October,” Seaman said. Two days later, however, on Aug. 15, Japan surrendered unconditionally. The war was over. But as history would show, the debate on the use of atomic weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was just beginning. [Source: Japan Times (Tokyo) | Eric Johnston | May 25, 2016 ++]
WWII Operation Torch ► Excerpted from Battlefield Surgeon
The Second Auxiliary Surgical Group arrived in Northern Africa shortly behind the invading force of Operation Torch during World War II. They were a group of surgical teams without nurses and without a headquarters, and therefore without consistent direction or organization. Paul A. Kennedy, M.D., a surgeon in a mobile general surgical team, was by turns amazed, baffled, and bemused by war. Like most of the men with whom he crossed the Atlantic, Kennedy’s knowledge of the world was limited. Kennedy eventually spent almost three years in North Africa, Italy, France, and Germany during World War II, performing hundreds of surgical procedures on soldiers so desperately wounded that they could not survive evacuation to hospitals further in the rear. From the beginning of 1944 until the end of the war, he kept a medical journal in which he meticulously recorded and illustrated 355 of these cases. He also kept a personal diary and took more than 1,500 photographs, most of which had been developed and carefully labeled, but never printed
Like so many veterans, Paul A. Kennedy never spoke of his experiences in World War II. After his father’s death, Christopher Kennedy discovered his father’s personal and surgical diaries and photographs from his service during the war. Together, they comprise Battlefield Surgeon: Life and Death on the Front Lines of World War II—a living history of the experience of a member of the United States Army Medical Corps in World War II.
Kennedy’s personal entries, clinical cases, illustrations, and photos capture the homesickness, boredom, loneliness, fatigue, and sometimes, fear, of the North African and European theatres of the war. His life was characterized by the constant movement that working in field hospitals demanded—to provide rapid surgical care, the unit had to keep pace with the front. The “hospital” included a headquarters and three platoons that could work independently. Each one hundred-bed platoon had its own designated staff and transportation for men who were severely wounded. The newly created concept proved to be adaptive, efficient, and in some cases the deciding factor between death and survival. Surgeons like Kennedy and his fellow colleagues spent sleepless nights on concrete floors and sandy beaches, going directly to the wounded soldiers. He lay just behind the front lines and waited patiently for soldiers whose life depended on immediate care.
WWII through an Army Surgeon’s Eyes
The entries below detail Kennedy’s arrival in Rome shortly after it fell into Allied control. At the same time, unbeknownst to those in Rome, more than 150,000 troops were preparing to cross the English Channel as part of Operation Overlord, better known today the as D-Day invasion. Although he participated in some of the fiercest action of the war—Operation Avalanche, the attack on Anzio, and Operation Dragoon, and entered the Dachau concentration camp two days after it was liberated—Kennedy’s diaries depict a life without high drama, a catalogue of the routine in the midst of a great conflagration.
Tuesday, May 30, 1944
Got in bed today after noon meal—just going back to work now at 11:30 p.m.—I didn’t sleep worth a damn—can’t in the daytime. I’ll be an old man if this thing keeps up much longer. And according to all rumors they’re getting ready to start another push very soon for Rome. Right now I need a rest and not more work. There are all sorts of speculations as to what will happen to the 2nd Aux when Rome falls—southern France, England, Yugoslavia, and India have all been mentioned—my guess is England.
Wednesday, May 31, 1944
We’ve changed hours again—for the tenth time—8 p.m. to 8 a.m. now. Finished up at 3:00 this afternoon and we’re going back at it now—it’s 8 p.m. I don’t think the Russian salt mines were ever any worse than this. There’s another push on and we’re getting another load—200 cases behind now. There are four field hospital platoons out now—two of the 33rd and two of the 10th, so we’ll be cut down on the major cases.
Thursday, June 1, 1944
Progress has been quite good but the casualties have been high. We’re not seeing the worst cases now ’cause the field hospitals have jumped ahead. Expect we’ll be going to one of them soon. Doing simple debridements here these past couple days and they are monotonous and boring.
Friday, June 2, 1944
Had a fairly good sleep but it’s never as restful as what you get at night. We’ll be off this night tour in another week. At the rate things are moving now I think they’ll be in Rome in a week. They’re at the Alban hills and at some points nothing stands between them and Rome—except a few Jerries. Not much work tonight—mostly minor stuff. Another field hospital platoon went out this evening. Hope we get assigned soon. Had a few snaps of Ruthie today—she’s a wonderful baby.
Saturday, June 3, 1944
The shock ward was empty for the first time this morning—seems queer not being loaded with casualties. Luther had word this morning that his team was gonna leave to join the 11th F.H. without us—but tonight at 7:30 we got orders to leave too. Packed in half an hour, said our goodbyes, and set out for a place near Cori. Staying here tonight with the 95th Evac. Harry Borsuk here—platoon leader—hospital to be beyond Valmontone about 15 miles from Rome on Highway 6. Came through Cisterna—worst destruction I’ve seen yet. There’s nothing standing. We’re back in a field hospital and on our way to Rome. I’m happier when we’re moving—moving toward home!
Sunday, June 4, 1944
Up at 6:30 (good night’s rest)—had pancakes, then set out in a weapons carrier for our new site. The number of wrecked Jerry vehicles, guns, etc. is a mute tribute to the work of our aircraft. The roads were just covered with wrecks—large tanks with 88s pointing dumbly into the ground—a few 170s (Anzio Express) that looked awfully powerful but now appeared to be dead. Valmontone, Cori, and Labico are all shot up and have nothing left. Dead horses stinking—even the smell of rotting human flesh filtering through occasionally. We’re set up near Palestrina on Highway 6 with the 3rd Division Clearing Station. Work is pouring in already—rearguard action, the boys say. “Jerry is on the run” and some of our troops are on the outskirts of Rome.
Monday, June 5, 1944
Business it seems to follow us wherever we go. Cases galore—more than we could handle. We’re the most forward field hospital now. Brought in three new teams to help out and they were very welcome. Brinker, Lowry, and Cantlon [Edwin L. Cantlon, general surgeon]. Rome is in our hands—was yesterday—and the troops are beyond. Evidently Jerry intends to keep running for a while. Tanks have been going by here all day in one steady stream—last night they rumbled by in countless numbers. I’m sure somebody is gonna be impressed by them very soon. The war is moving fast—good—I want it that way—I want to get home.
Tuesday, June 6, 1944
Rome. Up early, got our work done (off call for once), and a group of us headed for Rome. I was anxious. The mark of the war looks fresh upon the country that leads to Rome—burned-out tanks, guns, etc. Dead horses—and people streaming back to their homes. Rome seems to be a beautiful city. Little destruction, nice-looking people—much cleaner than the more southern Italians—more like a city in the States. Saw St. Peter’s and knelt by the Tomb of St. Peter. It’s a magnificent church, strong and tall, and it suggests Catholicism—enduring. Crossed the Tiber, saw the Coliseum and Roman Forum. This was the Rome we were waiting for. (Incidentally, the second front opened today, but we saw Rome.)
The “incidental” second front was nothing less than Operation Overlord, the cross-channel invasion of France at Normandy, involving almost sixty-five hundred naval craft and five Allied divisions. Eventually, more than one hundred divisions were to pass through Normandy on their way to the very heart of Germany and to the ultimate destruction of the Third Reich.
[Source: The Daily Beast | Paul A. Kennedy | June 6, 2016 ++]
D-Day Anniversary 2016 ► Shrinking number of Survivors Attend 72nd
Proud veterans in their 90s and families of fallen soldiers are commemorated the epochal D-Day invasion of Normandy 72 years ago that helped the Allies vanquish Hitler. They held small ceremonies and moments of remembrance Monday along the wide beaches and cliffs where thousands of U.S., British, Canadian and French troops landed as dawn was breaking June 6, 1944. It was a pivotal moment in World War II, weakening the Nazis’ hold on Western Europe after they suffered a punishing defeat in Stalingrad in the east.
Henry Breton of Augusta, Maine, was among the shrinking number of D-Day survivors to make it to Normandy for Monday’s anniversary. Speaking at the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, Breton recalled landing in the second wave of boats, 35 minutes after the first, with the 106th Infantry Division. “We were off target,” he said, describing the German counterattack, and ensuing violence and valor he experienced at the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium. “It brings back so many memories,” he said, standing amid rows and rows of white crosses at the cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach.
U.S. Air Force veteran Hartley Baird of Pittsburgh, who sailed into Normandy in August 1944 poses for visitors flanked by U.S. soldiers from Jber, Alaska, in the Colleville American military cemetery, in Colleville sur Mer, France, on Monday, the 72nd anniversary of the D-Day landings.
Visiting the D-Day beaches is a homecoming of sorts: Breton’s ancestors came to North America from Brittany in the 18th century, and during the war he met a Belgian woman who was his wife for 62 years until her death in 2009. Some veterans expressed disappointment that Monday’s ceremonies were low-key, especially compared with a sweeping ceremony for the 70th anniversary two years ago involving several world leaders. Breton, who describes himself as “91 and a half,” is hoping this visit isn’t his last. “I would like to be here on the 75th.” People of many nationalities came Monday to pay respects. A group of Germans wrote the name of a regiment on the sand as a group of Spanish history enthusiasts dressed as D-Day participants walked nearby.
Peggy Harris of Vernon, Texas, was unable to come this year to visit the grave of her husband, 1st Lt. Billie D. Harris. But a good friend, Janie Simon, brought flowers and a sign asking visitors to email photos of the gravesite to his widow. “She feels blessed that even though she lost Billie in this quest for freedom, people come here. That gives her great comfort,” Simon said from the gravesite. Harris landed in Normandy on D-Day, was shot to death days later and buried by French villagers, but his wife didn’t find out what happened for more than 60 years. “She never remarried,” said Simon, who had an uncle who landed on Utah Beach and whose own husband fought in Vietnam. “It’s a real love story.” U.S. Army Air Corps veteran Hartley Baird from Pittsburgh sailed into Normandy in August 1944 and fought to liberate France from the Nazis. “I wouldn’t have survived if the men hadn’t cleared the way on D-Day,” he said at the American Cemetery, where he came to pay homage to “the true heroes, those that are buried here.” [Source: Associated Press | Francois Mori | June 6, 2016 ++]
Military Trivia ► America’s First Military Draft
In the spring of 1861, decades of simmering tensions between the northern and southern United States, over issues including states’ rights versus federal authority, westward expansion, and slavery, exploded into the American Civil War. Since neither the Union nor the Confederacy relied on conscription to fill the ranks, both sides believed volunteers would be enough to do the fighting – which was expected to be over by the end of summer 1861. However, as the one-year mark neared, it became obvious to the Confederacy and the Union that the war would last much longer and its armies would need many more soldiers in the increasingly violent and protracted conflict.
But it wasn’t until the Battle of Shiloh on April 6-7, 1862 that the need became critical enough to address. The battle began when the Confederates launched a surprise attack on General Ulysses S. Grant’s Union forces in southwestern Tennessee. After initial successes, the Confederates were unable to hold their positions against fresh union reinforcements and were forced back, resulting in a Union victory. Both sides suffered nearly 25,000 casualties killed, wounded, or missing. It was the bloodiest single day of the Civil War so far. The glaring deficiency in troop numbers prompted Confederate President Jefferson Davis to quickly authorize the first Conscription Act on April 16, 1862.
This legislation required all white males aged eighteen to thirty-five to serve three years of Confederate service if called. Soldiers already in the military would now be obligated to serve an additional twenty-four months. Five days later, the Confederate government passed the Exemption Act, which excused from military service select government employees, workers deemed necessary to maintain society (such as teachers, railroad workers, skilled tradesmen, ministers and owners of twenty or more slaves.) Substitution was an additional way to avoid the draft, though the Confederate Congress abolished the unpopular practice in December 1863. However, even before the 1862 Conscription Act, a group of Unionists in Arkansas known as The Peace Society were essentially drafted after their arrest, being given the choice between enlisting or face a trial.
Exemption and substitution were just two of the many reasons conscription was controversial. Governors considered that a draft assigning soldiers to Confederate national service was an usurpation of their state authority. Those who had volunteered in April 1861 and whose enlistments were expiring resented the additional two years of obligatory service. Draftees, who had not volunteered in the initial excitement of 1861 and were less enthusiastic about the Confederate cause, were not eager to leave their homes and families. The first conscription act was only moderately successful, and a second was passed in September 1862. This legislation raised the draft age to forty-five. A third conscription act in February 1864 stipulated that boys of seventeen and men up to fifty would be eligible for reserve duty.
The draft was especially problematic and difficult to enforce in Arkansas, and figures for Union and Confederate conscription are difficult to quantify. The Union victory at the Battle of Pea Ridge fought March 6-8, 1862, one month prior to the enactment of Confederate conscription, meant that the pro-Confederate administration of Arkansas Governor Henry Rector no longer had full autonomy statewide. Resistance to Confederate conscription was also noteworthy in the highlands of Arkansas, where there was little investment in slavery. In the Ouachita Mountains, men who had avoided conscription efforts fought with Confederate forces in the February 15, 1863 Skirmish at McGraw’s Mill, resulting in a Confederate victory.
The Union government instituted its own draft a year later in March 1863. The Enrollment Act required all able-bodied men between the ages of eighteen and forty-five to serve in the local units of their state militias. In the decades prior to the Civil War, these laws were rarely enforced; state militias, such as they were, served more as social clubs than military units, with parading and picnicking more common than artillery and musketry drill. In the first year of the war, the militia system was the template to organize volunteer recruits into local regiments. Now, states would be legally required to fill quotas apportioned by the War Department. These troops were to serve for up to nine months. The Union government allowed some exceptions for certain occupations and physical disabilities, and for religious conscientious objectors.
Like the Confederate conscription act, the Union’s state militia draft of 1862 achieved only moderate results. A more permanent procedure would be needed to provide necessary troops. To this end, President Lincoln signed the Enrollment Act on March 3, 1863, which called for a Federal draft that summer. Exemptions from the draft could be bought for $300 or by finding a substitute draftee. Protesters, outraged that exemptions were effectively granted only to the wealthiest U.S. citizens, led to bloody draft riots in New York City where eleven African Americans were killed by angry mobs in July 1863. Immigrants and the poor were especially resentful of the methods used by wealthier citizens to avoid service.
A drawing from a British newspaper showing armed rioters clashing with U.S. soldiers in New York.
In both the North and the South, compulsory service embittered the public, who considered it an infringement on individual free will and personal liberty and feared it would concentrate arbitrary power in the military. Believing with some justification that unwilling soldiers made poor fighting men, volunteer soldiers despised conscripts. Conscription also undercut morale, as soldiers complained that it compromised voluntary enlistments and appeared as an act of desperation in the face of repeated military defeats. Conscription nurtured substitutes, bounty-jumping, and desertion. Charges of class discrimination were leveled against both Confederate and Union draft laws since exemption and commutation clauses allowed propertied men to avoid service, thus laying the burden on immigrants and men with few resources. Occupational, only-son, and medical exemptions created many loopholes in the laws. Doctors certified healthy men unfit for duty, while some physically or mentally deficient conscripts went to the front after sham examinations. Enforcement presented obstacles of its own; many conscripts simply failed to report for duty. Several states challenged the draft’s legality, trying to block it and arguing over the quota system. Unpopular, unwieldy, and unfair, conscription raised more discontent than it raised soldiers.
In the Union and Confederacy, conscription was partially meant to encourage voluntary enlistment, as those who joined as volunteers were eligible to receive bounty money (enlistment bonuses) from states, counties, cities, and the federal government – in some cases totaling a sum upwards of $1,000. However, these bounties created the problem of bounty jumping, wherein men would volunteer, collect the money, then desert and re-enlist elsewhere and collect that money as well. Neither the North nor South exercised full control within the state through the remainder of the war. Regardless, the primary purpose of conscription was never to raise substantial numbers of troops but to spur enlistment. In this aspect, at least, Union and Confederate conscription achieved some success.
