THIS BULLETIN CONTAINS THE FOLLOWING ARTICLES
Pg Article Subject
. * DOD * .
04 == Commissary Privatization  —————– (AAFES Has A Plan)
06 == DoD/VA Seamless Transition  — (VA Official Says Won’t Work)
07 == DoD Headset Project ————- (Improve Brain’s Learning Skills)
08 == PTSD  ——————- (Do PTSD Vets Deserve a Purple Heart?)
10 == TRICARE Regions  ———- (TRO North & South Merger 1 JUL)
11 == TRICARE Cataract Coverage ————————– ( IOL Surgery)
11 == TRICARE FAI Coverage ——————— (Hip Condition Approved)
11 == TRICARE ASD Care ——————————— (ABA Rate Change)
12 == POW/MIA Recoveries ———- (Reported 16 thru 31 Jul 2016 | Eight)
. * VA * .
16 == VA Secretary  —- (Same Day Appointments Coming by DEC)
16 == VA Nursing  —-(Anesthesiologists Oppose Proposed VA Rule)
17 == VA Art Expenditures ——- ———————— (Oversight Report)
17 == VA Accountability  —— (VA Refuses to Apply VACAA Law)
18 == VA Project ARCH  – (Ends 7 AUG | Users Care Will Continue)
19 == Vet Toxic Exposure | Lejeune  —— (Regulation Change Pending )
20 == Vet Toxic Exposure | Lejeune  ————– (VA Issues Final Rule)
20 == PTSD  ———————————— (Virtual Reality Therapy)
22 == PTSD  ——————————– (Lessons Learned Since 911)
23 == VA Performance  —————– (RAND Corporation Findings)
25 == VA Mediterranean Diet Review —————– (Health Effect Findings)
26 == VA Secretary  —————- (House VA Chairman Support Shifts)
27 == VA Vet Choice Program  ———– (2M Appointments Since 2014)
27 == VA VISTA  ——- (GAO Asked to Examine Efforts to Modernize)
29 == VA PACT  —————- ( Seamless Care for Traveling Veterans)
29 == VA Cemetery Memorials  ——— (Walks, Sections, and Walls)
30 == Trump VA Plan  ———– (Republican Party Platform Similarities)
30 == Trump VA Plan  ———————————– (AFGE Opposed)
31 == Trump VA Plan  ——————– (VFW Convention Remarks)
32 == Clinton VA Plan ———————- (VFW Convention Comments)
33 == VA Fraud, Waste & Abuse ————- (Reported 16 thru 31 JUL 2016)
35 == VA Grave Marker Medallion  ——————– (How to Obtain)
36 == VAMC Altoona PA ———– (Medical Records Illegally Accessed)
37 == VAMC Oklahoma City  —– (Improvements Across the Board)
38 == VAMC Charleston SC  ————- (Rebuilding Veterans Trust)
39 == VA HCS Pittsburgh  ——— (Trying To Change A Bad Image)
. * Vets * .
40 == Vet Preference  – (OPM Guidance | Deceased/Disabled Vet Parents)
40 == Forgotten Warrior Memorial Wall ——— (PTSD | One -Of-A-Kind)
41 == Vet Educational Assistance —– (35K Vet’s Tuition/BAH in Jeopardy)
42 == Clinton on Vet Benefits ———————— (Education & Health Care)
43 == Mesothelioma —————————— (What Veterans Should Know)
45 == Veterans Advantage ———— (Military Discounted Amtrak Vacations)
46 == Korean War Memorial  ———— (San Francisco Opening 1 AUG)
47 == Korean War Valor — (Sgt Reckless Posthumously Awarded Medal)
48 == Honor Flights  ———— (Looking for Western New York Vets)
48 == Vet Toxic Exposure | AFB PFCs ——- (2000+ Contaminated Sites)
49 == Vet Fraud & Abuse —————————— (16 thru 31 JUL 2016)
51 == WWII Vets  | Completed 50 Missions———— (Grim~Robert)
52 == WWII Vets  | Decorated by France ——– (Mercedes~Manuel)
53 == Vietnam Vets  ————————————- (Kettles~Charles)
56 == Retiree Appreciation Days —————————- (As of 10 JUL 2016)
56 == Vet Hiring Fairs ———————————— (01 thru 15 AUG 2016)
57 == Vet State Benefits & Discounts ——————— (Connecticut 2016)
* Vet Legislation * .
58 == VADIP  ————————————– (Senate Passes S.3055)
58 == Congressional Gold Medal  —— (Honoring Filipino Veterans)
60 == NDAA 2017  ——————- (S.2932 | Senate Okays Conference)
60 == Reservists Separation Physicals – (H.R.4251 | Enhance VA Eligibility)
61 == TRICARE Retiree Eligibility —— (H.R.5458 | Opt In/Out Option)
62 == Vet Bills Submitted to 114th Congress ———– (160716 thru 160731)
. * MILITARY * .
64 == Islamic State Air War ————- (Air Force Weapon Release Data)
64 == VirtualEye —————- (Looking Behind Closed Doors Remotely)
66 == Military Combat Physicians —- (Maintaining Trauma Skills Proposal)
66 == Navy Financial Education Program —– (Informed Decisions Goal)
67 == Election 2016 | Poll ——— (Dissatisfied | 61% Trump & 82% Clinton)
69 == Trump Military Readiness Plans —— (Pledges to Rebuild Military)
70 == USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78)  ——- (Years Behind Schedule)
71 == Navy Digital Library Program ————————(Access Procedure)
71 == Space Fence ———- (Necessary to Reduce Bubble of Uncertainty)
73 == Iraq Bomb Detectors ——————— (Fake Ones Finally Banned)
74 == SC Guard Concealed Weapons ———– (Armories | Now Authorized)
. * MILITARY HISTORY * .
76 == WWII Operation COBRA ———————— (Friendly-Fire Incident)
78 == Korean War Remembrances  — (Armistice’s 63rd Anniversary)
79 == Military History —————————— (Andersonville Prison | CW)
80 == USS Indianapolis (CA-35) ——————- ( New Search Lead Found)
81 == Military History Anniversaries ————————– (01 thru 15 AUG)
81 == Medal of Honor Citations ———————– (Bell~Bernard O | WWII)
83 == Famous Civil War Battles Quiz 1 ———————– (Do You Know?)
83 == Famous Civil War Battles Quiz 1 ——– (Did You Answer Correctly?)
. * HEALTH CARE * .
85 == Quirky Health Hacks ———————— (Do You Know these 10)
86 == Tricare Webiner — (Asked & Answered | 3 AUG @ 12-1300 EST)
86 == Blood Pressure  ————– (15 Things to Know About Yours)
88 == Hearing Aids  ———– (Reasons you Might Need Hearing Help)
90 == Acne —————————————— (What Patents Should Know)
. * FINANCES * .
93 == COLA 2017[ 02] ——— —– (Veterans Benefits/SSA Will Match)
94 == Cell Phone Insurance —— ———————– (Should You Buy?)
95 == IRAs | Automatic — (Where Does Your State Stand On the Issue)
97 == Social Security Reduced Benefits [ 02] – (Back-Door Debt Limit Deal)
98 == IRAs | Inherited ————————————— (SSA & Tax Impact)
98 == Saving Money ——————– (Things You Should Never Buy New)
100 == Federal Student Tax Scam ——————————— (How It works)
101 == Pokomon GO Phishing Scam —————————– (How It works)
102 == Skimmers —————– (BBB Warning | Credit/Debit Card Readers)
103 == Reverse Mortgage  ———— (Now Safer With Rule Changes)
105 == Tax Burden for Kansas Retired Vets ——————– (As of Jul 2016)
. * GENERAL INTEREST * .
106 == Notes of Interest ———————————— (16 thru 31 JUL 2016)
108 == HVAC Update 19 ———— (Tim Walz Making A Bid for Chairman)
109 == Cell Phone Chargers ———– (Current Ones Soon Will be Obsolete)
110 == Food Tips —————————————————- (12 How To’s)
111 == Retiree Moving ————— (4 Questions To Ask Before You Do)
113 == Pokemania ——— (Pokemon Go | 7.2M Downloads in 1st Week)
114 == Cell Phone Service Plans  —- (Defense Mobile Restructuring)
115 == Brain Teaser ————————— (Should You be Institutionalized)
115 == Have You Heard? ———————- (Donuts || Marine trained dog…)
116 == Brain Teaser Answer —————– (Should You be Institutionalized)
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 31 JUL 2016
Attachment – Connecticut Vet State Benefits & Discounts JUL 2016
Attachment – Military History Anniversaries 01 thru 15 AUG
* DoD *
Commissary Privatization Update 03 ► AAFES Has A Plan
The Army and Air Force Exchange Service is making a preemptive strike against the possible privatization of commissaries with a new proposal that would put their control into the hands of the services’ military exchanges and installation commanders. AAFES submitted the proposal to defense officials the week of 11 JUL. According to documents obtained by Military Times, AAFES would be involved in a “government-owned, contract-operated” structure that combines military resale experts with leading commercial grocery retailers and distribution experts. A commercial retailer would operate the stores at larger bases under contract with and under the jurisdiction of the exchanges, while the exchanges would directly operate smaller commissary stores. On Navy and Marine Corps installations, those services’ exchanges would have similar operating agreements. A source said officials with those exchange services are remaining neutral on the AAFES idea, which is in its infancy. The idea would require the support of all the service branches.
“It’s an interesting idea. But AAFES can’t do this alone, because AAFES doesn’t have a presence everywhere there are commissaries,” said Joyce Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association. “How would they do this without the commitment of the other exchanges? And if not, what does this do to the commissary benefit?” A source familiar with the proposal said the plan stops short of consolidating commissaries and exchanges.
The stores still would be separate, but functions above the store level would be “streamlined,” and there would be fewer managers. Defense officials have said publicly that they’ve ruled out merging the commissaries and exchanges. The goal is to provide “a grocery solution that preserves military resale while lowering the [taxpayer] burden,” according to the AAFES documents. The plan would cut the amount of taxpayer dollars required by half, from the current $1.4 billion a year to between $700 million and $800 million.
Over the past few years, Defense officials have attempted to cut the operating budget of the commissary system, but lawmakers have not allowed the cuts. Legislation is currently working its way through Congress that would allow commissaries to end their decades-old model of selling groceries at cost to customers, plus a 5-percent surcharge that pays for store construction and renovations. If the legislation becomes law, commissary stores will be able to mark up the prices of some items to reduce the taxpayer dollars required. The commissary system will also start introducing its own private label brand of some items later this year.
This current proposal was submitted by AAFES in response to a Defense Department request for information issued in May, calling on private companies to provide information about their interest in and ability to take over the operation of all or part of the commissary system. The deadline for submitting information is 15 JUL. It’s not a contract solicitation, but simply a request to find out what ideas and proposals are out there. AAFES spokeswoman Julie Mitchell confirmed that AAFES has responded to the RFI, but could provide no further details. Information was not immediately available from DoD officials about the AAFES proposal or whether other proposals have been submitted.
AAFES’ plan involves a reduction in the number of personnel required above the store level by combining many functions. The commissary employees would be converted from the current civil service system to the nonappropriated fund system, which provides the pay and benefits to exchange employees. The plan would preserve “soft landings for DeCA’s [taxpayer funded] employees” and convert them to the NAF system over time, as there are vacancies, according to the documents. Besides reducing the overhead costs of personnel, DeCA and the exchanges could also combine the buying power of the commissaries and exchanges, and buying in larger quantities could benefit the customers through lower prices. While centralizing some functions, the plan would bring back more control to installation commanders over the retail operations on their bases, giving commanders the ability to provide input similar to what they do with their service’s exchange system, a source said. It would provide a single point of contact and accountability on each installation to better serve commanders and streamline reporting, according to the documents.
The fate of the military exchanges is tied to the future viability of commissaries. For example, during sequestration when commissaries were closed, there was a 17 percent decline in exchange sales because of the reduction in foot traffic. Earlier this year, senators voted to quash an effort to require a pilot program testing privatization at no more than five large commissaries. But with this request for information related to privatization, DoD is carrying out a mandate from Congress last year to study the possibility of privatizing all or part of the commissary system.
The DoD request for information regarding privatization is asking companies whether their business could fully perform all the functions of the commissary agency, or if they would need to partner with other businesses. In addition, the request asks whether the company could perform the functions without any subsidy from the government and still maintain the customer savings as well as the quality of products and service, plus a number of questions related to specific aspects of the commissary agency’s operations. Many concerns have been raised about privatizing commissaries. Because private companies make profits and the commissaries don’t, advocates have said, it’s unclear what the benefit would be for the commissary customer. According to the commissary agency, customers currently receive an average of 30 percent savings at commissaries, compared to stores in the civilian sector.
And while some companies might be willing to take on the operation of larger commissaries, more than two-thirds of commissaries operate in areas where it would not be profitable for commercial entities. A source said the AAFES plan aims to address this issue by taking on the direct operation of the smaller and often remote commissaries, including those overseas. In addition, there is anticipated savings in logistics for a variety of reasons, including the fact that commissaries and exchanges are often located near each other. [Source: Military Times | Karen Jowers | July 15, 2016 ++]
DoD/VA Seamless Transition Update 35 ► VA Official Says Won’t Work
A top IT official from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) told Congress that the VA is currently unable to maintain military health records on one system shared by the Department of Defense (DOD). “The reality is there is no system that can support both DOD and the VA at the same time. It will not scale,” LaVerne Council, the VA’s assistant secretary for information and technology, testified at a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veteran Affairs and Related Agencies hearing on the VA’s electronic health record system, VistA.
Scalability is the ability of a computer system to handle a growing volume of data. “There is no system that will support all the things you have to do – to do the clinical management and the clinical operations at the same time,” Council said in mid-JUL on Capitol Hill. But Sen. Shelley Capito (R-WV) pointed out that computer systems like Amazon’s can scale and questioned why the VA’s electronic health system cannot. “At the same time. There is no system that will support all the things you have to do – to do clinical management and clinical operations – at the same time,” Council responded. In her written testimony, Council said the VA “requires an interconnected system of systems, based on a single platform, which supports an electronic health record (EHR) as one of several components.” However, David Waltman, an executive and senior advisor to the undersecretary for health in the Veterans Health Administration, said that with several advancements in IT, the department is hopeful that its computer system might be fully interoperable with DOD’s by mid-2018.
According to its website, VistA, or Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, “is VA’s award winning Health Information Technology (IT) system. It provides an integrated inpatient and outpatient electronic health record for VA patients and administrative tools to help VA deliver the best quality medical care to veterans.” Citing a total of $771 million that VA has already spent on VistA, Council stated that “these investments will also deliver value for Veterans and VA providers regardless of whether our path forward is to continue with VistA, a shift to a commercial EHR platform as DOD is doing, or some combination of both. “Fundamentally, our efforts to improve information systems are about data, not software. Regardless of the software platform, we need to be able to access the right data at the right time….VA is at a historic crossroad and will need to make bold reforms that will shape how we deliver IT services and health care in the future, as well as improve the experiences of veterans, community providers, and VA staff,” Council concluded.
However, Valerie Melvin, director of information management and technology resources issues at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), testified that the VA previously said that one shared electronic healthcare record system for active and retired military would be the solution. “We did say that we did encourage one system as the way [forward], and they in fact stated that one system was in fact the way to go when they went with an integrated electronic health record approach in 2011,” Melvin said.
The VA and DOD have been collaborating to create interoperability between the government agencies’ health records systems to allow faster access to these records for veterans. The DOD currently participates in an EHealth exchange, “which is a public private partnership of both government, including DOD, providers and private sector providers providing data through health information exchange organizations,” Dr. Lauren Thompson, director of the DOD/VA Interagency Program Office at DOD, testified. However, Thompson acknowledged that not all health providers who treat veterans have access to this information because they are not part of the health exchange. Sen. Capito noted that the challenge of not all veteran health providers having access to the data adds another layer of complexity to the goal of achieving interoperability between the two departments’ healthcare records systems.
A 2015 GAO report recommended the two agencies work together to create a strong healthcare network to serve the nation’s active military and veterans. However, the attempt was unsuccessful due to nature of the agencies’ different IT systems. “[The VA] has also faced significant information technology challenges that contributed to GAO’s designation of VA healthcare as a high risk area,” the GAO report said. “The departments have not identified outcome-oriented goals and metrics to clearly define what they aim to achieve from their interoperability efforts,” Melvin noted. “A modernized VA electronic health record system that is fully interoperable with DOD’s system is still years away.”
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) displays a graphic of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs’ outdated computer technology.
Committee Chairman Mark Kirk (R-IL) showed a visual display of the technology used at the VA, which dates back at least 40 years, saying that the technology needs to keep up with the times. Kirk said he is hopeful that “we can reach a new 22nd century level of care for veterans. I want to make sure analytics are a deep part of this electronic healthcare revolution that we have for VA and DOD.” Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) brought up the VA’s past scheduling scandal that has left thousands of veterans on long waiting lists for healthcare appointments. “There is a product that we call CareNow. It’s a mobile access for the veteran which will allow them to schedule with the [doctor in] real-time,” Council responded. “We are working with the doctors now to put that in full testing.” [Source: Conservative News Service | Alex Grubbs | July 19, 2016 ++]
DoD Headset Project ► Improve Brain’s Learning Skills
The Pentagon’s new innovation unit will be testing a high-tech headset to see whether it can make special operators even better fighters, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said 26 JUL. Carter said the controversial theory behind the experimental headset is that it “uses non-invasive electrical stimulation” to improve the brain’s learning skills, which could translate into more powerful operators
The Halo Sport headset builds on research already conducted by the U.S. armed forces,
according to the manufacturer Halo Neuroscience.
The “enhanced human operations” headset project, developed by Halo Neuroscience to improve the brain’s ability to adapt, was funded by the Defense Innovation Unit (Experimental), or DIUx, the Carter initiative intended to connect the Pentagon with cutting-edge technology and keep the U.S. ahead of competitor nations. The company claims its new Halo Sport headset builds on research already conducted by the armed forces. “The U.S. military accelerated pilot and sniper training by 50 percent with neurotechnology similar to Halo Sport,” its website states. “We’re bringing these gains to athletics.”
Carter launched DIUx last year at Moffett Airfield in Mountain View, California, to improve outreach to Silicon Valley in what the Pentagon called a “ground-breaking effort to strengthen connections to the American innovation economy and speed technologies into the hands of the warfighter.” The effort got off to a slow start and Carter reorganized it in May, putting it under his personal control and naming Rajiv Shah, an F-16 pilot in the Air Force National Guard who most recently was the senior director of strategy at computer firewall maker Palo Alto Networks, as head of DIUx. “I am proud to announce that in its first 75 days, the new DIUx has made tremendous progress in rebuilding bridges to the technology community,” Shah said. “We’ve demonstrated that DoD can be just as nimble and innovative as the companies we want to do business with.” Carter has asked for $30 million in the defense budget for DIUx, which he said will now be organized into three teams.
- A Venture Team will identify emerging commercial technologies and explore their potential impact on the battlefield;
- A Foundry Team will identify technologies that aren’t yet fully developed for military applications; and
- An Engagement Team will introduce innovators to military problems and the military to entrepreneurs, Carter said.
[Source: DoD Buzz | Richard Sisk | July 26, 2016 ++]
PTSD Update 214 ► Do PTSD Vets Deserve a Purple Heart?
Over the last decade, a controversial question has surrounded the Purple Heart: do veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder deserve it? The Pentagon currently does not award Purple Hearts to veterans suffering from PTSD. Supporters of this policy argue physical wounds have always determined eligibility for the Purple Heart. Some believe the science regarding PTSD is too primitive; indeed symptoms can be difficult to diagnose, and objective tests remain elusive. There are concerns that some veterans might attempt to fake the diagnosis. But critics say that denying Purple Hearts to these veterans reinforces the stigmatization of mental illness—in other words, that conditions of the mind are less real than conditions of the body.
Nathaniel P. Morris a resident physician in psychiatry at the Stanford University School of Medicine, who has worked with veterans suffering from PTSD, can tell you the manifestations of this condition are very real. Symptoms can include flashbacks, paralyzing anxiety, hypervigilance, and self-harm. Whether veterans with PTSD receive the Purple Heart has the potential to shape both the policies and the perceptions surrounding mental health in this country. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, PTSD afflicts up to one in five veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan in a given year, and as many as one in three veterans from earlier conflicts like Vietnam during their lifetime. As of 2013, roughly 400,000 veterans affiliated with the VA carried this diagnosis. These figures suggest psychological trauma is a staggering, but often unrecognized, burden on our troops.
To propel this reform, a growing number of supporters seek to change the name to“post-traumatic stress injury.” After all, advocates say, PTSD stems from exposure to external trauma, much like any physical injury. Many veterans internalize the term “disorder” as being shameful, hiding the diagnosis from colleagues, family, and friends. As a result, these brave soldiers often don’t get the care they need and suffer alone. This debate drew national attention in 2008 when Secretary of Defense Robert Gates vowed to look into the matter. The proposal attracted a wide range of opponents, including veterans groups and the New York Times editorial board. In 2009, the Department of Defense announced it would not award Purple Hearts for the condition, citing many of the above concerns
But a great deal has changed in the near-decade since that ruling. We now know more about PTSD than ever before. New findings suggest PTSD may stem from physical damage to the brain, much like chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the National Football League. Researchers have novel insights into the role that blast waves and traumatic brain injury play in its development. Suicide among veterans has become a national crisis, and we’ve learned those with PTSD have markedly increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors. The ranks of those supporting Purple Hearts for PTSD has swelled, including public endorsements from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, mental health experts, and outspoken veterans. In fact, during 2011, branches of the military expanded Purple Heart eligibility for those who sustained concussions or mild traumatic brain injuries; but again, PTSD was left aside.
Some argue veterans with psychological conditions should receive a separate award. In 2009, a former Marine captain proposed the creation of a “Black Heart” medal for those suffering from PTSD. This might be a step forward, as veterans with PTSD would receive some degree of recognition. Still, separating physical injuries from psychological ones perpetuates the notion that conditions of body and mind are unequal. The Purple Heart is a precious award that should not be taken lightly. Handing out this medal to anyone with mild anxiety, depression, or sleeplessness could undermine its inherent value. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the mental toll of war. In 1943, Lieutenant General George S. Patton Jr. famously slapped shell-shocked soldiers during the invasion of Sicily, disgusted by their “cowardice.” Nearly 75 years later, we’ve made huge strides in our understanding behind the neuroscience and the implications of these psychological injuries; yet more can still be done to acknowledge the wounds these warriors bear. [Source: The Washington Post | Nathaniel P. Morris | July 22, 2016 ++]
TRICARE Regions Update 02 ► TRO North & South Merger 1 JUL
With two of TRICARE’s regions set to merge, the TRICARE Regional Office (TRO) North and TRO South became TRO East on July 1, 2016. TRO West is continuing as before covering the western United States. The move was made in advance of the pending award of the TRICARE-2017 (T-2017). “We wanted to make our operations more efficient,” said Ken Canestrini, chief operating officer for TRO East. “The bottom line is that beneficiaries won’t see any difference in delivered care.”
Current TRO North staff in Falls Church, Virginia, and TRO South staff in San Antonio, are functioning under the new TRO East business model. Some staff rebalancing occurred to eliminate redundancies, but each office will continue to provide management and support services in their respective geographic areas covering 33 states. Canestrini said having two major regional offices hits the right balance of combining operations for efficiencies while making sure not all of the eggs are in one basket. “With just one contractor for all stateside areas, if you had any issues with a contractor or service, it would likely affect all our beneficiaries,” said Canestrini. “This way you’ll continue to have two major sectors of terrain, while still capitalizing on best practices from the different regions.”
TRO East will handle the lion’s share of those enrolled in TRICARE, with about six million beneficiaries – about two-thirds of all TRICARE beneficiaries. Under the future T-2017 Managed Care Support Contracts, one government business partner will manage the network of civilian medical providers for the entire East Region where previously, two business partners split that responsibility in eastern geographic regions designated as North and South. The TRICARE Regional Offices provide essential government oversight and coordination for those civilian contractors.
Canestrini said this move is one of many initiatives in the Defense Health Agency to improve the Military Health System and ensure active-duty, retirees and family members receive the highest-quality health care services for years to come. “This will help us better oversee the contractors providing the care,” he said. “In addition, this increases TRO East’s focus on supporting military hospital and clinic commanders in managing their market and facilitating a more integrated system, while helping our beneficiaries.” [Source: Health.mil | July 18, 2016 ++]
TRICARE Cataract Coverage ► IOL Surgery
Cataract removal is one of the most common operations performed in the United States. According to the National Eye Institute, it also is one of the safest and most effective types of surgery. In about 90 percent of cases, people who have cataract surgery have better vision afterward. TRICARE covers cataract surgery and related supplies and services. More specifically, TRICARE covers the standard intraocular lens (IOL), a fixed lens designed to target vision at a single focal point. During cataract surgery, the natural clouded lens is removed and then replaced by an IOL to become a permanent part of your eye. This provides good distance vision but patients typically need glasses for near and intermediate tasks such as reading and computer use. TRICARE also covers one pair of eyeglasses or contact lenses as a prosthetic device after each medically necessary cataract surgery where an IOL is inserted. If you would like a non-standard IOL instead of a standard monofocal IOL, you will be responsible for the difference in the charges. For more information about your covered vision services, contact your regional contractor (http://www.tricare.mil/ContactUs/CallUs. aspx) or visit the Eye Surgery and Treatment page on the TRICARE website at http://www.tricare.mil/CoveredServices/IsItCovered/EyeSurgeryTreatment.aspx. [Source: Shift Colors | Navy Casualty Office | Winter-Spring 2016 ++]
TRICARE FAI Coverage ► Hip Condition Approved
The 2015 National Defense Authorization Act created a provisional coverage program that allows TRICARE to provide coverage for emerging treatments and technologies. The first treatment to be evaluated and approved under this new program is surgical treatment of a hip condition called Femoroacetabular Impingement (FAI). FAI can occur when the bones of the hip are abnormally shaped. Because they do not fit together perfectly, the hip bones rub against each other and cause damage to the joint. Symptoms include pain in the hip or groin area which limits or hinders mobility.
Provisional coverage for FAI surgery began 1 JAN. Now your health care provider can give you a referral for treatment if you are diagnosed with this condition and meet certain clinical criteria. You will be able to get FAI surgery from any TRICARE authorized orthopedic surgeon who performs this procedure. Your costs will vary by plan, but will be lower if you use a network provider. The surgery must be pre-authorized by your regional contractor. Pre-authorization lets your provider present additional information so TRICARE and our contract partners can make an individual review of your care. There is no retroactive preauthorization or coverage. [Source: Shift Colors | Navy Casualty Office | Winter-Spring 2016 ++]
TRICARE ASD Care ► ABA Rate Change
Many TRICARE beneficiaries diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) receive Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) care under the Autism Care Demonstration. Beginning spring 2016, TRICARE reimbursement rates for ABA providers under the Demonstration will change to become more consistent with national prevailing rates. The current ABA reimbursement rates will be replaced with rates for each geographic location, similar to how all other TRICARE rates are established.
TRICARE currently pays a single reimbursement rate to all ABA providers, adjusted to their level of education, in the U.S., regardless of location. TRICARE established these rates more than eight years ago when there was no data to determine what actual rates should be. “Adjusting reimbursement rates by location and educational level is standard practice for TRICARE and other health plans,” said Mary Kaye Justis, director, TRICARE Health Plan at the Defense Health Agency. “Our highest priority was to establish rates that ensure our beneficiaries have access to ABA therapy while being conscious of prevailing market indexes across the nation.” TRICARE took several steps to ensure access to care with new reimbursement rates. Efforts to monitor the existing ABA provider networks and add additional providers where needed are ongoing. TRICARE commissioned two external studies to examine ABA costs on a national level. This information allowed TRICARE to establish rates based on how other health plans, including state Medicaid plans, pay ABA providers.
“TRICARE continues to offer one of the most generous ABA benefits in the nation,” said Justis. “Families have been passionate in their advocacy for children diagnosed with ASD and we want you to know that we’ve heard your voices.” TRICARE also recently changed ABA cost shares to be consistent with other cost shares under TRICARE Prime and Standard. These changes resulted in a significant benefit improvement by applying the beneficiary’s cost-share for ABA services towards the annual TRICARE catastrophic cap, which limits the maximum out-of-pocket expenses a family will pay per year for their medical care. [Source: Shift Colors | Navy Casualty Office | Winter-Spring 2016 ++]
POW/MIA Recoveries ► Reported 16 thru 31 Jul 2016 | Eight
“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 6 U.S. servicemen who had been previously listed as missing in action from Korea. Returning home for burial with full military honors are:
— Army Master Sgt. Charles J. Brown, who died fighting in North Korea on Nov. 2, 1950. He was assigned to Company L, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment. The date and location of his burial has yet to be announced.