Although the Civil War saw the first compulsory conscription of U.S. citizens for wartime service, a 1792 act by Congress required that all able-bodied male citizens purchase a gun and join their local state militia. There was no penalty for noncompliance with this act. Congress also passed a Conscription Act during the War of 1812, but the war ended before it was enacted. During the Civil War, the government of the Confederate States of America also enacted a compulsory military draft. The U.S. enacted a military draft again during World War I, in 1940 to make the U.S. ready for its involvement in World War II, and during the Korean War. The last U.S. military draft occurred during the Vietnam War. [Source: Together We Served | May 2016 ++]
Military History ► The Patriot and the Traitor
Two hundred thirty-five years ago an event took place which, had it succeeded, would have ended the American fight for independence in the Revolutionary War. The perpetrator of that event was renowned for many things:
- He was known as “The Hannibal of North America”
- He built a fleet on Lake Champlain and fought British ships invading New York from Canada.
- He led a small American army more than 300 miles through the Maine wilderness in fierce winter conditions in an attempt to capture Quebec.
- His heroic action at the Battle of Saratoga led to the greatest American victory of the war.
- George Washington considered him to be his best fighting general, and
- He is most remembered for his attempt to betray West Point to the British in exchange for 20,000 British Royal Pounds?
He was Benedict Arnold, the most notorious traitor in American history. Entrusted with the defense of West Point by George Washington during the Revolutionary War, he attempted to surrender it to the British. The conspiracy, had it succeeded, would probably have sounded the death knell for the American cause. Fortunately, his treachery was discovered at the last moment. Warned of the plot’s failure, Arnold just barely evaded capture and escaped to British lines.
Benedict was born January 14, 1741, in Norwich, Connecticut to Benedict and Hannah Arnold. As a young boy his family his father was a successful businessman. When the yellow fever came through their household it left only him and his sister Hannah alive out of the five children, his father drowned his sorrows in alcohol and their finances dwindled rapidly. Benedict Jr. was pulled from school, and was apprenticed to some cousins on his mother’s side who ran an apothecary. He tried to join the militia once, but wasn’t allowed, though he eventually did join the militia to fight against the French in the French and Indian War. When his mother died, he took on the responsibility of taking care of his father and sister. In 1767 Benedict Arnold took Margaret Mansfield to be his wife. He worked for his cousin for a few more years, during which time he fathered three boys. Then war came. He joined the Army and became Captain of the Governor’s guard.
What prompted this man, a true hero of the war’s early days, to suddenly turn on his country? Perhaps the only way to understand this turnabout is to recognize that there were two Benedict Arnolds, the Patriot, and the Traitor. The Patriot accomplished repeated feats of military brilliance, exhibited uncommon valor on the battlefield, provided outstanding military leadership, and earned the respect, and even love, of his men. The Traitor was a man turned inward, mulling unhappily over perceived slights and injustices, fretting that others less qualified were given preference over him, and easily provoked if his “honor” was challenged. But it probably was his desperate need for both money and power that finally turned him to treason, for as the war dragged on, Congress became less able to provide either. The Traitor did not want to be caught on the losing side.
Benedict Arnold’s first action in the Revolutionary War was the capture of Fort Ticonderoga in a joint action with Ethan Allen and his “Green Mountain Boys” in May 1775. His success persuaded George Washington to commission him a colonel in the Continental Army, and give him command of one wing of a two-pronged attack on Canada, designed to seize Quebec and Montreal from the British, and hopefully bring Canada into the war on the American side. Arnold had by far the more difficult mission, a march of more than 300 miles up the Kennebec River, ending with an assault on Quebec. Despite the difficulties of moving men and supplies through an untamed wilderness in almost winter conditions, the newly commissioned colonel jumped at the chance. Even after losing almost half his force to exposure, disease, and desertion, Arnold succeeded in linking up with Brigadier General Richard Montgomery, the leader of the second wing. Together, they launched an attack on Quebec, which failed, when early in the action Montgomery was killed and Arnold seriously wounded.
What followed was a long retreat from Canada, involving a delaying action against British forces intent on seizing Albany, New York, before winter made military operations in the area impossible. To slow the British advance, Arnold constructed a small flotilla of lightly armed galleys and gunboats on Lake Champlain in order to harass and slow a much larger British fleet, embarked to capture Fort Ticonderoga, and the gateway to the Hudson Valley. In spite of being heavily outnumbered, Arnold engaged the enemy without hesitation. Although his small force of vessels was eventually destroyed, he succeeded in delaying the British long enough to force them to turn back to Canada to avoid the onset of winter.
Although he continued to distinguish himself in several military actions, Benedict Arnold’s greatest service to the revolutionary cause was the part he played in the battle of Saratoga, which became the turning point of the war. Leading from the front, as he always did, Arnold urged his division forward in attack after attack against heavy enemy fortifications, until he fell wounded, once again in the same leg as at Quebec. He was out of the battle, but the battle had been won. Later, the British commander, General John Burgoyne, gave Arnold credit for the outcome, praising his “bravery and military abilities.”
|The scene of the surrender of the British General John Burgoyne at Saratoga, on October 17, 1777. This victory marked a turning point in the American Revolutionary War|
Arnold was now at the height of his fame, yet eight short months later he made his approach to the British. He was rewarded very well for his services and received land for himself and his family to live on in Canada. He tried to become a ship merchant, but they had no use for a cripple. He never found an actual job, but he did not live much longer so his reward money sufficed until he died. What prompted him to do so? While we will probably never know for sure, we can draw inferences from two major events which affected him deeply. In February 1777, Congress announced the promotion of five new major generals. Arnold’s name was not among them. To make matters worse for a man of his sensitivities, all five men on the list had been brigadier generals a shorter time than he had, and none equaled his military achievements. Although, at the urging of Washington, he was eventually promoted and his date of rank adjusted, it took months of haggling in Congress to accomplish, convincing Arnold that certain members of that body would always view him with disfavor.
After Saratoga, Arnold’s wounded leg was slow to heal. He limped noticeably, could not mount a horse, and was generally unfit for military campaigning. Partly for this reason, Washington appointed him as military commander of Philadelphia, giving his leg time to mend. His high living and questionable financial dealings while in this position soon aroused the attention, and later the ire of Joseph Reed, President of the Executive Council of Pennsylvania. In February 1779, Reed published eight charges against Arnold, and in March a Congressional committee recommended court-martial on two of them. In May, without waiting for the court to convene, Benedict Arnold offered his services to the British.
Arnold received a commission with the British army and served in several minor engagements against the Americans. Over the many years since that fateful day in September 1780 when his treachery was discovered, there has been no mercy for Benedict Arnold in either the hearts or in the minds of his countrymen. He has been vilified by the press, in books, and in the halls of learning from grade school to university. His very name has become synonymous with treason. But perhaps it is finally time to take a more moderate view, to recognize that there were two Benedict Arnolds. In judging him, we should rightly condemn The Traitor, but can we not also remember The Patriot? [Source: Trgrthrt We Served | Richard McMahon | December 2015 ++]
Boxer Rebellion ► 116th Anniversary
The U.S. Marine Corps landed in China 116 years ago on May 31, 1900. An expeditionary force of 56 Marines and sailors arrived in Beijing to protect the U.S. diplomatic mission in the face of mounting militia attacks in what would be known as the Boxer Rebellion. Over a brutal 55-day siege, the Marines would fend off repeated assaults through dense urban terrain by militias and Chinese government forces determined to wipe them out. “The Americans who have been besieged in Peking desire to express their hearty appreciation of the courage, fidelity and patriotism of the American Marines, to whom we so largely owe our salvation,” a group of American missionaries wrote in the aftermath of the battle, according to the National Archives. “By their bravery in holding an almost untenable position in the face of overwhelming numbers, and in cooperating in driving the Chinese from a position of great strength, they made all foreigners in Peking their debtors, and have gained for themselves an honorable name among the heroes of their country.”
This group of Marines was part of the international relief expedition sent lift the siege of Peking
Over the previous year, local militias — known as “Boxers” — had launched a wave of violence in northern China against foreigners and Chinese Christians. When their attention turned to foreigners in the diplomatic quarter in Beijing, called “Peking” at the time, the Americans there telegraphed a distress call for military support. Two Marine detachments aboard the nearby Navy battleship Oregon and cruiser Newark immediately heeded the call and, along with approximately 350 foreign troops, disembarked and quickly established a defensive perimeter to prepare for an onslaught of the armed militants. Two weeks later, British Vice Adm. Sir Edward Seymour hastily assembled a second multinational force, including 112 more Marines and sailors, and attempted to move on Beijing. They were repulsed, but the imperial Chinese government saw their march as an unprovoked act of war and promptly sided with the Boxer militia, joining them to assault the Beijing defenders.
U.S. and German Marines occupied the most crucial piece of real estate for the fight: the massive, 45-foot high Tartar Wall on the southern end of the diplomatic quarter, which offered a clear line of sight over the battle. The Chinese pounded them with a constant barrage of artillery and small arms fire, and built a network of barricades inching closer and closer to assault the wall. On July 2, the Germans were forced off and the Chinese advanced to within a few feet of the wall. It was then that the Marines attacked. At 2 a.m. in a blinding downpour, Capt. John Twiggs Myers led the Marines and a handful of British and Russian troops to charge the Chinese positions. Bewildered, the Chinese forces broke and fled to barricades hundreds of yards away, never attempting to attack the wall again.
Meanwhile, a coalition of the willing scrambled to launch a proper relief of the city, with troops from Germany, Austria-Hungary, Japan, Russia, the British Empire, France and Italy joining the Americans to form the China Relief Expedition. On Aug. 4, the 18,000-strong force stepped off from Tianjin to begin the 80-mile march on Beijing. It took them 10 days to reach the besieged defenders. The Boxers and Imperial Chinese forces were defeated, and a peace accord was signed in September 1901, with hefty reparations put on the Chinese. A total of 1,151 enlisted Marines and 49 officers participated in the Boxer Rebellion, according to the National Archives. Of these, 33 Marines received the Medal of Honor, including Pvt. Harry Fisher, the first Marine posthumously awarded the nation’s highest military honor. Three officers would also become commandants of the Marine Corps: Gens. William Biddle, Wendell Neville and Ben Fuller. [Source: Marine Corps Times | Matthew L. Schehl | May 31, 2016 ++]
WWII Battles Q&A (3) ► Questions
1. The invasion of which country is also known as the September Campaign, and also marks the beginning of WWII?
Poland |Bulgaria | Italy | France
2. Which country withstood a German invasion for the second longest period of time, after the Soviet Union?
Norway | Greece | South Africa | Poland
3. What was the name of the US Chief of Staff during WWII, who although he never personally led troops in combat, he picked or recommended the top commands including Eisenhower, Devers, Patton, and McNair?
Keith Park | George Marshall | Georgy Zhukov | Edmund Herring
4. In which battle did Germany use submarines to devastating effect by cutting off Britain’s supply routes?
Siege of Calais | Battle of Bloody Gulch | Battle of El Agheila | Battle of the Atlantic
5. What was the codename for the Allied invasion of Sicily, a major campaign of WWII which started the Italian Campaign?
Battle of Mechili | Operation Husky | Operation Queen | Battle of the North Cape
6. What was the name of the 1942-1943 major battle along the Eastern Front for control of a Southern Russian city?
Battle of Stalingrad | Battle of Kollaa | Battle of Tarakan | Battle of Tassafaronga
7. Which of the following is NOT a WWII battle in the New Guinea campaign?
Battle of Wau | Huon Peninsula campaign | Battle of the Bismarck Sea | Second Battle of Kharkov
8. Which battle saw one of the first major uses of paratroopers to occupy crucial targets prior to ground troops reaching the area?
Battle of the Netherlands | Battle of Normandy | Operation Goodwood | Siege of Warsaw
9. Beginning three months after the outbreak of WWII, where did the so-called “Winter War” take place?
Italy | Finland | Albania | Philippines
10. What was the name of the operation used to mislead the German high command about the date and place of the Normandy invasion?
Operation Slapstick | Operation Compass | Operation Bodyguard |Operation Pugilist
11. Which battle inspired Churchill’s famous speech including the phrase, “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour”?
Battle of France | Battle of Britain | Battle of Cherbourg | Siege of Bastogne
[Source: http://www.zoo.com/quiz/world-war-ii-battles | May 2016 ++]
Military History Anniversaries ► 16 thru 30 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 16 thru 30 JUN”. [Source: This Day in History http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history | June 2016 ++]
WWII Battles Q&A (3) ► Answers
1. Answer: The German invasion began on September 1, 1939, one week after the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, while the Soviet invasion commenced on September 17 following the Molotov-Tōgō agreement. After the Polish defeat at the Battle of Kock, German and Soviet forces gained full control over Poland and the success of the invasion marked the end of the Second Polish Republic, although Poland never formally surrendered.
2. Answer: The Norwegian Campaign, between April 9 to June 10, 1940, was fought in Norway between the Allies and Germany. In April, the United Kingdom and France came to Norway’s aid with an expeditionary force. Despite moderate success in the northern parts of Norway, Germany’s invasion of France in May eventually compelled the Allies to withdraw and the Norwegian government to seek exile in London. The campaign ended with the occupation of Norway by Germany, and the continued fighting of exiled Norwegian forces from abroad.
3. Answer: To support WWII efforts Marshall organized the largest military expansion in U.S. history, inheriting an outmoded, poorly equipped army of 189,000 men and, partly drawing from his experience teaching and developing techniques of modern warfare as an instructor at the Army War College, coordinated the large-scale expansion and modernization of the U.S. Army.
4. Answer: Because shipping was vital to supply Britain with food, raw material, and fuel, the strategy in the Battle of the Atlantic leveraged submarines smartly. However, while U-boats destroyed a significant number of ships, the strategy ultimately failed. Although the U-boats had been updated in the interwar years, the major innovation was improved communications, encrypted using the famous Enigma cipher machine. This allowed for mass-attack naval tactics (Rudeltaktik, commonly known as “wolfpack”), but was also ultimately the U-boats’ downfall. By the end of the war, almost 3,000 Allied ships (175 warships, 2,825 merchantmen) had been sunk by U-boats.
5. Answer: The Allied invasion of Sicily was a major WWII campaign in which the Allies performed a large amphibious and airborne operation into Sicily, followed by a six-week land campaign. This also marked the beginning of the Italian Campaign. Beginning on the night of July 9, 1943 and lasting through August 17, Husky achieved the goals set out for it by driving Axis air, land and naval forces from the island and opening the Mediterranean sea lanes merchant ships for the first time since 1941. Benito Mussolini was toppled from power in Italy and the way was opened for the invasion of Italy.
6. Answer: Marked by constant close quarters combat and direct assaults on civilians by air raids, the Battle of Stalingrad is often regarded as one of the single largest (nearly 2.2 million personnel) and bloodiest (1.7 – 2 million wounded, killed or captured) battles in the history of warfare. The heavy losses inflicted on the German Wehrmacht make it arguably the most strategically decisive battle of the whole war. It was a turning point in the European theater of WWII and German forces never regained the initiative in the East.
7. Answer: Second Battle of Kharkov. The New Guinea campaign resulted in a crushing defeat and very heavy losses for Japan. As in most Pacific War campaigns, disease and starvation claimed more Japanese lives than enemy action. Most Japanese troops never even came into contact with Allied forces, and were instead simply cut off and subjected to an extremely effective blockade by the US Navy. Garrisons were effectively besieged and denied shipments of food and medical supplies, and as a result, a staggering 97% of Japanese deaths in this campaign were from non-combat causes.
8. Answer: The Battle of the Netherlands lasted from May 10, 1940 until the main Dutch forces surrendered on the 14th. Dutch troops in the province of Zealand continued to resist the Wehrmacht until May 17 when Germany completed its occupation of the whole nation. The German Luftwaffe used paratroopers in the capture of several major airfields in the Netherlands in and around key cities such as Rotterdam and The Hague in order to quickly overrun the nation and immobilize Dutch forces. The battle ended soon after the terrible bombing of Rotterdam and the threat by Germans of additional such bombings.