— In late November, 1950, Army Sgt. Harold L. Curtis, 18, was assigned to Company I, 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry Regimen. on the east side of the Chosin Reservoir, North Korea, when the Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces (CPVF) attacked the regiment and forced the unit to withdraw south to the Pungnyuri Inlet. Many soldiers became surrounded and attempted to escape and evade the enemy, but were captured and marched to POW camps. Curtis was declared missing in action as a result of the battle that occurred Dec. 12, 1950. In 1953, during the prisoner of war exchange historically known as “Operation Big Switch,” one repatriated American soldier reported that Curtis died in the vicinity of the Chosin Reservoir in December 1950. Between 1990 and 1994, North Korea returned to the United States 208 boxes of commingled human remains, some of which were recovered in the vicinity of where Curtiswas believed to have died. Lab analysis, in conjunction with the totality of circumstantial evidence available, established Sgt. Curtis’ remains were among those returned to the United States. The date and location of his burial has yet to be announced.
— Army Sgt. 1st Class Lawrence Smith, who died fighting in South Korea on Feb. 12, 1951. He was assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment. The date and location of his burial has yet to be announced.
— Army Master Sgt. Ira V. Miss Jr., 23, of Buckeystown, Md., who was declared missing in South Korea on Feb. 5, 1950. He was assigned to Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. His burial date and location have yet to be announced.
— Army Cpl. Curtis J. Wells, 19, of Huron. Mich., who was declared missing in North Korea on Nov. 27, 1950. He was assigned to Company C, 65th Engineer Combat Battalion, 25th Infantry Division. His burial date and location have yet to be announced.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced 22 JUL that the remains of a serviceman, missing from the Korean War, have been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
U.S. Army Cpl. Charles A. White, 20, of New Lexington, Ohio, will be buried July 29 in New Lexington, Ohio. On December 3, 1950, White was a member of Company G, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, when his company’s position was overrun by the Chinese Communist Forces near Huksu-ri, North Korea. Repatriated American prisoners of war reported that White died in captivity at Prisoner of War Camp 1, Changsong, North Korea, in 1951. Based on this information, the U.S. Army declared White deceased as of May 12, 1951.
In 1954, United Nations and communist forces exchanged the remains of war dead in what came to be called “Operation Glory.” All remains recovered in Operation Glory were turned over to the Army’s Central Identification Unit for analysis. The remains they were unable to identify were interred as unknowns at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii, known as the “Punchbowl.”
In 1999, due to advances in technology, the Department of Defense began to re-examine records and concluded that the possibility for identification of some of these unknowns now existed. The remains designated X-14173 were exhumed on May 18, 2015, so further analysis could be conducted.
To identify White’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used anthropological, dental and chest radiograph comparison analyses; mitochondrial DNA analysis, using the Next Generation Sequencing technique, which matched a niece, a nephew and a sister; as well as circumstantial and material evidence.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains and burial updates of 0 U.S. serviceman who had been previously listed as missing in action from Vietnam. Returning home for burial with full military honors is:
World War II
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains and burial updates of 2 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:
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced 22 JUL that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, unaccounted for since World War II, have been identified and are being returned to his family for burial with full military honors. Marine Pfc. Charles E. Oetjen, 18, of Blue Island, Illinois, will be buried July 30, in Alsip, Illinois. In November 1943, Oetjen was assigned to Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, which landed against stiff Japanese resistance on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands, in an attempt to secure the island. Over several days of intense fighting at Tarawa, approximately 1,000 Marines and Sailors were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded, but the Japanese were virtually annihilated. Oetjen died sometime on the first day of battle, Nov. 20, 1943. The battle of Tarawa was a huge victory for the U.S. military because the Gilbert Islands provided the U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet a platform from which to launch assaults on the Marshall and Caroline Islands to advance their Central Pacific Campaign against Japan.
In the immediate aftermath of the fighting on Tarawa, U.S. service members who died in the battle were buried in a number of battlefield cemeteries on the island. In 1946 and 1947, the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company conducted remains recovery operations on Betio Island, but Oetjen’s remains were not recovered. On Feb. 28, 1949, a military review board declared Oetjen’s remains non-recoverable. In June 2015, a nongovernmental organization, History Flight, Inc., notified DPAA that they discovered a burial site on Betio Island and recovered the remains of what they believed were 35 U.S. Marines who fought during the battle in November 1943. The remains were turned over to DPAA in July 2015. To identify Oetjen’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used mitochondrial DNA analysis, which matched a cousin; laboratory analysis, including dental and anthropological analysis and chest radiograph comparison, which matched Oetjen’s records; as well as circumstantial and material evidence. DPAA is grateful to History Flight, Inc. for this recovery mission.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced 29 JUL that the remains of a U.S. serviceman from World War II have been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors. Navy Fireman 2nd Class James B. Boring, 21, of Vales Mill, Ohio, will be buried August 6, in Albany, Ohio. On Dec. 7, 1941, Boring was assigned to the USS Oklahoma, which was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when the ship was attacked by Japanese aircraft. The USS Oklahoma sustained multiple torpedo hits, which caused it to quickly capsize. The attack on the ship resulted in the deaths of 429 crewmen, including Boring. No single vessel at Pearl Harbor, with the exception of the USS Arizona, suffered as many fatalities. From December 1941 to June 1944, Navy personnel recovered the remains of the deceased crew, which were subsequently interred in the Halawa and Nu’uanu Cemeteries. In September 1947, tasked with recovering and identifying fallen U.S. personnel in the Pacific Theater, members of the American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) disinterred the remains of U.S. casualties from the two cemeteries and transferred them to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks. The laboratory staff was only able to confirm the identifications of 35 men from the USS Oklahoma at that time. The AGRS subsequently buried the unidentified remains in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP), known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu. In October 1949, a military board classified those who could not be identified as non-recoverable, including Boring. In April 2015, the Deputy Secretary of Defense issued a policy memorandum directing the disinterment of unknowns associated with the USS Oklahoma. On June 15, 2015, DPAA personnel began exhuming the remains from the NMCP for analysis. To identify Boring’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used mitochondrial DNA analysis, which matched two nieces, as well as circumstantial evidence and laboratory.
[Source: http://www.dpaa.mil | July 2016 ++]
* VA *
VA Secretary Update 47 ► Same Day Appointments Coming by DEC
Veterans will have same-day access to primary care appointments and mental health services at Veterans Affairs facilities by December, VA Secretary Bob McDonald promised 27 JUL. Addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, McDonald said veterans wait an average of five days for primary care, six days for specialty care and two for mental health services, but VA plans to reduce those further by the end of the year. This, he added, while the department continues to set records for completed appointments — 5.3 million at VA hospitals and clinics and 730,000 at community care providers since March 2014.
“You’ve heard many times that VA is broken. So I’ll answer one question: Can the Department of Veterans Affairs be fixed? Can it be transformed? The answer is yes. Absolutely. Not only can it be transformed, transformation is well underway and we’re already seeing results,” he said. VA launched a massive restructuring in 2015 following the appointment of McDonald, who was hired in the wake of a scandal over appointment wait times that led to the resignation of then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. The MyVA reform effort is designed to overhaul the VA’s administrative practices and improve services, including disability claims processing, health care and outreach to homeless veterans.
At the convention, McDonald was introduced as the “man with the toughest job in the country.” Veterans of Foreign Wars incoming commander Brian Duffy said the organization supports McDonald’s goals to fix the VA. “Our job as veterans advocates is to ensure the VA’s success,” Duffy said. McDonald’s address came between speeches by the presidential hopefuls at the conventions and following the release late last month of a blue ribbon panel’s review of veterans affairs health. Presumed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton pledged Monday to reduce wait times for medical care, improve coordination between military and VA health care coverage, boost programs for female veterans and to “end the epidemic of veteran suicide.”
Following McDonald’s delivery, Republican nominee Donald Trump promised a massive overhaul of the VA but also pledged not to dismantle the government-backed veterans health care system. McDonald said under the guidance of Undersecretary of Health Dr. David Shulkin, VA is changing its approach to treating patients. “VA health care is ‘whole-veteran’ health care — body, mind and soul, customized to meet veterans needs. Yoga? Acupuncture? Sports therapy, music therapy, writing and art therapy? We validate and embrace what works to heal veterans,” he said. [Source: Military Times | Patricia Kime | July 26, 2016 ++]
VA Nursing Update 03 ► Anesthesiologists Oppose Proposed VA Rule
he Missouri Society of Anesthesiologists (MSA) is pushing against a new potential Veterans Administration rule that they believe could put the agency’s patients at risk. A little over two months ago, the VA created a rule that would allow nurses with advanced training, like nurse practitioners and nurse anesthesiologists, to use their full repertoire of skills without the oversight of a doctor. The VA has a widely acknowledged doctor shortage, and the rule is designed to allow well-trained and specialized nurses fill the gaps to provide better access to care and decrease long wait times. David Jackson, a representative of the MSA says that’s all well and good, but it could also lead to a dramatic loss of care, specifically because of how high-risk anesthesiology is. The rule would allow nurse practitioners, even those who have not been trained in anesthesiology practices, to administer anesthesia (among other duties).
Meanwhile, the primary problem that plagues the VA, namely the low, thin-stretched number of physicians, does not apply to physician anesthesiologists. “The problem is there is no shortage of physician anesthesiologists,” Jackson said. “If you don’t have an access problem, there’s no reason to include them in this rule.” The rule change could also see VA hospitals move away from anesthesia specialization altogether, even though anesthetists are among the most rigorously specialized and educated professionals within the health care industry. In addition to the District of Columbia, 21 states have adopted similar proposals to the rule proposed by the VA, but Jackson notes that those states still have some level of oversight. “In Missouri and every state, you have some form of position supervision of anesthesia,” Jackson said.
While the risk of general anesthesia is generally low in this day and age, it still requires a precise touch to keep people unconscious and free of any sensation during invasive operations. That in turn makes complicated and dangerous surgeries less risky. Jackson says that a two-month public commentary period came to an end this week, but that the MSA and their supporters made their voices heard with a social media and web campaign and even a radio spot (https://youtu.be/mlwROvDt7H8 ). Of the 200,000-plus comments submitted nationally, Jackson says that over two-thirds of the comments wanted to reject the change, and 95 percent of veterans were opposed to it. He also believes there’s an easy fix for the VA to pursue: simply remove the anesthesiology stipulation from the proposed rule. “We want to continue the anesthesiologist method currently in practice,” he said. “If it’s allowed in civilian hospitals across the country, why not in the VA?” [Source: The Missouri Times | Travis Zimpfer | July 28, 2016 ++]
VA Art Expenditures ► Oversight Report
The Veterans Affairs administration spent $20 million on expensive artwork and sculptures amidst the healthcare scandal, where thousands of veterans died waiting to see doctors. The taxpayer watchdog group Open the Books teamed up with COX Media Washington, D.C., for an oversight report on spending at the VA, finding numerous frivolous expenditures on artwork, including six-figure dollar sculptures at facilities for the blind. “In the now-infamous VA scandal of 2012-2015, the nation was appalled to learn that 1,000 veterans died while waiting to see a doctor,” wrote Adam Andrzejewski, the founder and CEO of Open the Books, in an editorial for Forbes.
“Tragically, many calls to the suicide assistance hotline were answered by voicemail. The health claim appeals process was known as ‘the hamster wheel’ and the appointment books were cooked in seven of every ten clinics.” “Yet, in the midst of these horrific failings the VA managed to spend $20 million on high-end art over the last ten years—with $16 million spent during the Obama years,” Andrzejewski said.
- The VA spent $21,000 for a 27 foot fake Christmas tree; $32,000 for 62 “local image” pictures for the San Francisco VA; and $115,600 for “art consultants” for the Palo Alto facility.
- A “rock sculpture” cost taxpayers $482,960, and more than a half a million dollars were spent for sculptures for veterans that could not see them.
- “In an ironic vignette, at a healthcare facility dedicated to serving blind veterans—the new Palo Alto Polytrauma and Blind Rehabilitation Center—the agency wasted $670,000 on two sculptures no blind veteran can even see,” Andrzejewski said. “The ‘Helmick Sculpture’ cost $385,000 (2014) and a parking garage exterior wall façade by King Ray Studio for the ‘design, fabrication, and installation of the public artwork’ cost $285,000 (2014).”
“Blind veterans can’t see fancy sculptures, and all veterans would be happier if they could just see a doctor,” he said. [Source: The Washington Free Bacon | Elizabeth Harrington | July 26, 2016 ++]
VA Accountability Update 36 ► VA Refuses to Apply VACAA Law
A dozen military and veterans groups are asking for the right to defend a law in court that makes it easier to fire corrupt and negligent officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs, because the VA is refusing to defend the law on its own. The groups filed a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit asking for the right to defend the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act. The dramatic move comes after the VA said in June that it would no longer apply the law, which Congress passed in 2014 in order to help the agency fire officials after the healthcare wait list scandal.
Military and veterans groups are asking for the right to defend a law in court that makes it easier to fire corrupt and negligent officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
That decision shut down the avenue Congress created in order to help clean up the broken VA. It may also allow Sharon Helman, the former director of the Phoenix VA, to escape her own firing. The notorious official sued after the VA decided to fire her, and because the VA and the Justice Department won’t defend the law, there’s no one to step in to argue against her. The veterans groups, which include the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, are therefore asking for the right to argue against her in court.
In their filing to the appeals court, they said it’s extremely rare that the Justice Department refuses to enforce the law. They said that should open the door to allowing veterans groups to defend it themselves. “Although the federal judiciary has yet to consider its constitutionality, the Department of Justice has announced that it will refuse to defend the statute’s constitutionality in this case against Helman’s Appointments Clause challenge,” they wrote. “This court should not entertain the possibility of invalidating the VACAA without a full and thorough airing or arguments and authorities on both sides of the issue by party litigants who are actually adverse to each other on that point,” they added. [Source: Washington Examiner | Pete Kasperowicz | July 25, 2016 ++]
VA Project ARCH Update 01 ► Ends 7 AUG | Users Care Will Continue
As the Project ARCH pilot program comes to an end next month, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert A. McDonald announced 21 JUL that Veterans enrolled in the program will be able to continue receiving care closer to home. Taking advantage of options available under the Veterans Choice Program, such as the “unusual or excessive burden provision” and Provider Agreements, Veterans receiving care under Project ARCH will continue care without interruption when the pilot program ends 7 AUG. “There is nothing more important to us than serving the Veterans who served our country,” said Secretary McDonald. “My commitment to those Veterans under Project ARCH is that we will do everything within our control to make sure they maintain continuity of care in their communities with the providers they know.”
Project ARCH operates in Maine, Virginia, Kansas, Montana and Arizona. In anticipation of the program’s end, Project ARCH providers have been contacted and invited to continue to provide health care to Veterans under the Veterans Choice Program. “VA appreciates the Veterans and community providers who participated in the program,” said Dr. Baligh Yehia, Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Community Care. “VA is employing lessons learned and best practices from the program as we work to build one consolidated program for community care – a program that delivers the best of both VA and the community.” Veterans transitioning to the Veterans Choice Program are being contacted regarding their individual care. [Source: VA News Release | July 21, 2016 ++]
Vet Toxic Exposure | Lejeune Update 60 ► Regulation Change Pending
The Veterans Affairs Department has determined that eight medical conditions are linked to service at Camp Lejeune, N.C. from 1953 to 1987, and veterans with these diseases who were stationed at the sprawling Marine Corps base are eligible for disability compensation. VA officials said 14 JUL that these eight diseases that have been determined to be service-connected to consuming contaminated drinking water at the base: kidney cancer, liver cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma, scleroderma, Parkinson’s disease and aplastic anemia or other myelodysplastic syndromes.
VA Secretary Robert McDonald said research by health experts at the Veterans Health Administration and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an arm of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicated that the risk of developing these illnesses is elevated by exposure to contaminants found in the water, including perchloroethylene, trichlorotheylene, benzene and other volatile organic compounds. “The water at Camp Lejeune was a hidden hazard, and it is only years later that we know how dangerous it was,” McDonald said. “We thank ATSDR for the thorough review that provided much of the evidence we needed to fully compensate veterans who develop one of the conditions known to be related to exposure to the compounds in the drinking water.”
Nearly a million people, including troops, family members and civilian employees working at Camp Lejeune from the 1950s through the 1980s were exposed to these chemicals and other cancer-causing agents in the base’s drinking water, supplied by two water treatment facilities polluted by dry cleaning compounds, leaking underground storage tanks, industrial spills and poor disposal practices. The VA has provided health care or reimbursement for medical costs for veterans who served at Camp Lejeune at least 30 days during the affected period or family members with 15 illnesses related to exposure to water contaminated by solvents and fuels, but it had not awarded “presumptive status” to any condition until now.
The changes will take effect after VA publishes regulations regarding these presumptions, and will apply to new disability claims. Veterans who have previously been denied on such claims may seek to be re-evaluated. Also, any pending claims that might be denied under current regulations will be placed on hold until the VA issues its final rules, according to a department press release.
The bedrock eligibility rules will be that veterans must have one of the eight specified conditions and must have served at Camp Lejeune between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987. The new rules also will expand eligibility to reserve and National Guard members who served at Camp Lejeune for any length of time during that period. A VA spokeswoman said compensation awarded as a result of the proposed regulations, if adopted, will “be effective no earlier than the date the final rule is published.”
Veterans have expressed frustration over the low rate of claims approvals for illnesses related to the Camp Lejeune water. Hundreds of veterans attended a meeting of the Camp Lejeune Community Assistance Panel on Dec. 5 in Tampa to express frustration with the VA’s handling of claims and plead with VA officials to improve the process. Paul Maslow, a veteran who walks with a cane and said he has inoperable tumors on his spine and elsewhere, said he and thousands of former troops need assistance. “You are not helping us, you are hurting us,” Maslow told VA officials attending the meeting. “And the more you delay, the more of us … are going to die.”
Two senators who pressed VA to change its policies regarding benefits for Camp Lejeune veterans said Thursday they applaud the VA’s decision, calling it a “victory for those who have suffered.” “The VA has conceded that it will no longer deny disability benefits to Camp Lejeune victims based on ridiculous scientific claims,” Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said. “VA is finally granting some justice to veterans who were exposed to contaminated drinking water while assigned to Camp Lejeune,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C. “The victims of this tragedy have waited far too long to receive disability benefits.” [Source: Military Times | Patricia Kime | July 12, 2016 ++]
Vet Toxic Exposure | Lejeune Update 61 ► VA Issues Final Rule
On 18 JUL VA issued a final rule to expand VA health care eligibility for veterans affected by contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune. Starting this week, veterans who served at least 30 days at Camp Lejeune from August 1, 1953 through December 31, 1987, are eligible to receive no-cost health care for 15 medical conditions that have been linked to the contaminated water. Previously, only veterans who served at Camp Lejeune from January 1, 1957 were covered. Veterans who have been diagnosed with any of the 15 medical conditions may receive reimbursement for the cost of treatment if the care was provided on or after December 16, 2014, when the law expanding eligibility was signed. However, veterans must submit a request for reimbursement no later than July 18, 2018.
Visit http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/camp-lejeune for more information on benefits and services for Camp Lejeune veterans. This rule does not impact disability compensation benefits. VA is still in the process of finalizing a rule to grant Camp Lejeune veterans presumptive disability compensation for 8 of the 15 medical conditions found to be associated with exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. However, veterans who have been diagnosed with any of the 15 conditions should file a claim when possible to preserve the effective date. To contact a VFW Service Officer for assistance filing a disability compensation claim, visit: http://www.vfw.org/NVS . [Source: NAUS Weekly Update | July 22, 2016 ++]
PTSD Update 212 ► Virtual Reality Therapy
When U.S. Marine Chris Merkle returned from his last tour of duty in Afghanistan, his family was thrilled to have him back. But for Merkle, the welcome home was also accompanied by some dark problems. He couldn’t sleep. He was irritable and had anger issues. He would avoid certain stressful situations, like driving in traffic. And he would stay on high alert in the classroom. “And then soon, they’re like, ‘You’re not the same,’” Merkle recalled of what his family told him. “They start to notice that you’re not really enjoying the parties of our friends. You only get really excited when you’re going to visit former Marines and the people you used to hang out with.”
Chris Merkle served in the military for 16 years. Upon return to civilian life, he experienced PTSD symptoms that ran the full gamut: from sleeplessness and irritability to anger and anxiety. Merkle served three tours in Iraq and four in Afghanistan. Re-adjusting to being a civilian was tough, he said, and he was finding it difficult to function. “There was almost 5, 10 years of deploying back and forth back and forth — there was this void, this monster in the room that’s not talked about until finally it came out. It was like, ‘You need to see somebody. Something is going on with you.'” While Merkle was a patient at the VA, he heard of a clinical psychologist named Skip Rizzo at the University of Southern California Institute of Creative Technologies. Merkle was trying traditional one-on-one therapy and said that at the time, “it wasn’t really taking that well.” He was looking for an alternative and heard about Skip’s research that used a new and unexpected way to treat post-traumatic stress disorder — with virtual reality.
Nearly 8 million adults suffer from PTSD during a given year, according to the National Center for PTSD. The condition can occur after someone has been exposed to a significant stressor and often includes symptoms such as avoidance, hyper-vigilance, anger issues and mood swings. One common method for treatment is called “exposure therapy.” The patient recounts their trauma, visualizing it in their imagination, and narrates it to a clinician. By repeatedly confronting and processing the trauma, the brain can start to reduce the level of abxiety and response to those memories. That’s exactly the approach Rizzo uses with virtual reality therapy. “My mission is to drag psychology kicking and screaming into the 21st century,” Rizzo said, noting that virtual reality offers a unique opportunity for clinicians and clients alike: to be immersed in the environment that evokes the original trauma, rather than relying on the patient’s imagination.
Chris Merkle (left) holds a fake gun while undergoing a virtual reality therapy session that is allowing him to face aspects of his trauma. The virtual reality simulation (right) uses exposure-therapy to help treat veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Rizzo has created 14 virtual “worlds” for patients, and clinicians can add custom elements, including helicopters, clouds, small-arms fire and missiles. “The first thing to keep in mind is that we are never going to replicate an exact simulation of what the patient went through,” Rizzo said. “But we really don’t need to.” Merkle explained how the virtual reality experience works. “Your brain assumes, ‘OK, this must be where we’re at,’ and it fills in the blanks. And as you’re talking through it, you feel like you’re physically there.” Each session lasts for about an hour and a half, and the patient speaks about their experience with a clinician as they go through the virtual simulation.
For Merkle, virtual reality allowed him to start unlocking memories and work through his trauma. “So, it really allowed me to open the door and begin my healing process,” he said. “I’m still a work in process obviously but I’m so far forward, leaps and bound beyond where I would have been without virtual reality.” [Source: ABC News | Justine Quart | July 18, 2016 ++]
PTSD Update 213 ► Lessons Learned Since 911
There’s no need to reiterate the common platitudes about post-traumatic stress disorder that we’ve all heard before, focusing on demystifying the “invisible wounds of war.” The conversation has moved beyond that now, and post-traumatic stress is no longer being looked at as a “disorder” but as a normal reaction to abnormally stressful circumstances. Experts have learned that it’s not necessarily a life sentence, but rather a treatable condition that can be attacked from a number of different angles. Still, while it’s an extremely positive thing that we’re collectively making an effort to move beyond outdated and damaging stereotypes, PTSD remains an undeniable challenge that creates real suffering — as anyone who has ever gone through it, or walked through it with a loved one, can attest.
After the start of the post-9/11 conflicts, the study of post-traumatic stress grew rapidly to meet the needs of returning veterans. Ph.D. and former Army Lt. Col. Glenn R. Schiraldi detailed many of these changes in a recently revised edition of “The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook: A Guide to Healing, Recovery, and Growth,”
(https://www.amazon.com/Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder-Sourcebook-Recovery/dp/007161494X) which includes detailed information on what has been learned since the beginning of the 21st century. Among these new insights are five main takeaways.
1. What constitutes an official diagnosis of “PTSD” has been expanded.. In order to diagnose a patient with service connected PTSD, medical evidence is required that establishes a diagnosis of the condition that conforms to the diagnostic criteria of DSM-V. These criteria are officially detailed in the American Psychiatric Association’s “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.” It’s now broken down PTSD into four major symptom clusters: re-experiencing, arousal, avoidance, and persistent negative alterations in cognition and mood. These changes can aid clinicians in identifying and pinpointing individual aspects of a patient’s case, and lead to more targeted treatment.
2. Therapy isn’t just sitting in a chair and talking. While a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and medication continues to be the gold standard for PTSD treatment, for many people, it’s extremely difficult to just sit and talk through traumatic experiences. As an alternative to talk, recent research began to explore the use of body-based therapies, which attack traumatic memories from a new angle. The theory is that when a person experiences a trauma, it’s first recorded on a bodily level as an “implicit memory” — meaning that it can’t necessarily be consciously recalled or related in words. Body-based therapeutic strategies can help patients to process and release these memories, as the body’s “stuck” reaction to a trauma can be resolved. Body-based therapy can be a great alternative for those who have found talk therapy to be a less-than-appealing option.
3. Some people are actually at a greater risk for experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder than others. Studies in human resilience — the ability to emotionally bounce back from adversity — are helping researchers to learn more about the factors that increase an individual’s likelihood of suffering from PTSD in the first place. Many factors can correlate with a person’s post-traumatic response. The more severe the trauma, the greater likelihood of suffering from more severe PTSD. Additionally, people who grew up in unstable family environments can also be more prone to developing a severe PTSD reaction from a later trauma. Even a person’s reaction to an initial traumatic event can be a factor: dissociating at the time of the event, for example, or failing to mourn or attend funerals. A variety of factors are also currently being studied for their links to PTSD; everything from emergency room heart rate to left-handedness and epigenetics. These studies are evolving, and as more is known, better alternative treatment approaches can be explored.
4. Unconventional therapies may be worth exploring. Because each case of PTSD is as unique as the individual experiencing it, it can present itself in many ways. By the same token, it can be attacked from multiple angles — and often that’s exactly what it takes to break down and tackle the individual aspects of one person’s case. New clinical practices reflect the research that is evolving in these nuanced areas:
- Patients suffering specifically from dissociation may benefit from intensive trauma therapy, a blend of hypnosis, art therapy, and video technology treatment.
- Imbalances or injuries in the brain caused by traumatic brain Injury or mild traumatic brain injury can now be treated with cranial electrotherapy stimulation, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, transcranial light therapy, and transcranial magnetic stimulation, which are all high-tech, non-invasive options that can actually help the brain to repair itself.
- Something called low heart rate variability is often associated with post-traumatic stress, and heart rate variability feedback training can teach a patient to control their heart rate to decrease PTSD symptoms.
5. There is hope. PTSD is being heavily studied, and these studies are constantly evolving. Comorbid conditions, such as traumatic brain injury and mild traumatic brain injury — more common to veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars than previous conflicts — are becoming more easily understood, and their treatment options are expanding. Knowledge is power, and educating yourself on treatment options for yourself or your loved one can help you to take a proactive stance when seeking help. Whether you are the one experiencing post-traumatic stress, someone you love is suffering its effects, there is much reason to believe that this challenge can and will be overcome.
VA Mediterranean Diet Review ► Health Effect Findings
Hanna Bloomfield’s bosses at the Department of Veterans Affairs had been reading a lot about the plant-based Mediterranean diet. Some highly publicized recent studies had shown that eating lots of fresh vegetables and olive oil along with maybe a splash of red wine could have tremendous health benefits, and they wondered whether it was something the VA, as an organization, should consider recommending to its more than 9 million patients.v They tasked Bloomfield with figuring out whether this health effect was real — or simply hype. Bloomfield, associate chief of staff for research for the Minneapolis VA Health Care System and a professor at the University of Minnesota, pulled 56 previously conducted studies on the subject and re-analyzed all the data. Her work was published this week in Annals of Internal Medicine.
Since a Mediterranean diet typically doesn’t really refer to a specific formula for eating but rather the mix of dishes popular in one region of the world, Bloomfield defined it as one that met two criteria. First, it would have to have no restriction on total fat intake. Second, it had to have two or more of seven different components: having a high ratio of monounsaturated-to-saturated fat, which can be achieved by using olive oil or canola oil; high fruit and vegetable intake; high consumption of legumes; high grain and cereal intake; moderate red wine consumption; moderate consumption of dairy products; and low consumption of meat and meat products with increased intake of fish.
When looking at mortality, the results were discouraging. Bloomfield found that the diet didn’t seem to impact overall mortality. That is, those who stuck to the diet didn’t seem to have a lower risk for dying earlier than those who ate differently. However, there did seem to be a lot of good news when looking at specific diseases. The Mediterranean diet not only appeared to reduce a person’s risk of heart issues but also seemed to have benefits in connection with breast cancer and type 2 diabetes.
So how much fat can you eat? According to Bloomfield, “a lot,” but this rule doesn’t apply to all fats. “If you are eating healthy fats that are monounsaturated fats like olive oil or canola oil, you don’t necessarily have to limit them. But that doesn’t mean you should be going out and filling up on bakery products that have saturated fats,” she explained in an interview. She said the study supports the idea that eating healthy fats may fill you up more than carbohydrates, and the misplaced emphasis over the past 30 years on eating a low-fat diet may have backfired by leading people to eat unchecked amounts of sugar and refined carbohydrates leading to obesity. Indeed, in the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans that came out in January, the recommendation that you consume less than 30 percent of calories from fat was taken away. It was replaced with a warning about saturated fats, which are mostly found in meat and dairy.
Eat butter every day and other government dietary advice we no longer follow
Bloomfield noted that the evidence, which included only a few randomized, controlled trials, was not great enough for her to recommend that the VA push the diet universally on all its charges, but that it was strong enough that individual doctors may bring it up to their patients on a case-by-case basis. Researchers aren’t sure why the Mediterranean diet appears to be good for the body. Some have hypothesized that it could have to do with lowering cholesterol, blood pressure and weight or having a high concentration of antioxidant or anti-inflammatory molecules in the diet. One recent study showed that people with greater adherence to the diet appeared to have longer telomeres — the caps at the end of chromosomes — which are associated with longevity. [Source: Washington Post | Ariana Eunjung Cha | July 19, 2016 + +]
VA Performance Update 09 ► RAND Corporation Findings
The U.S. Veterans Affairs health system performs as well as, if not better than, other healthcare systems, according to a review of medical records. Researchers at the RAND Corporation found the VA system is comparable in safety and efficacy to care otherwise available, despite often dealing with patients who are more sick or have a wider range of conditions. There were some areas without enough previous research to make a comparison, such as in timeliness, efficiency and patient-centeredness.
There also were some areas, such as surgical complications and availability of services, where results were less favorable, though the researchers say these reports were not consistently bad. “Comparing the VA to other health care settings can be difficult because the VA has a patient population that is different from most other settings, with patients who may be sicker,” Dr. Courtney Gidengil, a physician scientist at RAND, said in a press release. “But it’s important to do more of this work in the future so we can better understand the quality of care the VA provides.”
For the study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, researchers reviewed 69 studies conducted between 2005 and 2015 covering safety, efficacy, efficiency, patient-centeredness, equity and timeliness. In terms of safety, the VA performed as well or better in 22 of 34 studies, though nine showed worse performance and three were a mixed bag. Some studies found higher surgical mortality under VA care than non-VA care, though mortality rates have gone down over time more quickly at the VA than non-VA facilities. Like morbidity and complications from care, mortality was linked to type of procedure or condition being treated, making some results vary widely.
Outpatient care and screening was found generally to be better under care of the VA, with check-ups and tests for most conditions receiving higher marks than with non-VA healthcare. “The available data indicate overall comparable health care quality in VA facilities compared to non-VA facilities with regard to safety and effectiveness,” researchers wrote in the study. “Rates of complications and availability of services had the least favorable results, but these results were mixed rather than consistently poor. The overall number of studies comparing VA and non-VA care was small, and study quality varied. More studies that examine and compare the quality of VA care with respect to timeliness, equity, efficiency, and patient-centeredness are needed to better assess VA facilities’ performance on these quality dimensions.” [Source: UPI | Stephen Feller | July 18, 2016 ++]
VA Secretary Update 46 ► House VA Chairman Support Shifts
. The chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and Donald Trump’s top veterans adviser backed off his support for current Veteran Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald on 19 JUL, saying the department leadership needs a full overhaul. “I think the next secretary, whoever that is, has got to be an agent of change, somebody that will resist the call from within the department to maintain the status quo,” Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) said during an interview with Military Times at the Republican convention in Cleveland. “And I think, unfortunately, the status quo in many instances remains.” Miller is under consideration for an administration post — perhaps even the VA secretary’s job — if Trump wins in November. He is not seeking re-election to his congressional seat this fall.
Earlier this spring, Miller and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-GA) separately endorsed McDonald to stay on as VA secretary into the next administration, regardless which party wins, citing his progress in reforming the embattled bureaucracy. Trump has publicly blasted McDonald for failings at the department, and mocked him during the roll out of his campaign’s 10-point plan for veterans earlier this month. On Tuesday, Miller said he would encourage Trump to speak with McDonald but not push him to leave the secretary in his job.
“(McDonald) has spent untold hours traveling to medical centers and facilities all over this country and has his finger on the pulse of VA,” Miller said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean he can get things done that need to get done. “I don’t believe the secretary would want to stay on, to be honest with you. I think it has been an eye-opening experience for him having come from the private sector, on how difficult it is to do what needs to be done.” McDonald has dismissed most questions related to the upcoming change in the White House, saying that he hopes to push through significant administrative reforms by the end of the year and would consider continuing his public service if asked.
Miller blamed lingering cultural problems at VA not on McDonald but on President Obama. He said as president, Trump will bring a real commitment to improving the department. “I said early on that one individual alone in a short period of time was not going to be able to change the department,” he said. “You’ve got to have a president who wants to see the change, and Barack Obama does not. “Donald Trump is committed to boldly reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs. The status quo is not acceptable. And Hillary Clinton, as Trump has named her, is the secretary of the status quo. She’ll keep doing the same thing, and that’s not serving veterans at all.” He also criticized Democrats for labeling an expansion of health care options for veterans outside the department as “privatization,” calling it misleading and counterproductive. The issue has become a major fighting point between the two parties on the presidential campaign trail. “It’s obvious if VA wants to be providing quality care in a timely fashion to our veterans that they are going to need to look outside our current system,” he said. “And that’s what the Choice Act was all about two years ago.” [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane | July 19, 2016 ++]
VA Vet Choice Program Update 47 ► 2M Appointments Since 2014
The Department of Veterans Affairs this week boasted that more than 2 million health appointments have been scheduled through the new VA Choice Program, even though the VA itself has tried to scale that program back and raid its funding in the short time it’s been up and running. The Choice Program, authorized in 2014 under the Choice Act, gives veterans the option to seek private healthcare services if they have waited more than 30 days for an appointment from the Veterans Health Administration, or if they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility. It was created after a scandal erupted in which the VA was found to be manipulating data to make it appear as if veterans were quickly getting appointments, when instead thousands were waiting months or even years.
“While two million appointments have been scheduled using the Choice Program and we are making progress, we will not rest until all veterans who choose VA to be their healthcare provider are receiving the care they need when they need it,” VA Secretary Robert McDonald said. “We will continue to make strides towards an integrated care network.” Despite those words, the Obama administration has been fighting the Choice Program since its inception. Less than nine months after signing the Choice Act into law, Obama proposed a budget plan that would have decreased funding for the program. Additionally, the VA proposed using Choice Act funding to bail itself out of a $3 billion jam that threatened to close hospitals around the country. The VA reported this shortfall to Congress just a few weeks before those closures would have happened, leaving Congress no choice but to repurpose the money.
Aside from these efforts to diminish the program, Republicans have complained that the VA has shown that it isn’t good at implementing this or any other program. “VA obviously has an interest in shifting the blame for issues with the program, but really the chief problem with Choice is that we’ve had to rely on VA to implement it, and the department is just not very good at implementing things,” one House aide told the Washington Examiner. This aide said the VA had the authority to create a program like the one outlined in the Choice Act even before Congress passed it two years ago, and refused. “The reason Congress had to create the Choice Program was to force VA administrators to offer non-VA care to veterans who couldn’t receive it in a timely or convenient fashion from the department – something they weren’t doing prior to the scandal despite having the authority to do so,” he said.
Lawmakers are still looking for ways to get care to veterans outside the VA. Just last month, a draft bill was introduced by House Republican leadership that would allow veterans to seek care from a government chartered nonprofit corporation instead of the VA. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) introduced legislation in April that would expand veterans’ healthcare options by allowing disabled and eligible veterans to enroll in the Choice Program.
In the last year, the Choice Provider Network has expanded by 85% and includes more than 350,000 providers and facilities. From October 2015 to March 2016, Choice Program authorizations for care increased 103 percent, according to the VA. More than 1,700 hospitals and clinics are headed up by the Veterans Health Administration and more than 9 million veterans receive care from these facilities. [Source: Washington Examiner | Diana Stancy | July 15, 2016 ++|
VA VISTA Update 11 ► GAO Asked to Examine Efforts to Modernize
The Government Accountability Office has been asked to examine VA’s efforts to modernize VistA, its electronic health records (EHR) system. The bipartisan request to the GAO came in a letter from two leaders of the House Committee on Oversight Reform’s Subcommittee on Information Technology: Chairman Rep. William Hurd (R-TX) and the subcommittee’s ranking minority member Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL).The legislators requested information about both VA’s current plans to modernize VistA and the “history of VA’s efforts to modernize VistA.”
The request was made, “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,” according to the document.“Over the past 15 years, VA has taken various initiatives to modernize or replace VistA, starting in 2001 with a program referred to as HealthVet. This initiative was followed by a 2011 joint effort with DoD to develop the interoperable electronic health record (iEHR) followed by a 2013 effort with VistA Evolution,” the letter recounted.
The efforts, however, “have not produced the kind of modern systems and capabilities that Congress mandated,” the subcommittee leaders wrote. The letter also noted that “VA has recently indicated that it may be pursuing yet another modernization initiative.”
The request for the GAO study comes after VA officials testified earlier this year that the agency is considering moving to a new, state-of-the-art EHR system that would better meet its needs. LaVerne Council, the agency’s assistant secretary for Information and Technology and chief information officer, told lawmakers at a hearing this spring that VHA Under Secretary for Health David Shulkin, MD, is evaluating a recommendation she has made for “the state-of-the-art, world-class system.” VA would complete the next iteration of the VistA Evolution Program during fiscal year FY 2018, which he said would bring improvements in efficiency and interoperability, Shulkin told lawmakers at the time. He also said that the VA wanted “to be certain that continuous modernization of a 40-year-old electronic record is an appropriate decision.” “Is this 40-year EHR going to be the system that VA should stick with for the next 20 years?” Shulkin said of VistA.
When it comes to its EHR, DoD announced earlier this year that a new system, MHS GENESIS, will begin rollout in the Pacific Northwest at the end of 2016 and will be completed over a several-year period. That timeline has been called into question, however, by a DoD Office of Inspector General audit dated 31 MAY that was partially released to the public. It noted that DoD Healthcare Management System Modernization (DHMSM) program execution schedule “may not be realistic for meeting the required initial operational capability date of December 2016.” “It is still at risk for obtaining an EHR system by the December 2016 initial operational capability date because of the risks and potential delays involved in developing and testing the interfaces needed to interact with legacy systems, ensuring the system is secure against cyber-attacks, and ensuring the fielded system works correctly and that users are properly trained,” the audit stated.
OIG recommended the Program Executive Officer for Defense Healthcare Management Systems “perform a schedule analysis to determine whether the December 2016 initial operational capability deadline is achievable,” although it added that the official “neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation to perform a schedule analysis to determine whether the December 2016 initial operational capability deadline was achievable.” The program office “is confident that it will achieve initial operational capability later this year in accordance with the National Defense Authorization Act,” according to the audit.
Meanwhile, lawmakers have expressed frustration in recent months by what they believe has been slow progress to create interoperability between the VA and DoD’s EHRs. Another congressional hearing was scheduled this month by a Senate Appropriations Committee Subcommittee to review VistA and progress toward interoperability with DoD’s electronic health record. Lawmakers also have expressed their concern through recent legislation. Although DoD and VA did finally certify that it had met key interoperability requirements set forth in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, lawmakers still passed a bill in May that restricted the use of $260 million for the modernization of the VA’s EHR system until VA certified interoperability of the system with DoD. The Senate also was considering a similar provision. “It is high time that the VA and Department of Defense have an entirely interoperable electronic record system, and it’s this committee’s goal to see that through to fruition, so help us God,” House Committee on Appropriations Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) said during the bill’s markup. [Source: U.S. Medicine | Sandra Basu | July 2016 ++]
VA PACT Update 01 ► Seamless Care for Traveling Veterans
If you are enrolled and receive your health care with VA, you will receive the same, consistent care, whether at your local VA treatment site or an alternate VA site of care. In order to help VA ensure consistent care while you are traveling, you need to notify your VA Patient Aligned Team (PACT), preferably 4 to 6 weeks prior to departure. or as soon as you are are of the trip. Early planning will allow time for PACT and the Traveling Veteran Coordinator to coordinate you care at an alternate VA facility . To coordinate your health care with another VA health care facility, you should inform your PACT of the following:
- Travel destination(s), and temporary address.
- A valid telephone number.
- Arrival and departure dates.
- Specific care concerns.
Your PACT will contact the Traveling Veteran Coordinator, wh will assist in coordinating your care t the alternate facility. For more information, contact your PACT or Traveling Veteran Coordinator at your local VA facility. [Source: Veterans Health Administration Update | July 21, 2016 ++]
VA Cemetery Memorials Update 01 ► Walks, Sections, and Walls
Function. The function of a Memorial Walk is to provide a path for visitor access to a Memorial Section where veterans organizations and other groups may place memorial plaques mounted on stones or monuments to commemorate certain groups, units, campaigns or other military events on walls designated for that purpose. A donations area for these donated memorial monuments may be located here and may be the location of the secondary flagpole for display of the POW/MIA flag.
The donated memorials are typically 18 inches deep x 24 inches wide x 24 inches high, with granite bases or natural boulders, and are placed in small cleared areas adjacent to a path. The Memorial Walk or donations area (Memorial Section) must appear complete as a feature in its own right, even without any donated memorials. As with all cemetery features, the Memorial Walk/Donations Area must be relatively flat or with a gentle slope and accessible to disabled persons without using sidewalks and ramps for wheelchairs.
Components. A Memorial Section for headstones memorializing those whose remains are unavailable for burial may be located in areas of a cemetery not suitable for casketed interments, because of soils, terrain or landscape features. The size and layout of the Memorial Section will depend on the site layout, size of the individual memorial site, and the demand at a particular cemetery for memorial sites. A memorial site is 3 feet x 3 feet marked with a flat or upright marker of granite or bronze, except that bronze memorial plaques may be mounted on walls designated for that purpose, in lieu of placement of a marker in a memorial section. The walls may be portions of other features such as retaining walls, terraces, etc., which are appropriate for memorial purposes.
Design Requirements. A Memorial Walk shall have appropriate locations designated along the path for donated memorials, plaques, and benches.It consists of an asphalt path leading to a Memorial Section or donations area. If designed as a woodland pathit will minimize the visual impact of the paved surfaces. The site turf should be maintained, cut and trimmed along the Memorial Walk. Landscape features may be grouped nearby depending on the project.The walk costs approximately $20 per linear foot.
[Source: http://www.cem.va.gov/cem/grants/memorial_walk.asp | June 30, 2016++]
Trump VA Plan Update 01 ► Republican Party Platform Similarities
The Department of Veterans Affairs would see an overhaul in how medical care is delivered and how senior leaders are hired and fired under the Republican Party platform adopted in Cleveland this week. The document also charges that “the VA has failed those who have sacrificed the most for our freedom” and says private sector help is the only way to save the failing system. “As shown by recent controversies at the department, senior leaders must be held accountable for ensuring that their subordinates are more responsive to veterans’ needs,” the platform states. “The VA must move from a sometimes adversarial stance to an advocacy relationship with vets.”
The platform document, drafted over the last few months by conservative leaders, is not a blueprint for Republican nominee Donald Trump’s VA reform efforts as president. But the themes match with several parts of Trump’s 10-point veterans plan released earlier this month, calling for more resources and assistance for veterans outside of government control and significant accountability changes in VA employment rules. Republican National Committee officials said the overall goal of their plan is to shift the national narrative of veterans as victims to veterans as invaluable assets in their communities. They charge Democrats focus too much on bloated bureaucratic solutions to issues like veterans unemployment, mental health and homelessness. “Our nation’s veterans have been our nation’s strength and remain a national resource,” the platform states. “America has a sacred trust with our veterans, and we are committed to ensuring them and their families’ care and dignity.”
That includes making VA health care “the gold standard for mental health, traumatic brain injury, multiple traumas, loss of limbs and post-traumatic stress disorder.” But the platform also calls for “allowing veterans to choose to access care in the community and not just in VA facilities, because the best care in the world is not effective if it is not accessible.” That issue has emerged as a key fight between the parties on the campaign trail, with Democrats charging that the Republican ideas amount to privatization of veterans medical care and a dismantling of the department.
Platform authors also suggest making more senior VA leaders political appointees, arguing that will make them more accountable to a Republican president intent on reforming the system. It would also likely mean more turnover from administration to administration. The document calls over-prescription of opioids for veterans health care “a nationwide problem” and encourages alternative treatments for issues like TBI and PTSD. That includes unspecified “including faith-based programs” that will “better serve the veteran and reduce the need to rely on drugs as the sole treatment.” The full document is available on the party’s website https://www.gop.com/the-2016-republican-party-platform . [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane | July 21, 2016 ++]
Trump VA Plan Update 02 ► AFGE Opposed
Republican Party presidential nominee Donald Trump used his nomination speech Thursday night to disparage the dedicated public servants who deliver health care to our nation’s veterans and ensure the safety of the flying public, American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. said today. “Donald Trump’s proposals would endanger the flying public and harm our veterans, and no one should be fooled by his smoke and mirrors magic show,” Cox said.
American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr.
“He wants to privatize veterans’ health care, even though the vast majority of veterans say they want their care delivered by VA doctors and nurses. Private health care for veterans would be an expensive disaster, and no one should be fooled into believing otherwise,” Cox said. During his nomination speech 21 JUL, Trump also called the Transportation Security Administration a “total disaster” and vowed to “fix TSA.” “I have no doubt that Donald Trump’s idea of fixing TSA would be the same as his prescription for the VA: privatize to the lowest bidder and to hell with the safety and security of the flying public. What the TSA needs is for Congress to lift the arbitrary staffing cap and provide TSA with a realistic budget so the agency can hire the officers it needs to do its job,” Cox said.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 670,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia. [Source: American Federation of Government Employees. [Source: PR Newswire | Jul 22, 2016 ++]
Trump VA Plan Update 03 ► VFW Convention Remarks
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump promised a massive overhaul of the Department of Veterans Affairs during his appearance at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention 26 JUL but also pledged that the government-backed veterans health care system will not be dismantled. “Our debt to [veterans] is eternal,” Trump told a largely supportive crowd at the event in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Yet our politicians have totally failed you. Our most basic commitment, to provide health and medical care to veterans, has been violated completely. “The VA scandals that have occurred are widespread and totally inexcusable. Many have died waiting for care that never came, a permanent stain on our government.”
Trump’s remarks, largely a repeat of the 10-point veterans reform plan he laid out earlier this month, came less than 24 hours after Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton spoke at the same event and less than a hour after VA Secretary Bob McDonald addressed the crowd. Both Clinton and McDonald offered a distinctly different view of the department today, calling it a troubled system on the path to reform. Trump called it a disaster. “When I get in the White House, you’ll see a change in VA and the whole of the government system, which is a mess,” he said. “A change in attitude and a change in results will absolutely take place so fast.” That will include firing problematic VA employees, installing a hotline in the White House to field veterans’ complaints, rooting out waste and abuse in the VA budget and massively expanding health care options outside VA for all patients.
Critics have labeled that last proposal a privatization of the department, but Trump pushed back on that idea. “The veterans health system will remain a public system, because it is a public trust,” he said. “But veterans will have the right to see a private doctor or clinic of their choice … There will be no more five-day waits in line.” Unlike Clinton, who spent most of her Monday speech attacking Trump, the GOP nominee largely avoided targeted attacks against his rival, save for a few references to “crooked Hillary.” Instead, he attacked the “rigged system” and media for downplaying the populist message of his campaign. “We can’t fix a rigged system by electing the people who rigged it in the first place,” he said. “Let’s reject the doubters and cynics, and choose again to believe in ourselves.” Convention attendees offered a much warmer reception for Trump than for Clinton, chanting “U-S-A” and “lock her up” at several points during the Republican nominee’s speech. [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane | July 26, 2016 ++]
Clinton VA Plan ► VFW Convention Comments
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton offered a scathing rebuke of her Republican rival in a speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars annual convention on 25 JUL, calling his policies dangerous and his outlook poisonous. “If we retreat on security or the economy behind an imaginary wall, we will have lost our leadership, our purpose, our chance to prevail in the 21st century,” Clinton told the crowd of veteran leaders, without ever mentioning Donald Trump’s name. “If America doesn’t lead, we will leave behind a vacuum.” Trump’s rebuttal was scheduled for 26 JUL at the VFW convention. Secretary Bob McDonald, who has been a frequent target of Trump, was also scheduled to speak just before the Republican nominee.
Clinton’s VFW speech in Charlotte, North Carolina, delivered as the Democratic national convention opened about 500 miles north in Philadelphia, touched on Clinton’s previously outlined plans for reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs. She promised to reduce wait times for medical care, improve coordination between military and VA health care coverage, boost programs for female veterans and to “end the epidemic of veteran suicide.” Clinton also pledged to simplify troops’ transitions from the military to civilian jobs, and to protect the post-9/11 GI Bill benefit, calling congressional plans to trim the benefits “not just wrong, but short sighted.” But the majority of Clinton’s speech was a rebuttal to the Republican convention in Cleveland last week and Trump’s own campaign promises to vastly expand medical care access for veterans outside the VA.
Democrats have repeatedly labeled that a dismantling of the VA system, and Clinton did so again on Monday.“We are not going to privative VA,” she told the crowd, eliciting scattered cheers. “We are going to reform it, and make it work for every single veteran in America.” Clinton cast herself as a long-time advocate of veterans issues, dating back to her service in the Senate. She called Trump a “newcomer” on the topics and cited multiple campaign gaffes by the business mogul, an effort to paint him as irresponsible and untrustworthy. “One thing for certain you will never hear from me is praise for dictators and strongmen who have no love for America,” she said. Our troops “deserve a commander in chief who will never force them to commit war crimes. … You will never hear me say that I only listen to myself on national security.”
Republicans have pushed back on those statements, calling Clinton the less credible candidate. They cite past scandals, including the deadly 2012 attack on American diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, which occurred during her tenure as secretary of State. But Clinton promised to be a commander in chief “who honors your service, not just with words but deeds.” That includes restoring veterans faith in the VA, saying she has been outraged by recent missteps by the agency and dismayed by veterans’ eroding faith in the institution. “I know a lot of vets still feel invisible, powerless, like their country have forgotten them,” she said. “That’s wrong. We have to make sure we end that.” [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane| July 25, 2016++]
VA Fraud, Waste & Abuse ► Reported 16 thru 31 JUL 2016
Laurens, SC — A woman is facing a federal charge on allegations she took more than $160,000 from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Alison Moore, 55, of Laurens, was charged 12 JUL in a one-count indictment with embezzlement, according to a grand jury indictment released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Columbia. The indictment said she continued to withdraw funds deposited by the VA into a checking account she shared with a person who had died and had been receiving the benefits. If convicted, the woman could face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, and she would be made to forfeit the $166,289.65 the indictment says she took. [Source: Index-Journal | July 14, 2016 ++]
IG Audit — Military veterans incarcerated after criminal convictions were improperly paid more than $100 million in federal benefits from 2008-2015, and a total of more than $300 will have been wasted by 2020 if improvements are not made. In an audit of disability and pension benefits payments to vets behind bars by the Veterans Affairs Administration, the department’s Inspector General found that federal prisoners got almost $59.9 million in improper payments between 2008 and 2015. An additional $44 million in improper payments were made to vets in state and local penal institutions in just 2013 and 2014. According to the IG report, the VA is required to cut back on disability compensation and pension benefits to veterans who have been jailed for more than 60 days. It found that in more than 50 percent of federal cases, the VA regional offices and the unit that oversees pensions had failed to act. The IG said that if its recommendations were not followed, the government would be on track to shell out over $200 million more in bogus payments between now and 2020. In one example cited, a veteran was convicted of felony charges and sentenced to more than a dozen years in prison in April 2012. By October 2015, he had been overpaid $107,000. [Source: Fiscal Times | By Ciro Scotti | July 19, 2016| ++]
Wappingers Falls, NY — The former president of a union at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Montrose was sentenced 20 JUL to serve 15 months in prison for embezzling about $150,000 in union funds and using it for personal items and even his rent. William Davis, 56, of Wappingers Falls headed Local 1119 of the Federation of Government Employees, which represented about 300 workers on the Montrose campus and had an office there.The U.S. Attorney’s office said Davis led the union chapter from at least January 2008 until about October 2012, presiding over its day t o day affairs and union meetings. During that time, prosecutors said, he used a debit card from the union’s bank account that had been issued to a deceased former union official to make “hundreds” of charges and cash withdrawals for non-union expenses, without authorization. That included “electronics, music downloads, video games, cell phones, men’s clothing, gasoline, and cigarettes,” and about $30,000 in money orders bought at the Montrose post office, some of which were used to pay his rent, the U.S Attorney’s office said. Over that time, he also incurred “incurring thousands of dollars of ATM fees and fees for insufficient funds,” as he made the charges and withdrawals, prosecutors said. In the meantime, he reported to the Department of Labor that he had only taken $7,000 from the union in “allowances and disbursements” over that time period. Davis pleaded guilty on 6 APR to misuse and theft of union funds and to making false statements to the labor department. In addition to the prison term handed down in White Plains, U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Karas ordered Davis to serve another two years on supervised release and pay $150,000 in restitution. [Source: The Journal News | July 20, 2016 ++]
Las Vegas, VA — Anton Paul Drago was sentenced 19 JUL to 25 years in jail on multiple fraud charges. Drago, formerly known as Evan Fogarty, 65, was convicted in March 2016 of all 10 counts of the indictment after an eight-day jury trial. The jury found him guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, two counts of wire fraud, three counts of submitting false claims to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), one count of theft of government funds, one count of passing a fictitious financial instrument, one count of making false statements to federal agents and one count of failing to file a federal income tax return. The evidence presented at trial established that Drago orchestrated a large-scale Nigerian oil investment fraud scheme. From at least 2004 through 2012, Drago told investors that money they invested would be used for legal fees and business expenses to fund the production, refinement and shipment of crude oil from Nigeria to the Bahamas. Along with co-conspirator Joseph Rizzuti, formerly of Palm City, Florida, Drago also told investors that the money they invested would fund the purchase of an oil refinery in the Bahamas. Drago lied to investors about his background, falsely claiming that he was an engineer and an expert in the oil industry with over 30 years of experience working worldwide. He also falsely told some investors that he was the grandson of the Shell Oil founder and heir to a $500 million trust which he invested in the Nigerian oil investment deal. None of these claims were true.
The government also presented evidence to establish that Drago and Rizzuti contracted with investors, promising them a short-term turnaround on their investment in just 60 days with a return of up to 400 percent. Unwitting investors gave the conspirators more than $2 million. Instead of investing in a Nigerian oil deal as promised, Drago and Rizzuti used most of the investors’ money for personal expenses. Specifically, Drago spent the money on rent; groceries; memberships at the Tournament Players Club Summerlin golf course and an exclusive activity club in Turnberry Towers, both in Las Vegas; maintenance on his Mercedes Benz; jewelry; travel; and luxury purchases at stores such as Louis Vuitton, Nordstrom and Sharper Image. In addition, nearly $1 million of the investors’ money was transferred to unknown bank accounts in China. Despite Drago’s receipt of income from this fraudulent scheme, he failed to file his 2007 federal income tax return in a timely manner.
After spending the investors’ money, Drago continued to lie to the investors about other elaborate oil-related schemes that would make them whole. He attempted to negotiate a fictitious financial instrument purporting to be an International Bill of Exchange worth $10 million at a Wells Fargo Bank branch in Las Vegas. He also lied to federal agents of the IRS, who were investigating him when he told them that every penny of investor money went to Nigeria. At the same time he was perpetrating the fraudulent Nigerian oil investment scheme, Drago also falsely claimed individual unemployability compensation benefits from the VA. Drago served in the U.S. Marine Corps. The evidence at trial established that for decades, Drago falsely claimed to have a debilitating military service-related knee injury and was totally unable to work in any capacity, when in fact he was self-employed and running several businesses. The evidence showed that Drago was active and an avid golfer, spending more than $100,000 on golf-related expenses between 2005 and 2008. Based upon his false claims to the VA, he received thousands of dollars in monthly VA benefits to which he was not entitled. Rizzuti, who testified at Drago’s trial, previously pleaded guilty to a wire fraud conspiracy and an unrelated charge of obstructing the internal revenue laws and was sentenced in May 2013 to 80 months in prison. In addition to the term of imprisonment, Drago was sentenced to pay $2.3 million in restitution and to serve five years of supervised release following his prison term. [Source: DoJ |Justices News | July 19, 2016 ++]
VA Grave Marker Medallion Update 02 ► How to Obtain
A Grave Marker Medallion, for Veterans who died on or after November 1, 1990, is furnished upon receipt of claim for affixing to an existing privately-purchased headstone or marker placed at the gravesite of an eligible deceased Veteran who is buried in a private cemetery. The medallion is made of bronze and available in three sizes: Large, Medium, Small. Each medallion is inscribed with the word VETERAN across the top and the Branch of Service at the bottom.. Eligible Veterans may receive a Government furnished headstone or marker, or a medallion, but not both. If requesting a headstone or marker, use the VA Form 40-1330.
Large Medallion Dimensions: 6 3/8″ W, 4 3/4″ H, 1/2″ D
Medium Medallion Dimensions: 3 3/4″ W, 2 7/8″ H, 1/4″ D
Small Medallion Dimensions: 2″ W, 1 1/2″ H, 1/3″ D
- Any member of the Armed Forces of the United States who dies on active duty and is buried in a private cemetery in a grave marked with a privately purchased headstone or marker.