9. Answer: The Soviet Union ostensibly sought to claim parts of Finnish territory, demanding that Finland cede substantial border territories in exchange for land elsewhere, claiming security reasons and the protection of Leningrad, only 20 mi (32 km) from the Finnish border. When Finland refused, the USSR invaded the country.
10. Answer: Operation Bodyguard was the code name for an Allied deception plan before the 1944 invasion of north-west Europe. It was intended to mislead the German high command and it delayed German reinforcements to the region for some time after D-Day. The Allies had already employed deception operations against the Germans, aided by the capture of all of the German agents in the United Kingdom and the systematic decryption of German Enigma communications.
11. Answer: The Battle of Britain has an unusual distinction in that it gained its name prior to being fought, since it is derived from this famous speech delivered by Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the House of Commons on June 18, 1940, more than three weeks prior to the generally accepted date for the start of the battle.
[Source: http://www.zoo.com/quiz/world-war-ii-battles | May 2016 ++]
D-Day ► Forgotten Black Heroes
The sky was thick with smoke and haze on the morning of June 6, 1944, when an explosion rocked a boat packed tight with American troops within sight of Omaha Beach. Wedged among the five dozen men was a 21-year-old pre-med student from West Philadelphia named Waverly Bernard Woodson, Jr. He was one of five medics assigned to the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, the only African-American combat to participate in the Normandy landings. The U.S. Army was segregated during World War II, meaning the 320th was all black except for the top officers, who were white. Moments before a shell hit Woodson’s landing craft, a mine had knocked out the engine. The second blast felled troops like matchsticks. Shrapnel killed the man beside Woodson, whose own extremities burned. He reached down and brought up a hand covered in blood. “I am dying,” he thought. A fellow medic slapped dressings on his buttocks and thigh as the helpless craft drifted to a stop.
For the next 30 hours, Woodson worked through his pain to save lives. An Army news release credits him with treating 200 men. Other accounts put that figure higher. He pulled the drowning to safety. He patched wounds, pulled out bullets and dispensed blood plasma. He amputated a right foot. When he thought he could do no more, he resuscitated four drowning men. Then he collapsed. Woodson was nominated for the Medal of Honor, the nation’s ultimate symbol of heroism. He never got it. Instead, the medic was given the Bronze Star, the fourth-highest award for bravery. It would be another half century until an African American received the Medal of Honor for his service during World War II.
There was another soldier whose heroics on D-Day were strikingly similar to Woodson’s. Private Carlton William Barrett landed on Omaha Beach with the First Infantry Division under intense fire. He plunged into the surf and repeatedly dragged drowning men to safety. For his service, Barrett was awarded the Medal of Honor in October 1944. “He arose as a leader in the stress of the occasion,” his citation reads. To rate the top honor, a soldier must distinguish himself “conspicuously in actual conflict with the enemy.” Private Barrett was not a medic. He was assigned to an intelligence and reconnaissance platoon. It was not his job to save the dying. Perhaps the Army commanders who considered Woodson for the Medal of Honor decided that the medic, though wounded, was merely doing his job on June 6, 1944. Or maybe there was another reason.
An independent panel of researchers commissioned by the Army in 1993 to investigate why none of the more than 1 million African Americans who served in World War II received the Medal of Honor found no records to indicate that any had been nominated for the high award. They concluded that failure to acknowledge soldiers of color “most definitely lay in the racial climate and practice within the Army.” Their findings prompted President Bill Clinton in January 1997 to present the Medal of Honor to seven black men who served in World War II. Only one of them was still living to shake the President’s hand. “History has been made whole today,” President Clinton said.
Not exactly. The researchers said they couldn’t recommend other soldiers of color whose service records were missing. Among them was Waverly Woodson. Comparatively few Army records from World War II still exist—as government archivists like to tell frustrated researchers—and the majority of records housed at the Army’s Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri, were destroyed in a 1973 fire. Yet during the five years I researched the stories of Waverly Woodson and other men from his battalion, I found an intriguing document revealing that the young man from Philly was nominated for the Medal of Honor. An unsigned note addressed to “Jonathan” says that Woodson’s commanding officer had recommended him for the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest decoration. But the writer adds that the office of U.S. Gen John C.H. Lee in Britain believed Woodson deserved better—the Medal of Honor—and the recommendation was changed to reflect the higher award. The next part of the note betrays the toxic racial climate that existed for African Americans serving in the U.S. Army.
“Here is a Negro from Philadelphia who has been recommended for a suitable award. This is a big enough award that the President can give it personally, as he has in the case of some white boys.”
The note was almost certainly written by Philleo Nash, an official in the Office of War Information, who maintained a prolific correspondence with Jonathan Daniels, an aide to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. A bulging file of their missives can be found at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri, which is where I saw it. The Army-commissioned investigators also saw the Nash note, which they concluded was “hearsay,” as one of them told me, and not proof enough of Woodson’s valor on a day replete with heroism. Indeed, the bar was higher on Omaha Beach compared with other wartime battles. Only four Medals of Honor and 214 Distinguished Service Crosses were awarded for valor on D-Day.
Waverly Bernard Woodson, Jr.
In the Navy, one African American received a high award, though not the highest. Doris “Dorie” Miller was the first hero of World War II—even before the United States officially went to war. The messman was collecting dirty laundry aboard the USS West Virginia in Pearl Harbor when the Japanese surprised the Americans on Dec. 7, 1941. After his ship was hit, Mr. Miller helped drag the mortally wounded captain off the bridge, then jumped behind an antiaircraft gun that he had never been trained to use and fired at enemy planes until he ran out of ammo. Navy regulations forbade artillery training for African Americans, yet Mr. Miller, the son of a Texas sharecropper, “was blazing away as though he had fired one all his life,” an officer said later. The black press campaigned for a Medal of Honor for Mr. Miller, whose rank was cook third class. He eventually received the Navy Cross, which was at that time the third-highest award (today it is the second-highest).
In the case of Waverly Woodson, the record of the young medic’s heroics extended beyond Army documents. In fact, in the summer of 1944, the shy pre-med student became a star. Woodson’s story trails into June 7, 1944, when he performed one last act of bravery, saving four floundering soldiers whose guide rope broke as they were coming ashore. Then he collapsed. Woodson was taken to a hospital ship where he was treated for his injuries. Three days later, he asked to go back to the beach. News of the medic’s heroics spread far beyond the beach. Newspaper reporters interviewed him. Back home, a black newspaper hailed him as “No. 1 invasion hero.” Stars and Stripes wrote that Woodson and the medics “covered themselves with glory on D-Day.” Under pressure to acknowledge the good deeds of black soldiers, the Army issued a news release, dated August 28, 1944, that singled out “a story of a modest Negro American’s heroism.” The release said Woodson was “cited by his commanding officer for extraordinary bravery on D-Day.”
After Woodson returned home in late 1944, he was invited to recount his adventures in a nationwide radio broadcast. His proud father compiled all of the plaudits in a fat scrapbook that Waverly Woodson’s wife of 53 years, Joann, keeps close at hand in Clarksburg, Md. Waverly Woodson, who left the Army as a staff sergeant, died on August 12, 2005. His grave is at Arlington National Cemetery, where American buries its heroes. His family has started a petition drive to obtain for him the Medal of Honor. U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) has appealed to the Army to recommend Waverly Woodson for the Medal of Honor.
In June 2015, President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to an African-American soldier who fought ferociously in the trenches of France during World War I. Sgt. Henry Johnson, a member of the legendary 369th Infantry Regiment—the Harlem Hellfighters—was the Waverly Woodson of his day. Johnson was lauded by reporters who covered in gripping detail his heroics on a lonely night in May 1918 when he single-handedly fought off a party of German raiders, left with only a bolo knife after his other weaponry was spent. Though he earned the nickname “Black Death” and praise from awestruck white reporters, Johnson won the French Croix de Guerre but never an American Purple Heart, which would have entitled him to disability benefits. He never healed from his battlefield injuries, and died 11 years later in poverty. At a ceremony at the White House, President Obama paid tribute to a fallen, long-forgotten hero. “It is never too late,” he said, “to say thank you.” [Source: The Daily Beast | Linda Hervieux | June 5, 2016 ++]
Medal of Honor Citations ► Bauer, Harold William | WWII
The President of the United States in the name of The Congress
takes pleasure in presenting the
Medal of Honor posthumously
HAROLD WILLIAM BAUER
Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps., C.O. VMF-212 Guadalcanal
Place and date: South Pacific, Guadalcanal 10 May to 14 November 1942
Entered service: North Platte, Nebraska 1926
Born: Woodruff, Kansas November 20, 1908
For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous courage as Squadron Commander of Marine Fighting Squadron 212 in the South Pacific Area during the period 10 May to 14 November 1942. Volunteering to pilot a fighter plane in defense of our positions on Guadalcanal, Lt. Col. Bauer participated in 2 air battles against enemy bombers and fighters outnumbering our force more than 2 to 1, boldly engaged the enemy and destroyed 1 Japanese bomber in the engagement of 28 September and shot down 4 enemy fighter planes in flames on 3 October, leaving a fifth smoking badly. After successfully leading 26 planes on an over-water ferry flight of more than 600 miles on 16 October, Lt. Col. Bauer, while circling to land, sighted a squadron of enemy planes attacking the U.S.S. McFarland. Undaunted by the formidable opposition and with valor above and beyond the call of duty, he engaged the entire squadron and, although alone and his fuel supply nearly exhausted, fought his plane so brilliantly that 4 of the Japanese planes were destroyed before he was forced down by lack of fuel. His intrepid fighting spirit and distinctive ability as a leader and an airman, exemplified in his splendid record of combat achievement, were vital factors in the successful operations in the South Pacific Area.
Harold William Bauer entered the Naval Academy in 1926 and was appointed a Marine second lieutenant upon graduation in 1930. Bauer’s two younger brothers also followed him into the Academy. Following his commissioning, Bauer attended the Officers Basic School at Quantico, Virginia. He was then assigned as a company officer with the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines at Quantico. In 1932, he became assistant basketball and lacrosse coach at the Naval Academy and an instructor in marksmanship, until his assignment to the San Diego Naval Base, where he was the Assistant Range Officer. He was promoted to first lieutenant on May 29, 1934. He was then assigned to the Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, in December 1934 where he earned his wings as a Marine aviator in February 1936. He was promoted to captain on June 30, 1937 and served with several squadrons at Quantico including Marine Scouting Squadron 1 (VMS-1) and Marine Fighting Squadron 1 (VMF-1).
Bauer was transferred to the Naval Air Station San Diego, California, in June 1940 where he served as executive officer of Marine Fighting Squadron 221 (VMF-221). While stationed at San Diego, he participated in carrier group exercises on the USS Lexington (CV-2) and USS Saratoga (CV-3). The December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor found Bauer and VMF-221 preparing to embark aboard the Saratoga for transport to Hawaii. Following the Japanese attack, Bauer and VMF-221 were transported to Hawaii and were slated to reinforce Wake Island, but were diverted to Midway after Wake fell. Transferred to Hawaii in February 1942, Bauer took command of Marine Fighting Squadron Two Eleven, stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Ewa, and on March 1, 1942 commissioned and took command of Marine Fighting Squadron Two Twelve (VMF-212). Promoted to major on April 29, 1942, Bauer and VMF-212 were deployed to the South Pacific and were stationed at New Caledonia, and later Efate, Vanuatu. Although still the commanding officer of VMF-212, Bauer was also responsible for the operation of the airfield the squadron operated from and was utilized to select possible sites for additional airfields in the South Pacific. Bauer’s promotion to lieutenant colonel, after only three months as a major, was effective August 7.
On September 28, 1942, Bauer performed the first feat cited for the Medal of Honor and on October 16, 1942 the second feat. On November 14, 1942, he was shot down over water after downing two enemy aircraft in an attack 100 miles (160 km) off Guadalcanal. He was seen in the water in his Mae West water flotation device as light was fading. He did not appear to be seriously hurt. The following morning began days of intense searching by planes and Russell Island natives, but no further trace of him was found. The squadron under his command at Guadalcanal was officially credited with downing 92 Japanese planes and helping to sink two destroyers. Lieutenant Colonel Bauer was commended for his action in the South Pacific by commanders of Army, Navy and Marine Corps units including Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., then Commander of the South Pacific Area and South Pacific Force. Bauerfield International Airport in Port Vila, Vanuatu is named in his honor.
[Source: http://www.history.army.mil/moh/wwII-a-f.html June 2016 ++]
* Health Care *
Cohen Veterans Network ► Open to All Vets Regardless of Status
The Cohen Veterans Network (CVN) is a National Network of Clinics to Provide Short and Medium Term Outpatient Mental Health Care. It took a lot for the Marine veteran who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan early in the wars to walk into CVN’s Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic (MFC) at NYU Langone Medical Center for help. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury for more than 10 years without a diagnosis, he sought treatment only after his employer recommended it. As a diplomatic security officer at the United Nations, “Al” was failing to handle ongoing pressures of the job. He asked that his full name not be used to protect his privacy. “I started having problems at work, and I’ve been in treatment ever since,” said the former corporal. “The more you actually start processing everything that you have seen and experienced, the farther along you are on the steps to healing.”
MFC Staff at NYU Langone
significant others, even if their military loved ones refuse to seek treatment. The facility also accepts veteran patients whose other-than-honorable discharges keep them from getting care at a Veterans Affairs medical facility. In the next four years, the network will grow to comprise 25 clinics across the U.S., the vision of billionaire hedge fund manager Steven Cohen, who pledged $275 million in April to fund the project. The goal is to offer free mental health services to veterans, National Guard and Reserve members, families — anyone whose mental wellness has been affected by military service, according to Dr. Charles Marmar, director of the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Veterans Center for the Study of PTSD and TBI.
“The need is enormous,” Marmar said. “One in two post-9/11 veterans don’t want to get care at the VA, and many more don’t want to go to the VA for privacy reasons.” An estimated 1 in 5 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have symptoms of PTSD or depression, and more than 327,000 suffered some degree of brain injury. The VA provides mental health treatment and services for affected veterans at its medical centers and clinics as well as 300 Vet Centers. But many veterans, including those with “bad paper discharges,” can’t go to the VA. And Vet Centers, which serve combat veterans, provide limited counseling to family members, primarily offering marriage counseling to spouses. The Military Family Clinics fill the gap, Marmar explained. “We don’t ask any questions about discharge status. The VA has very little flexibility to help those veterans,” he said.
Last month, two Steven A. Cohen MFCs opened in Texas — one in San Antonio and the other near Dallas. Later this year, two more, in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, are scheduled to open. The idea is to treat post-9/11 veterans to ward off future health problems that are associated with untreated mental health conditions, such as physical illnesses, substance abuse, unemployment and homelessness. But no one will be turned away, said Anthony Hassan, CVN’s executive director. “We are here to get ahead of the problem and provide [Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom] veterans access to care as early as we can, to try to prevent conditions like PTSD from becoming chronic and unmanageable,” Hassan said.
The VA has been under fire for the past several years for ongoing delays in providing prompt health care to its patients. Increasingly, VA also has been criticized for being unable to treat veterans who were dismissed from the service for misconduct that may be related to undiagnosed combat-related mental health conditions. By law, these veterans with other-than-honorable discharges are ineligible for VA care. But the Cohen Military Family Clinics plan to provide services to this underserved population, Hassan said. “We are going to work with the VAs. We are going to work with the VA community-based clinics, and we will be able to see patients they can’t see. This is a complementary relationship, not a competition,” he said.
Cohen made his billions managing hedge fund S.A.C. Capital Advisors. His interest in veterans issues developed after his son, Robert, enlisted in the Marine Corps after graduating from Brown University and deployed to Afghanistan. The NYU Langone MFC was established in 2012 with funding from the Robin Hood Foundation and later, Cohen. In 2015, he underwrote a nonprofit research arm, Cohen Veterans Bioscience, to develop diagnostic tests and treatments for PTSD and concussions. As part of the larger CVN, Cohen Veterans Bioscience and the Military Family Clinics will work hand in hand to understand patient needs and assess research goals. Patients will be able to participate in studies run by the research arm but will be under no obligation to do so, according to organizers.