- Any deceased Veteran discharged under honorable conditions, who died on or after November 1, 1990, and is buried in a private cemetery in a grave marked with a privately purchased headstone or marker.
- A deceased Veteran discharged under conditions other than honorable, who died on or after November 1, 1990, and is buried in a private cemetery in a grave marked with a privately purchased headstone or marker, may also be eligible. A copy of the deceased Veteran’s discharge certificate (DD Form 214 or equivalent) or a copy of other official document(s) establishing qualifying military service must be attached. Do not send original documents; they will not be returned. Service after September 7, 1980, must be for a minimum of 24 months continuous active duty or be completed under special circumstances, e.g., death on active duty.
- Persons who have only limited active duty service for training while in the National Guard or Reserves are not eligible unless there are special circumstances, e.g., death while on active duty, or as a result of training.
- Reservists and National Guard members who, at time of death, were entitled to retired pay, or would have been entitled, but for being under the age of 60, are eligible; a copy of the Reserve Retirement Eligibility Benefits Letter must accompany the claim.
- Reservists called to active duty other than training and National Guard members who are Federalized and who serve for the period called are eligible.
WHO CAN APPLY – Federal regulation defines “applicant” as the decedent’s Next of Kin (NOK); a person authorized in writing by the NOK; or a personal representative authorized in writing by the decedent. Written authorization must be included with claim. A notarized statement is not required.
HOW TO SUBMIT A CLAIM – FAX claims and supporting documents to: 1-800-455-7143. If faxing more than one claim – fax each claim package (claim plus supporting documents) individually (disconnect the call and redial for each submission). MAIL claims to: Memorial Programs Service (41B), Department of Veterans Affairs, 5109 Russell Road, Quantico, VA 22134-3903. A VA medallion may be furnished only upon receipt of a fully completed and signed claim with required supporting documentation.
SIGNATURES REQUIRED – The applicant must sign in Block 12A. The applicant must be the Next of Kin or an authorized representative of the decedent or the Next of Kin.
ASSISTANCE NEEDED – If assistance is needed to complete this claim, you may contact VA’s Applicant Assistance Unit toll free at: 1-800-697-6947, or via e-mail at [email protected] . No fee should be paid in connection with the preparation of this claim. For more information regarding medallion eligibility, affixing procedures, and sizes, visit website at www.cem.va.gov .
DELIVERY – The medallion is shipped without charge to the name/address designated in Block 13 of the claim. The Government is not responsible for costs associated with affixing the medallion to the privately purchased headstone or marker. Appropriate affixing adhesives, hardware and instructions are provided with the medallion.
CAUTION – To avoid delays in the production and delivery of the medallion, please check carefully to be sure you have accurately furnished all required information and documents before faxing or mailing the claim. The Government is not responsible for costs associated with affixing the medallion to the privately purchased headstone or marker. Medallions furnished remain the property of the United States Government and may not be used for any purpose other than to be affixed to the privately purchased headstone or marker of an eligible deceased Veteran buried in a private cemetery.
[Source: http://www.va.gov/vaforms/va/pdf/VA40-1330M.pdf | July 2016 ++]
VAMC Altoona PA ► Medical Records Illegally Accessed
The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights has launched an investigation into illegal access of medical records at the Altoona VA Medical Center. The hospital acknowledged the situation in a letter to Pennsylvania Democratic Senator Robert Casey last month. “On April 26, 2016, that agency (HHS Office of Civil Rights) notified VHA’s Privacy Office that Mr. DeNofrio submitted a privacy complaint and that it was being added to an ongoing compliance review by that agency.” In October 2015, word first leaked that the HHS Office of Civil Rights was looking into complaints from a number of VA whistleblowers who were also veterans, all complaining that their medical records were illegally accessed as part of a campaign of whistleblower retaliation.
Several VA whistleblowers testified in Congress about the VA’s illegally accessing their medical records in September 2015. Christopher “Shea” Wilkes, a veteran and VA employee who blew the whistle on a secret waiting list at the Shreveport VA Medical Center in Louisiana, told Congress at that hearing that his mental stability was questioned by the VA after he made the allegations. He was labeled “unstable and unfit to lead,” according a manager. Wilkes told Congress that shortly after this conversation he found his medical records illegally accessed multiple times. Sean Higgins, an Air Force veteran and Memphis VA Medical Center employee who has blown the whistle on numerous occasions, told CDN that his medical records have been illegally accessed twenty-three times.
Andrea Young, Public Affairs Officer at the Altoona VA Medical Center, released a statement to CDN.
- “It is also our understanding the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights is doing a compliance review of all medical centers regarding impermissible access privacy violations only and not an investigation of a complaint filed by DeNofrio.”
The Health Insurance and Portability Acccounting Act (HIPAA) strictly forbids anyone but a medical professional who is treating them to look at anyone’s medical records. Find the full statement here. https://www.scribd.com/document/318830805/We-Are-Aware-of-the-Allegations-James-DeNofrio-Made-Regarding-Privacy-Violations
In response, DeNofrio proclaimed that his medical records were accessed as part of a campaign to intimidate and retaliate. “I have read the statement provided by the VA. The fact is that I am a disabled Veteran. I had a traumatic brain injury (TBI) during training as a soldier that resulted in a life time of epileptic seizures. I am proud to have served my country, and I am proud to be able to continue to serve my county and America’s Veterans as an employee of the VA despite my injury….It is my opinion the VA has done nothing to protect me as a whistleblower. Immediately following my December 2015 complaint to the VHA Privacy Office, the Altoona VAMC Director convened an Administrative Investigative Board against me and another Altoona whistleblower, which is often the first step to taking disciplinary action against or to terminate a federal employee even though I have been rated outstanding in my performance for the past eight years, received many awards, and have no prior disciplinary, conduct, or performance actions in my career at the VA.”
Dr. Tim Skarada is a fellow employee of the Altoona VA Medical Center; both he and DeNofrio had letters released by the Office of Special Counsel days before former hospital director William Mills was moved to the Memphis VA Medical Center; he backed up DeNofrio’s assertion. “I will confirm that I remain under the same AIB, based on false claims by people we have reported on. I have been unable to get clarification from the agency on its status. i can confirm that i have (seen) that indeed inappropriate accesses to Mr. Denofrio’s record have occurred.” [Source: Communities Digital News | Michael Volpe | July 20, 2016 ++]
VAMC Oklahoma City Update 03 ► Improvements Across the Board
Over the past six months, the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center has made progress in the quality of health care it delivers to veterans, a VA official said 22 JUL. Veterans Affairs Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson said in a news conference Friday at the Oklahoma City hospital that, as he looked over several data points, he saw the hospital making improvements across the board. Gibson also complimented Kristopher Wade Vlosich, who was appointed director of the Oklahoma City VA Health Care System on 31 MAY. “It was pretty hard to find anything that wasn’t moving in the right direction,” Gibson said. “We’ve got work to do here still, a lot of work to do here, but I think the facility is heading in the right direction. I think we have the right person in place as a leader here.”
Over the past few years, the Oklahoma City VA has made national headlines, with The Wall Street Journal and USA Today both noting the facility as one of the most underperforming hospitals in the veterans health system. Earlier this year, the Veterans Health Administration’s Office of the Medical Inspector launched a federal inquiry into allegations, reported in USA Today, that missed diagnoses and poor patient care at the hospital resulted in life-altering consequences for a number of veterans. In 2014, the OKC VA hospital’s heart surgery program closed for four months after federal authorities grew concerned about the number of heart patients who died shortly after surgery. The program started back in October 2014, but after eight months, was shut down again, with leaders citing a lack of necessary staff to operate. The heart program is set to reopen in fall of this year, as the hospital has hired two cardiac specialists.
The Oklahoma VA Medical Center is one of the largest in the country, serving more than 61,000 veterans with an operating budget of $460 million. Gibson said the Veterans Health Administration uses a system to summarize hospital performances, assessing 27 quality measures, such as death rates, complications and patient satisfaction. “The idea here is, this is not a club to beat people over the head with,” Gibson said. “It’s a road map for finding ways to deliver better health care outcomes.” In a majority of those categories, the Oklahoma City VA is seeing improvements, Gibson said. For example, the Oklahoma City VA is doing well in addressing the mental health needs of veterans, Gibson said. “The point that I made was, here, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a facility that had virtually every single parameter where they were generating absolute improvement in a six-month period of time,” Gibson said. “It’s remarkable. It tells me they’re focused on the right stuff, they’re doing the right things, right leadership in place, headed in the right direction.” [Source: NewsOK Daily News | Jaclyn Cosgrove | July 23, 2016 ++]
VAMC Charleston SC Update 01 ► Rebuilding Veterans Trust
Local and national Veterans Affairs officials are hoping initiatives such as appointment scheduling systems and a new model walk-in clinic in Charleston will help the agency rebuild veterans’ trust. Brian Nimmo, director of the local VA medical center, and Amanda Penn, regional office director for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, were joined by Fred Buchanan, chair of the Veterans Committee for Civic Improvement, for a recent update on what the hospital is doing to connect with the veterans the agency serves. Among those updates was a description of the “12 breakthrough priorities” the VA has established as goals for this year. The Department of Veterans Affairs is continuing to work toward improving patient care after the 2014 scandal which found thousands of veterans were not receiving care due to long wait times at VA hospitals, the three officials said.
The first is to improve veterans’ experience. In charlston that includes the new walk-in clinic that opened in at the beginning of the month, they said. Outpatient services at the new location include primary care, mental health, x-ray, telehealth including teleretinal services, laboratory and a dedicated women’s clinic. Nimmo said VA officials want to use the model of the Charleston clinic and replicate it around the country. A telephone service and call center were established recently based on veteran feedback. “Our telephone service is exponentially better than what it was just a year ago,” Nimmo said. “That’s pretty important to our veterans. The walk-in clinic as well, veterans can come in now if they have acute illnesses or minor injuries and within an hour be in or out. We are really proud of that.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs also is working on scheduling enhancements with a new all-in-one website soon to be unveiled called vets.gov. Nimmo said soon everything a veteran needs will be on one website, including the ability to check in for an appointment on their smartphones. Another of the 12 goals is continuing to reduce veteran homelessness. The VA will have a Veterans Homeless Stand Down Sept. 21 at the Homeless Veterans Community Resource and Referral Center in Huntington, which will bring together a network of community organizations to assist homeless veterans. A veterans expo is also scheduled for October at the American Legion Post 16 in Huntington. The expo will be a one-stop shop for veterans, including health care, help with claims, readjustment counseling and unemployment help. [Source: The Herald Dispatch | Taylor Stuck | July 26, 2016 ++]
VA HCS Pittsburgh Update 06 ► Trying To Change A Bad Image
The Veterans Administration hospital in Pittsburgh is trying to change a bad image. Faced with patient deaths and complaints about care, the VA hosted a tour of its Oakland hospital Friday and promised more and better care. VA hospitals across the country, including the one in Oakland, have been rocked by harsh criticism. Besides complaints of long wait times for care, the hospital saw the deaths of six patients from Legionnaires’ disease and they found mold in the building. But a newly-hired hospital director is trying to get the word out that they’re doing a better job for vets. “We’d like to let people know that we do a lot of good things, offer good delivery of services, we give exceptional care,” said Pittsburgh VA Hospital Director Karin McGraw. “Sometimes that story doesn’t get told.”
On 22 JUL, VA officials showed off their cardiac rehab program, a small facility they say is offered in very few VA hospitals. The facility also offers job counseling services for disabled vets. The hospital’s new director admits, the VA folks in Washington DC want a better image. “Our secretary has wanted all of the VA centers across the country to share some of our best practices. What we’re doing to enhance access to veterans to care,” McGraw said.
For Vietnam vet Dennis Hughes, a cardiac patient, things are improving at the VA after decades of problems, especially since they started a Veterans’ Advisory Council. “Before it was like, nobody paid attention to what veterans had to say. The reason why my council was created was because there was never input from veterans,” said Hughes. So following a huge scandal, that’s even become part of the presidential campaign rhetoric, McGraw claims patient wait time is shorter and patient care for our vets is getting better. “I think they’ve done a very good job in meeting those veterans’ needs, and we’re even more focused on it now,” said McGraw.
[Source: CBS Pittsburgh (KDKA) | July 22, 2016 ++]
* Vets *
Vet Preference Update 13 ► OPM Guidance | Deceased/Disabled Vet Parents
The Office of Personnel Management has issued a new guidance detailing how the parents of deceased or disabled veterans can now claim veterans’ preference. The guidance coincides with the Gold Star Fathers Act of 2015, a law that went into effect on Jan. 7. The law—sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) amends the veteran preference statute to include both parents of deceased or permanently disabled veterans instead of the previous version of the law, which extended preference only to the mother of a veteran.
Veterans’ preference promotes eligible veterans for civil service jobs over other applicants based on their military service. While not a guarantee of federal employment, the practice does ensure that hiring managers do consider qualified veterans for positions in government before other applicants. Agencies only remove the veterans from the applicant pool after showing evidence of a sustainable objection to the examining office that selected the pool. The new guidance allows the parent of a deceased or permanently disabled veteran to claim their preference if:
- The spouse of that parent is permanently disabled
- The parent is unmarried or legally separated when the preference is claimed
A July 14 memo from acting OPM Director Beth Cobert said the agency was currently updating the “Delegated Examining Operations Handbook; the Vet Guide; chapter 211 of title 5, Code of Federal Regulations; the SF-15, Application for 10-Point Veteran’s Preference; and relevant website pages” to accommodate the new changes. [Source: Federal Times | Carten Cordell | July 18, 2016++]
Forgotten Warrior Memorial Wall ► PTSD | One -Of-A-Kind
Channahon State Park will be home to a one-of-a-kind memorial for military veterans who have lost their battles with post-traumatic stress disorder. The Forgotten Warrior Memorial Wall will be a tribute to all veterans who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces and have been afflicted with PTSD and sacrificed their lives beyond the limits of active duty. The memorial, expected to open in November, was funded through private donations to Chicago-based nonprofit K9s For Veteran Warriors.
K9s For Veteran Warriors CEO Michael Tellerino said it’s proper to have memorials for veterans who lost their lives in battle; however, currently no memorials exist for the countless veterans who have taken their own lives while fighting another war at home – PTSD. “How can we honor them for paying the ultimate price?” Tellerino said. “They come home with wounds you can’t see. People don’t understand how serious this is.” One statistic Tellerino cited suggests about 22 veterans commit suicide each day, but that’s just based on veterans who have registered for benefits. He said the real number is between 28 and 32 a day. “That’s not acceptable,” he said. “We wanted to acknowledge that sons, daughters, brothers and sisters have not died in vain. We hope this will give some healing to their families and raise public awareness.”
Channahon State Park in Channahon (left) has been chosen as the site of The Forgotten Warrior Memorial Wall that will honor veterans who have lost their battle to post-traumatic stress disorder. This graphic (right) shows the design, which is the first of its kind in America
The memorial, which will cost more than $80,000, will be constructed in an existing circular turnaround area of the park and be comprised largely of granite. Tellerino initially wanted to etch the names of each veteran lost to PTSD into the memorial, but said it would be an exhaustive process to get every name from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Instead, families will have individual bricks etched with their loved ones’ names on a volunteer basis. He said that since announcing the memorial last week, he received a call from a woman in tears. “She was so excited about doing this,” he said. “It’s so long overdue for these guys.”
The organization chose Channahon because it has easy access from the Chicago metropolitan area and the specific spot in the park is perfect for what the architects of the project have designed. The nonprofit also wanted the memorial to be relatively close to Marseilles, which is home to the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial along the Illinois River. Illinois State Parks and Recreation and state legislators have already signed off on the project, he said. “This one-of-a-kind memorial will provide a place for family members, other veterans, and the public to honor those service men and women whose injuries, while perhaps not physically apparent, were no less devastating,” Channahon Mayor Missey Moorman Schumacher said in a news release.
K9s For Veteran Warriors provides service dogs to veterans with PTSD, along with medical care and food for the life of the dog. Tellerino said that although it is not a cure-all, the initiative plays a major role in improving the spirits of veterans. [Source: Morris Herald News | Mike Mallory | July 26, 2016 ++]
Vet Educational Assistance ► 35K Vet’s Tuition/BAH in Jeopardy
A federal panel voted last month to shut down the largest accrediting agency of private sector colleges and universities in the country. The 10-3 decision by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) effectively eliminates access to federal financial aid to hundreds of schools accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) that enroll nearly 800,000 students. Of those 800,000 approximately 35,000 are veterans. This is a major problem, because in the next few months those veterans will find that they are ineligible to receive tuition and BAH payments. Without those BAH payments many of them may lose their housing.
US News & World Report said that Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of Career Education Colleges and Universities, warned during his testimony that the revocation of ACICS’ authority would amount to a collapse of post-secondary vocational training in the U.S. It seems likely that this is an overstatement of reality. In total, the Department of Education recognizes 37 accrediting agencies that are “gatekeepers” to the federal student loan system. Those agencies review colleges based on a variety of issues, including academic quality, personnel, instructional resources and many others. Using that information, the agencies approve or deny schools access to federal financial aid benefits.
ACICS approves about 725 institutions and last year oversaw $3.3 billion in federal financial aid; it has accredited schools including Corinthian Colleges, which was shut down last year. The fact that Corinthian Colleges was accredited the whole time until it was shut down by regulators was a major part of why NACIQI made the decision to terminate ACICS. According to an analysis from the Center for American Progress, from 2010 to 2015 ACICS in 90 instances approved and named schools to its honor roll around the same time they were under investigation. The companies that owned those schools, which took in more than $5.7 billion in federal funds over the past three years, represent 52 percent of all federal aid dollars received by ACICS-approved colleges during that period. [Source: TREA Update | July 25, 2016 ++]
Clinton on Vet Benefits ► Education & Health Care
Hillary Clinton doubled down 25 JUL on her commitment to preserve the full education benefits now provided by the GI Bill to post-9/11 veterans and their families to attend college. Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, also renewed a vow that as president she would oppose attempts to privatize health care for veterans provided by the Veterans Health Administration under the Department of Veterans Affairs. Clinton made the remarks at the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Charlotte, North Carolina. Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, was to address the convention 26 JUL. “I will protect, preserve and defend the post-9/11 GI Bill,” Clinton said. “It has opened doors of opportunity to more than one million veterans and family members.”
“Unfortunately, there are some Republicans in Congress chipping away at it,” Clinton said, referring to a bill by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican from Washington state, that would cut the housing allowance for family members of veterans. “We should protect and strengthen it, not let anyone erode it,” Clinton said of the GI Bill. The McMorris Rodgers proposal has Democratic supporters in Congress, including Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat chosen by Clinton last week as her vice presidential running mate. Clinton’s speech received what some news organizations described as “tepid” applause. Near the start of her address, someone in the audience shouted, “How about Benghazi?” Another man said “Can’t stand her,” and walked out as Clinton began talking, the Charlotte Observer reported.
Clinton also took a position on veterans health care that was in stark contrast to that of Trump. “In a Clinton administration, “We’re going to have a 21st century Department of Veterans Affairs,” she said. “Like you, I was outraged by the VA scandals” that left veterans seeking health care “languishing on a waiting list for an appointment,” she said. Reforming the VA “will be one of my highest priorities, Clinton said, “but I’ll tell you this — we are not going to privatize the VA, we are going to reform it and make it work for every veteran in America.”
Trump’s website said, “Under a Trump Administration, all veterans eligible for VA health care can bring their veteran’s ID card to any doctor or care facility that accepts Medicare to get the care they need immediately. Our veterans have earned the freedom to choose better or more convenient care from the doctor and facility of their choice.”
Clinton also pledged to improve the transition for troops from military health care to VA coverage, boost programs for female veterans and “end the epidemic of veteran suicide.” She never mentioned Trump’s name in remarks delivered as the Democratic National Convention was opening in Philadelphia, but took several swipes clearly aimed at the Republican nominee. Clinton portrayed herself as the optimistic candidate seeking to improve a nation that was already great, rather than one who would “Make America Great Again” — Trump’s campaign slogan.
“I don’t understand people who trash-talk America,” she said. The U.S. has “capabilities that no other country comes close to matching” and “we have the world’s greatest military — don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” [Source: Military.com | Richard Sisk | Jul 25, 2016 ++]
Mesothelioma ► What Veterans Should Know
Veterans from all four branches of the military were once at risk of asbestos exposure. Even today, asbestos exposure remains an issue in the military, although it’s much less likely for those currently in service to come into contact with the harmful mineral. If you’re a veteran and have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness, there are steps you can take to obtain compensation and medical coverage needed to help battle the disease.
Why is Asbestos So Dangerous? Asbestos is a term for several different groups of naturally-occurring minerals that were once excessively mined and used in a plethora of materials and products. Asbestos helps control high temperatures and fires, and its ease of use made it a popular choice for many manufacturers. It was also extremely affordable.However, the dark side of asbestos is that its tiny, odorless fibers are easily ingested, but aren’t so easy to expel from the body. In fact, it’s almost impossible to expel all asbestos fibers from the body, and the more you’re around it, the higher the chances you’ll inhale large amounts of it.Over time, the fibers start to harm the body, attaching themselves to the areas around major organs. The fibers then start irritating the linings of the organs (typically the lungs, abdomen, and heart linings), which leads to scarring and cancerous tumors. These tumors can lead to asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer, and asbestosis.
Where Was Asbestos Used in the Military? Prior to the mid-1970s, the military used asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) in over 300 products. The military used these ACMs to build naval ships, barracks, engine rooms, boiler rooms, galleys, and more.Veterans who worked aboard naval ships, in particular, were especially susceptible to asbestos exposure. Living and working aboard vessels that were built with asbestos was dangerous enough in itself, but many veterans worked in small, cramped areas, such as engine and boiler rooms, without enough adequate ventilation. This doubled their chances of inhaling large amounts of airborne asbestos fibers.
Asbestos Related Disease. Studies have linked more than a dozen different diseases to asbestos exposure. Many of these diseases, such as mesothelioma and lung cancer, have a confirmed relationship with the toxic mineral. Others, such as COPD and kidney cancer, are not directly caused by asbestos, but researchers suspect that exposure can increase a person’s risk for developing them. Asbestos-related diseases can range from mild and benign to malignant and life-threatening. Malignant diseases (i.e. very serious and dangerous) tend to be less common than benign (i.e. not causing death or serious injury) illnesses, yet some of the benign conditions are just as serious as cancer. Asbestosis — a benign illness — led to more deaths per year between 1999 and 2001 than asbestos-induced gastrointestinal cancer did during the same time frame.
Not everyone who is exposed to asbestos will get one of these diseases. However, exposure does increase a person’s lifelong risk the developing one or more of these conditions. This elevated risk lasts for decades after exposure. In some cases, patients may develop both benign and malignant illnesses. It is not uncommon for patients to be diagnosed with multiple asbestos-related diseases within their lifetime. Because of this, anyone who has been exposed should register for regular health screenings for the rest of their life.
Malignant Related Diseases. Asbestos is the single largest cause of occupational cancer in the United States. It can directly cause four distinct malignancies, and it may increase a person’s risk for several others. Although any amount of exposure can cause cancer, people who inhaled or ingested large amounts of asbestos for extended periods of time have the highest risk of developing these cancers.Mesothelioma is the signature asbestos-related cancer. It is also one of the most deadly related diseases, causing between 2,000 and 3,000 deaths each year in the United States alone. On average, the prognosis is less than one year from the time of diagnosis.The cancer is named after the mesothelium, the thin protective lining where the tumors develop. It can appear on the lining of the lungs, stomach, heart or testicles — known respectively as pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma, pericardial mesothelioma and testicular mesothelioma. Each type of mesothelioma is associated with a unique set of symptoms, but chest or abdominal pain and shortness of breath affect most patients, regardless of their specific diagnosis.
Benign Related Diseases. Benign asbestos-related diseases are slightly more prevalent than related malignancies. In one study of 231 asbestos-exposed workers, 99 developed at least one benign lung abnormality.This elevated incidence rate may partially be related to the amount of exposure necessary for the conditions to develop. Although both benign and malignant diseases may develop after just one incidence of asbestos exposure, malignant conditions typically result from years of exposure. Benign diseases often require less exposure; one study revealed asbestos-related changes in full-time employees whose working environments had as few as 15 asbestos fibers per milliliter of air. While cancers typically have a latency period of several decades, non-cancerous illnesses can arise within only a few years. One case study revealed the presence of asbestos-related pleural effusions less than one year after the patient’s exposure.
Asbestosis. Asbestosis is a benign yet deadly lung disease that is characterized by severe scarring and inflammation of lung tissue. It prevents the lungs from expanding and relaxing normally, leading to symptoms such as shortness of breath and tightness in the chest. Even though it is benign, this form of interstitial lung disease can be extremely serious. For seven of the eight years between 2000 and 2007, asbestosis was an underlying or contributing cause of death for more than 1,400 people in the United States.
Compensation and Medical Care for Veterans with Asbestos Illnesses. If you’ve developed an asbestos-related disease after serving in the military, there is a good chance that you’ll qualify for compensation and medical care. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), if you were exposed to asbestos while in service and subsequently developed an asbestos illness, you may be able for service-connected benefits.Service-connected benefits include monthly compensation based on the VA’s disability scale, as well as free medical care from the VA. Disability payments are approved once a veteran is determined to be at least 10% disabled. The rate of compensation increases according to the percentage of the disability, with a disability rating of 100% providing the highest amount of monthly benefits. Veterans interested in applying for disability can do on the VA eBenefits website, which will provide all of the necessary documentation and proof needed.
Additional Compensation for Veterans with Asbestos Illnesses. In some situations, VA disability benefits may not be enough to cover the extra expenses that come along with developing an asbestos-related illness. For example, you may need to travel long miles to special hospitals to get the best medical care, you may not be able to work anymore, and you may need to make home accommodations.In additions, veterans will likely go through pain and suffering with their illness, and it’s important to hold the party who supplied ACMs to the military responsible. Although you cannot sue the government, you can file a mesothelioma lawsuit against the manufacturers and other companies that supplied the asbestos and/or asbestos-containing products to the military. Most asbestos lawsuits provide substantial compensation for victims via settlements. In rare instances, the lawsuits may go to trial, which can also provide large compensation should the case be won.
There is currently over $30 billion on asbestos trust funds, set aside for veterans and any others who were injured by asbestos due to the negligence of another party. Trusts funds are developed after a company faces so many asbestos-related lawsuits that they are required by the courts to add money to an asbestos fund, to be disbursed to people who’ve been injured by their products. Whether it’s compensation through a trust fund, settlement, or trial, it’s important to note that as a veteran, you have the legal right to file for compensation against the responsible if you’ve been diagnosed with an asbestos illness that developed due to others’ mistakes and negligence.
[Source: Veteran Resources &http://www.asbestos.com/mesothelioma/related-diseases.php | Donnie La Curan | May 20, 2016 ++]
Veterans Advantage ► Military Discounted Amtrak Vacations
Veterans Advantage with its VetRewards Card, that offers secure partner redemption of military discounts, announced an expansion of its exclusive military partnership with Amtrak to include Veterans Advantage discounts on rail fares with Amtrak Vacations and its packages on year-round travel without blackouts. “We are pleased that our longstanding partnership with Amtrak continues to grow and bring great travel savings to thank those who served our country and their families,” said H. Scott Higgins, founder and CEO of Veterans Advantage, and a Vietnam Veteran. “Just like our 15% everyday savings on Amtrak, our members can now see the country they served with the same discounted rail fare on scenic Amtrak Vacations travel packages, and be rewarded with significant savings.”
The Veterans Advantage discount on the rail fare portion of the vacation packages offered by Amtrak Vacations covers over 300 rail vacations to its thrilling destinations – cities, landscapes and National parks – with options to depart from more than 500 Amtrak rail stations across the country. Amtrak recognizes the VetRewards Card, a special privacy protected ID only for active duty, retirees, veterans, guard, reserve and their families at its stations nationwide, online and by toll free phone for same day travel with no advance purchase requirement.
“We are excited and honored to support Veterans Advantage and its VetRewards Card members as a way of doing our part to show our deep appreciation for service to our country,” said Frank Marini, Yankee Leisure Group Inc. President, the operator of Amtrak Vacations. “We now offer significant rail savings on our scenic journeys that never fail to deliver memories that last a lifetime.” Just last year, Amtrak, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, which provides the nation’s intercity rail passenger service, expanded its more than 15-year relationship with Veterans Advantage to include the servicemember’s immediate family members, who may book Veterans Advantage discounts independently. Additionally, Amtrak accepts same day bookings for its Veterans Advantage discounts, and waives its the 3-day advance purchase requirement for VetRewards Card members. These new benefits will also apply to Veterans Advantage’s Amtrak Vacations bookings with discounted rail fare. Veterans Advantage, for its part, include at no additional cost, $50,000 of global emergency travel Insurance from Travel Guard with MedEvac services for its members who travel more than 100 miles from home. This benefit covers members travel booked with Veterans Advantage discounts on Amtrak and Amtrak Vacations.
Veterans Advantage members who travel to Amtrak Vacations destinations will benefit from the company’s secure military verify technology when using their VetRewards Card ID to qualify as eligible for military discounts. Veterans Advantage protects veterans’ privacy and supports enhanced military security with the issuance and administration of its VetRewards Card, the nation’s first secure military ID. Veterans Advantage uses FTC recommended ‘de-identification’ methodology in its verify technology platform to safeguard veterans’ personal information when redeeming military discounts. The nation’s travel industry leaders and leading retailers offer military savings with the VetRewards Card. In addition to Amtrak and Amtrak Vacations, other exclusive Veterans Advantage partners include United Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Greyhound, Avis/Budget, Wyndham Hotels, Choice Hotels, Red Roof Inn, Ford & Lincoln Motor Cars, CVS/pharmacy, Foot Locker, Dell, Apple, and Verizon Wireless & Verizon Fios, among its more than 150 benefit partners.
Amtrak Vacations is the leading supplier of vacation packages featuring Amtrak rail services in combination with inclusive travel packages for one-of-a-kind vacations throughout North America. Amtrak Vacations offers over 300 rail vacations to amazing cities, scenic landscapes and spectacular National Parks with options to depart from more than 500 Amtrak rail stations across the country. Amtrak Vacations is operated by Yankee Leisure Group, Inc. Learn more at http://www.amtrakvacations.com .
Veterans Advantage, PBC is a registered public benefit company that advocates for greater respect, recognition and rewards for veterans, active and retired military, guardsmen, reservists and their families to thank them for their service to the country. Veteran founded and led, Veterans Advantage partners with national retailers, travel industry leaders, and insurance providers to create new benefits with its coalition of partner companies to those verified through enrollment in Veterans Advantage. Veterans Advantage’s patent-pending military verify technology solutions allows its partners to confirm their customers’ eligibility for their military program offers in real time, online, by toll-free phone and at point-of-sale locations nationwide. [Source: Veterans Advantage | Donnie La Curan | July 20, 2016 ++]
Korean War Memorial Update 03 ► San Francisco Opening 1 AUG
A Korean War Memorial will be dedicated on Monday, August 1, at the Presidio in San Francisco. The dedication ceremony will run 10 a.m. to noon. The memorial will stand on high ground adjacent to the national cemetery facing west across the Pacific Ocean toward Korea. The spot was chosen because it was the embankment point for service members who fought in the Korean War, and represented the end of the journey for those returning home.
The memorial is the result of a partnership between the Korean War Memorial Foundation and the Presidio Trust.
The war began on June 25, 1950, when North Korean forces crossed the 38th Parallel and invaded South Korea. For the first time in history, the United Nations (UN) sent a multinational force to help the Democratic South defend itself against the Communist North. Twenty-One UN member nations contributed to the effort. Sixteen sent combat units while five others provided medical and other support services. The war lasted from 1950 to 1953 and ended in stalemate. The Korean War led to the growth of the U.S. Army from 600,000 to 1.5 million troops, and with it an increase in responsibilities for the Sixth Army at the Presidio, necessitating an expansion of the post. The Presidio provided training and support for departing and returning troops. The former Letterman Army Hospital was a major care center, treating the sick and wounded arriving by hospital ship. 2,273 Americans who served in the war are buried in San Francisco National Cemetery, just across the road from the planned memorial site. Among them is General William Dean, the highest-ranking prisoner of war in the Korean War. Along with many other American prisoners released at the end of the war in 1953, Dean was brought to Building 135 (now the Golden Gate Club), visible to the south of this site, immediately after his release. General Dean later served as Depuuty Commanding General of the Sixth U.S. Army at the Presidio. [Source: NAUS Weekly Update | July 22, 2016 ++]
Korean War Valor ► Sgt Reckless Posthumously Awarded Medal
A U.S. Marine Corps horse who served during some of the bloodiest fighting of the Korean War has been posthumously decorated for bravery. Sgt. Reckless was awarded the Dickin Medal during a ceremony at the Korean War Memorial in London on Wednesday, the 63rd anniversary of the end of the war. A serving British Army horse stood in for the late Reckless at the ceremony. The chestnut Mongolian mare served as an ammunitions carrier for the Marines’ anti-tank division. She made repeated trips to supply ammunition and retrieve wounded troops under heavy bombardment during the battle for Outpost Vegas in March 1953.
Horse Haldalgo, representing life-saving U.S. Marine horse Sergeant Reckless
After the war, Reckless retired to the United States and died in 1968 at age 20. She was nominated by a historian who wrote a biography about her. Reckless is the 68th recipient of the medal, awarded by the PDSA veterinary charity and billed as the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross — Britain’s top award for military valor. Since 1943, the medal has recognized gallantry by animals serving with the military, police or rescue services. Almost half the recipients have been dogs, including a World War II commando collie who made more than 20 parachute jumps. The medal has also gone to police horses, carrier pigeons and, once, to a cat — a Royal Navy ship’s mascot who carried on rat-catching while the vessel was shelled and besieged in China in 1949. [Source: The Associated Press | July 27, 2016 ++|
Honor Flights Update 10 ► Looking for Western New York Vets
Western New York’s World War II veterans can sign up now for the next Honor Flight. The flight is scheduled for Saturday, October 29. Veterans will leave early that morning from the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. The Honor Flight organization is looking for 40 to 45 veterans to sign up. It is free for veterans, and veterans are also encouraged to bring a guardian. Guardians pay their own expenses for the day. For more information, visit the Leatherstocking Honor Flight website http://www.leatherstockinghonorflight.org . If you sign up, be sure to specifically say you are from the Buffalo area, and you want to sign up for the Western New York flight. Leatherstocking Honor Flight is a chapter of the National Honor Flight Network [https://www.honorflight.org].
To date, Leatherstocking Honor Flight has escorted over 1,000 Veterans to Washington, DC. They believe every WWII Veteran is entitled to this trip of Honor. Honor Flight Network recognizes American Veterans for their sacrifices and achievements by flying them to Washington, D.C. to see their memorials at no cost to them. Currently their priority and focus is the dwindling group of World War II Veterans and terminally ill Veterans from all wars. They are currently accepting applications for our Flight Missions for WWII and Korean War Veterans. The goal is to take every WWII Veteran and never leaving an empty seat. Guardians fly with the Veterans on every flight providing assistance and helping Veterans have a safe, memorable, and rewarding experience. [Source: NAUS Weekly Update | July 22, 2016 ++]
Vet Toxic Exposure | AFB PFCs ► 2000+ Contaminated Sites
Volk Sanders burst into this world on June 7, a six-pound fuzz-headed ball of joy and his mother’s first child.Days later, Volk’s mother learned that the well water she had consumed for years had been laced with chemicals that the Environmental Protection Agency associates with low birth weight, cancers, thyroid disease and more. The aquifer that courses beneath this community in the shadow of five military installations showed traces of perfluorinated chemicals at up to 20 times the levels viewed as safe, environmental authorities said. A sudsy foam used for fighting fires on military bases was probably responsible, according to the Air Force, with the contamination perhaps decades old. “I’m very angry,” Volk’s mother, Carmen Soto, 20, said at a packed community meeting on July 7. Volk had struggled to gain weight, she said, and she wondered if that was related to the contamination. “They’ve known about this for how long, and they’re just telling us? I drank water throughout my pregnancy. What is that going to do?”
The military is cleaning up PFC-contaminated drinking water supplies in communities near these installations Air ForceDover Air Force Base, Del.; Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska; Horsham Air Guard Station, Pa.; the former March Air Force Base, Calif.; the former Pease Air Force Base in N.H.; the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base, N.Y.; Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio; the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base, Mich.; Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Navy Auxiliary Landing Field Fentress, Va.; Naval Weapons Station Earle, N.J.; former Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Pa; former Naval Air Warfare Center, Pa.
Fountain — named for a creek that once gave life to this southern Colorado town — is now part of a growing list of American communities dealing with elevated levels of perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, in their drinking water. In the last few months, PFC poisoning has upended municipalities around the country, including Hoosick Falls, N.Y., home to a plastics factory, and North Bennington, Vt., once home to a chemical plant. Unlike in many of the other places, the contamination in Fountain and in two nearby communities, Widefield and Security, is not believed to be related to manufacturing. Rather, the authorities suspect that it was caused by Aqueous Film Forming Foam, a firefighting substance used on military bases nationwide.
Defense Department officials initially identified about 700 sites of possible contamination, but that number has surged to at least 2,000, most of them on Air Force bases, said Mark A. Correll, a deputy assistant secretary for environment, safety and infrastructure at the Air Force. All of the nine bases that the Air Force has examined so far had higher-than-recommended levels of PFCs in the local drinking water. Four bases identified by the Navy were also found to have contaminated water. In some places, the contamination affects one household. In others, it affects thousands of people. The bases are in Alaska, California, Colorado, Delaware, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. “It’s quite possible it will touch every state,” said Jennifer Field, a professor at Oregon State University and an expert on the chemistry of Aqueous Film Forming Foam. “Every place has a military base, a commercial airport, an oil refinery, a fuel tank farm.”
Contamination in Security, Colo., is believed to have been caused by the use of Aqueous Film Forming Foam, a firefighting substance used on military bases nationwide.
The Air Force has spent $137 million to assess the scope of the problem, and is spending several million more to treat water systems and provide alternate drinking-water sources. It does not have an estimate of how much cleanup will ultimately cost, though one official said it would “likely be quite large.” This has focus at the absolute highest level of the Air Force,” Mr. Correll said. “We take it seriously. We’re addressing it aggressively. The Air Force will take responsibility for its actions.”
The firefighting agent in question is a white substance often shot from a hose and used to extinguish fuel fires since about 1970. Aqueous Film Forming Foam was created by 3M at the behest of the Navy, which needed a way to stamp out fires on ships. The foam was later adopted by airports, oil fields and municipal fire departments, becoming an integral part of the nation’s firefighting kit. It was often sprayed directly onto the ground during repeated training sessions on military bases. The foam is laden with perfluorinated chemicals, an unregulated class of man-made chemicals that travel quickly in water and last for years in bodies and environments.
In the face of growing evidence of adverse health effects, the Environmental Protection Agency is considering whether to regulate the chemicals, which manufacturers have used for decades in everyday products like clothing, mattresses and food packaging. In May, the agency released a new health advisory on two of the best-known perfluorinated chemicals — PFOA and PFOS — suggesting that communities keep their water below 70 parts per trillion for the two combined. [Source: New York Times | Julie Turkewitzc | July 25, 2016 ++]
Vet Fraud & Abuse ► 16 thru 31 JUL 2016
Stafford Springs, CT — A man is accused of promising to help more than a dozen veterans, then scamming them out of half a million dollars, according to state police. John J. Simon Jr., 69, of Stafford Springs, is accused of defrauding 15 victims of $510,000 under the guise that he paying a lawyer to help them obtain Social Security benefits and money from Veterans Affairs claims. The victims told investigators that Simon never got them their money and investigators said they were not able to find the attorney Simon claimed to be working with.
Police said the alleged scam started in June 2011 and several victims gave Simon less than $2,000, so the statute of limitations for those misdemeanor charges expired, but others gave him more than $2,000, according to court paperwork. Leslie Clark told NBC Connecticut she and her husband, Army Vietnam veteran Kenan Clark, were defrauded for years by Simon. Clark said she and her husband trusted Simon would assist them in getting Veteran’s Administration and social security benefits based on Kenan’s disability, Lymphoma, which claimed his life in April 2015. “So John said that he could help us and he said that he could not only obtain benefits for now but that my husband was owed money through the Veterans Administration from Agent Orange and his disabilities,” Clark said.
They paid Simon $6,000 for his assistance, but they had never received any correspondence from the social security administration or the VA. “That’s when we realized that it was a scam,” Clark explained. She went to police with her concerns. I just want to see him get what he deserves because he didn’t just hurt us he hurt other people, too. And as I said they were deserving people — veterans with disabilities,” she said.
Another victim, who served in the military from 1964 to 1967 and has back and hearing issues, told investigators he went to Simon for help in March 2012 at the suggestion of a friend and Simon brought him to the VA Medical Center in Newington to register for services, according to court paperwork. Later, Simon contacted the veteran and said a lawyer determined that the veteran should have been medically discharged before he even served, court paperwork says. Simon went on to tell the victim that attorney could get him $1 million in back pay, according to court paperwork. Between March and October 2012, the veteran gave Simon $19,700 in cash that was supposed to go to the attorney. At some point, the veteran spoke with a friend who presented the veteran with a letter from the U.S. Attorney’s Office that said Simon was under federal investigation, police said. Armed with the letter, the veteran confronted Simon. Simon claimed the charges had been dropped and that people were telling lies about him, according to police paperwork. When the veteran asked for his money back, Simon said the benefits were coming soon. The date he provided came and went with no check to the veteran and it was not until the veteran filed his own application that he received benefits, according to police.
Investigators spoke with another victim on April 4, 2012 who met Simon in 2010 and gave him $10,600 in cash between September and December 2011, according to police. The rest of his story was similar to what the first victim told investigators and he said Simon came to him several times, asking for money for the attorney. When that victim asked about paying the attorney by check, Simon claimed he’d paid the man and the money was for reimbursement for Simon, according to police. Then, during an event at the American Legion Hall in Stafford Springs, the victim and his wife heard people talking about someone who promised to get benefits for someone and cheated the person out of money. When the second victim’s wife asked about it, she realized the man who committed the alleged scam was Simon, according to police.
When police spoke with Simon, he told them he was helping veterans who were entitled to benefits because the VA made it difficult for the average person to obtain them. He also admitted to taking some money for helping veterans, but said it was just a small amount to cover his time end effort. Court paperwork says Simon works for veterans, charges them for help, makes phone calls for them and charges $200 to $300 per hour. Police also claim Simon was structuring bank deposits in a way to hide the fact that he received several hundred thousand dollars.
Simon has been arrested on three warrants and charged with two counts of second-degree larceny, and one count of third-degree larceny. Simon is due back in court on 5 AUG. [Source: NBC Connecticut | Jul 22, 2016 ++]
Highland Falls, NY — A man held an 81-year-old Marine Corps veteran hostage in his squalid motel room for at least four years in order to steal his benefits checks, authorities said 21 JUL. Perry Coniglio was arrested 19 JUL in his room adjoining the victim’s at a motel in Highlands. The motel sits next door to the police station in the Hudson Valley town, about 50 miles north of New York City. Coniglio, 43, used brute force and intimidation to get the mentally diminished veteran to cooperate with him, police said. The elderly man has advanced dementia, according to police. Police Chief Jack Quinn said the veteran received a “tremendous amount of money” each month in Social Security benefits, pension checks and food stamps, though investigators wouldn’t divulge the exact total. The veteran was taken to a hospital for evaluation. His name hasn’t been released by police.
Coniglio was being held in the Orange County Jail on $15,000 bail. The charges against him include grand larceny and unlawful imprisonment. The Legal Aid Society attorney representing him wasn’t available for comment. Coniglio, of nearby Highland Falls, was arrested during a police raid captured on video by WABC-TV in New York City. The footage shows police taking Coniglio into custody at gunpoint while the bearded veteran sat on a bed in his cluttered room at the U.S. Academy Motel. Authorities said they were recently tipped off to the situation by neighbors, one of whom provided video showing the older man being physically abused outside his room. It couldn’t be learned from police why the alleged abuse continued for so long at the L-shaped motel that’s just a few steps away from a building housing a police station and an ambulance service. The motel is located just south of West Point, home to the U.S. Military Academy. Detective Joseph Cornetta said police have heard from a number of veterans groups who have offered to help the man, while the county Adult Protective Services is working with police to find the man a new residence. [Source: The Associated Press | July 21, 2016 +++]
WWII Vets  ► Robert Grim
Robert Grim enlisted in the Air Corps from his hometown of Grand Haven, Michigan, just two months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He was assigned to the 359th Bomb Squadron, 303rd Heavy Bombardment Group, and attached to the 8th and the 12th Air Force, respectively. As a .50-caliber gunner on the B-17 Flying Fortress (nicknamed Jarrin’ Jenny), Grim completed 50 missions, throughout England and Africa during World War II. Now 94 and a retired longtime employee of Bell Telephone Company, Grim is twice widowed and lives in Sarasota.
‘Nothing too eventful happened during my missions in England. But we flew a lot of big missions in Africa. There was a big shipyard in Africa that I remember we bombed over and over. Once, when we were east of Algiers, it rained for three or four days straight. Planes were sitting on dirt, full of bombs and gas. The tires were halfway into the ground and they just sunk into the wet soil. They had to dig trenches and fly them out. Then we moved to the Sahara Desert and that was very interesting. There were no runways, no nothing, just sand. Every morning before a mission, they had to go out and level the sand so we could take off from there. We spent probably three or four months in the hot desert.
Our planes were full of bombs and gas, so somebody had to sleep on the plane at night to protect it. Well, one of my crewmates, a radioman named Guy Dority (a great guy), didn’t have a pup tent and neither did I. The two of us decided to sleep on the plane together. I remember, it was a moonlight, beautiful, warm night. We heard a plane coming around 10 p.m. Dority said, ‘I bet it’s a recon.’ We didn’t know at the time that there was a different sound in the engines between the German and American planes. All of a sudden we heard kaboom, kaboom! Well, we got up fast and we ran out of the plane and into the desert in our underwear. If that plane overhead had set off the bombs in our plane, we wouldn’t have been in one piece, of course, so it hadn’t hit us. We looked around and realized it hadn’t hit anything. I walked a little more into the desert and realized there was a drop-off there. There was like a river basin in the desert I stepped into. That German plane had dropped bombs in the desert, and he had hit some oil drums but, fortunately, no planes.
In all my missions, I have to say I was never wounded. There were close calls. Our wing top got shot up and we had a lot of narrow misses, but that was about it. I was discharged before the end of the war because I had flown enough missions and I had enough credits to get out. Guy Dority and I were the only two men in our unit who ever got together after the war. I used to call him every month before he died. We were very close, like brothers.’
[Source: http://veterans.heraldtribune.com | Abby Weingarten| June 6, 2016 ++]
WWII Vets  ► Manuel Mercedes
Manuel Mercedes came to the United States in a somewhat unusual way. Having served in the Spanish navy, he saw what Nazi Germany was doing to his country and wanted none of that, so in 1943 he stowed away on a ship bound for New York. Seventy-three years later, the former stowaway received the highest award the country of France can bestow on an individual – the Legion of Honor. He joined nine other area World War II Veterans who received the medal during a ceremony in Pinellas Park July 14, France’s Bastille Day.
Mercedes, now 99 years old, was 25 when he snuck aboard a ship and was discovered after they docked in New York. At that, he was offered two choices his son John Mercedes said. “He served in the navy in Spain, and once he left the navy to go home to his mother and brothers, he noticed the German bombers and fighters coming over to Spain and he didn’t want to be around for that,” John said. “He stowed away on a ship to America and landed in New York where they caught him. They gave him two choices – we’re going to deport you or you can fight for your citizenship by joining our armed forces.” Mercedes quickly decided on the latter and soon found himself training in the United States and then in England to become an Army medic. In June 1944, he took part in the largest amphibious invasion of WWII, the D-Day invasion of Normandy, landing on Utah Beach as part of the 9th Infantry Division.
Before the end of the war, Mercedes was also involved in other historic battles, including the Battle of the Bulge and the Battle of Berlin. Along the way he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and was sworn in as a U.S. citizen. “My commander asked me if I wanted to become a citizen, so I said yes,” Mercedes said. “I was in France and they sent me up to the headquarters. That’s where I saw (Generals) Patton and Eisenhower.” Before leaving the Army, he also worked on graves registration, helping ensure that military members who were killed in action were properly identified and honorably interred in U.S. military cemeteries within France.
Discharged in 1946, Mercedes settled initially in Albany, New York, where he worked in the construction business. He met his wife, Eva, and was married in 1949 before moving to Florida. Eva passed away in November 2015 at the age of 101 and Mercedes now lives with his son, John, and daughter-in-law Tammy, a nurse manager at James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital’s Primary Care Annex. It was Tammy who initially saw a story saying the government of France was looking to honor WW II Veterans who had helped liberate their country from the German invaders. “I contacted the French government and sent his DD 214 and all his military information there to see if he was eligible,” John said. “When they deemed him eligible, it took almost a year and we were notified by the French embassy in Miami that there would be a presentation ceremony up here.”
Mercedes and the other Veterans received their Legion of Honor awards from Maj. Gen. Bernard Commings, the senior national representative from France to the United States Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. Each was presented in the name of the president of the Republic of France. “We will never forget your sacrifice,” Commings told the assembled Veterans. “On behalf of the French armed forces, I extend to you a debt of gratitude and my warmest congratulations. Thank you for your sacrifice, and thank you for your service.” [Source: VAntage Point | July 15, 2016++]
Vietnam Vets  ► Charles Kettles
“Of all the details of this mission on the table, saving the 44 men is the only thing that matters,” said retired Army Lt. Col. Charles Kettles, the most recent recipient of the Medal of Honor. Kettles was inducted into the Pentagon’s “Hall of Heroes,” on 19 JUL. During the induction ceremony, Kettles was joined by several hundred others, including Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter, Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Daniel B. Allyn and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel Dailey.
Nearly 50 years ago, on May 15, 1967, Kettles led a team of helicopters into the jungles of Vietnam under heavy enemy fire to rescue Soldiers from an enemy engagement where they had been severely overmatched by enemy combatants. Later that day, just when everyone expected that the rescue operations were over, they learned that eight more Soldiers remained behind. “Charles didn’t hesitate, he immediately broke off, passed flight lead to another aircraft, and returned for a fourth landing into that landing zone, to bring everybody home,” recounted Allyn. “Kettles once again vanquished his fears, bouncing several hundred feet into that landing zone. There, the enemy was able to concentrate its efforts on Kettle’s single aircraft. Smoke billowed inside, the aircraft lurched from left to right, but somehow, some way, he was able to fly it, coax it, will it out of that landing zone.” “Lt. Col. Kettles demonstrated his commitment and deep-seated loyalty to all those men, and our entire nation, by his actions that day. He did not quit. He refused to leave any Soldier behind,” Allyn said.
In all, the total rescue operations involved some 74 helicopter crewmembers who ended up saving the lives of 44 Soldiers. “It is fitting that we acknowledge and share the honor with the 74 helicopter crewmembers who were involved in the total mission on that date,” Kettles said. “It belongs to them, who, with their deep regard for their fellow Soldiers, minimized the losses that day.” A plaque bearing Kettles name will soon join those of other Medal of Honor recipients that line the walls of the Hall of Heroes, commemorating his having received the Medal of Honor for his action back in Vietnam. But across the river, in Washington, D.C., there is another wall with some 58,000 names engraved on it. “Every name represents great loss for a family and our nation,” Carter said. The names of the 44 men Kettles was credited with helping save are not on that wall, however, because he fearlessly led the team that ensured those men got home from battle that day, Carter said. “How many Thanksgiving tables have had an extra chair through the years because of his actions?” Carter asked. “How many weddings, childbirths and graduations were made possible because Maj. Kettles and his crew returned again and again to the hot landing zone in the Song Tra Cau riverbed?”
Nobody but Kettles knows exactly what he was thinking that day in Vietnam or what he expected to happen exactly, Carter said. But Carter believes he knows what motivated Kettles. It’s the same thing that motivates all good Soldiers. “Duty, honor, country and the deeply held conviction that we will never leave a Soldier, sailor, airman or marine behind,” Carter said. “For many American service members in harm’s way, the first indication they would see their family again was the sound of helicopter blades beating against the sky. Without the valor of the helicopter pilots in Vietnam, countless additional names would have been added to the wall across the river.” Today, Carter reminded his audience, military pilots still undertake that same mission over Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
In his remarks, Fanning said he and Kettles share a kinship of sorts, being that the two are both Michigan natives. He said that as a “Michigander,” and with the heart of America’s auto industry nearby in Detroit, “chances are you spent some time with machines.” “For Chuck Kettles, that meant a love affair with engines and aviation form the very start of his life, from his education at Edison Institute in Dearborn, where he practiced on the flight simulator, to his work with cars and engines at his Ford dealership, we see some of what prepared him to be an Army aviator,” Fanning said. “The Huey that Chuck flew was a pioneering machine at the time, but he knew instinctively how to get the most out of it. While the deeds we honor today are the product of great courage and valor, they have their roots in what he learned growing up in Michigan.” While Kettles had trained to fly early in life as a “Citizen Soldier,” it wasn’t training alone that accounted for his heroic achievements in Vietnam, Fanning said. “Our admiration for Lt. Col. Kettles comes from his acts of heroism, but also from his quiet professionalism — from how, on the day of his greatest testing, just with all other days, he embodied the Army values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.”
Kettles remained humble after the plaque bearing his name and the names of other Medal of Honor recipients was revealed. The Hall of Heroes contains more than a dozen plaques, bearing the names of more than 3,400 Medal of Honor recipients from all services, grouped by conflict. Kettles knows personally at least two of those recipients, including Master Sgt. Raul Perez “Roy” Benavidez and Maj. William E. Adams, both of whom earned the honor for their own actions in Vietnam. He said that while the Meal of Honor he wears around his neck can be worn by just one person, it represents the heroic actions of all the soldiers involved in the operation that day in May 1967, in Vietnam.
Some of those men had been with Kettles at the White House, the day before, when President Barack Obama placed the medal around his neck. At the Hall of Heroes induction ceremony in the Pentagon were two of Kettles’ battle buddies, Don Long and Ron Roy. “Between lifts into the landing zone, (they) brought ammunition in for resupply,” Kettles said of the two men. “One such trip they took a mortar round on the mast of the helicopter.” The two had to exit the helicopter as a result of the damage. Long was injured. They joined up with the infantry. “There were forty infantrymen, and four crew members with .38s. We didn’t add a lot to the firepower. We were kind of in their way at times. We had a great leader who got things done,” said Roy of their experience being with the infantry that day. “To go borrow aircraft from another company, after all yours got shot down, that takes a lot of guts. And guts in the other unit too, pilots that came back in with Lt. Col. Kettles to come get us. Everybody knew what they were flying into. There was no question. It was not going to be pleasant.”
John Osborne, who was crew chief on the helicopter that Kettles flew into the landing zone for that last mission, walso attended the induction ceremony Pentagon with Kettles and his battle buddies. “During that mission he took a shrapnel round in the knee,” Kettles said of Osborne. “He refused to accept a Purple Heart — he regarded as nothing.” “At one point I was scared to death,” Osborne remembered. “I regained a little bit of composure, and we had set back down. That’s when we really took the heat. But thank God we were able to get these people out. This man saved all of our lives. He got us out under adverse conditions.”
Of Matt McGuire, a gunship leader, Kettles recalled, “in spite of the damage to each of his helicopters, Matt was always there.” “On that final extraction, there was only one aircraft for everybody to focus on and shoot at,” McGuire said of Kettle’s helicopter on the last run. McGuire attended the Pentagon ceremony too, and was present at the White House to see Kettles receive his medal. “And the courage and the valor and commitment to the mission, saving those souls…is truly more than deserving of the Medal of Honor,” he said, “because you were going into a really bad area. There wasn’t much predictability of success. You believed in your skill, you believed in your crew, and that’s what made a difference. That’s why I am proud to be part of the brotherhood of aviation.”
Roland Scheck, Kettle’s door gunner, was also at the ceremony. Kettles said Scheck came to him from Germany, by way of Canada, though they met at Fort Benning, Georgia. “Roland Scheck … he was my door gunner, he had been from day one at Fort Benning,” Kettles said. Scheck was a German national who had gone to Canada to join the militia, expecting to be able to go to Vietnam. But when he learned that the Canadians were not going to Vietnam, he traveled to the U.S., to Detroit, Michigan, to join the Army. “I had the good fortune of having him for my gunner,” Kettles said. Scheck said he was grateful to have Kettles too. Kettles saved his life. “I want to thank him and all my brothers for what they did for me that day,” Scheck said. “He didn’t have to come back to get me. I was the first guy he had to haul away. He’s been my hero ever since that day. And I’m sorry I couldn’t stay for the rest of the day.”
Also at the Pentagon was Dewey Smith, one of the last eight rescued on Kettles’ last run. Richard Ammons, also one of the eight, had wanted to attend but was unable to make it due to medical reasons, according to Kettles. “I was with the 101st Airborne,” Smith remembered. “I was on the ground. I was one of the eight men that were picked up last. It was extremely heart dropping when the flight took off. Those of us in the rear guard, back in the brush, they didn’t see us. They took off.” “But when I saw the one helicopter coming in, that made the day,” he continued. “And it was unbelievable that he was able to bring it in considering the amount of fire it was receiving. I have nothing but gratitude for the man and his crew, and for all the helicopter pilots that day. They all did a good job bringing in resupplies, taking out our wounded, bringing us in new guys. It was amazing.”
In the conclusion of his remarks, Kettles demonstrated the same patriotism and commitment to the nation he showed long ago in Vietnam. “I have a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunities that each person is afforded by this nation,” he said. “I also believe that there is no price for anyone to pay that contributes to the preservation of our great nation. I have faith in each generation that has come along and will in the future.” [Source: Army News Service | C. Todd Lopez | July 19, 2016 ++]
Retiree Appreciation Days ► As of 10 JUL 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 | July 10, 2016 ++]
Vet Hiring Fairs ► 01 thru 15 AUG 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 .