Hassan said the MFCs will offer a variety of treatment and services, including medical care, therapy and counseling. Al said he has engaged in several therapeutic approaches, which have helped him deal with debilitating symptoms such as panic attacks, anger, lack of focus, nightmares and intrusive thoughts. He said the clinic is a “judgment-free zone,” where was able to get the help he needed to get his life back on track. “The best thing about it is, unlike the VA, it doesn’t feel like you were being rushed through. People take the time to help you,” he said. Refer to www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160406006168/en/Cohen-Veterans-Network-Unveiled-Improve-Quality-Life for more on CVN. [Source: Military Times | Patricia Kime | June 8, 2016 ++]
Tricare Preventive Health Program Update 04 ► Men’s Health Month
Every June, we celebrate Men’s Health Month to promote awareness, prevention and education of preventable health problems. This is a time for men to take charge of their health and for ladies to encourage the men in their LIVES to do so. Men are an at-risk population. They are less likely to have healthcare coverage and are, therefore, less likely to visit a doctor for preventive care. This is a critical issue. Men notice when their car isn’t working properly, but they don’t always listen when their body tells them something is wrong. Men are dying an average of 5 years younger than women and lead 9 out of 10 of the top causes of death. Suicide, colon cancer, prostate cancer, low testosterone, and heart disease are all treatable or preventable with proper care and screenings. So men, make an appointment today for preventive care. Ladies, encourage everyone you know to promote men’s health awareness and education. We can all take this opportunity to encourage the men in our lives to get regular medical care. Visit TRICARE.mil/preventive for more information. [Source: TRICARE Beneficiary Bulletin #352 | June 10, 2016 ++]
Tricare TMS Treatment ► Now Covered for Depressive Disorders
TRICARE recently announced coverage on an outpatient basis of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) as a treatment for major depressive disorder. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation is used for the treatment of adults with Major Depressive Disorder resulting in:
- Feeling sad or hopeless
- Loss of interest in activities
- Thoughts of suicide
- Difficulty sleeping
- Trouble concentrating
- Crying spells
The procedure is covered TMS is used when other depression treatments have not been effective. During TMS treatment, an electromagnetic coil is place against the patient’s scalp. The coil delivers a magnetic pulse through the skull, inducing a low level electric current. The patient receives multiple pulses over several seconds, with each treatment session lasting about 40 minutes. This new benefit is effective May 24, 2016 and is not a part of a pilot or demonstration program but a part of the basic TRICARE benefit. For more information on Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, visit the videos at
[Source: NAUS Weekly Update | June 10. 2016 ++]
Tricare ECHO Update 02 ► Coverage Transfer Under ECHO
If your family uses the Extended Health Care Option Program (ECHO), your current contractor will notify your new contractor of all civilian care, establish a new case manager or point of contact and coordinate all transfer requests. Your current contractor will also provide ECHO eligibility and get clinical information from your providers. They will also share your Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) enrollment, cap amounts paid and current authorizations. For more information, refer to http://www.tricare.mil/echo. [Source: NAUS Weekly Update | June 10. 2016 ++]
XSTAT ► Injectable Sponges to Stop Bleeding
A U.S. military surgical team used an innovative device to staunch the bleeding on a gunshot victim, RevMedx, the company that makes it, recently announced. That marks the first documented occasion that the device has been used in a patient clinically, the company said. The XSTAT, as the device is called, works by injecting numerous small sponges into a wound, which quickly expand and stop the bleeding. It takes just 20 seconds after contacting blood for the sponges to expand and staunch the bleeding, the company says, and they have markers in them to make them visible under x-ray, so that they can all eventually be removed.
The patient, a soldier, was reportedly shot in the left thigh, resulting in a “sizable cavity” in the leg. A forward surgical team struggled over the course of a surgery that lasted about seven hours to control all the bleeding, and decided to use the XSTAT. After they did, it stopped the bleeding almost right away, the company reported, and the patient— who had received both blood and plasma transfusions— stabilized. “The first-in-human experience with XSTAT is the culmination of tremendous effort on the part of both RevMedx and our military collaborators,” Andrew Barofsky, the president of RevMedx, said in a statement. “We are pleased to see XSTAT play a critical role in saving a patient’s life and hope to see significant advancement toward further adoption of XSTAT as a standard of care for severe hemorrhage in pre-hospital settings.” rRefer to http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2016/05/26/injectable-sponges-used-for-first-time-to-stop-soldiers-bleeding.html?cmpid=prn_military&comp%3D1199467398560%26rank%3D1# for a video on its use. [Source: NCOA (Fox News) | Rob Verger | May 26, 2016 ++]
Device Addiction ► What to Do
A poll of more than 1,200 U.S. parents and children by Common Sense Media, a San Francisco nonprofit that offers educational materials on digital media and safe technology for children, highlights a problem that’s getting increasingly old: We’re raising a generation of young people addicted to their smartphones and other digital devices. In reporting its findings, Common Sense Media says overreliance on portable digital technology can cause problems, including unsafe driving, shoddy homework, and compromised family time. Multitasking while using a smartphone can hinder your ability to focus and prevent the formation of memories. Infrequent in-person interaction can interfere with the
development of empathy. Here are some of the poll’s key findings:
- 50 percent of American teenagers feel addicted to their smartphones (most check devices at least every hour and feel pressured to respond immediately to messages received).
- American children between 8 and 12 say they spend an average of six hours a day using digital media.
- Teens between ages 13 and 18 spend nine hours a day using digital media.
- Nearly 60 percent of parents of children between ages 12 and 18 say their kids can’t give up their phones.
- One-third of parents and children say they argue daily about screen time.
Because of their need to connect with their peers, teens are especially vulnerable to the instant gratification smartphones can provide through texting and social media posting. The irony is these fleeting virtual connections can damage your ability to connect in real life. But teens aren’t the only ones affected. The Common Sense Media poll found that while 50 percent of children say they can’t put their phones down, 27 percent of adults say the same about themselves. An astonishing 56 percent of adults say they check their smartphones while driving.
What to do? As with other aspects of parenting, part of the solution lies with setting boundaries for children. This also can be said about adult self-control, setting boundaries for our own behavior. But it’s not easy. The poll indicates half of parents and one-third of teens say they “very often” or “occasionally” try to cut down on the amount of time they spend with their devices. Completely banning portable digital technology isn’t a practical solution. Despite the problems, the upsides of the technology are too great. We just need better balance. Common Sense Media offers these specific suggestions:
- Talk about it. Have in-person discussions with your family about the role different media play in our lives. Lessons might not be learned instantly, but most children want to do the right thing.
- Delve deep. Help kids understand the importance of concentration and delayed gratification. Dealing with boredom is an important life skill, no matter what people do in life. Focusing helps with homework, friendship-building, and driving as well as being a surgeon, roofer, or homemaker.
- Create limits. Declare tech-free zones and times. For instance, when at the dinner table, tell children their phones have to stay in their pockets. Create an honor system where phones are used when doing homework only if the messaging is homework related. Prohibit phone use after a certain time, such as 9 or 10 p.m., which has the added benefit of facilitating sleep.
- Set a good example. Never text while driving, which today is as much a contributor to car accidents as alcohol. Follow the law in your state or community about handheld voice talking while driving.
- Seek outside help when appropriate. Sometimes children (and adults) become deeply dependent on digital technology in a way that harms their overall lives, and they are unable to change on their own. These days, many teachers, school counselors, clergy, and mental health professionals have experience helping others find a good balance here.
[Source: MOAA News Exchange | Reid Goldsborough | May 18, 2016 ++]
TRICARE Healthcare Ranking ► Customer Experience Ratings
Kaiser Permanente and TRICARE received the highest customer experience rankings of any health plan, according to the 2016 Temkin Experience Ratings, an annual customer experience ranking of companies based on a survey of 10,000 U.S consumers. Of the 16 health plans examines, Kaiser Permanente earned the highest score with a rating of 57%, placing it 182nd overall out of 294 companies across 20 industries. TRICARE ranked second in the industry with a rating of 55% and an overall ranking of 199th. Kaiser Permanente and TRICARE have been jockeying for the highest health plan score since the Ratings began in 2011.
The only other health plans to receive ratings above “very poor” (above 50%) were Aetna, CIGNA, and United Healthcare. Meanwhile, Health Net received the lowest score of any health plan with a rating of 32%, putting it in 293rd place out of 294 companies. Overall, the health plan industry averaged a 47% rating in the 2016 Temkin Experience Ratings and tied for last place out of 20 industries. The average rating of the industry decreased by seven percentage-points between 2015 and 2016, dropping from 54% to 47%. Here are some additional findings from the health plan industry:
- The ratings of all health plans in the 2016 Temkin Experience Ratings are as follows: Kaiser Permanente (57%), TRICARE (55%), Aetna (51%), CIGNA (50%), United Healthcare (50%), Coventry Health Care (49%), Medicare (48%), Humana (48%), BCBS plan not listed (48%), Anthem (47%), Medicaid (40%), Blue Shield of California (40%), Empire (38%), Highmark (37%), CareFirst (37%), and Health Net (32%).
- Coventry Health Care (+10 points) was the only health plan to improve its rating between 2015 and 2016.
- Humana (-15 points), Health Net (-14 points), and TRICARE (-12 points) declined by the most percentage-points between 2015 and 2016.
Temkin Group asked consumers to evaluate their recent experiences across three dimensions: success (can you do what you want to do?), effort (how easy is it to work with the company?), and emotion (how do you feel about the interactions?). Temkin Group then averaged these three scores to produce each company’s Temkin Experience Rating.
In these ratings, a score of 70% or above is considered “good,” and a score of 80% or above is considered “excellent.” In this year’s Temkin Experience Ratings, 20% of companies earned a “good” or “excellent” score, while 44% received a “poor” or “very poor” score.
The 2016 Temkin Experience Ratings, along with other ratings, can be accessed at the Temkin Ratings website http://temkinratings.com. Now in its sixth year of publication, the 2016 Temkin Experience Ratings is the most comprehensive benchmark of customer experience in the industry, evaluating 294 companies across 20 industries: airlines, appliance makers, auto dealers, banks, car rental agencies, computer makers, credit card issuers, fast food chains, health plans, hotel chains, insurance carriers, Internet service providers, investment firms, parcel delivery services, retailers, software firms, supermarket chains, TV service providers, utilities, and wireless carriers. [Source: NAUS Weekly Update | May 27, 2016 ++]
Blood Pressure Update 05 ► Variable Readings | Cognitive Decline Predictor
Fluctuating blood pressure readings could hasten cognitive decline later in life, new research shows. The results of a study published in the American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension this week suggest that higher long-term blood pressure variability is associated with a faster rate of cognitive decline among older adults. Lead author Bo “Bonnie” Qin, a postdoctoral scholar at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, tells the American Heart Association: “Blood pressure variability might signal blood flow instability, which could lead to the damage of the finer vessels of the body with changes in brain structure and function. These blood pressure fluctuations may indicate pathological processes such as inflammation and impaired function in the blood vessels themselves. Qin said that doctors, who tend to focus on average blood pressure readings, might want to also look out for high variability between readings. Controlling that variability could be key to preserving cognitive function in older adults, she said.
For the study, researchers analyzed data from a five-year survey of 976 Chinese adults. The participants’ blood pressure variability was determined based on readings taken during visits to health professionals. The participants’ cognitive function (i.e. mental processes of perception, memory, judgment, and reasoning, as contrasted with emotional and volitional processes) was determined by their performance on a series of cognitive quizzes like word-recall exercises and counting backwards. The researchers’ specific findings include:
- Higher variability in the top number in a blood pressure reading (systolic blood pressure) was associated with a faster decline of cognitive function and verbal memory.
- Higher variability in the bottom number (diastolic blood pressure) was associated with faster decline of cognitive function among adults ages 55 to 64, but not among those ages 65 and older.
The observational study does not prove a direct cause-and-effect relationship between blood pressure variability and declining cognitive function. The American Heart Association notes, however, that the findings add to a growing body of evidence that variation in blood pressure readings could indicate an increased risk for other medical problems. [Source: MoneyTalksNews | Karla Bowsher | May 24, 2016 ++]
PTSD Update 208 ► Treatments | Transcendental meditation
Identifying effective treatments for combat veterans battling post-traumatic stress disorder is a top priority for researchers and clinicians. A variety of talk therapies and medications are available that provide relief to many. However, recognizing the limitations with traditional treatments for PTSD, interest in alternative therapies is growing. And more importantly, so far, the evidence is promising. Transcendental meditation, typically referred to as TM, is one of those promising alternative therapies.
Originating in India in the 1950s, TM is the practice of meditation that incorporates the use of a word or sound that helps the person meditate and move beyond conscious awareness. It’s typically practiced for 20 minutes twice a day while the person sits in a relaxed position with eyes closed. TM differs from other meditative techniques such as deep breathing, guided imagery and mindfulness. These approaches stress the importance of being aware of one’s body and thinking. The goal of TM, however, is to surpass or transcend awareness. As some TM experts put it, “It allows the mind to freely move toward the peace and calm it naturally seeks.”
A study published earlier this year in the scientific journal Military Medicine supports the use of TM among service members dealing with PTSD and anxiety. As a way to see if TM could reduce the need for psychiatric medications and improve psychological health, 74 service members were split into two groups. One group practiced TM, and the other did not. After one month, nearly 84 percent of those who practiced TM maintained or reduced their medication doses or stopped taking medication all together; approximately one in 10 increased their medication dose. On the flip side, only 60 percent of those not practicing TM maintained, decreased, or stopped their medication, whereas 40 percent needed a dose increase. Similar results were seen up to six months later. Overall psychological health improved as well. Those in the TM group saw a reduction in the severity of their psychiatric symptoms whereas the non-TM group saw an increase.
These results are by no means unique. Multiple studies have provided varying degrees of support for using TM with combat veterans. Unfortunately, many studies of TM and PTSD are considered to be poorly done. This fact, combined with the tendency of some to hail TM as a “magic bullet” for all things distressing, has made the mainstream scientific community reluctant to fully embrace it. [Source: Military Times | Bret Moore | May 28, 2016 ++]
* Finances *
Saving Money ► Cooling Tips 
American summers are growing hotter, thanks to climate change and increased urbanization. Using an air conditioner to stay cool takes a big bite out of your household budgets. There’s plenty you can do, though, to cut the cost of cooling a home. For example, sealing air leaks and adding insulation can together boost a home’s heating and cooling efficiency by 15 percent, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Here are 19 tips for lowering the cost of keeping cool:
1. Install solar screens – Cool your home by putting solar screens (also called sun-shade screens) on the windows that get the most sun. Installed on the outside of windows, they look like insect screens, but are made of a denser mesh that blocks heat and light. Buy adjustable screens that fit into window frames, have screens custom-made or make them yourself for about $10 per screen. Since the mesh comes in varying densities, shop around at hardware stores to decide which you need before buying. Another type of mesh, called shade cloth, also comes in varying densities and can be used outdoors to shade decks, playgrounds, patios, eating areas and outdoor living areas.
2. Put up window awnings – Install awnings above outside your warmest windows to shade them from sun. Awnings cut solar heat gain by up to 65 percent on south-facing windows in summer and by 77 percent on west-facing windows, the EPA says.
3. Hang shutters or roll-up shades – Inexpensive roll-up shades — made of bamboo or vinyl strips — block heat. Hang them outside windows on the sunny side of the house. They are rolled up and down manually using a pull-cord. Keep them up in winter to invite the sun’s warmth indoors. Shutters — in vinyl, composite, wood or natural-fiber woven material — also block the sun while adding a stylish architectural flourish.
4. Keep the air conditioner in tip-top shape – Keeping air-conditioner units at maximum efficiency by having them regularly serviced helps whittle energy bills. Replace filters monthly when units are in use. Dirty filters block air flow, making the unit draw more power and work harder.