August 2 – 8:30 am to 1:30 pm
August 4 – 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm
August 8 – 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm
August 9 – 8:30 am to 1:00 pm
August 10 – 8:30 am to 1:30 pm
August 10 – 3:00 pm to 3:45 pm
August 17 – 2:00 pm to August 18 – 4:00 pm
August 17 – 6:00 pm to August 18 – 1:00 pm
August 18 – 11:00 am to 2:00 pm
August 25 – 8:30 am to 1:30 pm
August 25 – 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm
August 30 – 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm
[Source: U.S. Chamber of Commerce Assn July 29, 2016 ++]
Veteran State Benefits & Discounts ► Connecticut 2016
The state of Connecticut 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 – CT” for an overview of the below benefits. Benefits are available to veterans who are residents of the state. Refer to For a more detailed explanation of each of the below benefits refer to http://militaryandveteransdiscounts.com/location/connecticut.html & http://www.ct.gov/ctva/site/default.asp.
- Housing Benefits
- Financial Assistance Benefits
- Employment Benefits
- Education Benefits
- Other State Veteran Benefits
* Vet Legislation *
VADIP Update 02 ► Senate Passes S.3055
On 13 JUL, the Senate passed S.3055, the Veterans Affairs Dental Reauthorization Act of 2016, without amendment by Unanimous Consent. This legislation reauthorizes the VA Dental Insurance pilot program for another five years. [Source: NAUS Weekly Update | July 15, 2016 ++]
Congressional Gold Medal Update 06 ► Honoring Filipino Veterans
The U.S. Senate has passed Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015 (S. 1555) authored by Sen. Mazie Hirono to make it possible for more than 260,000 Filipinos and Filipino-Americans, including 300 from Hawaii, to receive the highest civilian award that Congress can bestow. U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, author of a companion measure in the U.S. House, said she hopes to gather enough support to send the legislation to President Barack Obama before the end of the year.
Following the Senate’s action, Gabbard said House rules require the measure to have 290 co-sponsors before it can be considered. So far, Gabbard has been able to persuade 180 House members to support the bill. “More than 200,000 Filipino and Filipino-American soldiers responded to President Roosevelt’s call to duty and fought under our American flag during World War II,” Gabbard said. “With just 18,000 Filipino WWII veterans alive today, time is truly of the essence to honor these courageous men with the long overdue recognition they deserve. We’ve made tremendous progress over the past year to gather bipartisan support from lawmakers for this legislation.” Before his death, U.S. Rep. Mark Takai, in a statement released by the Congressional Asian Pacific Caucus, said: “While this recognition is a step in the right direction, Congress can do more. As the number of World War II veterans continues to diminish, we can continue to build on recent improvements to the visa process and make it easier for the families of these selfless Filipino veterans to be reunited with their loved ones in the United States.”
Retired Army Col. Ben Acohido, who is part of a national effort to complete a census determining the exact number of surviving Filipino veterans, estimates that little more than a dozen are still living in Hawaii. Congress has already recognized the wartime contributions of other minority military units with eligibility for the medal beginning with the Tuskegee Airmen in 2006; Navajo Code Talkers in 2008; Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs, in 2009; the Japanese-American soldiers of the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the Military Intelligence Service in 2010; the Montford Point Marines, who were the first African-Americans to serve in the Marine Corps, in 2011; and in 2014, the 65th Infantry Regiment, known as the Borinqueneers — the only Hispanic, segregated military unit in the Korean War whose soldiers were predominantly from Puerto Rico. “These veterans were instrumental to an Allied victory in the Pacific theater, but their fight didn’t end with the war,” Hirono said in a statement. “For decades, they have continued to fight for the benefits they have earned and to be reunited with their families in the United States.”
Her sentiments were echoed by retired Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, a 1968 Leilehua High School graduate and chairman of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project. “Filipino World War II veterans served their country with distinct honor and uncommon valor and we owe them a profound debt of gratitude,” he said. “I am proud that with the Senate’s unanimous passage of the Filipino World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act, the veterans are significantly closer on their lifelong goal of national recognition of sacrifice and selfless service during World War II from the U.S. Congress. They have waited 75 years for this proud and historic milestone in American history. We deeply appreciate Sen. Hirono’s steadfast leadership and dedication to the thousands of Filipino World War II veterans and their families who made this day possible. The veterans will surely be proud.”
Taguba’s father, Tomas, survived the 65-mile Bataan Death March in 1942, retired as a sergeant first class in 1962, and lived in Hawaii until his death. Most of the survivors are in their 90s and supporters continue to fight for U.S. fulfillment of promised pensions and health benefits. “The Congressional Gold Medal will preserve the history of service and sacrifice by these loyal Filipino WWII veterans,” Acohido said. “They were the first line of defense in the Pacific, providing valuable time for the American military to marshal its forces when the outcome of the war was still in question. We are now hopeful for the bill’s passage in the U.S. House.”
Hirono has continued the congressional battle to restore pensions and benefits begun by U.S. Sens. Spark Matsunaga, Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka. The legislation was supported by a bipartisan coalition of 71 senators, including Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) who said: “Filipino World War II veterans served and sacrificed alongside American forces and played an important role in the Allied victory. I have spent my career fighting to ensure they receive the recognition and benefits they deserve. While we can never fully repay the debt we owe these brave soldiers, Congress can pay tribute to their courage by awarding them with the Congressional Gold Medal. Granting Filipino veterans this honor will be yet another step taken in correcting past wrongs and celebrating their heroic actions and the patriotism of their community.” [Source: The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | | Gregg K. Kakesako : July 24, 2016 ++]
NDAA 2017 Update 16 ► S.2932 | Senate Okays Conference
While behind the scene negotiations have been ongoing for a while, on 14 JUL the Senate voted 90-7 to convene in conference committee with the House on the National Defense Authorization Act. Obviously the bill cannot be passed while Congress is out for 7 weeks until 6 SEP, but then when it returns much work will have to be done on a Continuing Resolution to ensure government operations after the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. NAUS is very disappointed that political bickering once again got in the way of providing for our men and women in uniform.
The conferees reconciling the House and Senate versions of a defense policy bill had a productive first meeting 13 JUL, the leaders of the Armed Services committees agreed. Still, the meeting made clear the $18 billion gap between the two bills will be a hurdle to overcome, they added. “We had a very, I think, fruitful discussion, members of the Senate and House, members of both the committees and outside committee,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I still believe that with the significant challenges that we face, including the issue of sequestration and others, I don’t believe that we’re going to break a 53-year tradition of producing a defense authorization bill because we all agree it’s too important to the men and women who are serving in our military.”
McCain was talking with reporters alongside his counterpart in the House, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), and the ranking Democrats on both committees, Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.) and Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), after a “pass the gavel” meeting where conferees discussed the priorities and issues they want to address during negotiations on the National Defense Authorization Act. The Senate bill would authorize $543 billion for the base budget and $59 billion for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account. In the House bill, $23 billion of the OCO would be used for base budget items. That’s $18 billion more than the Obama administration had requested to use for the base budget. As such, the OCO account would only be authorized through April, forcing the next president to request supplemental war funding.
As far as other differences between the two bills, McCain said he doesn’t “see a lot of distance.” But the money will be a “stumbling block,” he and the others agreed. “We have not found a way through that yet, but we have just begun,” McCain said. One complicating factor in recent weeks is President Obama’s decision to leave more troops than planned in Afghanistan and send more troops to Iraq. Both Thornberry and McCain have said those decisions require more defense spending. Reports indicate the Pentagon may submit a supplemental funding request, Thornberry said. But in the meantime, he added, lawmakers still have to negotiate the bill. “Our job is to work on these intense discussions, get our bill ready, come back in September and see what the fiscal landscape looks like, and we’ll work our way from there,” Thornberry said.
The White House has threatened to veto the House version of the bill, largely because of how it authorizes funding. The quartet of lawmakers said it’s too early in the conference process to say whether the final bill will result in a veto showdown with the White House. “We are seriously engaging and trying to find a way through this,” Reed said. The lawmakers were confident they will find a way to fund defense despite budget caps. “We always have,” McCain and Smith said in concert. Added Thornberry: “Our job is to support the men and women who risk their lives to defend the country. And so whatever problems there may be, we’ve got to work through them because that’s what comes first, and that’s the mood in this room.” [Source: The Hill &|NAUS Weekly Update | Rebecca Kheel | July 13 & 15, 2016 ++]
Reservists Separation Physicals ► H.R.4251 | Enhance VA Eligibility
On Dec. 16, 2015, Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO) along with 29 House colleagues, introduced H.R.4251, the Guard and Reserve Equal Access to Health Act. The American Legion-initiated bill was based upon the legislative mandate in Resolution 182, which requires the Department of Defense to provide end-of-service physical examinations to all retiring and separating servicemembers within 90 days of the end of their military service. If passed, the bill will ensure servicemembers of the Guard and reserve obtain an end-of-service physical at completion of military service. Today, both reservists and active-duty military are required to complete a physical examination when they are processed into the military. But under current law, only active-duty servicemembers are required to complete an end-of-service physical. Providing reserve component servicemembers with an end-of-service physical will document those health conditions that may be service connected to determine eligibility for VA health care. The end-of-service health records will also help expedite the disability compensation claims process for the veterans.
When he introduced the bill, Rep. Coffman, a Marine Corps combat veteran who was mobilized and deployed twice to the Middle East, said, “These reservists are often deployed and endure many of the hardships of war….citizen soldiers deserve the same consideration as their active-duty counterparts when they transition out of the military and this legislation is a further step in that direction.” Rep. Coffman serves on both the House Armed Services and House Veterans’ Affairs committees, where he is the chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. He is the only member of Congress to have served in both Iraq wars. Since the introduction of this legislation, the American Legion’s Legislative Division staff have held a number of face-to-face meetings with congressional staff, seeking additional cosponsors.
As of 19 JUL the bill has 37 cosponsors and is stuck in the House Armed Services committee. Ther have been no roll call votes related to this bill. If your representative is a co-sponsor of this bill, you are requested to contact them and thank them for their support and encourage them to pass this legislation. If your representative is not a co-sponsor, contact them and ask them to become a co-sponsor by contacting the office of Rep. Coffman. Go to http://www.house.gov/legion representatives/find and enter your zip code if you are not aware of the contact number go to. [Source: American Legion | Brett Reistad | February 2, 2016 ++]
TRICARE Retiree Eligibility ► H.R.5458 | Opt In/Out Option
Legislation that would allow military retirees to opt out of TRICARE and contribute to a tax-advantaged employer-sponsored health savings account would decrease government revenues by $97 million over the next decade, according to a new estimate. The change in revenue would stem partly from the impact on Social Security payroll taxes for those who decide to put their TRICARE coverage on hold and opt into an HSA for a time, said the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Congressional Budget Office. The estimate concluded that the effects on direct spending and appropriations would be insignificant between 2017 and 2026. “Enacting the bill would not increase net direct spending or on-budget deficits by more than $5 billion in any of the four consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 2027,” the committee and CBO said.
Under current law, TRICARE enrollees cannot contribute to HSAs, which the bill’s supporters have said could result in current and former service members losing out on an important benefit available to other non-TRICARE employees. “For many, the problem occurs after having retired as they begin employment outside of the military,” said a summary of the legislation from Reps. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, and Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, sponsors of the Veterans TRICARE Choice Act. “These individuals then become eligible for health insurance coverage through their employer.” HSA contributions from employers aren’t subject to income and wage taxes, and accountholders aren’t taxed on HSA balance earnings. “Without being afforded the opportunity to opt out of TRICARE, a veteran is automatically excluded from being able to look at an HDHP [High Deductible Health Insurance Plan] and HSA as an option, even if it is the best option for them at the time,” said the explanation of the legislation.
H.R. 5458 would allow retired service members or current members of the Reserves or National Guard to freeze and unfreeze their TRICARE eligibility to take advantage of HSAs by amending Title 10 and the Internal Revenue Code. The legislation, which would not apply to active-duty service members, would allow veterans to opt back into TRICARE during the open enrollment season under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. [Source: GovExec.com | Kellie Lunney | July 21, 2016 ++]
Vet Bills Submitted to 114th Congress ► 160716 thru 160731
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, name, and 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/cosponsor of it by entering its number in the site’s search engine. To determine what your Congressman 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.
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 ARETHE 9 VETERAN RELATED BILLS INTRODUCED IN THE HOUSE SINCE THE LAST BULLETIN WAS PUBLISHED
- H.R.5648 : Mental Health Care Provider Retention Act of 2016. A bill to authorize an individual who is transitioning from receiving treatment furnished by the Secretary of Defense to treatment furnished by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to continue receiving treatment from such individual’s mental health care provider of the Department of Defense, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep. O’Rourke, Beto [D-TX-16] (Introduced 07/06/2016)
- H.R.5683 : Lift the Relocation Burden from Military Spouses Act. A bill to amend title 37, United States Code, to authorize, in connection with the permanent change of station of a member of the Armed Forces requiring relocation to another State, the reimbursement of the member for qualified relicensing costs incurred by the spouse of the member to secure a license or certification required by the State to which the member and spouse relocate, to encourage States to expedite license portability for military spouses, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep. Stefanik, Elise M. [R-NY-21] (Introduced 07/07/2016)
- H.R.5695 : Veterans Visa and Protection Act of 2016. A bill to require the Secretary of Homeland Security to establish a veterans visa program to permit veterans who have been removed from the United States to return as immigrants, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep. Grijalva, Raul M. [D-AZ-3] (Introduced 07/08/2016)
- H.R.5698 : STARTUP Vets Act of 2016. A bill to require the Administrator of the Small Business Administration to establish an incubator and accelerator grant program for veterans and members of the Armed Forces. Sponsor: Rep. McNerney, Jerry [D-CA-9] (Introduced 07/08/2016)
- H.R.5704 : More for Veterans Act. A bill to extend the duration of Military OneSource Program services for members of the Armed Forces upon their separation or retirement from the Armed Forces. Sponsor: Rep. Veasey, Marc A. [D-TX-33] (Introduced 07/08/2016)
- H.R.5726 : Better Informing Veterans’ Healthcare Decisions Act. A Bill to direct the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to post at certain locations the average national wait times for veterans to receive an appointment for health care at medical facilities of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep. O’Rourke, Beto [D-TX-16] (Introduced 07/11/2016)
- H.R.5734 : Veterans Transplant Coverage Act of 2016. 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: Rep. Carter, John R. [R-TX-31] (Introduced 07/12/2016)
- H.R.5814 : Disabled Vet Education Loans. A bill to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to improve service-connected disability determinations for purposes of loan discharge. Sponsor: Rep. Costello, Ryan A. [R-PA-6] (Introduced 07/14/2016)
- H.R.5842 : VA Opiad Treatment Pilot Program. A bill to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to carry out a pilot program to improve treatment for veterans suffering from opioid addiction and chronic pain, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Rep. Kuster, Ann M. [D-NH-2] (Introduced 07/14/2016)
FOLLOWING ARE THE 4 VETERAN RELATED BILLS INTRODUCED IN THE SENATE SINCE THE LAST BULLETIN WAS PUBLISHED
- S.3170 : VA Employee Removal/Demotion. A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to provide for the removal or demotion of employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs based on performance or misconduct, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen. Rubio, Marco [R-FL] (Introduced 07/12/2016)
- S.3198 : Improve Vet Adult Day Health Care. A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to improve the provision of adult day health care services for veterans. Sponsor: Sen. Hatch, Orrin G. [R-UT] (Introduced 07/13/2016)
- S.3226 : Enewetak Atoll Vet Registry. A bill to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish a registry of certain veterans who participated in a radiation cleanup mission in the Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands during the period beginning on January 1, 1977, and ending on December 31, 1980, and for other purposes. Sponsor: Sen. Collins, Susan M. [R-ME] (Introduced 07/14/2016)
- S.3235 : Bataan Vet’s Congressional Gold Medal. A bill to grant the Congressional Gold Medal to the troops who defended Bataan during World War II. Sponsor: Sen. Udall, Tom [D-NM] (Introduced 07/14/2016)
* Military *
Islamic State Air War ► Air Force Weapon Release Data
The Air Force’s two-year-old bombing campaign against the Islamic State had its second-largest month ever in June, dropping 3,167 weapons, Air Force officials disclosed 19 JUL. It marks just the third time the Air Force has dropped more than 3,000 weapons in a single month in the campaign. The others occurred in November and December 2015 as U.S. forces supported a grueling effort to take back the Iraqi city of Ramadi from the militants.
Air Force Weapons Released Against Islamic State Aug 14 thru Jun 2016
[Source: The Washington Post | Dan Lamothe | July 19, 2016 ++]
VirtualEye ► Looking Behind Closed Doors Remotely
One of the most dangerous places to fight a battle is inside a city — with countless places that an enemy can hide. And as soldiers enter a room, they still face a frightening uncertainty of what’s behind the door. But DARPA researchers have a way for soldiers to know exactly what they are getting into before they go in, and it could be in their ruck sacks in the next few years. Known as VirtualEye, a soldier armed with a laptop or tablet can throw a couple of cameras into a building and get a three-dimensional view of what’s inside, moving around the space with a controller to see where the enemy might be hiding. “You actually walk through the room without being in it,” Trung Tran, DARPA Program Manager, told Tech Insider.
VirtualEye is an offshoot project from a DARPA program to create more efficient computer processors. In partnership with Nvidia, Tran found a perfect example of how efficient computing power small enough for a soldier to carry around can be a game changer on the battlefield. Let’s say you’re about to enter a room that might have insurgents inside, all aimed in on the door. Or worse, the room may be booby-trapped with a bomb that will explode after soldiers enter. “You can throw a couple of cameras in there,” Tran said. “And from the cameras we can create a complete 3D world.”
Using the VirtualEye view, a soldier can “walk” around a room and explore inside, looking under the couch, behind a column, or see what the inside of the door looks like. The two cameras work together to put together one cohesive virtual map. “I can do all this without having a soldier endanger himself,” Tran said. “Especially when you have adversaries like ISIS who are trying to set booby traps to in fact, harm the soldiers when they come in just to do the room clearing.” Interestingly, the program doesn’t require special cameras or other equipment. Tran said they are “camera agnostic” and can use just about any type. “We think we can get it in the field pretty quickly, within the next two to three years.” [Source: Tech Insider | Paul Szoldra | May 2016 ++]
Military Combat Physicians ► Maintaining Trauma Skills Proposal
About 100 mortally wounded troops a year could have been saved in a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan if more military doctors had been more skilled in trauma care, a top medical organization reports, A proposal under consideration on Capitol Hill is directed at ensuring that military doctors gain and maintain proficiency in those skills by working with civilian trauma centers. The proposal calls for grants for civilian trauma centers to hire military doctors and staff.
The idea would be to use military medical professionals in the civilian trauma system so both sides could share information about treating patients in life-or-death situations. “Trauma is an incredibly intense environment when somebody comes in and their life depends on decisions that you’re going to make in a matter of minutes or seconds,” said Col. Jennifer Gurney, an active-duty trauma surgeon with the Army Institute of Surgical Research. “If you’re not doing that regularly, it’s not just your technical skills, it’s your critical thinking skills and decision-making skills” that deteriorate. The House proposal, which has not been formally introduced, seeks to authorize grants of up to $20 million per year to civilian trauma centers — as much as $1 million each for as many as 20 centers — so they can incorporate full-time military trauma teams.
In a recent report, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine suggested the White House lead an effort to integrate military and civilian trauma systems in a bid to decrease deaths by severe injuries — such as gunshot wounds or car accidents — on both sides. According to the report, trauma deaths of about 1,000 service members in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts between 2001 and 2011 could have been prevented with more proficient trauma care. About 20 percent of civilian deaths from serious injuries at home in 2014 could have been prevented as well.
The concern is that during peacetime, military physicians don’t get regular exposure to the level of serious injuries seen on the battlefield and in busy civilian trauma centers and therefore are left less prepared for the rigors of the combat environment when they return. “Don’t blame the individual physician or nurse as the military has little to almost no opportunity [in peacetime] for military teams to care for severe trauma,” said Dr. C. William Schwab when he appeared 12 JUL before the House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee. Schwab, a professor of surgery at the University of Pennsylvania, was trained as a surgeon in the Navy during the Vietnam War and has been teaching military and civilian trauma care providers for about 40 years.
The U.S. military has made many advances in battlefield trauma care over the last two decades, including tourniquet use and damage control resuscitation, as well as improvements in evacuation systems and communication. Some of the changes have been adopted by the civilian system, Gurney said. “As the operational tempo decreases, we have to look at how we’re going to maintain currency and competency in trauma care,” Gurney said. “We really have to look at our civilian hospitals, especially some underserved ones. We should be working there, we should be contributing to the care of trauma populations, because that benefits the civilian hospitals and benefits us by keeping us current.” [Source: Medill News Service | Ruojing Liu | July 16, 2016 ++]
Navy Financial Education Program ► Informed Decisions Goal
Sailors are about to get more financial training throughout their career as the military moves to a new retirement system in coming years. Congress has mandated the services revamp their financial management training to educate them on retirement, and on how to manage the major financial hurdles sailors encounter in a career and beyond.
As a result, the service released NAVADMIN 161/16 on 19 JUL, the first of many messages expected over the next two years about what’s being called the Navy’s Financial Literacy Education Program as the military shifts to a blended retirement system.
“The goal of Navy’s financial education program is to arm sailors and their families with skills and tools for use to make informed decisions about their financial future,” said Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, spokesman for the chief of naval personnel. “Personal financial readiness is a key component of the overall Family Readiness System, a network of agencies, programs, services and individuals that work in a collaborative manner to assist service members and their families to meet the unique challenges associated with military service.”
The new retirement system will be implemented in 2018. Sailors who are currently serving will be grandfathered into the current retirement system, known as the 20-year cliff-vesting system. Some will have the choice to opt into the new scheme, which shrinks the current pension but also offers government contributions to retirement accounts and retirement benefits for those who leave the service before reaching 20 years. If you have 12 years or more of service as of Dec. 31, 2017, the current retirement system is your only option. Likewise, those who join on or after Jan. 1, 2018, their only option will be the new Blended Retirement System.But for those who joined between Jan 1, 2006, and Jan. 1, 2018 will have the choice to keep the current retirement or switch to the new plan.
Christensen said the service has long provided financial management training as part of Navy accessions training and is often revisited by commands as part of the General Military Training program. The new training plan mandates sailors revisit their financial training at crucial times in their careers. For example, in addition to the accessions training, sailors will also get a financial check when they arrive at their initial and subsequent duty stations through the ranks of E-5 and O-4, as well as each time they advance up those ranks. Other “touch points” for financial training will be when sailors vest in the Thrift Savings Program or receive continuation pay under the new retirement plan. Marriage, divorce and childbirth are also considered key points for follow-on financial training.
“This training will help assist sailors in maintaining their financial readiness throughout their military service and as they transition into civilian life,” Christensen said. “The Navy recognizes that personal financial readiness of Sailors and their families must be maintained to sustain mission readiness.” The new financial training will incorporate existing training from various points, including accession training, GMT, pre- and post-deployment training and transition courses. A key facet of the new training will be front-loaded to educate sailors on the new retirement system that’s only a year and a half away. [Source: NavyTimes | Mark D. Faram | July 19, 2016 ++]
Elections 2016 | Poll ► Dissatisfied | 61% Trump & 82% Clinton
An exclusive Military Times poll of nearly 2,000 troops shows that most view the presumptive candidates for president to be, in the parlance of the more colorful of the two, total losers. The takeaway is whomever is the next commander in chief, that person will have to work smart and hard to gain the respect of the broader military community. To be sure, the support for that candidate, Republican Donald Trump, is significantly stronger among those in uniform than it is for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. However, the military vote mirrors the popular vote in that it’s largely a ballot cast against one candidate, rather than a vote for a candidate. The respondents who answered they were either dissatisfied or strongly dissatisfied with the candidates registered 61 percent for Trump and a staggering 82 percent for Clinton.
A love fest this ain’t. Both Trump and Clinton slouch toward the November election under the weight of much baggage. Trump has made statements viewed as racist and sexist and has offered few details on his vision for, well, anything. His policy positions on national security, foreign policy and other key topics are typically expressed in only the broadest strokes and reflect a lack of understanding of the complexities of the nation and the world. Clinton, meanwhile, is viewed as dishonest, owing largely to suspicions that as Secretary of State she failed to protect the Americans killed on the terror attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and that she covertly set up a private email server with the express purpose of circumventing her legal obligations to conduct all official communications as part of the public record.
To be sure, the military in general tends to bend conservative, as do respondents to the Military Times poll. This is a community in which no service chief has been a woman; one that has been slow to open opportunities to women. It also is a community, however, not prone to put a woman in any position, let alone as commander in chief, just for a feel-good moment. Like the broader society, many in the military are sick of the blow-dried political phonies that Clinton to them epitomizes.
Like the current president — and the vast majority of Congress and America — neither candidate has military experience. Well, Trump attended a private military academy,which is about as relevant to serving as playing Whiffle Ball is to playing major league baseball. There is no substitute for serving in uniform. In order to earn good standing with the military community, the next commander in chief will have to learn what it means to serve – to weather physical hardships, to endure long separations from loved ones, to be willing to die for your country. It will require listening to everyone from an E-1 to the chairman of the joint chiefs and an ability to deliver to troops what they need to do their jobs in protecting the country and in taking care of their families. It’s not to be taken lightly, or given lip service. Everyone has had enough of that. . [Source: Army Times | Editorial | July 25, 2016 ++]
Note: Monica Lewinsky allegedly released the following statement on Hillary Clinton’s run for President: “I will not vote for Hillary Clinton. The last Clinton Presidency left a bad taste in my mouth. As we get closer to November of this election year citizens must remember that they cannot trust Hillary Clinton to create American jobs.”
“The last time she had a meaningful job, she outsourced it to me.” “I simply blew it.”
Trump Military Readiness Plans ► Pledged to Rebuild Military
Donald Trump formally accepted the Republican nomination for president 21 JUL, promising to “completely rebuild our depleted military” and to take care of veterans “like they’ve never been taken care of before.” The business mogul also vowed that as commander in chief, he would end America’s “international humiliation” at the hands of Democrats. “Hillary Clinton’s legacy does not have to be America’s legacy,” Trump told a wildly applauding crowd at the GOP convention here. “The problems we face now – poverty and violence at home, war and destruction abroad – will last only as long as we continue relying on the same politicians who created them. “A change in leadership is required to change these outcomes.”
Trump, a political outsider who upset a host of party establishment candidates in the Republican primary, promised to continue upending the country’s political elites. “I am with you, I will fight for you and I will win for you,” he said. He also vowed to “make America great again” by rebuilding the military and securing the borders.
“I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves,” Trump said. “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it. I have seen firsthand how the system is rigged against our citizens.”
Earlier in the evening, his daughter Ivanka introduced the unlikely nominee as a candidate who can produce real political change, stating that in the election this year “we have a chance this year to reclaim our heritage as a country that dreams big and makes the impossible happen.” But Trump’s address was largely darker and more pessimistic about the state of the country. He blasted President Barack Obama for leading the nation into “domestic disaster” and referred to multiple humiliations troops and veterans have endured. “The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life,” he said. “Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country.” He labeled Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state as a legacy of “death, destruction, terrorism and weakness.”
Trump repeated his often-quoted promise to “build a great border wall” to stop illegal immigration, but also outlined several policies to protect the country from international terrorism. They included rebuilding the country’s international intelligence gathering, abandoning “the failed policy of nation building and regime change” that he accused his Democratic rival of supporting, and suspending immigration from “any nation that has been compromised by terrorism.” Critics have accused Trump of racism and unrealistic expectations for that plan, noting that his vague guidelines could bar travel from countries like England and France. But conservatives have rallied around Trump’s immigration promises, calling them necessary steps to ensure America’s future. Several speakers on the convention’s final night promised the country will “rise from the ashes” of its current state under new, non-Democratic leadership.
Trump also attacked Clinton on her veterans policy, calling her “out of touch” with what he called the disaster that is the current Department of Veterans Affairs, and promising better care for vets. “We will guarantee those who serve this country will be able to visit the doctor or hospital of their choice without waiting in line or dying,” he said. Republican speakers all week have hammered Clinton for not referencing the threat of radical Islamic terrorism enough, especially in light of attacks carried out inside the U.S. by Islamic State group sympathizers. Trump repeated that attack, and warned that “the damage and devastation that can be inflicted by Islamic radicals” could threaten more communities under a Clinton presidency. The Democratic National Convention was scheduled to begin 25 JUL in Philadelphia with Clinton expected to deliver her national address on 28 JUL. [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane | July 22, 2016 ++]
USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) Update 02 ► Years Behind Schedule
The U.S. Navy’s $12.9 billion U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford is years behind schedule, billions over budget and still not ready for war, documents revealed Wednesday. The Pentagon’s top weapons tester wrote in an internal memo obtained by Bloomberg News that the Navy’s newest carrier and most expensive warship ever has poor or unknown reliability when it comes to launching and recovering aircraft, defending itself and moving munitions. Navy officials said last week that the ship, originally slated for a September 2014 rollout, wouldn’t be finished before November 2016, and the new revelations mean it may be further delayed. “These four systems affect major areas of flight operations,” Defense Department Director of Operational Test and Evaluation Michael Gilmore wrote on June 28 to D.O.D. and Navy weapons buyers, according to Bloomberg. “Unless these issues are resolved, which would likely require redesigning” aircraft landing and launching systems, “they will significantly limit the CVN-78’s ability to conduct combat operations.” Representatives for the D.O.D. didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday afternoon.
A file photo from last month shows tug boats maneuvering the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford, also known as CVN 78, into the James River near Newport News, Va.
Navy officials have said the Newport News, Va., company building the aircraft carrier has completed 98% of the construction, delivered 97% of the carrier’s compartments and finished 89% of the shipboard testing. The massive ship features two newly designed reactors and 250% more electrical capacity than previous carriers, according to a website for the Ford by contractor Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries. Some 5,000 workers in Newport News and thousands of suppliers across the country participated in the construction.
“Construction on CVN 78 is nearing completion, as shipbuilders complete final outfitting and testing of the ship,” a guide on the website read Thursday. “The shipbuilders are on track to deliver Gerald R. Ford to the U.S. Navy in 2016.” Representatives for the company declined a request for comment Thursday, referring the Daily News to the Navy. The announcement of the production delays followed a July 6 analysis by the D.O.D. Inspector General finding the cost of the Navy’s program covering arresting gear for snagging landing aircraft on ships like the Ford had grown $571.5 million over 2005 projections.
Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, slammed the latest two-month delay in a statement last week. “The Ford-class program is a case study in why our acquisition system must be reformed – unrealistic business cases, poor cost estimates, new systems rushed to production, concurrent design and construction, and problems testing systems to demonstrate promised capability,” McCain said. “After more than $2.3 billion in cost overruns have increased its cost to nearly $13 billion, the taxpayers deserve to know when CVN-78 will actually be delivered, how much developmental risk remains in the program, if cost overruns will continue, and who is being held accountable.” [Source: New York Daily News | Tobias Salinger | July 21, 2016 ++]
Navy Digital Library Program ► Access Procedure
For Sailors, families, retirees, dependents and civilians wanting 24/7 access to electronic books, audio books, reference materials, and newspapers, all free of charge, the Navy has a solution for you. The Navy General Library Program (NGLP) is a service of the Navy Installations Command and provides library resources for Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard personnel, their family members, retired and Reserve military personnel, Naval Academy midshipmen, Department of the Navy (DoN) Delayed Entry Program personnel, DoN and Navy Appropriated Fund civilian employees and DoN contractors. A Common Access Card (CAC) is not required to log in to the Digital Library. The Department of Defense Self-Service (DS) Logon is the new authentication method for those without CACs. To get started, authorized users can go to the website at http://www.NavyMWRDigi¬talLibrary.org, click on “login” in the upper right corner of the screen, then click “login” under the DS logon logo, and enter their DS Logon username and password. Those who don’t already have a DS logon can register on the same page. B For more information about the Navy MWR Digital Library, email mailto:[email protected] navy.mil. [Source: Shift Colors | Navy Casualty Office | Winter-Spring 2016 ++]
Space Fence ► Necessary to Reduce Bubble of Uncertainty
Good fences make good neighbors, which is why the United States is building a space fence. But the first thing to understand about the space fence is that it’s not actually a fence — it’s radar. And when it’s operational, pulsing up from an atoll in the Pacific, it will be able to track objects in space that are softball-sized, the Air Force says. The purpose? To keep track of space debris, but also for deterrence, in order to keep U.S. assets in space safe from other powers that might want to attack them.
‘There are 23,000 human-made objects orbiting the Earth, and about 1,300 of those are active satellites, according to Capt. Nicholas Mercurio, the director of public affairs for the Joint Functional Component Command for Space at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Existing systems track those objects, and are able to detect pieces of debris that are about four inches long in low-Earth orbit, he said. “The new space fence will have much greater sensitivity, allowing it to detect and track and measure an object the size of a softball, orbiting more than 1,200 miles in space,” Mercurio told FoxNews.com. The new system— which will detect objects in space as they pass through what Mercurio described as a “curtain of radar”— will be able to track objects that are about two inches long.
When tracking objects, the Air Force uses the term “bubble of uncertainty” to describe a satellite’s projected location when it nears another object, and if a satellite’s bubble overlaps with the bubble of a piece of debris, then that’s what the Air Force calls a “conjunction.” The new space fence, since it promises to be more accurate, will shrink those uncertainty bubbles, Mercurio said. Brian Weeden, the technical advisor for the Secure World Foundation, has written a lengthy analysis of the space fence. “We know through some scientific work, that there’s roughly half a million pieces of space debris larger than let’s say half an inch, but smaller than four inches, that’s there but we can’t track it right now,” Weeden told FoxNews.com “So one of the big reasons why the military is investing in the new space fence is to track those objects.”
The robotic arm in Japan’s Kibo laboratory (left) successfully deploys two combined satellites from Texas universities from the International Space Station, January 29, 2016. Space fence testing facility (right) in New Jersey.
This isn’t the first space fence. The original one was a radar system based in the continental United States, which the Air Force shut down in 2013. “The decision itself was interesting in that it was wrapped up in the whole sequestration discussion. That was the rationale that the Air Force Space Command gave,” Weeden said. But that was just “part of the story,” he said. “I think there’s a case to be made that shutting down the original was kind of part of the budget justification for the new one.” “I think tracking more of the space debris, and particularly the smaller space debris objects, is a very good goal,” Weeden added. “I think there are a lot of questions, though, about whether this really is the most bang for the buck.”
But the space fence isn’t intended to just track debris. “There’s a reason why the military is doing this,” Weeden said. “A big part of that is they are worried about not only debris collisions with military satellites, but potential adversaries using small space objects to try and attack satellites.” Weeden highlighted the development of cube satellites, small objects with edges that might be about four inches long. There’s a sense of concern that these small devices could potentially be used to attack bigger satellites, he said. “No one would benefit from a war which extends to the space domain,” Mercurio said, citing space’s centrality in everyday life. “With that in mind, the space situational awareness capacity of the [Joint Space Operations Center] has a deterrent aspect to it, because we are able to identify, characterize, [and] attribute actions in space.” The space fence is part of that, he said.
Omar Lamrani, a senior military analyst for Stratfor, an intelligence firm, said that the space fence could help the U.S. move a satellite away from another satellite that could harm it, and could also help attribute aggressive actions if they occur. “The first part of deterrence is attribution,” Lamrani told FoxNews.com. In other words, if a country like Russia or China knows that the United States would be able to attribute a hostile action in space, they are less likely to do it. As for his opinion of the space fence? “There’s what they say it’s capable of, which is really, really, impressive on paper,” Lamrani said. “If that is the case, then that’s really strong technology.” The space fence radar system is being built by Lockheed Martin, and will be based on the island of Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands in the North Pacific. Testing has started in New Jersey, and last month, General Dynamics reported that a part of the space fence facility it had built, weighing 700,000 pounds, was ready for shipment to Kwajalein. Mercurio said that it will begin its operations at the end of 2018. [Source: Fox News Service | Rob Verger | May 19, 2016 ++]
Iraq Bomb Detectors ► Fake Ones Finally Banned
For nearly a decade, anyone driving through one of Baghdad’s many checkpoints was subjected to a search by a soldier pointing a security wand at their vehicle and watching the device intently to see if its antenna moved. If it pointed at the car, it had supposedly detected a possible bomb. The wands were completely bogus. It had been proven years ago, even before 2013 when two British men were convicted in separate trials on fraud charges for selling the detectors. The devices, sold under various names for thousands of dollars each, apparently were based on a product that sold for about $20 and claimed to find golf balls. Yet the Iraqi government continued to use the devices, spending nearly $60 million on them despite warnings by U.S. military commanders and the wands’ proven failure to stop near-daily bombings in Baghdad.
It took a massive suicide bombing that killed almost 300 people in Baghdad on 3 JUL — the deadliest single attack in the capital in 13 years of war — for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to finally ban their use. The reason it took so long is likely the widespread corruption in the government. Iraqis mocked the device from the start, joking that too much aftershave could set off the antenna. Now there are accusations that plans to start using newly imported explosives-detecting scanners were intentionally held up as part of the political wrangling over which faction — the military or the police — will control security in Baghdad.
An Iraqi policeman uses a hand-held device on July 14, 2016, that is supposed to detect bombs
at a checkpoint in Basra, Iraq.
Since the wands were banned, soldiers at Baghdad checkpoints largely wave motorists through, occasionally asking for vehicle registrations and driver’s licenses and taking a quick look inside. Plainclothes intelligence agents scrutinize drivers and passengers. Police dogs have been used at some checkpoints, but that has proven to be time-consuming and contributing to traffic congestion. In some places, the wands are still being used — at some checkpoints in Baghdad and in the southern port city of Basra, Iraq’s third-largest city — nearly two weeks after the Baghdad bombing. They also were used across the holy city of Najaf south of Baghdad for at least a week after al-Abadi’s order before they were finally recalled. “The withdrawal of the device is continuing, but it’s still in use here and there, for now,” Brig. Gen. Saad Maan, the Interior Ministry’s chief spokesman, told The Associated Press. He said the new vehicles equipped with scanners have been deployed at checkpoints on major roads leading to the capital. “All this will have a positive impact on Baghdad’s security,” he said.
Officials say the explosives-laden minibus used in the 3 JUL attack in Baghdad’s central Karradah district started its journey in Diyala province, traveling 50 kilometers (31 miles) to the capital. The vehicle, a type used as communal taxis in Iraq, would have encountered at least half a dozen checkpoints, most of which likely used the wand. Investigators say the vehicle carried a 250-kilogram (550-pound) bomb. Four days after the Karradah bombing, three suicide bombers struck a Shiite shrine in Balad, north of Baghdad, killing 37 people. A series of small bombings also rocked the capital, killing about two dozen people.
When Iraqi security forces first began using the ADE-651 wands, U.S. and British military commanders in Iraq dismissed the devices as useless and counseled the government to stop using them. Faced with mounting criticism, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered an investigation into the effectiveness of the devices in 2010. The outcome was inconclusive, and they continued to be used. The head of the Interior Ministry’s bomb squad department, Jihad al-Jabri, was convicted in 2012 and sentenced to four years in prison for accepting a bribe from the British manufacturers. But the case against him did not address whether the wands were effective. Many Iraqis believe he was a scapegoat to protect more senior Iraqi officials from prosecution. Politics also may have played a role.
After the 3 JUL blast, al-Abadi fired the military officer in charge of Baghdad’s security and accepted the resignation of Interior Minister Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban, who was in charge of police. Al-Abadi also ordered an investigation into why nearly 70 vehicles equipped with explosives-detecting scanners that were imported last year were left in Interior Ministry garages and had not been deployed. Al-Ghabban had been demanding for months that his ministry be given complete control over security in Baghdad. Al-Abadi had resisted, however, keeping the military in charge. Since al-Ghabban is close to one of the most powerful Shiite militias, his opponents feared his demand aimed to give militias control over Baghdad. Speaking to the AP, the chairman of parliament’s security and defense committee accused al-Ghabban of intentionally failing to deploy the scanner vehicles as a political ploy.
“It’s due to the minister’s demands that security control of Baghdad be given to the ministry,” said Hakim al-Zamli. “If it were given to him, he would use them (the vehicles). If not, he won’t use them.”
Al-Ghabban, in turn, has said he was stymied in attempts to protect Baghdad. After his dismissal, he said al-Abadi repeatedly ignored his proposals for bolstering security. He complained that too many security and intelligence agencies were involved in protecting Baghdad. “I wanted the entire security file to be left in the hands of the Interior Ministry so it can be fully accountable,” he said. “My job was emptied of genuine tasks, tools and powers, and became ceremonial.” Qais Adil Faraj, the father of one of the Karradah victims, blames “corruption” and “treason” among the security forces for the bombing. He said he has no faith in the new security measures in the capital. “More and more bombings will follow the one in Karradah,” he said. “This government will never maintain security nationwide or even just in Baghdad.” .[Source: Associated Press | Hamza Hendawi | July 25, 2016++]
SC Guard Concealed Weapons ► Armories | Now Authorized
Some South Carolina Army National Guard soldiers can now carry concealed sidearms at local armories to protect themselves and others from terrorist attacks. Guard commanders, with the approval of Gov. Nikki Haley, have initiated a program that allows authorized soldiers to carry concealed sidearms in all of the state’s 65 armories. Previously, Guard soldiers were not allowed to carry weapons while at work, even if they had state permits. The action stems from the 2015 terrorist shootings at a recruiting center and Naval Reserve center in Chattanooga, Tenn., that killed four Marines and a sailor. “We felt we were lacking the ability to immediately defend ourselves,” said Brig Gen. Roy McCarty, South Carolina deputy adjutant general. “We would certainly much rather not have to be facing this situation. But it was a necessary level of protection until regular authorities get on the scene.”
Some civilians might think soldiers and other service members carry weapons regularly. The opposite is true, unless they are deployed in a combat zone or participating in training or other missions where weapons are authorized. Most soldiers in the course of their daily duties – whether it’s a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson, a helicopter pilot at McEntire Joint National Guard Base near Eastover or a human resources specialist at the Guard headquarters in Columbia – don’t carry weapons. Live weapons are considered incompatible with training and work, unless specified, because of the possibility of accidents.
The soldiers authorized to carry weapons have been trained by the State Law Enforcement Division and participate in joint training exercises with local law enforcement. They carry 10mm Glock 40 pistols, the same type used by many police forces. From two to seven soldiers are authorized to carry the concealed weapons in each armory, depending on the number of personnel assigned to the post. An armory that supports a brigade-sized unit, like Anderson, will have more armed soldiers than a small armory like Allendale, which hosts a detachment, said S.C. Guard spokeswoman Lt. Col. Cindi King. The soldiers carry weapons underneath their camouflage tops, so even their co-workers won’t know who’s authorized. The weapons are carried secretly “so they won’t be identified as the initial target,” McCarty said. “It’s as low profile as we can make it.”
The program began last year. The Guard has kept the program generally quiet until inquiries were made by The State. About 90 percent of the state’s 65 armories have armed soldiers, with the rest joining soon, McCarty said. “As much as we would like people to be aware of this program … we don’t want the public to feel like the National Guard is armed among them everyday,” he said. Haley said last year she authorized soldiers to carry weapons because “there exists a threat of violence to National Guard members and facilities” in general. However, to date no specific or imminent threats have been identified, said Haley spokeswoman Chaney Adams. Haley’s husband, Michael, is a captain in the National Guard. The aim of the program is for those specially trained soldiers to protect themselves and other soldiers from a shooter until local law enforcement arrives. The program also institutes other measures like identifying safe rooms. “Law enforcement could get there in a matter of minutes,” Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said. “But in a situation like that, it’s not minutes but seconds that count.”
Richland County is arguably more heavily impacted by threats of attacks against the military than any other county in the state. It is home to Fort Jackson — the nation’s largest basic training base; McCrady National Guard Training Center; McEntire Joint National Guard Base; S.C. National Guard headquarters; and several national guard armories, Lott said. The sheriff said the department holds joint training with at least one installation about every month.“We understand that the police and the military are being attacked just because they wear a uniform,” he said. “We would be derelict in our duty if we didn’t defend against this.” Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston Jr., South Carolina’s adjutant general, said arming soldiers is one step to protect installations and personnel, and others may be considered. “This is a continuing evolution in our ability to protect those who protect our citizens,” he said. [Source: The State | Jeff Wilkinson | July 25, 2016 ++]
* Military History *
WWII Operation COBRA ► Friendly-Fire Incident
Seventy-two years ago on 6 JUN, the United States and its World War II allies began the invasion of France on a day that would become known as D-Day. Thousands of men jumped from aircraft into the French countryside, while thousands more landed on shell-raked beaches from wooden landing craft. Many of them would be wounded or killed. June 6, 1944, and the days after, became a storied time in American history. Even though the Russian military was doing the lion’s share of the fighting, the United States would come to see D-Day as the beginning of the end for Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany, the moment where the Americans and their allies toppled the Atlantic Wall and quickly advanced into France on the drive toward Paris and eventually Berlin.
But there’s a chapter in this history that often gets lost in its re-telling: a little-known operation called COBRA that set the stage for victory in France but began by killing and wounding hundreds of Americans, including a top-ranking general, in one of the worst friendly-fire incidents in U.S. military history. COBRA’s aim was for the U.S. First Army, helmed by Gen. Omar Bradley, to punch south through German lines around the village of St. Lo. To Bradley’s east, British forces were tied up around the town of Caen, so COBRA would put pressure on the Germans’ western flank, and if all went well, would allow allied forces to move simultaneously south toward Brittany, and east, encircling German forces around Falaise (For an Operational Map Go to http://www.emersonkent.com/map_archive/normandy_july_24_25_1944.htm).
Besides heavily entrenched German Panzer divisions, the Allies’ main problem was the terrain in northern France — namely massive bands of shrubbery lined by mud walls, known as hedgerows. Waist-high and easily defendable, hedgerows provided the Germans with ready-made defensive positions that eventually drove the American troops to weld scrap metal to the front of their tanks to help plow through them. For COBRA, though, Bradley decided he would rely on a massive bombing run on a roughly four-mile stretch of road, thinking the bombardment would open up the German line and allow U.S. troops to pour through en masse. COBRA marked one of the first, and soon to be only, times that a large concentration of bomber aircraft would directly support maneuvering units on the ground. Until that point in the war, the United States had mostly conducted what was called “area bombing” and after COBRA, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower prevented anything like it from happening again.
The bombing run would consist of 550 fighter-bombers and almost 2,000 B-17s: hulking four-engine strategic bombers that could drop 4,800 pounds of ordnance onto a target. The target area needed to be carefully marked because it was close to U.S. infantrymen waiting to attack from the north. So to mark the area, shaped like a rectangle, the U.S. commanders planned to put colored smoke on the corners. Paul Fussell, a historian and World War II infantryman, writes extensively about COBRA in his book, “The Boys’ Crusade: The American Infantry in Northwestern Europe.” According to Fussell, the attack was slated for 24 JUL but was delayed a day because of overcast weather. Despite the delay, a number of the bomber aircraft took off and, after approaching the target from the wrong direction — attacking perpendicular to the road instead of parallel — dropped their bombs, killing 25 U.S. soldiers from the 30th Division. To make things worse, as Fussell writes, a breeze began moving the smoke line over the American troops.
The next day, on 25 JUL, COBRA started in earnest, and again the bulk of the aircraft from the U.S. Eighth Air Force approached the strip of road from the wrong direction. This time the aerial bombardment, assisted by 1,000 artillery pieces, pulverized the line, killing 111 American soldiers and wounding almost 500. In his book, Fussell quotes the famed combat correspondent Ernie Pyle, who was observing the operation from a farmhouse 800 yards behind the front line.
“And before the next two hours had passed, I would have given every penny, every desire, every hope I’ve ever had to have been just another 800 yards further back,” Pyle wrote. “From then on for an hour and a half that had in it the agony of centuries, the bombs came down. A wall of smoke and dust erected by them grew high in the sky. … Then we were horrified by the suspicion that those machines, high in the sky and completely detached from us, were aiming their bombs at the smokeline on the ground — and a gentle breeze was drifting the smokeline back over us!”
As U.S. soldiers tried to avoid the bombardment, either by breaking their position or digging deeper into the earth, the German Panzer division opposite the Americans still bore the brunt of the air attack.“My grenadiers and the pioneers, my anti-tank gunners, they’re holding. None of them have left their positions, none,” German Gen. Fritz Bayerlein told his higher-ups, as quoted by Fussell. “They’re lying in their holes, still and mute, because they are dead. Dead. Do you understand?” “My front lines looked like the face of the moon,” Bayerlein went on to say later. “And at least 70 percent of my troops were out of action — dead, wounded, crazed, or numb.”
On the U.S. front line, as the planes rumbled off into the distance, American troops searched desperately for Lt. Gen. Lesley J. McNair, who had come from England to watch the operation. Even though he was well behind the intended bombing area, McNair was found blown 60 yards from his foxhole, identifiable only by the three stars festooned to his collar, according to Fusssell. At the time, McNair was the highest-ranking U.S. soldier to be killed in Europe.
Although reporters such as Pyle were censored from writing about what exactly happened that day, that didn’t stop the Associated Press from sending photos back from the disaster. The aftermath of COBRA was captured on camera by way of American soldiers desperately trying to dig their friends out of the ground after being bombed by their own air force. Yet instead of calling it what it was, Fussell said, the Associated Press captioned the above photo, “After German shelling, Yanks dig out men buried in their foxholes.” The photo that has since been digitized and placed on the AP’s wire service remains almost unchanged: “American troops begin to dig out men buried after German shelling, July 25, 1944, somewhere in France.” [Source: The Washington Post | Thomas Gibbons-Neff | June 6, 2016 ++]
Korean War Remembrances Update 03 ► Armistice’s 63rd anniversary
The term “forgotten war” was mentioned multiple times during a ceremony Saturday in Colorado Springs to commemorate the 63rd anniversary of the Korean War armistice. More than a dozen Korean War veterans joined Korean-Americans along with a representative of the Republic of Korea at Memorial Park east of downtown Colorado Springs to remember the war that began in June 1950. It lasted three years and claimed the lives of more than 33,000 Americans.
Deputy Consul General Chung Yoon Ho, who spoke on behalf of the government of the Republic of Korea, said his goal is to make sure that the war, which the U.S. government called a “police action” at the time, would not be forgotten. “I owe this to Korean War veterans,” he said, noting that South Korea “almost collapsed” but has thrived as a democracy since the armistice on July 27, 1953. Chung looked around at each of the members of Colorado Springs’ Dutch Nelsen Chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association and thanked them. “We will never forget your sacrifice and contribution,” he said.
Republic of Korea Deputy Consul-General Chung Yoon Ho places a wreath at the Korean War Monument during a ceremony to commemorate the 63rd anniversary of the Korean War Armistice in Memorial Park on July 23, 2016. with the Widefield High School JROTC carry the colors looking on.
The Korean War began June 25, 1950, when 75,000 North Korean soldiers invaded South Korea (the Republic of Korea). The invasion by the communist soldiers is considered to be the “first military action of the Cold War,” according to history.com. Within a month, U.S. troops came to the aid of their South Korean allies. More than 5 million soldiers and civilians lost their lives in the war, and the Korean Peninsula is still divided. The inscription at the Korean War Memorial in Colorado Springs’ Memorial Park says 33,651 Americans died, 103,284 were wounded, 8,177 disappeared and 7,140 more Americans were held as prisoners of war. It is believed that there are still almost 4,000 Korean War POWs missing in 2016.
Proclamations recognizing this year’s anniversary of the armistice from each of the city of Colorado Springs and El Paso County were read after the Korean and American national anthems were sung. The proclamations were presented to the county commissioners and the Colorado Springs City Council last week. Seven representatives of the Widefield High School Junior ROTC presented the flags for the event. And Denver’s James McGibney, an honorary consul of the Republic of Korea, was Saturday’s guest speaker. McGibney said he wanted to “talk about the future,” which he added is possible in the Republic of Korea and in the U.S. because of the military efforts. He said we will need to continue to show the resiliency that the South Korean and U.S. vets displayed even when it looked like South Korea was on the brink of the “collapse” that Chung had mentioned. “You all prevailed,” McGibney told the veterans. [Source: The Gazette | Matt Steiner | July 24, 2016 ++]
Military History ► Andersonville Prison | CW
There were 150 prison camps on both sides in the Civil War, and they all suffered from disease, overcrowding, exposure, and food shortages. But Andersonville was notorious for being the worst. Some men agreed to freedom and fought for the South as galvanized soldiers, fearing the dangers of imprisonment to be greater than those of the battlefield. Officially named Camp Sumter, the most notorious Civil War stockade was hastily constructed in early 1864 near the town of Andersonville in southwest Georgia. The number of Union soldiers held near Richmond had swelled with the breakdown of prisoner exchange agreements, posing a threat to the Confederate capital’s security and taxing Virginia’s already limited resources.
In late February, Federal prisoners began to be transferred to the still-unfinished Georgia facility. By July, Andersonville, built to accommodate up to 10,000 captured soldiers, was jammed with over 32,000, almost all enlisted men. The open-air stockade, enclosed by 20 foot-high log walls, grew to 26 acres, but remained horribly overcrowded and conditions became more and more intolerable. Running in the middle of the camp was a stagnant, befouled stream, absurdly named Sweet Water Branch, used as a sewer as well as for drinking and bathing. There were no barracks; prisoners were forbidden to construct shelters, and while some did erect tents and flimsy lean-tos, most were left fully exposed to the elements. Medical treatment was virtually nonexistent.
With the South barely able to feed its own men, the prisoners, who were supposed to get the same rations as Confederate soldiers, starved-receiving rancid grain and perhaps a few tablespoons a day of mealy beans or peas. The poor food and sanitation, the lack of shelter and health care, the crowding, and the hot Georgia sun all took their toll in the form of dysentery, scurvy, malaria, and exposure. During the summer months, more than 100 prisoners died every day. Others fell victim to thieves and marauders among their fellow captives. The desperate situation led a Confederate medical commission to recommend relocating those prisoners who were not too ill to move, and in September 1864, as William T. Sherman’s advancing army approached, most of Andersonville’s able-bodied inmates were sent to other camps.
Remaining in operation until the end of the war, Andersonville held more captured Union soldiers than any other Confederate camp, a total of more than 45,000, nearly 30 percent of whom died in captivity. The North had learned of the camp’s appalling conditions well before the emaciated survivors were released in 1865, and outraged citizens urged retribution on Southern prisoners of war. That was hardly necessary: the Union had its own wretched prison camps, including Elmira, New York, where the death rate approached Andersonville’s, even though the North was far better equipped to cope with captured soldiers. Mismanagement and severe shortages were more to blame for the horrors of Andersonville than any deliberate attempt to mistreat prisoners.
Nevertheless, many Northerners insisted that the abuse was deliberate and demanded vengeance. Consequently, after being tried by a U.S. military court and convicted of war crimes, the prison’s commander, Captain Henry Wirz, was hanged in November 1865 for “impairing the health and destroying the lives of prisoners.” Meanwhile, Clara Barton and other government workers compiled a list of 12,912 prisoners who had died at the camp. Andersonville’s mass graves were replaced by a national cemetery, which is today still used as a burial ground for American veterans. [Source: Together We Served | Mike Christy | Jan 2016 ++]
USS Indianapolis (CA-35) ► New Search Lead Found
More than 70 years after the cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35) was sunk, a new clue discovered by a Navy researcher could give expeditions hunting for the missing ship a better location to look, the service said this week. Searchers have looked for Indianapolis since the ship was sunk by Japanese submarine I-58 on July 30, 1945 shortly after delivering components for the atomic bomb Little Boy to the island Tinian. Of more than thousand men aboard, almost 800 survived the initial sinking but only about 320 survived days of exposure and shark attacks on the open ocean. Since the sinking many have tried to find the ship and none have succeeded.
USS Indianapolis in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in 1937
Now, Naval History and Heritage Command researcher Richard Hulver unearthed a log entry from the amphibious landing ship USS LST-779 which helped pinpoint time and location of Indianapolis only 11 hours before the ship was sunk by Japanese submarine I-58 on July 30, 1945. According to the command, the information from LST-779’s log – which passed the ship before a pair torpedoes at the close of the war sank it — can provide searchers with a more specific location to look for the missing cruiser. “LST–779 traversed the same waters at the same time, recording specific information about weather and sea conditions. The deck logs make it possible to better understand exactly what natural circumstances Indianapolis encountered— new data that can help researchers better determine where Indianapolis would have been when torpedoed and how survivors in the water would have been at the mercy of the movement of the sea, wrote Hulver in an analysis of the new information published by NHHC.
The new revelation comes as a new expedition is mounting to find the ship, led by National Geographic. Sarah Vladic, director of the documentary USS Indianapolis: The Legacy who is assisting with the National Geographic project, told USNI News the expedition to find the wreck of the ship will take place in the spring of 2017 but didn’t provide more details. Expeditions have attempted to locate the ship most recently in 2001 and 2005. “Teams have tried to find Indianapolis in the past, but failed, partly because she is over two miles down, but also because they were looking in the wrong place,” wrote Hulver in an analysis of the new information published by NHHC.
“Historical records specifying the sinking location do not exist, as no distress signal providing the location of Indianapolis was received. Allied intelligence recovered I-58’s message to Tokyo confirming the kill, but failed to identify a specific ship or recover the position given by the Japanese.”