5. Use a programmable thermostat – Hold a family meeting and get everyone to agree on one temperature for day and one for night. Otherwise, fiddling with your home’s thermostat wreaks havoc on your air conditioner’s efficiency. Save still more by setting temperatures inside the home to rise as much as 4 degrees while you’re away, allowing you to save energy.
6. Seal ducts – Homes with forced-air ducts for heating and cooling can lose 20 to 30 percent of heated or cooled air to holes, leaks and leaky duct joints. Some people seal these openings with duct tape, but the EPA says such seals don’t last well. Mastic sealant or metal tape works better. Hire a contractor or do it yourself. The DIY approach saves about $350 per year on energy costs and requires investing about $100 to $350 in materials to seal air leaks around the house, according to the National Association of Realtors.
7. Seal windows and doors – Expensively cooled indoor air can leak from windows and doors. The U.S. Department of Energy website has articles about caulking and weatherstripping at http://energy.gov/energysaver/caulking and http://energy.gov/energysaver/weatherstripping that tell how to tighten the seals around your doors and windows. Spending about $1,000 on new caulking, insulation and sealing can shave 10 to 20 percent off your energy bill, estimates the NAR.
8. Insulate the attic – Check out the Department of Energy website http://energy.gov/energysaver/do-it-yourself-home-energy-audits to learn how to conduct an energy audit to locate air leaks throughout the house. Before you install new insulation, seal any leaks and holes in the attic.
9. Use the barbecue – Before electricity, homes in warm climates used separate outdoor summer kitchens to keep the main house cool. Firing up your barbecue instead of the kitchen on the hottest days has the same effect. Other cooling tips include:
- Open the refrigerator only briefly and infrequently.
- Instead of the oven, use smaller appliances — a toaster oven, rice cooker, microwave or countertop convection oven, for instance. These smaller devices use less energy and radiate less heat.
10. Run appliances at night – Dishwashers and clothes dryers emit heat as they run, and that makes your air conditioner run even harder. Use such appliances after the day cools down. Another way to save energy is to turn off the dishwasher before the dry cycle is complete; open it up and let dishes air dry. A time-honored laundry method that costs nothing is installing an old-fashioned clothesline and letting laundry dry in the sunshine.
11. Use vent fans carefully – Use vents or vented appliances at night or in the early morning. Running bathroom and kitchen fans during the hottest hours pulls cooled air out of the house. The clothes dryer’s vent sends cooled air outside, too.
12. Close the drapes – Keep drapes, blinds, curtains and shutters closed on windows that face the sun. Open window coverings and throw open windows after the temperature outside drops below the indoor temperature. Consider lining draperies with light-colored fabric that reflects the sun’s heat, the NAR says. Two sets of drapes hung together (“double-hung”) reduces heat even more. “Studies demonstrate that medium-colored draperies with white-plastic backings can reduce heat gains by 33 percent,” says the Department of Energy. Hang draperies close to windows to block heat. Allow them to fall all the way to the window sill or floor.
13. Plant trees – Plant leafy deciduous trees on the east and west sides of a home for cooling shade. In winter the bare branches let the sunshine through to warm the house. Consider locating trees or shrubs in other spots where their shade can help, such as near air-conditioning units, patios, driveways and walkways.
14. Use big potted plants and vines – While you’re waiting for trees to grow, put large pots with bamboo or trees in front of sunny windows or hot exterior walls to shade the walls. Perennial vines, such as Mediterranean grape arbors, are another excellent source of cooling shade.
15. Use ceiling fans correctly – Switch ceiling fan blades so they’re rotating counter-clockwise in summer and clockwise in winter. These fans have a toggle switch on the fan body that changes the rotation of the blades. Fans cool your body, not the room air, so turn all fans off when you leave a room. Shop for Energy Star-certified fans (look for the label on packaging). They use 50 percent less energy.
16. Stay cool with free-standing fans – Air blowing across the skin cools the body by evaporating moisture. When using a fan, direct the breeze at yourself and keep a spritz bottle close, misting yourself occasionally.
17. Use an attic fan – Attic fans pull in cooler outside air and push warm air out through attic vents, taking a load off your air conditioner. “In the summer, natural air flow in a well-vented attic moves super-heated air out of the attic, protecting roof shingles and removing moisture,” says this EnergyStar.gov page on attic ventilation. https://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=diy.diy_attic_ventilation
18. Unplug electronics – Computers and other electronic devices, including some plasma TVs, generate heat that boosts the room temperature. Unplugging warm-running electronics when they’re not in use keeps the room cooler and cuts your utility costs, according to the Department of Energy. To find out which of your appliances use the most electricity, try use an inexpensive (many cost under $50) electricity usage meters that measure the watts consumed by appliances and devices.
19. Close doors and registers – Don’t cool the entire house if you’re using just a few rooms. Shut doors and close registers in the empty rooms.
For more tips on keeping cool, read:
- 5 Strange Ways to Stay Cool Without Air Conditioning
- 8 Air Conditioner Parts You Can’t Afford to Neglect
[Source: MoneyTalksNews | Marilyn Lewis | May 12, 2016 ++]
TSP Update 19 ► When Should You Make changes to Your TSP
Thrift Savings Plan participants have access to one of the world’s most cost-effective retirement plans. This is more important than many investors realize. Over time, lower investment costs can add tens of thousands of dollars to your retirement account balance compared to paying higher investment expenses. The SEC has an excellent PDF at http://www.sec.gov/investor/alerts/ib_fees_expenses.pdf that explains the importance of investment fees. Unfortunately, many companies attempt to take advantage of Veterans and civil service employees by trying to convince them to transfer their Thrift Savings Plan funds into more expensive investments. These higher investment fees separate TSP members from their hard-earned money while putting more money into advisors’ pockets.
That isn’t to say all financial advisors are trying to pull one over on you, or that you should never roll your money out of the TSP. The key is knowing when you may be better off leaving your investments in the TSP, and knowing when it makes sense to transfer your investments into an IRA, another qualified retirement account or an annuity. The following is to help you understand some of these differences. Please keep in mind that this is general information. You may wish to seek professional guidance for your specific situation:
When to Consider Leaving Your Investments in the TSP. In many cases, transferring your funds out of the TSP simply isn’t necessary. The TSP has enough investment options to fully diversify an investment portfolio, and the low expenses can put more money in your pocket.
How much will low fees actually save you? A white paper from Morningstar, an investment research company, listed the average expense ratio for all mutual funds in 2014 as 1.19 percent (this was most recent data available). That means investors paid $1,190 for every $100,000 invested in that fund. In 2014, the TSP charged investment fees of 0.029 percent, or $29 per $100,000 invested in the TSP. Investing in the TSP compared to paying the average mutual fund fees resulted in a savings of $1,161 per $100,000 invested, every year. These savings compound over time, putting more money in your pocket each year. Need more convincing? The mutual fund company Vanguard published a table that shows how paying an extra 1 percent in investment fees each year can erode more than 25 percent of your investment portfolio value over 30 years. It can be difficult to believe that saving only 1 percent in fees each year can have such a massive impact on your investment portfolio, but it’s true!
Earlier access to your money. The IRS may charge early withdrawal penalties to withdrawals made from retirement accounts before age 59 and a half. One exception is for the Separation from Service exemption. This rule allows TSP participants to make penalty-free withdrawals as early as age 55 if they retire from military or government service at age 55 or older. This exemption may not be available if you transfer your funds to another retirement account.
Simplicity and account consolidation. The TSP is easy to understand and manage. Many TSP participants decide to transfer funds from other 401k plans or IRAs into their TSP account to simplify their investment portfolio and take advantage of the benefits the TSP offers. In general, it’s a good idea to leave your investments in the Thrift Savings Plan unless you have a compelling reason to move them into a new retirement account. Let’s take a look at some of those times when it makes sense to consider transferring your retirement funds.
When to Consider Transferring Your TSP Investments to another Retirement Plan. Every investor has different needs. Below are a few times when you may wish to transfer your TSP investments into another retirement account. To avoid expensive mistakes, be sure to research your options before taking action. You may find it helpful to hire a tax professional or financial advisor if you have questions.
Consider transferring your TSP funds:
- When you have advanced planning needs. Some people require assistance from a financial advisor, tax professional or estate planner. If you use a financial advisor, make sure he or she acts as a fiduciary, which means they act in your best interests. Be sure to understand how your financial advisor receives compensation to avoid conflicts of interest that may arise from working with a commission-based advisor who is compensated based on sales.
- To avoid taking Required Minimum Distributions from Roth accounts. Participants in the Roth TSP are required to begin taking Required Minimum Distributions (RMD) beginning at age 70 and a half. However, there is no RMD requirement for Roth IRAs. You can avoid the RMD requirement by transferring your Roth TSP into a Roth IRA, allowing you to make withdrawals when you want or need them.
- When you want to transfer tax-exempt contributions out of the TSP and into a Roth IRA. Some TSP members made tax-exempt contributions into a traditional account. This is common for TSP participants who made contributions while deployed to a tax-free combat zone (especially if they participated in the TSP before the Roth TSP was available). These tax-exempt contributions will not be taxed upon withdrawal. However, their earnings will be taxed. Withdrawals are made on a pro-rata basis with traditional withdrawals. There is currently no way to separate those funds within the TSP. The only way to avoid paying taxes on the gains from the tax-exempt contributions is to roll those funds into a retirement account that accepts tax-exempt contributions, or to roll them into a Roth IRA where future gains and withdrawals will be tax free. Avoiding future taxes can save you a lot of money, so it is worth looking into transferring your funds. But a mistake could prove costly, so be sure to transfer your tax-exempt funds correctly.
- When you want more investment options. You can have a well-diversified investment portfolio using only the funds found within the TSP, but many investors want different investment options. Transferring funds to another retirement account makes this easier.
- When you want steady cash flow. Many retirees appreciate being able to trade some or all of their TSP investments for monthly payments. This can be done through an annuity. Some annuities can be complex and expensive, but the TSP offers a simple and low-cost annuity option that may be good for TSP participants who wish to convert their TSP savings into an income stream.
Steps to Take Before Transferring Any Funds In or Out of the TSP. Transferring funds in or out of your TSP can have a long-term impact on your financial well-being. In many cases, the actions you take are permanent and may have significant tax consequences. Take your time to understand all aspects of your situation before taking action. If needed, seek the advice of an investment or tax professional. They may be able to help you avoid expensive mistakes.
You also want to avoid cashing out your TSP unless you absolutely need immediate access to the funds. Doing so could subject you to immediate taxes and, depending on your age, early withdrawal penalties.
A final word of advice: Be sure to interview financial advisors before you hire one. It is appropriate and expected to ask how the advisor is compensated. Understanding how your advisor is compensated can help you identify potential conflicts of interest. [Source: VAntage Point Blog | June 8, 2016 ++]
Federal Pay Update 04 ► Disabled Vet Sick Leave
Disabled veterans who are former federal employees and return to a civilian job in government could be eligible for a new type of leave to attend medical appointments. The 2015 Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act gives 104 hours of sick leave up front to first-year feds who are vets with a service-connected disability rating of at least 30 percent to attend medical appointments related to their disability. It applies to those hired on, or after Nov. 5, 2016, and lasts for 12 months from the date of hire. But according to the Office of Personnel Management, the law also could apply to eligible disabled vets who once worked in the federal government, left, and were rehired to a civil service job on or after Nov. 5, when the law takes effect. Federal employees who take a break from their civilian jobs to serve in the military and are injured during that service also would be eligible for disabled veteran leave, according to a proposed rule OPM published in the Federal Register on Monday.
For disabled vets in those categories, the amount of leave they receive for medical appointments would be offset by any existing sick leave they had. So, if the disabled vet is re-employed with the government and has 30 hours of existing sick leave from his prior job, then his disabled veteran leave bank would include 74 hours to attend medical appointments related to his service-connected injury. OPM said that the law did not require an interpretation of “first day of employment” to mean an individual’s first-ever appointment with the federal government.
“Some individuals could have small amounts of past federal service before military service, and we do not believe that Congress would have intended to automatically disqualify them from receiving disabled veteran leave benefits,” the proposed rule said. “Thus, the proposed regulations would cover certain reappointments as triggering the first day of employment, which in turn triggers the 12-month eligibility period to use disabled veteran leave. At the same time, given that Congress intended the 104-hour leave benefit for those with an initial balance of zero sick leave hours, any sick leave restored to an employee’s credit upon reappointment will be taken into account in determining the amount of disabled veteran leave that should be credited.” OPM also said it would calculate the correct number of leave hours for those eligible disabled vets who are part-time or seasonal employees, since the 104-hour benefit is based on a full-time employee’s work schedule. “This approach is consistent with OPM’s administration of annual and sick leave accrual for employees with different types of work schedules and ensures equitable treatment of employees,” the rule stated.
The Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act directs agencies have to create a separate leave category – apart from regular sick leave – for eligible employees. During their first year on the job, those vets would still accumulate their normal sick leave. The employees only would be able to use their disabled veteran leave for treatments directly related to their service and would not be able to carry over the one-time “wounded warrior leave” after the first 12 months on the job. The benefit under the law applies only to those newly-hired feds who are covered under Title 5 leave provisions, and includes employees of the Postal Service and Postal Regulatory Commission. Non-Title 5 disabled veteran employees, including those at the Federal Aviation Administration and Transportation Security Administration, are not eligible for the new benefit. Many jobs at the Veterans Affairs Department, for instance, also are not covered under Title 5. Title 5 governs most, but not all, of the federal personnel system.
Prior to the new law, full-time federal workers in their first year on the job did not have access to sick leave until they had been in the job long enough to earn the benefit, typically accruing four hours of such leave per pay period. That amounts to a balance of 104 hours at year’s end. But disabled vets, who must attend regular medical appointments to maintain their health and to continue receiving their veterans’ benefits, can burn up their sick leave quickly. Current federal employees who are disabled veterans also are not eligible for the new type of leave. Those workers qualify for other types of leave and flexibilities to receive treatment for service-connected disabilities, including leave without pay, annual leave, sick leave, advanced sick leave, alternative work schedules, and telework. Those seeking to comment on the proposed rule have until July 6. [Source: GovExec.com | Kellie Lunney | June 6, 2016 ++]
Travel Destinations ► Financial Aspects | Overseas Bargains
The current strength of the dollar makes this summer a good time to travel abroad. To identify where travelers can make the most of their dollars, GOBankingRates examined what it describes as “42 of the most popular travel destinations.” The website evaluated several financial aspects of each country, including:
- The exchange rate
- The strength of the U.S. dollar
- The cost of a dinner for two compared to a mid-range restaurant in the U.S.
- Tipping etiquette
- Prevalence of ATMs and credit card acceptance.
- The best places to exchange currency
Below, are highlighted 10 of the 42 countries where dinner is least expensive, as meals are an expense travelers pay up to three times per day. In all the strength of the U.S. dollar is rated strong. For more information about these countries or for the complete list of 42 countries, visit http://www.gobankingrates.com/personal-finance/ultimate-guide-spending-money-countries :
- China – 1 yuan = 0.15 USD | Cost of dinner for two: $18.57
- Cuba – 1 Cuban peso (used by locals) = 0.038 USD, 1 Cuban convertible peso (used primarily by tourists) = 1 USD | Strength of the U.S. dollar: Cuban convertible peso is fixed to the U.S. dollar | Cost of dinner for two: $15
- Czech Republic – 1 koruna = 0.042 USD | Cost of dinner for two: $21.08
- India – 1 rupee = 0.015 USD | Cost of dinner for two: $9.05
- Malaysia – 1 ringgit = 0.25 USD | Cost of dinner for two: $12.97
- Mexico – 1 Mexican peso = 0.055 USD | Cost of dinner for two: $20.21
- Peru – 1 nuevo sol = 0.30 USD | Cost of dinner for two: $21.41
- Thailand – 1 baht = 0.028 USD | Cost of dinner for two: $17.15
- Turkey – 1 lira = 0.34 USD | Cost of dinner for two: $21.17
- Vietnam – 1 dong = 0.000045 USD | Cost of dinner for two: $13.46
[Source: GOBankingRates | Andrew DePietro | May 17, 2016 ++]
Social Security Reset Option Update 01 ► Collection Strategies
Every one of the below strategies has exceptions, and this is by no means a comprehensive list. Until the most recent legislation, there were 567 different ways to collect Social Security. You should work with your financial planner to develop a customized claiming strategy. Make sure that as you are putting together that strategy, the rest of your assets, liabilities, income and expenses are factored in. Social Security is an important piece of the puzzle but should never be considered in a silo. The Bipartisan Budget Act, signed into law on November 2, 2015, effectively eliminated the File and Suspend and Restricted Application strategies for anyone younger than 66 and 62, respectively. These “unintended loopholes” were the product of three legislative changes that allowed for creativity, flexibility and pay raises for those who were well-informed. As of ` MAY 2016, the party is over. So what’s the best way to adapt? Here are a few strategies
Strategies That Apply to Everyone
- The Do Over – According to the Social Security Administration, 74% of beneficiaries collect early. At least some of these folks will regret their decision. The good news is if that regret comes within a year, you can pay back the benefits you’ve received in a lump sum, and you will be treated as if you never took them at all.
- Voluntary Suspension – In certain instances, it does make sense to turn on Social Security early. You may simply need supplemental income, or you may want to trigger benefits for a minor child. But it may not be a permanent need. If you decide for any reason that you no longer need that payment, you can suspend it. Your benefit will start to earn delayed retirement credits until you are 70.
Strategies That Apply to Married Couples If at Least One Spouse Is 62 or Older
- Restricted Application – This “loophole” is being phased out by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015. However, if you were born before January 1, 1954, you are still eligible to file for a restricted application when you reach full retirement age. This allows one spouse to collect a spousal benefit based on the other spouse’s earnings record while Spouse One’s benefit continues to grow until age 70. At 70, Spouse One will switch back to her increased benefit. In order to use this strategy, Spouse Two has to be collecting his benefit or have filed and suspended before May 1.
Strategies That Apply to Married Couples If Both Spouses Are Under 62
- Higher Earner Delays, Lower Earner Gets a Raise – When married couples are planning for retirement, it is very important, if possible, for the higher-earning spouse to wait until age 70 to collect his or her benefit. Not only will the higher benefit increase by 8% every year between full retirement age and 70, but the benefit will also become the survivor benefit should that person die before his or her spouse. Depending on the gap in earned benefits and whether or not the lower earner is still working, it often makes sense for the lower earner to start collecting early. If the person is fully insured but not working, she or he can collect at 62. If the person is still working at 62, it probably makes sense to wait until she or he stops working or reaches full retirement age so that the earnings offset isn’t a factor.
Strategies for Widows and Widowers
- Collect Now, Survivor Later – If a surviving spouse had a significantly lower earned benefit than the decedent, he or she should collect the benefit at age 62. Once the recipient hits full retirement age, he can switch over to the survivor benefit.
- Survivor Now, Collect Later – If a couple had similar records, it makes sense for the survivor to take the survivor benefit as early as possible, at age 60. His own earned benefit will continue to grow until age 70. At 70, the person will switch over to her earned benefit.
Strategies to Claim on Your Ex-Spouse
- Restricted Application – The rules for divorced couples are very similar to those for married couples, so long as the marriage lasted at least 10 years. The restricted application strategy described earlier can be used by only one spouse in a married couple. If you’re teetering on the edge of divorce, this may get you there. If you are divorced, both you and your ex can claim a spousal benefit on each other while your own benefits grow in the background until you begin receiving them at age 70. It’s essentially the restricted application times two.
[Source: Crdit.com | Evan Beach | May 23, 2016 ++]
Tipping ► No-Tipping Policy Impact
Joe’s Crab Shack made headlines last November when it boosted its servers’ hourly wages and adopted a no-tipping policy at 18 of its 131 restaurants. Now, just six months into the trial run, the popular casual seafood chain is pulling the plug on the no-tipping policy and reverting back to the standard gratuity model at all but four of the test restaurants. It turns out the no-tipping policy was not only unpopular with Joe’s workers, but the majority of its customers also disliked it, Nation’s Restaurant News reports. “[O]ur customers and staff spoke very loudly [about the policy],” said Bob Merritt, CEO of Joe’s Houston-based parent company Ignite Restaurant Group, in an analyst call last Wednesday. “And a lot of them voted with their feet.”
Joe’s Crab Shack hiked the wages of its servers and raised its menu prices at the no-tip restaurants to cover the increased labor costs. Merritt said the pilot restaurants saw an 8 to 10 percent drop in customers after implementing the no-tipping policy. The restaurant chain’s research revealed that about 60 percent of its customers disliked the change in the tipping policy. “Merritt said customers disliked the no-tipping policy for two reasons: first, they didn’t want to lose control of incentivizing service, and secondly, they didn’t trust management to pay the increase price to employees,” said Restaurant News. As it reverts back to the standard gratuity model at 14 of the test sites, Joe’s also plans to roll back prices at those locations. According to CNN Money, the no-tipping policy will remain at four of the fast-casual seafood restaurants where it was well-received. Merritt said his company will also try and identify the reasons why the policy works at some locations and not at others. “The system has to change at some point,” Merritt said. [Source: MoneyTalksNews | Krystal Steinmetz | May 13, 2016 ++]
Cremation Update 01 ► Cost Can Vary from Less than One to $9,000+
The national average cost of a basic cremation — with no additional services — is $2,057. However, from one city to another — and even from one funeral home to another — the cost can vary from less than $1,000 to more than $9,000, according to a recent analysis by Parting.com. As the website www.Parting.com sums it up: “Same service, drastically different price.” Parting.com aims to bring transparency to the funeral industry by helping you compare funeral homes, including their prices. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to give you certain financial information under certain circumstances, such as price information if you request it by phone or a price list if you visit a funeral home. However, the rule does not require funeral homes to publish such information on their websites.
Parting.com notes: Tough access to comparison shopping seems to affect pricing. For its cremation cost comparison, Parting.com examined price ranges for direct cremation in the 40 largest U.S. cities. Direct cremation entails only cremating remains and returning the ashes to the family, according to Parting.com. Aside from scientific donation, it’s often the most affordable option. Costs for a cremation memorial, on the other hand, include cremation and a memorial service. Parting.com describes the cremation process itself as “relatively straightforward” with no more than “minor differences,” depending on the funeral home. Yet the website found that in New York, the most expensive parlor offers direct cremation services at a price 18 times higher than that of the lowest-priced parlor. New York ranked No. 1 in price disparity because costs ranged from $550 to $10,125 — a gap of $9,575. The cities with the widest ranges are:
- New York: $9,575
- Washington, D.C.: $6,895
- Houston: $6,120
- Dallas: $5,440
- Indianapolis: $5,170
- Chicago: $3,700
- Charlotte, North Carolina: $3,495
- Virginia Beach, Virginia: $3,430
- Pittsburgh: $3,200
- Baltimore: $3,190
To learn more about why cremation is growing in popularity, check out http://www.moneytalksnews.com/7-reasons-cremation-becoming-americas-favorite-last-act. For help keeping funeral costs manageable, check out “15 Ways to Have a Memorable Funeral on the Cheap.”. [Source: MoneyTalksNews | Karla Bowsher | June 7, 2016 ++]
Sweepstakes Scam Update 01 ► WWII Vet Loses $43,000
Three months ago, Jack Holder, a Pearl Harbor survivor who flew combat missions over Midway and the English Channel during World War II, lost $43,000 in a sweepstakes scam. This week, he got it all back and then some. A GoFundMe page at https://www.gofundme.com/jackholder created in Holder’s name had raised more than $54,500 as of 2 JUN, surpassing its goal of $50,000. “I’m at a loss for words,” Holder told the Arizona Republic. “How in the world will I ever repay people for their graciousness?”
In March, Holder, 94, received a phone call telling him he had won the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes and would receive $4.7 million and a new Mercedes-Benz. All he needed to do was provide some personal information and open up a new bank account. Days later, the thieves made off with the money, which represented nearly all of Holder and 78-year-old Ruth Calabro’s (his fiancée) life savings. “I faced almost five years in combat during the war and made it out alive,” Holder told KSAZ last week. “This is the worst tragedy I’ve ever experienced.” The Arizona Republic reports that the scam involved at least four different callers, three addresses in Brooklyn, Mount Vernon, N.Y. and Hoboken, N.J. and two phone numbers in Gilbert and Nichols, N.Y. The Chandler Police Department and the FBI are reportedly investigating the scam, which authorities say it not uncommon.
The creator of the GoFundMe page was Shana Schwarz, a 33-year-old mother-of-three who said she had been moved by Holder’s story. “I’m out of work right now,” she told the Republic. “I only donated $25. But I knew I was good with fundraising and I am good with social media. So that’s what I did.” Schwarz set the page up on Friday and kept it up through Memorial Day weekend. The paper reported that Schwarz met Holder for the first time 31 MAY and presented him with a check for the first $19,000. The next day, she handed control of the page to the non-profit Greatest Generations Foundation. “We don’t want to see anyone go through what Jack did,” foundation executive officer Tim Davis told the Republic. “If we can raise a little bit more and help him out, well do it.” [Source: Fox News | May 31, 2016 ++]
Kidnap Scam ► Parents Beware
Parents, watch out for this frightening scam. The FBI says con artists use an array of tricks to convince parents that their children have been abducted. Then, they demand thousands of dollars in ransom.
How the Scam Works:
- You answer the phone, and it’s an unknown caller. This person claims to be holding your son or daughter for ransom. In order for your child to be released unharmed, you need to wire money to the kidnapper — typically thousands of dollars.
- Don’t be scared into paying up. These scams vary, and con artists use a range of tricks to construct a convincing story. Scammers typically snoop on social media to get details about their victims’ lives. They often work in teams; they may have someone pretend to be a friend of the “abductee,” or even the son or daughter themselves. Scammers also try to keep victims on the phone until the money is wired. This prevents them from contacting the “abducted” family member.
Warning signs of a kidnap scam:
- Be wary of calls from unknown area codes: The FBI reports that these scams typically come from an outside area code, sometimes from Puerto Rico with area codes (787), (939) and (856).
- The caller insists you stay on the phone. By demanding that you stay on the line, you can’t contact the “victim” by another means.
- You are pressured to act immediately. Scammers want you to send money before you’ve had time to access the situation.
- The “victim” doesn’t quite sounds like him or herself: Ask to speak to the victim and listen carefully. It could be someone else impersonating your family member.
- Kidnappers want you to wire money or use pre-paid debit card. Scammers prefer these untraceable ways of sending money.
Always report threatening calls to the police. Help police find scammers and alert others by reporting these calls. Learn more about virtual kidnapping scams in this alert from the Federal Bureau of Investigation at https://www.fbi.gov/newyork/press-releases/2015/virtual-kidnapping-scam-on-the-rise-in-new-york-city .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 | June 3, 2016 ++]
Tax Burden for Idaho Retired Vets ► As of June 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 Idaho:
State Sales Tax: 6% (prescription drugs exempt); Some Idaho resort cities, counties and auditorium districts have a local option sales tax in addition to the state sales tax which could add an additional 3%.
Gasoline Tax: 43.4 cents/gallon (Includes all taxes)
Diesel Fuel Tax: 49.4 cents/gallon (Includes all taxes)
Cigarette Tax: 57 cents/pack of 20
Personal Income Taxes
Tax Rate Range: Low – 1.6%; High – 7.4% Note: Bracket levels adjusted for inflation each year. Details at http://tax.idaho.gov/i-1110.cfm
Income Brackets: Seven. Lowest – $1; Highest – $10,890+.
Personal Exemptions: Single – $4,000; Married – $8,000; Dependents – $4,000.
Standard Deduction: Single – $6,300; Married filing jointly – $12,600
Medical/Dental Deduction: Federal amount
Federal Income Tax Deduction: None
Retirement Income Tax: Generally, all income received by an Idaho resident, regardless of the source, is subject to Idaho income tax. Idaho does not tax social security benefits, benefits paid by the Railroad Retirement Board or Canadian social security benefits (OAS or CPP). Idaho does offer a retirement benefits deduction if you are age 65 or older, or if you are disabled and age 62 or older, and receive qualifying retirement benefits. Persons using the “married filing separate” filing status are not eligible for this benefit. The following are the types of benefits that qualify for this deduction (PERSI does not qualify for this benefit):
- Civil Service Employees: Retirement annuities paid by the United States to a retired civil service employee or the unremarried widow of the employee if the recipient is age 65 or older, or disabled and age 62 or older.
- Idaho Firemen: Retirement benefits paid from the firemen’s retirement fund of the state of Idaho to a retired fireman or the unremarried widow of a retired fireman if the recipient is age 65 or older, or disabled and age 62 or older.
- Policemen of an Idaho city: Retirement benefits paid from the policemen’s retirement fund of a city within Idaho to a retired policeman or the unremarried widow of a retired policeman if the recipient is age 65 or older, or disabled and age 62 or older
- Servicemen: Retirement benefits paid by the United States to a retired member of the U.S. military service or the unremarried widow of such member if the recipient is age 65 or older, or disabled and age 62 or older.
The amount deducted must be reduced by retirement benefits paid under the Federal Social Security Act and the Federal Railroad Retirement Act. The maximum amount that may currently be deducted is:
- Married filing jointly (age 65 or older): $41,814
- Married filing jointly (age 62 or older and disabled): $41,814
- Single (age 65 or older): $27,876
- Single (age 62 or older and disabled): $27,876
Retired Military Pay: Follows federal tax rules.
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.
Military Spouses Residency Relief Act: The earned income of qualifying spouses of Idaho serviceemembers is no longer subject to Idaho income tax due to the federal Military Spouses Residency Relief Act (SR 475, HR 1182) passed in November of 2009.
- You are married to a servicemember who is serving in Idaho and has registered in the military with another state as a home of record; and
- You have located to Idaho with the servicemember and you have the same domicile (permanent residence) as the servicemember’s home of record.
Refer to http://tax.idaho.gov/i-1011.cfm For specific tax information that applies to military service members and their families.
Taxable property is assessed at its full market value. A general property tax is imposed for local purposes and is limited to 1% of market value. The state property tax is suspended as long as the sales and use tax are in effect. There is no intangible personal property tax. A homeowner’s primary residence is eligible for an exemption of 50% of the assessed value of the home, up to a maximum of $89,580 (2016). If you are a qualified Idaho homeowner, you may be eligible for the circuit breaker program. To qualify you must own and occupy the home as your primary residence, you must meet income requirements and must be either age 65 or older, a widow(er), blind, former POW, fatherless or motherless minor, or a qualifying disabled person. This program may reduce property taxes on your home and up to one acre of land by as much as $1,320. For more information on property and other taxes, go to http://tax.idaho.gov/i-1128.cfm or call 208-334-7733 or 800-972-7660.
Idaho has a property tax deferral program. For details go to http://tax.idaho.gov/i-1128.cfm
Inheritance and Estate Taxes
At the current time Idaho does not have an inheritance tax, gift tax or an estate tax.
* General Interest *
Notes of Interest ► 1 thru 15 JUN2016
- Panama Canal. Nine years of construction work, at a cost of more than $5 billion, Panama has equipped the canal with a third set of locks and deeper navigation channels, crucial improvements that will double the isthmus’s capacity for carrying cargo between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. For details refer to http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-05-25/panama-canal-fever-sweeps-globe-again-as-new-era-in-trade-nears.
- National debt. The almost $19 Trillion debt costs almost $200 Billion a year to service with the current low interest rates. If interest rates go up this debt servicing will cost almost as much as we spend on national defense annually. For elaboration on this and four other issues brought to light by Congressional representatives check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBkBSw5IH6M&feature=youtu.be.
- North Korea. In a lengthy column the state-run DPRK Today in Pyongyang Donald Trump was described as a “wise politician and presidential candidate with foresight” for his comments about the U.S. potentially withdrawing its troops from South Korea if Seoul doesn’t bear the costs. It also noted his public willingness to directly talk with the North Korean leadership if he becomes president.
- FBI. The FBI wants to exempt its burgeoning national database of fingerprints and facial photos from a federal law that gives Americans the right to sue for government violations of the Privacy Act, such as refusing to tell a person if he or she is in the system.
- GPS. The US Navy is exploring the potential of performing non-GPS positioning using Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) measurements of space objects with known orbits, positions, and velocity over time. LIDAR PNT is less susceptible to jamming, could provide global coverage, and could use a single, non-working space object for measurements.
- National Guard. The National Guard Bureau has chosen a song written by a Vermont solider to be its official march and organizational music. The song was composed by David Myers of the Vermont National Guard’s 40th Army Band. The song was the winning entry in a competition run by the National Guard Bureau. “Always Ready, Always There” will be used during official and formal events. For the Red Cross rendition of “Always Ready, Always There” go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhQWcNJmPWI.
- Traffic Tickets. A Friso, Texas, man was incredulous the city police cited him for going nine miles over the speed limit. And he was livid that a jury decided he deserved the ticket. So, when the city ordered him to pay $212 in fines, he figured he’d make the payment as inconvenient as possible. He decided to pay Frisco in pennies. Check out https://youtu.be/kN1awl2KetM to see how he did it. The method is not illegal and was the 2nd time somebody had done it.
- Spaghetti. To see how spaghetti is shaped by hand in Hong Kong where it was invented vice by the Italians go to https://www.youtube.com/embed/F6uT6gwyY1k?rel=0&autoplay=1.
- Okinawa. The U.S. Navy slapped a drinking ban on sailors stationed in Japan on 6 JUN and halted off base liberty after police arrested a U.S. sailor on the southern island of Okinawa on suspicion of drunk driving following a car crash that injured two people.
- Cosigning. More than one-third of people who co-sign for someone else’s loan or credit card end up literally paying for it, a new survey shows at http://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/co-signing-survey.php.
- Car Rentals. A new federal law that took effect last week requires rental car companies to address any federal safety recalls affecting their vehicles before they rent or sell the affected cars. However, companies whose fleets consist of 35 or more cars are excluded.
- Veterans Health Care. Military Times senior correspondent Patricia Kime discusses the state of veterans’ health care in the U.S., as well as proposed changes to the VA system in a CNN Washington Journal interview viewable at http://www.c-span.org/video/?410159-3/washington-journal-patricia-kime-veterans-health-care. She responded to telephone calls and electronic communications, including a telephone line reserved for veterans. It includes a video clip of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald being interviewed April 21, 2016, for “Newsmakers.”
- Iran. Iran on 6 JUN mocked an attempt by three Republican lawmakers to visit the country, calling their request an “ironic” and “inappropriate” “publicity stunt.” The three lawmakers — Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) and Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) — made formal requests in February to visit the country, inspect its nuclear sites and meet with an American held captive.
- B-21 Bomber. In May, the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee voted against public disclosure of the contract cost to design and build the U.S. Air Force’s new long-range B-21 stealth bomber due to the fear that revealing the bid value would provide U.S. adversaries with too much information about the aircraft’s capabilities/
- F-35 B. Check out the ;attest sea trials on the F-35 at https://www.youtube.com/embed/Ki86x1WKPmE . No catapult…no hook. It’s a new world out there! The shape and scope of warfare worldwide just changed.
- 1st Vietnam Battle. Go to https://youtu.be/kKtWX9TDFYc for a 10-minute clip on the Battle of la Drang narrated by participant Col. Tony Nadal (Ret) followed by a 35-minute video (https://youtu.be/h-bKKe3AOFo) on the battle. This three day battle resulted in the loss of thousands of lives, and tested the limits of both armies capabilities. It was later depicted in the book and film We Were Solders Once.
- CA Smoking. All was quiet aboard California Marine and Navy bases 10 JUN as a new law raising the age to purchase cigarettes from 18 to 21 took effect. But unlike the first law to raise the smoking age to 21, which took effect in Hawaii at the start of the year, this law explicitly exempts active-duty members of the military from having to comply.
- Mosquitos. The best protection against mosquitoes comes from repellents containing 30 to 95 percent DEET or oil of lemon eucalyptus, which cost around $5 a bottle.
- Car Buffs. Check out http://www.tvraaca.org/oldmovies.htm#movie to watch your pick of 96 old car movies ranging from one to 60 minutes each.
- FICO. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy will remain on your credit report for 10 years whereas, a Chapter 13 bankruptcy only remains on your report for seven years.
- At-Sea Synthetic Fuel Production. Scientists at the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL)’s material science and technology division have been awarded a US patent for a method to produce fuel stocks for vehicles, aircraft, and ships while at sea or in remote locations, and hope to have a scaled-up second-generation demonstration operating by the end of this year, the lab said on 8 June. The single process simultaneously extracts carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrogen (H2) from seawater, providing all the raw materials necessary for production of synthetic liquid hydrocarbons – liquid natural gas, compressed natural gas, F-76 maritime fuel, and JP-5 naval aviation fuel – drop-in fuels that can be used with existing delivery infrastructure and with no engine alterations.
[Source: Various | June 15, 2016 ++]
US-Philippines Relations ► New RP President Impact on Defense
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said 2 JUN the American alliance with the Philippines remains “ironclad” following the election of a new Philippines president who has said his country needs to chart a course more independent of the United States. Carter spoke during an in-flight interview with reporters traveling with him to Singapore for an annual international security conference known as the Shangri-la Dialogue. Carter plans to meet with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts on the sidelines of the conference, and may hold other bilateral talks before departing Sunday.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter President-elect Rodrigo Duterte
During a visit to Manila in April, Carter announced new measures to strengthen U.S.-Philippines defense relations. Since then, president-elect Rodrigo Duterte has said he will pursue policies making his country more independent of the United States. Duterte takes office 30 JUN. Carter said the U.S. has no plans to change course. “With respect to our relationship with the Philippines, that is an alliance relationship. We take that very seriously,” Carter said. “It is, as we say, ironclad. It is with a democracy, and so they have a new government. We look forward to working with them.”
A Visiting Forces Agreement which took effect in 1999 allowed American forces to return to the Philippines for large-scale combat exercises nearly a decade after the closure of sprawling U.S. military bases in the country. A related pact signed in 2014, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, grants American forces, warships and fighter jets access to five Philippine military camps, where they can erect buildings and other military facilities. The accords have helped the U.S. reassert its presence in Asia, which dovetails with Philippine hopes for American help in countering China’s increasingly assertive claims to areas of the South China Sea also claimed by the Philippines.
Duterte, a former mayor of the southern Philippine city of Davao, has described himself as a “socialist” with a “cold” relationship with America. His spokesman Peter Lavina says that started when U.S. authorities took an American suspected in a 2002 hotel bomb blast out of Davao without Duterte’s knowledge. Duterte says he has reservations about the periodic presence of U.S. troops in the country but plans to send an envoy to the U.S. Embassy and other diplomatic missions to extend a hand of friendship. [Source: Associated Press | Robert Burns | Jun 02, 2016 ++]
China Territorial Claims Update 03 ► ADIZ Issue Sparks Sharp Warning
Amid continued murmurs that China may move to implement an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the South China Sea, the United States’ top diplomat issued a sharp warning to China. Speaking in Mongolia on Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warning that the United States would treat a Chinese ADIZ over the South China Sea as a “provocative and destabilizing act.” “We would consider an ADIZ… over portions of the South China Sea as a provocative and destabilizing act which would automatically raise tensions and call into serious question China’s commitment to diplomatically manage the territorial disputes of the South China Sea,” Kerry said in Mongolia, where he is on a state visit ahead of a trip to China.
“We urge China not to move unilaterally in ways that are provocative,” Kerry added. Kerry’s remarks coincided with the Shangri-La Dialogue, which took place over the weekend in Singapore and is Asia’s premier security forum, drawing leaders from across the region. At the forum, Admiral Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of the Joint Staff Department of the Central Military Commission of China, delivered remarks defending China’s position over the South China Sea disputes. Tensions are high between the United States and China over the South China Sea ahead of their annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue. The eighth iteration of that dialogue is slated to begin soon and will cover the gamut of issues in the U.S.-China bilateral relationship. Moreover, regional states and the United States alike are eagerly awaiting the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s verdict in Philippines v. China; the verdict will likely assess the status of several disputed features in the South China Sea and potentially China’s ambiguous nine-dashed line claim.
Regional security observers have speculated since late 2013, when China declared an ADIZ over the East China Sea, that Beijing could take a similar move in the South China Sea. The Diplomat assessed the reasons last week of why it’s probable that China would look to implement an ADIZ there (http://thediplomat.com/2016/06/is-china-really-about-to-announce-a-south-china-sea-air-defense-identification-zone-maybe). However, it’s far from clear that Beijing would benefit directly from an ADIZ or that the Chinese military is adequately equipped to enforce an ADIZ over the South China Sea, despite the construction of new airstrips on artificial islands in the Spratly Islands. Though the United States takes no position on the sovereignty of individual features in the South China Sea, Washington favors maintaining the freedom of navigation and overflight in the region in line with international law. Accordingly, starting in October 2015, the United States Navy began conducting regular freedom of navigation operations.
On 5 JUN China rebuffed U.S. pressure to curb its activity in the South China Sea restating its sovereignty over most of the disputed territory and saying it “has no fear of trouble”. On the last day of Asia’s biggest security summit, Admiral Sun Jianguo said China will not be bullied, including over a pending international court ruling over its claims in the vital trade route. “We do not make trouble, but we have no fear of trouble,” Sun told the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, where more than 600 security, military and government delegates had gathered over three days. “China will not bear the consequences, nor will it allow any infringement on its sovereignty and security interest, or stay indifferent to some countries creating chaos in the South China Sea.” [Source: The Diplomat | Ankit Panda | June 06, 2016 ++]
Army Times ► Jim Tice Retirees After 46-years
Army Times Senior Reporter Jim Tice, a man who guided soldiers through three separate drawdowns, retired 27 MAY after 46 years of military journalism. Tice joined the staff in December 1970 after completing three years in the Army as a noncommissioned officer with a field unit of the 66th Military Intelligence Group in Munich, Germany. During his reporting career, Jim was known in the newsroom and in the Army as the go-to authority for Army personnel policies and promotions. Some highlights from an incredible career:
- Tice provided detailed coverage of three major force reductions — the painful drawdown following the Vietnam War, the post-Cold War drawdown of the 1990s and the current drawdown that has reduced the size of the force by nearly 90,000 soldiers in seven years.
- In the mid-1970s, Tice’s reporting confirmed the Army had convened several illegal officer promotion boards. The boards had failed to consider Active Reserve officers, a direct violation of federal law. Tice’s dogged reporting resulted in many boards being reconvened, and many officers were either recalled or awarded pensions. One federal judge estimated the Army’s mistakes had cost the federal government more than $1 billion.
- The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon destroyed many personnel files that documented the post-Cold war drawdown and other personnel programs of the 1990s. Tice donated his own working archives to the Army Center of Military History, which assisted officials in recompiling an official history of that era.
- Tice was awarded the Army Commander’s Award for Public Service by the Army G1 for his reporting on enlisted personnel issues.
Tice lives in Alexandria, Va., with his wife Carolyn, a retired Army civilian. Together the Tices have nearly 80 years of Army service and Army-related employment. Over the past several decades, if your name ever appeared on these pages in a promotion list …. if you picked up Army Times for the latest manpower news… or if you ever clicked on a web story outlining the latest force reductions, you can thank Jim Tice. Jim’s articles have, over the last 18 years of the RAO Bulletin’s existence, been a mainstay in my effort to keep veterans informed. His parting advice to the crew at Army Times was to continue to hold the service accountable during this drawdown — and to look out for its readers. Have fun fishing, JIM. [Source: Army Times | Tony Lombardo | June 3, 2016 ++]
American Sniper ► Court Vacates $1.8M Ventura Award
A federal appeals court on 14 JUN threw out $1.8 million in damages awarded to former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, who said he was defamed by the late author Chris Kyle in the bestselling book “American Sniper.” The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also sent a portion of the case — Ventura’s defamation claim — back to the district court for a new trial, saying Ventura’s attorneys made improper remarks and the trial court “clearly abused its discretion in denying a new trial.” Messages left with Ventura, his publicist and his attorney were not immediately returned Monday. A message left with an attorney for Kyle’s estate also did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Former Navy SEAL and author of the book “American Sniper,” Chris Kyle, left, is shown. On the right
is former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura.
Kyle is a former SEAL regarded as the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history with 160 confirmed kills. In his book “American Sniper,” he wrote a subchapter called “Punching Out Scruff Face” in which he describes decking Ventura at a California bar in 2006 after Ventura made offensive comments about SEALs, including that the SEALs “deserve to lose a few” in Iraq. Ventura, a former Underwater Demolition Teams/SEAL member and ex-pro wrestler, sued. He testified at trial that he never made the statements and that the confrontation never happened. He also said the book ruined his reputation in the tightknit SEAL community. Kyle, who was killed on a shooting range in 2013 by a troubled fellow veteran, gave sworn videotaped testimony before his death that his story was true. The case proceeded against his estate.
In 2014, a jury awarded Ventura $500,000 for defamation and $1.3 million for unjust enrichment. Kyle’s widow, Taya Kyle, appealed, asking that the verdict be thrown out or that a new trial be ordered on First Amendment and other grounds. Ventura’s lawyers, however, argued that jury got the verdict right. In Monday’s ruling, a three-judge appellate panel reversed the unjust-enrichment award, saying the theory of unjust enrichment “enjoys no legal support under Minnesota law” and fails as a matter of law. The majority of the judges also vacated the defamation award and sent that portion of the case back to court for a new trial. The majority found that Ventura’s attorneys improperly let the jury hear that publisher HarperCollins had an insurance policy to cover a defamation award and attorney fees. The majority said those comments prevented Kyle’s estate from receiving a fair trial and that Ventura’s attorneys deliberately referenced a “deep-pocket insurer” to try to influence the jury and enhance damages.
“From our review, these unsupported, improper, and prejudicial statements were not heat of the moment argument, but were strategic and calculated,” the judges wrote. The judges also wrote: “Ventura’s counsel’s closing remarks, in combination with the improper cross-examination of two witnesses about Kyle’s insurance coverage, prevented Kyle from receiving a fair trial.” Judge Lavenski Smith dissented, saying Ventura’s attorneys mentioned insurance coverage only after Taya Kyle testified she’d be responsible for damages. He noted that Ventura’s attorneys argued Taya Kyle should not be allowed to “plead poverty if an insurance company is going to pick up the tab.” Smith said any error in allowing Ventura’s counsel to ask about insurance was harmless and non-prejudicial. He also found that the $500,000 award for defamation was not excessive. The hit movie based on Kyle’s book did not depict the alleged incident.
On May 25, 2016 Navy Times David Larter reported the Navy was examining allegations that famed Navy SEAL and “American Sniper” author Chris Kyle claimed up to three combat valor awards that do not match those appearing in his official military records. The discrepancy adds to the list of disputed claims made by Kyle, who was murdered in 2013, and further tarnishes his legacy of one of the Navy’s most effective snipers. [Source: my Forliti, The Associated Press 7:57 p.m. EDT June 13, 2016 ++]
Internet Speed ► How fast should your high-speed connection be?
Consumer Reports suggests verifying that you are getting the speed you need, especially if you’re paying for better performance than you’re receiving. The popular movie and TV show streaming service Netflix recommends a download speed of 5 megabits per second for HD-quality video. However, Consumer Reports says that is insufficient for a multiple-person household: Given how much data Americans consume, 5 Mbps isn’t going to cut it since performance can suffer as your broadband speed is split among more simultaneous users and/or activities. You can check your Internet speed on websites like Ookla’s Speedtest.net (http://www.speedtest.net) . Consumer Reports recommends testing it multiple times over the course of a few days, including at varying times of day.
For streaming video, it’s important to focus on the download speed. If you upload a lot of photos or videos or play games online, pay close attention to the upload speed. If your Internet isn’t delivering the speed you need, Consumer Reports offers the following tips:
- To help determine if an older modem or router is part of the problem, verify that your router supports the 802.11n standard “at the very least,” Consumer Reports says. If not, ask your Internet service provider about getting a newer model that supports a newer standard, called AC, that is capable of faster speeds.
- To determine whether your wireless connection is part of the problem, switch to a wired connection and retest your Internet speeds.
- If your wireless connection is spotty, try moving your router to a more central location. Also make sure it’s away from obstructions like walls or ceilings, and never keep it in a closet or cabinet.
- If you suspect interference from a microwave oven or cordless phone system, for example, consider switching to a dual-band router that can operate on both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies. “Switching to the higher 5 GHz band can help avoid interference from other devices that operate in the 2.4 GHz range,” Consumer Reports explains.
- For intermittent problems, try rebooting your modem and routers by unplugging their power connections for about 30 seconds. “Sometimes simply restarting these devices will help clear up any issues,” Consumer Reports says.
[Source: MoneyTalksNews | Karla Bowsher | June 18, 2015 ++]
Renters ► 10 Reasons for Non-Acceptance
Do you think you’re the perfect renter and you should be able to just pay the money and be accepted into any building or rental house you want? Not so fast! Landlords and leasing agents look for a lot more than just money. Brooklyn native Crystal Green, a licensed real estate sales person and leasing agent for The Level Group in New York City, identified the biggest lease application mistakes she sees. Here are 10 things on (or not on) your rental application that make them say, “No way” to leasing to you:
1. Your credit score was under 700. Your credit score doesn’t lie because it takes into account your credit account payment history, your amounts owed, how many credit accounts you have and more. “If your credit score is under 700,” explains Green, “it may mean that you have some credit problems, which tells me that an applicant is more likely to go into default on the rent down the line and is a greater risk from a landlord prospective.” If you don’t know you’re credit score, check it. One free service is at https://secure.creditsesame.com/s/signup1#ad=ctatop . Remember, bad credit is fixable. Refer to https://www.creditsesame.com/blog/how-do-i-fix-my-bad-credit for some guidance
2. You ignored requests for additional financial information and documents. “Many people decide it’s not necessary to provide all of the supporting documents I request,” explains Green. “If a prospective tenant is drip-feeding the paperwork to me, I may move on to other qualified candidates who have all their documentation submitted.”
3. Your application was illegible. If I cannot read what you wrote or make out the phone numbers, addresses and names on the application, I cannot verify the information and will move on to applications I can read. Neatness counts when it comes to rental applications.
4. You lied. In this day and age of background checks, eviction checks, credit checks and job, income and prior landlord verification, there’s no point in trying to hide things on your application. A soon as I see any major differences between what you wrote on the application and what turns up on the background check and the credit check, I will move on to other candidates.
5. You left blank spaces. All the spaces on the application are meant to be filled out. If you must leave a blank (because you don’t have two rental references, for example) point out why when you hand in your app. If you leave blanks for your debt payments, prior addresses, reference phone numbers or consent signatures, I can’t verify the information on your application and that shows me that maybe you weren’t all that serious. If that happens, I will move down the list looking for a completely filled in application with no information gaps before calling you to get all the missing information.
6. You have a spotty employment history. If you have trouble holding a job or large gaps between jobs, I might think you’ll have trouble paying the rent and move on to other applicants with solid job histories.
7. You have an eviction, nonpayment of rent or unverifiable rental history.
“If the credit report reflects unpaid rent on a prior residence there’s no way we will rent to that applicant,” says Green. “Landlords see that as a higher possibility that an applicant may not pay the rent and default on the lease entirely.”
8. Your debt-to-income ratio doesn’t support the rent payment. I always run a debt-to-income (DTI) ratio to see if you really can afford the rent. I will determine your income from the pay stubs or tax returns you provided and then add up all your current monthly debt payments I find on your credit report. If the ratio is higher than 36, then just like a mortgage lender I will deny your application on the grounds that your income really can’t support the rent payments. (Not all landlords have a maximum DTI.)
9. You don’t use a bank. Do you rely on prepaid debit cards and money orders to manage your payments and finances? I like to see that a tenant knows how to use a bank as a signal that they know how to manage money. If not, I could end up driving around to collect the rent instead of using a simple online payment service for guaranteed payment on the first of every month. You’d be surprised how many rental applications I deny because they leave the bank information blank and say, “Don’t have one.”
10. You have collections on your credit report. Green says your credit report shows if you paid late often on an assortment of regular monthly bills such as phones or utilities or if any bills are currently in collection. If so, it’s a signal there may be a higher likelihood of a rent default somewhere down the line. But there are also ways to remove collections from your credit report. “There is a little bit of grey area where medical bills and student loans are concerned, says Green, “because I often see millennials carrying a heavy student loan debt.” I agree, but if I see the student loans are in default (meaning they are not in deferment or not being currently paid) or medical bills are in collections, I may decide you have too many other financial obligations in arrears to pay the rent on time or that you don’t take your financial obligations seriously.
Just know that federal law – the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act – prohibits landlords from denying any rental application because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, public assistance income, age or national origin. If your application is denied because of information we found in a credit check or background check, you are entitled to a free copy of that report. One way to avoid many rental application headaches is to pass the credit check with flying colors.
[Source: MoneyTalksNews | Naomi Mannino | May 2, 2016 ++]
Intelligence Briefings ► Presidential Pre-election Briefing
After the political convention confetti is swept away, a more sobering tradition of the presidential election begins: The regular, top-secret intelligence briefings for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee. Started by President Harry S. Truman, the briefings are designed to get the candidates, before they walk into the Oval Office, up to speed on problems around the globe. Truman, who was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vice president for almost three months before Roosevelt died, first learned about the Manhattan Project to develop an atomic bomb only 12 days into his presidency, and he pledged not to leave any future commander in chief behind the ball. There’s an old political saw about how a White House candidate believes firmly in his or her foreign policy views — until that first top-secret briefing. In his recent book, former CIA Director Michael Hayden says these revelations are known as “aw s—” moments — as in, “Aw s—, wish we hadn’t said that during that campaign stop in Buffalo.”
If Clinton is the Democratic nominee, much of the intelligence information she receives probably will sound familiar. As secretary of state until 2013, Clinton was one of President Barack Obama’s senior advisers who were privy to the President’s Daily Brief — the highest level intelligence document prepared in the United States. The intelligence briefings could be eye-opening for New York businessman Donald Trump. The Republican’s loose-lipped campaign remarks have left some intelligence and foreign policy officials worried about whether he can keep the nation’s secrets. Trump has said in interviews that he’s looking forward to the briefings. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, whose office arranges the briefings, was asked recently what he would want to say to Trump to help educate the political newcomer about foreign policy and perhaps even counter some of his ideas, such as temporarily banning Muslims from entering the United States.
Clapper bristled and said the question falsely implied that the U.S. intelligence agencies would have a separate message for each candidate. “There’s a long-standing practice of briefing each of the candidates once they are officially designated. And that sort of shifts into higher gear, in terms of detail, after the president-elect is known,” Clapper said. “It’s not designed to shape anybody’s world view. We just brief as we normally would — each of them — and they (the briefings) have to be exactly the same.” But Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said he believes many people share his deep concern about Trump’s inexperience with handling classified information. “I would have to imagine that those concerns are fairly broadly held, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the intelligence briefings received by both candidates — which will be identical — will be at a more generalized level than they might otherwise be,” said Schiff, D-Calif.
Clinton had her own issues with secret information while secretary of state. The FBI is investigating whether her use of a private server in her home to send and receive work-related emails — including 22 that have since been classified — broke any laws. Intelligence officials have started planning the briefings, which probably will begin right after the Democratic and Republican conventions in late July. After the 8 NOV election, more detailed briefings for the president-elect will include information about U.S. covert operations. The sitting president has the final decision on how much information is disclosed to the president-elect; typically that includes access to the entire President’s Daily Brief. The ritual began in 1952, when Truman offered intelligence briefings to Republican nominee Dwight D. Eisenhower and Democrat Adlai Stevenson.
CIA briefers were in a quandary after the 2000 election, when the country didn’t know for some time whether Republican George W. Bush or Democrat Al Gore had won. Bush had received a four-hour CIA briefing in September before the election at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, but he had never seen the President’s Daily Brief, which Gore saw daily as vice president. As their lengthy ballot recount dragged into December, President Bill Clinton authorized intelligence officials to share the so-called PDB with Bush, too. “The CIA was basically on the edges of their seats waiting for permission to start briefing Bush,” said David Priess, author of “The President’s Book of Secrets,” a history of the President’s Daily Brief.
The first one on Dec. 5 almost didn’t happen because water poured through the ceiling of the CIA’s outpost in Austin, Texas, threatening efforts to reproduce the so-called PDB on sensitive communications equipment. Priess said Bush started receiving the PDB later than any other president in recent history, and he is the only person in the modern era to get PDB briefings before he technically was president-elect. The pre-election briefings for Eisenhower’s successor, John F. Kennedy, raised the issue of when presidential candidates should find out about pending U.S. covert operations — in this case what became the failed U.S.-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion meant to topple Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Ten days after becoming president-elect, Kennedy was given the details at his family’s home in Palm Beach, Florida. Likewise, Trump or Clinton, as early as the day after the election, could learn more about operations against the Islamic State group, for instance, than they know now.
Eisenhower, the first to receive the briefings, was commander of allied forces in Europe during World War II, so he was in on his share of secrets before winning the presidency. He received four briefings, including one on a train bound for Grand Central Station in New York, according to a book by former CIA inspector general John Helgerson, who extensively researched the briefings. Another briefing was conducted in Denver where Eisenhower stopped in at a rodeo and toured the grounds in a stagecoach with the CIA briefer riding “shotgun, up top with the driver,” Helgerson wrote. [Source: Associated Press | Deb Riechmann | May 31, 2016 ++]
Brain Teaser ► Movies Stars
The following questions are about movies made between 1950 and 1998. See how good your memory is. Those of you that are over 60 will probably do best. No cheating and don’t Google your question. That’s cheating!
1. Who played the starring male roll in the 1952 movie “Ivanhoe?”
a. Clark Gable b. Errol Flynn
c. Robert Taylor d. Burt Lancaster
2. Who played Gary Cooper’s wife in “High Noon?”
a. Barbara Stanwyck b. Lana Turner
c. Grace Kelly d. Olivia de Havilland
3. Who played the main male part in “Ben–Hur?”
a. Charlton Heston b. Kirk Douglas
c. John Wayne d. Dean Martin
4. Who played the nut case in “Psycho?”
a. James Dean b. River Phoenix
c. Jeff Bridges d. Anthony Perkins
5. Who played Dustin Hoffman’s girlfriend in “The Graduate?”
a. Katherine Ross b. Elizabeth Taylor
c. Mia Farrow d. Faye Dunaway.
6. Who played Lawrence in “Lawrence of Arabia”
a. Tyrone Power b. Peter O’Toole
c. Jimmy Stewart d. Charles Bronson
7. Who played the female lead in “The Birds?”
a. Marilyn Monroe b. Marsha Mason
c. Natalie Wood d. Tippi Hedren
8. Who played the chief of police in “Jaws?”
a. Ernest Borgnine b. Roy Scheider
c. George Hamilton d. Eli Wallach
9. Who played Sonny in “The Godfather?”
a. Sylvester Stallone b. Robert DeNiro
c. James Caan d. Marlon Brando
10. Who played Rocky’s wife in “Rocky?”
a. Talia Shire b. Hillary Duff
c. Diane Keaton d. Mimi Rogers
11. Who played the young blonde-haired kid in “E.T. The Extra Terrestial?”
a. Shirley Temple b Drew Barrymore
c. Tracy Gold d. Mary-Kate Olsen
12. Who played Jake La Motta’s wife in “Raging Bull?”
a. Cathy Moriarty b. Winona Ryder
c. Lana Turner d. Sharon Stone
13. Who played the lead male part in “Die Hard?”
a. Robert DeNiro b. Sylvester Stallone
c. Johnny Depp d. Bruce Willis
14. Who was Tom Cruise’s girlfriend in “Top Gun?”
a. Meg Ryan b. Melonie Griffith
c. Kelly McGillis d. Katheen Turner
15. Who played the black man in “The Shawshank Redemption?”
a. Denzel Washington b. Danny Glover
c. Samuel Jackson d. Morgan Freeman
16. Who played the US Lieutenant in “Saving Private Ryan?”
a. Jack Nicholson b. Tom Hanks
c. Charlie Sheen d. Mark Walberg
17. Who played Leonardo DiCaprio’s girlfriend in “Titanic?”
a. Julia Roberts b. Marisa Tomei
c. Kate Winslet d. Debra Winger
18. Who played Schindler in “Schindler’s List?”
a. Liam Neeson b. Michael Douglas
c. Steve McQueen d. James Woods
Have You Heard? ► Puns for Educated Minds & FF or EF
1. The fattest knight at King Arthur’s round table was Sir Cumference. He acquired his size from too much pi.
2. I thought I saw an eye-doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.
3. She was only a whisky-maker, but he loved her still.
4. A rubber-band pistol was confiscated from an algebra class, because it was a weapon of math disruption.
5. No matter how much you push the envelope, it’ll still be stationery.
6. A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.
7. A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart.
8. Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.
9. A hole has been found in the nudist-camp wall. The police are looking into it.
10. Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
11. Atheism is a non-prophet organization.
12. Two hats were hanging on a hat rack in the hallway. One hat said to the other: ‘You stay here; I’ll go on a head.’
13. I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.
14. A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said: ‘Keep off the Grass.’
15. The midget fortune-teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.
16. The soldier who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran..
17. A backward poet writes inverse.
18. In a democracy it’s your vote that counts. In feudalism it’s your count that votes.
19. When cannibals ate a missionary, they got a taste of religion.
20. If you jumped off the bridge in Paris, you’d be in Seine.
21. A vulture carrying two dead raccoons boards an airplane. The stewardess looks at him and says, I’m sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger.’
22. Two fish swim into a concrete wall. One turns to the other and says, ‘Dam!’
23. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can’t have your kayak and heat it too.
24. Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says, ‘I’ve lost my electron.’ The other says, ‘Are you sure?’ The first replies, ‘Yes, I’m positive.’
25. Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root-canal? His goal: transcend dental medication.
26. There was the person who sent ten puns to friends, with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in ten did.
After a seven-month deployment to the Western Pacific the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln was finally inching up to the pier at San Diego’s North Island Navy base. Looking down from the bridge the ship’s Captain noticed a sailor on the flight deck waving intently with semaphore flags. He also spotted an attractive young woman standing on top of a mini-van in the parking lot who was waving semaphore flags.
Always concerned about security and never having seen something like this before, the Captain barked at his duty signalman, “What message are those two people sending?”
The signalman concentrated intently and quickly reported, “Sir, he is sending FOXTROT-FOXTROT (FF) and she is sending ECHO-FOXTROT (EF).”
Not having any clue as to what these messages could mean, the Captain dispatched an armed Marine to escort the flag waving sailor up to the bridge.
The young sailor arrived, out of breath from climbing up the many ladders leading to the bridge, saluted smartly, and said, “Seaman Endicott reporting as ordered, sir!”
“Seaman”, the said Captain gruffly, “who is that woman on the pier and why are you exchanging signals FF and EF with her?”
“Sir, that’s my wife, sir, and she wants to eat first!”
Brain Teaser Answer ► Movie Stars
1.c 2.c 3.c 4.d 5.a
6.b 7.d 8.b 9.c 10.a
11.b 12.d 13.d 14.c 15.d
16.b 17.c 18.a
ANSWERS: 1c. 2c. 3a 4d. 5a. 6b. 7d. 8b. 9c. 10a. 11b. 12d. 13d.14c. 15d. 16b. 17c. 18.a
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