Interest in the story of Indianapolis has risen in the last few years. In addition to the National Geographic search, a new film on the story of the crew – USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage – is set to release in September. [Source: USNI News | Sam LaGrone | July 27, 2016 ++]
Military History Anniversaries ► 1 thru 15 AUG
Significant events in U.S. Military History over the next 15 days are listed in the attachment to this Bulletin titled, “Military History Anniversaries 1 thru 15 Aug”. [Source: This Day in History http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history | July 2016 ++]
Medal of Honor Citations ► Bell~Bernard O | WWII
The President of the United States in the name of The Congress
takes pleasure in presenting the
Medal of Honor
Bernard P. Bell
Rank and organization: First Technical Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company I, 142d Infantry, 36th Infantry Division
Place and date: Mittelwihr, France, 18 December 1944
Entered service: New York, N.Y. August 1942
Born: Grantsville, West Virginia, December 29, 1911
For fighting gallantly at Mittelwihr, France. On the morning of 18 December 1944, he led a squad against a schoolhouse held by enemy troops. While his men covered him, he dashed toward the building, surprised 2 guards at the door and took them prisoner without firing a shot. He found that other Germans were in the cellar. These he threatened with hand grenades, forcing 26 in all to emerge and surrender. His squad then occupied the building and prepared to defend it against powerful enemy action. The next day, the enemy poured artillery and mortar barrages into the position, disrupting communications which T/Sgt. Bell repeatedly repaired under heavy small-arms fire as he crossed dangerous terrain to keep his company commander informed of the squad’s situation. During the day, several prisoners were taken and other Germans killed when hostile forces were attracted to the schoolhouse by the sound of captured German weapons fired by the Americans. At dawn the next day the enemy prepared to assault the building. A German tank fired round after round into the structure, partially demolishing the upper stories. Despite this heavy fire, T/Sgt. Bell climbed to the second floor and directed artillery fire which forced the hostile tank to withdraw. He then adjusted mortar fire on large forces of enemy foot soldiers attempting to reach the American position and, when this force broke and attempted to retire, he directed deadly machinegun and rifle fire into their disorganized ranks. Calling for armored support to blast out the German troops hidden behind a wall, he unhesitatingly exposed himself to heavy small-arms fire to stand beside a friendly tank and tell its occupants where to rip holes in walls protecting approaches to the school building. He then trained machineguns on the gaps and mowed down all hostile troops attempting to cross the openings to get closer to the school building. By his intrepidity and bold, aggressive leadership, T/Sgt. Bell enabled his 8-man squad to drive back approximately 150 of the enemy, killing at least 87 and capturing 42. Personally, he killed more than 20 and captured 33 prisoners
Bell left the Army on June 19, 1945 with the rank of Warrant Officer. He died on January 8, 1971 and was buried in Section 25 of Arlington National Cemetery two days later.
[Source: http://www.history.army.mil/moh/wwII-a-f.htmlJuly 2016 ++]
Famous Civil War Battles Quiz 1 ► Do You Know?
1. How many casualties occurred at the Battle of Fort Sumter, the first battle of the war?
- zero. After a lot of bluster, Union forces surrendered the Charleston fort.
2. During which battle did Thomas Jonathan Jackson earn his famous nickname?
- Battle of Ball’s Bluff
- Battle of Phillipi
- First Battle of Bull Run. Jackson and his men held off an unexpected attack by Union troops; he became known as “Stonewall” Jackson..
3. Why did the Confederacy adopt a new battle flag after the First Battle of Bull Run?
- All of their flags were accidentally set on fire during the battle
- They had a hard time identifying the old one from afar.. During the battle, they couldn’t tell if reinforcements were theirs or the Union’s.
- They decided that their flag was ugly.
4. Which battle is sometimes referred to as the “Bull Run of the West?”
- Battle of Cheat Mountain
- Battle of Wilson’s Creek. It took place in western Missouri and the Confederates pulled off another stunning victory.
- Battle of Dry Wood Creek
5. At which battle did a black unit famously fight off a Confederate attack?
- Battle of Plains Store
- Battle of Salem Church
- Battle of Milliken’s Bend. The Union forces, which included freed slaves, prevented the Confederates from cutting off a crucial supply lin
6. In which state did the Battle of Gettysburg take place?
- Pennsylvania. This battle is often called the most important turning point of the war.
7. Before which battle did Union troops find a detailed Confederate battle plan tucked in a box of cigars?
- Battle of Prairie Grove
- Battle of Antietam. But Union leaders were slow to act on the information missed a chance to strike a fatal blow.
- Second Battle of Corinth
8. Which Union commander led Union troops at the Battle of Gettysburg?
- Joseph Hooker
- Ulysses Grant
- George Meade. He received his crucial command just days before the attack by the Confederates.
9. About how many military engagements were there during the war?
- 8,000. Many were just skirmishes; others seemed nearly apocalyptic.
10. After which battle did Ulysses S. Grant become a major general for his important victory?
- Battle of Round Mountain
- Battle of Fort Donelson It’s also where he got his nickname, “Unconditional Surrender Grant.”
- Battle of Mill Springs
[Source: How Stuff Works – Historical Events | Nathan Chandler | July 2016 ++]|
Famous Civil War Battles Quiz 1 ► Did You Answer Correctly?
1. How many casualties occurred at the Battle of Fort Sumter, the first battle of the war?
- zero. After a lot of bluster, Union forces surrendered the Charleston fort.
2. During which battle did Thomas Jonathan Jackson earn his famous nickname?
- First Battle of Bull Run. Jackson and his men held off an unexpected attack by Union troops; he became known as “Stonewall” Jackson..
3. Why did the Confederacy adopt a new battle flag after the First Battle of Bull Run?
- They had a hard time identifying the old one from afar.. During the battle, they couldn’t tell if reinforcements were theirs or the Union’s.
4. Which battle is sometimes referred to as the “Bull Run of the West?”
- Battle of Wilson’s Creek. It took place in western Missouri and the Confederates pulled off another stunning victory.
5. At which battle did a black unit famously fight off a Confederate attack?
- Battle of Milliken’s Bend. The Union forces, which included freed slaves, prevented the Confederates from cutting off a crucial supply lin
6. In which state did the Battle of Gettysburg take place?
- Pennsylvania. This battle is often called the most important turning point of the war.
7. Before which battle did Union troops find a detailed Confederate battle plan tucked in a box of cigars?
- Battle of Antietam. But Union leaders were slow to act on the information missed a chance to strike a fatal blow.
8. Which Union commander led Union troops at the Battle of Gettysburg?
- George Meade. He received his crucial command just days before the attack by the Confederates.
9. About how many military engagements were there during the war?
- 8,000. Many were just skirmishes; others seemed nearly apocalyptic.
10. After which battle did Ulysses S. Grant become a major general for his important victory?
- Battle of Fort Donelson It’s also where he got his nickname, “Unconditional Surrender Grant.”
[Source: How Stuff Works – Historical Events | Nathan Chandler | July 2016 ++]|
* Health Care *
Quirky Health Hacks ► Do You Know these 10
These offbeat tricks really will make for a better season:
No more sore throat
The summer cold has a fluffy new enemy: marshmallows. The gelatin in these campfire confections coats the throat and relieves irritation and pain, experts say. Just don’t eat them too hot.
Sun protection tip
Vivid colors offer more protection than pale ones — think bright yellow versus a muted version. And darker colors block more UV radiation than lighter shades. Plus, synthetic fibers (Lycra, acrylic, nylon) are better than cotton, notes the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Eat for better hydration
With the dog days upon us, it’s hard to drink enough to stay hydrated. Luckily, you can get plenty of fluid through your food, especially summer’s fresh produce. About how much you’re taking in: 1 watermelon: 10 ounces; 1 medium peach: 5 ounces; 1 cup sliced strawberries: 5 ounces; 1 cup sliced cucumber: 4 ounces; 1 medium tomato: 4 ounces; 1 cup chopped raw zucchini: 4 ounces; 1 ear cooked corn on the cob: 3 ounces.
To cool down during a workout, try chilling your hands, say researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine. People who grasped hand-cooling devices worked out longer and were better able to stick to their workouts. Cooling the palms helps to circulate blood and pulls heat from the body.
Yes, you can still damage your skin through a glass window. That’s because windows don’t filter out UVA rays. So cover up when driving or in your sunroom.
Spoon trick (Bite relief)
For a mosquito-bite itch, try pressing a warm spoon on the welt. Run a spoon under hot tap water and apply. Heat relieves the itch in five to 10 minutes, a recent German study showed. Or you might try capsaicin cream, which has an analgesic effect.
Whiff of calm
Meditation and yoga can help reduce stress, but consider this faster fix — sniff an orange. Citrusy and floral aromas help to lower anxiety, suggests a study from the Lyon Neuroscience Research Center in France.
P.M. Rx for BO
A little habit to add to your bedtime routine: Put on deodorant. While most people roll it on after their morning shower, all that heat can interfere with the antiperspirant’s active ingredients before they have a chance to plug sweat gland ducts. Once the glands are blocked, you’re covered for 24 hours — even through your morning shower.
Honey for scrapes
It’s sticky, gooey and not at all what you think you ought to put on an open cut. But researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand have found that honey reduces healing time significantly when applied to wounds, because of its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Honey also reduces scarring, another study showed. Simply spread it over the affected area, then carefully apply a bandage.
Laundry room tick tip
Your best defense against blood-sucking ticks this summer? The dryer. The high heat dries out the ticks, killing them, says University of Rhode Island tick expert Thomas Mather. Five to 10 minutes is sufficient.
[Source: AARP Magazine| June/July 2016 ++]
Tricare Webiner ► Asked & Answered | 3 AUG @ 12-1300 Est
TRICARE and Military OneSource are co-hosting a webinar to bring you the answers to your questions. Join them on Wednesday, August 3, 2016, Noon to 1:00pm EST to ask them anything. They’ll have a panel of subject matter experts on hand to take your questions. Sign-up at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/3138339713504372995. For audio, dial 1-866-724-3083, access code 1085851. Registration is on a first-come, first-serve basis. They welcome your participation but please do not share any personal health information when asking your questions. Panelists include representation from all major TRICARE offices; pharmacy, direct care, purchased care, TRICARE For Life, dental and more.
NOTE: You can submit questions to [email protected] before the webinar. Refer to http://www.tricare.mil/CoveredServices/BenefitUpdates/Archives/07_25_16_TRICARE-Asked-Answered to see who will be available to answer your questions.
[Source: www.tricare.mil/CoveredServices/BenefitUpdates/Archives/07_25_16_TRICARE-Asked-Answered | July 25, 2016 ++]
Blood Pressure Update 06 ► 15 Things to Know About Yours
When Raymond R. Townsend, M.D., was in medical school in the 1970s, the formula for blood pressure was simple. “Doctors were taught that the normal top blood pressure number was 100 plus a person’s age,” says Townsend, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “We now know that numbers even close to that high — as you get older — are very dangerous.” Research has come a long way, but there’s still controversy about optimal levels, the best treatments and even how to measure blood pressure. There’s no debate, however, that high blood pressure can lead to heart attacks, stroke, vision problems, even dementia. Here are 15 must-know facts about high blood pressure that just might save your life.
1. Hypertension isn’t inevitable — but blood pressure climbs as you age.At age 75, Suzanne Oparil, M.D., still has great blood pressure. “It’s mostly the luck of genes,” says Oparil, a professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, whose research has played a key role in hypertension guidelines. Like Oparil, some of us may never develop high blood pressure. But most people see an increase in the upper number, systolic blood pressure, starting around age 40. About 7% of Americans ages 18 to 39 have hypertension, defined as blood pressure that is 140/90 or higher. That incidence climbs to 32% among those ages 40 to 59, and 65% for Americans 60-plus. Part of the reason: Arteries tend to stiffen with age.
2. Even dangerously high blood pressure often has no symptoms. Your blood pressure can be through the roof, and the only way you might know it is by getting it checked. Getting a reliable reading, though, can be tricky. Blood pressure numbers can vary 30 to 40 points through the day, Oparil says, typically falling at night and surging in the morning. “It can even spike just because you’re having your blood pressure measured, a phenomenon called ‘white coat hypertension.’ ” The gold standard for recording blood pressure is a 24-hour test that measures pressure three or four times an hour during the day and every 30 minutes at night. Since insurance typically doesn’t cover the test, many doctors suggest buying your own automated upper-arm blood pressure monitor.
3. The top number is the one to watch when you’re over 50. The top number, systolic pressure, measures the force at the moment the heart beats, pumping blood throughout the body. The bottom number (diastolic pressure) measures pressure between beats, when blood flows back to the heart. “The top number is the one that matters, because systolic blood pressure is the peak force that your arteries and your vital organs experience with each heartbeat,” says Sheila Sahni, M.D., a cardiovascular disease expert at UCLA Medical Center. “When pressure increases, it can damage your kidneys, your eyes, your brain, even the lining of blood vessels.” The lower number, diastolic blood pressure, typically peaks at about age 55 and then gradually falls.
4. Experts don’t agree on what the ideal systolic blood pressure should be. Researchers are still debating the ideal blood-pressure target for people over 50. Until recently, the best evidence suggested that a reasonable target was systolic blood pressure below 140 millimeters of mercury, or less than 150 for people over 60. Last September, new findings from the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial, or SPRINT, toppled that advice. In the randomized trial of more than 9,300 people at high risk of heart disease or who already had kidney disease, nearly 30 percent of whom were age 75 or older, researchers compared one group of volunteers with systolic blood pressure of 140 to another group that aggressively lowered theirs to 120. People in the 120 group were one-third less likely to suffer heart failure, a nonfatal heart attack or a stroke during the five-year trial.
5.The optimum blood pressure target is different for different people. Official guidelines are just that: They guide doctors and patients. “But every patient is different,” says Townsend, one of the country’s leading experts on hypertension. For patients at low cardiovascular risk, a higher systolic target may be acceptable. The same may be true for some high-risk patients who can’t tolerate aggressive therapy because of side effects. “With a 69-year-old who’s already taking four blood pressure medications to get down to 135, you have to think carefully about whether it’s worth adding another medication,” Townsend says. The best advice is to ask your doctor what’s right for you.
6. Healthy lifestyle changes can work as well as a pill. Cutting back on salt and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables can drop high blood pressure by about 5 points. Losing weight also helps. Dropping 11 pounds can shave off more than 4 points from your systolic blood pressure, studies show. In a 2016 review, Swedish researchers found that physical activity can reduce systolic pressure by an average of 11 points in people with hypertension. “If you have moderately elevated blood pressure, healthy changes might mean you won’t need medication,” says Glenn M. Chertow, M.D., professor of medicine at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.
7. Coffee makes blood pressure spike — but don’t fret. Researchers have long known that a cup of high-octane coffee makes blood pressure jump. In a 2011 article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers concluded that 200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine (or two or three 8-ounce coffees) increased systolic blood pressure by an average of 8 points. The spike lasts about three hours, but there appears to be no long-term effect.
8.Breathe deep to bring your number down. Simply slowing your breathing down to six breaths in 30 seconds has been shown to bring systolic blood pressure down by about 3 points — at least temporarily. An FDA-approved portable computerized device, called RESPeRATE, uses tones to guide you through sessions of deep breathing.
9.Keeping an eye on salt becomes more important as you get older. Salty foods can raise blood pressure, but recommendations to reduce salt have long been controversial. One reason: Not everyone is salt sensitive. But as people age, they may tend to pile on more salt, because their sense of taste fades. Federal guidelines recommend less than 1,500 mg of sodium a day for people over 50 — far less than the 3,400 mg Americans typically consume. Most salt is hidden in processed foods, so check labels and choose low-sodium items. When adding salt, keep in mind that one-quarter of a teaspoon contains 575 mg of sodium.
10. Simple hand-grip exercises can help.In a landmark 2013 Hypertension report on alternative ways to lower blood pressure, researchers confirmed that hand-grip exercises can reduce your number by about 10%. Inexpensive hand grippers available online or at a local sporting goods store ($10 to $15) are effective. Squeeze the gripper for 2 minutes at a time, for a total of 12 to 15 minutes, three times a week.
11. New medicines aren’t necessarily better than the older ones.Doctors typically begin treating high blood pressure with diuretics, or “water pills,” some of the oldest hypertension medications around. They work by removing excess sodium and water from the body. Newer medications called ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitors prevent the body from producing a hormone that raises blood pressure. Angiotensin II receptor blockers, or ARBs, block the action of the same hormone. Research shows that the newer meds may be no more effective than diuretics, though they often have fewer side effects.
12. For many people, one blood pressure medication isn’t enough.If your blood pressure is moderately elevated, you may need only one pill to bring it down, but many people end up having to take several. “Individual blood pressure medications typically lower blood pressure by only a few points,” Chertow says. “And when you increase the dose, there’s a point of diminishing returns. So, depending on the patient, we combine different classes of medications for optimal effect.”
13. Over-the-counter medicines may be raising your blood pressure.“Many cold medications contain pseudoephedrine, which clamps down on blood vessels, raising blood pressure,” Sahni says. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Aleve, Advil and Motrin, can also raise blood pressure by 3 to 6 points. That’s enough to contribute to cardiovascular risk if you take them on a regular basis.
14.Blood pressure can dip too low.The danger is greatest when people stand up and blood pressure isn’t strong enough to pump blood to the brain — a phenomenon called orthostatic hypotension. Older people are particularly at risk of falls that may cause fractures. If you’re on medication and experience dizziness, talk to your doctor. A change in your prescription may help.
15. Sticking with treatment is crucial.A combination of lifestyle changes and medication is usually enough to bring your numbers down out of the danger zone. But once you hit the target, it’s essential to go on taking your pills and following healthier habits. “Too many people get lazy about taking blood pressure medications. Or they stop taking them if they think they’re having side effects,” Sahni says. If you go off your medications, your blood pressure will go back up. Since systolic blood pressure typically rises with age, it’s also important to monitor your blood pressure regularly. Most people with high blood pressure need to adjust their medications periodically.
[Source: AARP Bulletin | Peter Jaret | June 2016| ++]
Hearing Aids Update 02 ► Reasons you Might Need Hearing Help
Do you find yourself constantly increasing the volume on the TV? While eating in a noisy restaurant, do you struggle to keep up with your dining companions’ conversations? Lately, does everyone seem to be mumbling? If your answer is “yes” to any of these questions, chances are, you need a hearing aid. More than 37 million American adults have some trouble hearing. Men are more likely than women to be affected, according to the National Institutes of Health. And veterans are 30 percent more likely to have severe hearing loss than those who haven’t served,
DoD reports. Hearing loss and tinnitus are among the most common service-connected disabilities, according to the VA. Noise exposure is one of the leading causes – especially gun or mortar fire or explosions. “But any sustained noise over a period of time is damaging,” says Paige Peterson, an audiologist in Austin, Texas. And many servicemembers “are not necessarily using [hearing protection] equipment provided to them or are not using [it] properly,” according to a 2011 report on DoD hearing conservation programs from the Government Accountability Office. Hearing loss affects all aspects of life, from relationships to income. With poor hearing, job performance suffers and income drops, according to the Better Hearing Institute. People with untreated hearing loss are more likely to be unemployed and less likely to participate in social activities, says the National Council on Aging.
Despite the widespread need for hearing help, only 1 in 3 people suffering from disabling hearing loss wear a hearing aid. In fact, the average person with severe hearing loss waits more than 10 years before finally seeking treatment. “That’s because hearing loss often occurs gradually, so people are in denial – they think their hearing is not that bad,” says Dr. SreekantCherukuri, a board-certified ear, nose, and throat surgeon in Chicago. “Some people think a hearing aid will make them look old, but what really makes you look old is frequently saying, ‘What?’ and having the TV volume turned way up,” he says. Cost is an issue for many. Quality aids often cost thousands of dollars each (and most people need two – one per ear). “In my practice, I see patients who would benefit from hearing aids but cannot afford them,” Cherukuri says. But while you might not realize how loud your TV is, your friends and family do notice. “People tend to finally walk into my office because their spouse made them,” Peterson says. If you’re still resisting, these three facts might convince you to get your hearing tested – and treated.
- A hearing aid can quiet the ear ringing. If you suffer from tinnitus – better known as “ringing in the ears” – you know how annoying the affliction can be. “Tinnitus is usually a result of high-frequency hearing loss,” says Cherukuri. “Hearing aids can amplify those frequencies and make the tinnitus less noticeable.” About 60 percent of tinnitus patients said hearing aids provided some relief, according to a 2007 survey reported by the American Tinnitus Association. “The relief I get from the tinnitus is one of the main reasons I wear hearing aids myself,” Peterson says.
- Today’s devices aren’t your dad’s hearing aids. Perhaps you remember a relative who spent a ton of money on hearing aids decades ago – then kept them stashed in a drawer. So you think, why bother? Forget about those old aids, Paige says. “There is no comparison. Old hearing aids amplified the entire speech range the exact same amount. But hearing aids today work like an equalizer on a stereo. Depending on the number of adjustable sections your hearing aid has, the more fine-tuned it will be to your hearing loss.”
- Get more out of life. Whether you’re spending time with friends, taking a walk in the park, or putting in a day at the office, if you can’t hear what’s going on around you, you’re missing out. People who need, but don’t use, hearing aids are more likely to feel sad, depressed, and isolated, according to the National Council on Aging. But once they start wearing a hearing aid, their family and work relationships and outlook on life recovered, surveys show.
Hearing aids can be very expensive. Where can a military retiree turn for help? For many, the VA is not an option because of VA eligibility requirements. TRICARE usually does not cover hearing aids for military retirees. Medicare typically does not cover hearing exams or hearing aids for routine reasons; Medicare usually only covers hearing exams and aids if you have a doctor’s order due to a medical problem. The DoD-sponsored Retiree At-Cost Hearing Aid Program (RACHAP) might be an answer for some. However, there are challenges with the program. The program is open to all uniformed services retirees – including retired National Guard and Reserve members – under certain conditions. You have to call the audiology facility to determine the certain conditions if you are a U.S. Public Health Service or NOAA member. RACHAP does not provide services to family members of military retirees.
The available hearing aids are leading-edge technology – the same offered to active duty servicemembers. RACHAP provides these hearing aids at greatly reduced prices. You do have to pay for the hearing aids. However, hearing aids that typically cost thousands of dollars might be available for hundreds of dollars – a fraction of the retail cost – or at the very least, a significant savings. Retirees typically are not charged for their hearing exam, the fitting and programming of hearing aids, or follow-up visits. RACHAP is offered at military audiology clinics in select locations. There are only 11 participating locations in the lower 48 states and 15 outside the lower 48 states and overseas. You can find all of the locations and their contact information at http://militaryaudiology.org/aids .
Your service and the service of the facility do not matter. Because the locations that offer RACHAP might not be close to your home, appointments are necessary. You also might have to stay in the location of the participating RACHAP facility for a few days to complete your appointments, or you might have to make two trips. You are responsible for your transportation and lodging, so make sure to weigh all costs involved with the RACHAP (to include possible follow-up visits) against purchasing hearing aids in your community. Another possible option is to call the clinic and determine if they can work long distance with your doctor in your home town. No guarantees with this option. The purchase of hearing aids and the cost of travel and lodging can be tax-deductible if you meet IRS requirements. Talk to your tax specialist about the tax deduction for medical expenses and whether you qualify. [Source: MOAA News Exchange | Shane Ostrom | June 6, 2016 ++]
Acne ► What Patents Should Know
Most teenagers will have pimples at some point. Some only have a few small pimples that soon go away again. Others develop more severe, persistent and clearly visible acne. This can be very distressing, particularly in puberty.
But there are a number of things that can be done about acne, although patience is needed. This information is about acne in teenagers and young adults, known as “common” acne or acne vulgaris.
Symptoms – The severity of acne can vary quite a bit. Doctors distinguish between mild, moderate and severe forms of acne. There are also inflammatory and non-inflammatory types of acne. Non-inflammatory acne is a milder type, which most people would refer to as “pimples” or “blackheads” rather than “acne.” Unlike normal pimples, acne develops over a longer period of time and stays longer. It sometimes leaves small red marks or scars behind. “Normal” pimples usually form quickly and then go away again soon afterwards.
- Mild acne: People with mild acne have comedones (blackheads or whiteheads). These are clogged pores in the skin. The dark color of blackheads has nothing to do with dirt: They look dark because this kind of blackhead is “open” and the skin pigment melanin reacts with oxygen in the air. Whiteheads are closed, and have a white or yellowish head. The more oil builds up, the more likely it is that bacteria will multiply and lead to inflammatory acne. Acne is also considered to be “mild acne” if someone only has a few pimples, or only has small ones.
- Moderate acne: People who have moderate acne have noticeably more pimples. Inflamed pimples are called “papules” (small bumps) or “pustules” (filled with yellow pus).
- Severe acne: People who have severe forms of acne have a lot of papules and pustules, as well as nodules on their skin. These nodules are often reddish and painful. The acne may lead to scarring.
Causes – During puberty, a child’s body changes to the body of an adult. This change is regulated by hormones such as androgen. Androgen is a male sex hormone which is made in larger amounts during puberty – in girls too. One thing that it does is make your skin produce more oil.
Structure of healthy skin, including oil glands
The oil that is made in the skin is called sebum, and it is produced in oil glands called sebaceous glands. Sebum protects the skin and helps to keep it moisturized. But if a layer of dead cells builds up at the opening of a pore, the sebum cannot leave the pore. It builds up in the sebaceous gland and a blackhead or whitehead develops. If this becomes inflamed, it turns into a pimple (also called zits or spots). Acne mostly develops on areas of skin that have more oil glands, like the face, chest, back and shoulders. Following shows the development of a pimple
The main reason teenagers get acne is because their bodies make more of the hormone androgen during puberty. Once their hormone levels have settled down, typically by their early twenties, acne usually goes away on its own. But not all teenagers have acne. For this reason, it is believed that other things play a role too, such as genetic factors and the immune system.
Risk factors – There are a lot of theories about what might make acne more likely. Some of these ideas are supported by scientific proof, but many are not. For instance,
- people sometimes say that not washing properly gives you acne or makes it worse. There is no scientific proof that this is true. But claims like this can make teenagers feel guilty because they believe they are to blame for their acne.
- Some people think that their acne gets worse if they eat particular foods, like chocolate, meat or dairy products. A number of scientific studies have looked into the effect of diet on acne, but they did not find any links between what people eat and the likelihood that they will develop acne.
- Certain skin care products, such as moisturizing creams or oils that might block skin pores, can make acne worse.
- Rubbing your skin too hard or squeezing blackheads can have a negative effect too.
- Some people report that their acne gets worse when they are stressed. Scientific studies also suggest that there is a link here.
- It is not clear whether there might be a connection between smoking and acne.
- Hormones are not only produced by the body. They are sometimes found in medications and other products too. For instance, some hormone treatments can cause acne or make it worse. These include anabolic substances (drugs that increase muscle growth) and medications such as steroids, as well as some drugs for the treatment of epilepsy.
Prevalence – Acne is the most common skin condition in teenagers. Most people will have acne to some degree during puberty. About 15 to 20 out of 100 teenagers have moderate to severe acne. It is much more common in boys than in girls.
Outlook – Acne often clears up on its own at around the age of 20, but some people still have acne when they are over 30. It may leave scars or red marks (brownish marks on darker skin).
Effects – Acne can lead to scarring, especially if it is severe. Scars sometimes form when wounds heal. The wounds caused by acne are found in the deeper layers of skin. They heal in very different ways: Whereas some people only have small, flat scars that are hardly noticeable, others have clearly visible indented scars (“pock marks”) on their face. Acne scars can be divided into the following categories:
- Atrophic scars: If an acne wound does not heal properly, not enough connective tissue is made. The scar then forms beneath the surrounding tissue, creating a dent in the skin. People who do not squeeze their pimples are less likely to get these scars.
- Hypertrophic scars: These raised scars can form on your chest, back or shoulders, particularly in people who have severe acne. They develop if too much connective tissue is produced while the wound is healing. This type of acne scar is less common.
- Keloid scars: Keloid scars also form when too much connective tissue is made. Unlike hypertrophic scars, though, they are bigger than the original inflamed area. This is a very rare type of acne scarring. Regularly squeezing blackheads and pustules can increase the likelihood of scarring.
Treatment – People with acne often try out different things to improve the appearance of their skin. There are a lot of different recommendations when it comes to acne, involving things like facial toners, sunlight and specific diets.
There are also a number of medications for acne. Some are applied to the skin, some are swallowed. Because you can buy them without a prescription, many of the products are heavily marketed. But advertising campaigns often create unrealistic expectations. Some treatment approaches and medications have been proven to effectively reduce acne, while others have not. Unfortunately there are only a few good-quality studies comparing the various treatments with each other. So it is not possible to tell whether certain products are more effective than others. Most products have to be used for a long time before there is a noticeable improvement. And some have strong side effects.
Everyday life – Puberty is a difficult time of life. Many teenagers may feel less self-confident, and be very negative about themselves and their appearance. This is especially true of teenagers who have acne, who often feel unattractive or might be embarrassed about how they look. Comments people make about their skin condition can be very upsetting, and difficulties finding a boyfriend or girlfriend might be hard to take. But self-esteem issues and mood swings are a normal part of puberty, even in teenagers who do not have acne. So it would be wrong to blame all puberty-related problems on acne. The severity of someone’s acne does not always directly determine how much of an emotional problem it is for them. Moderate acne can be just as distressing as severe acne.
How people cope with acne varies greatly. Some teenagers are less bothered by it or can deal with it in a more self-confident way, but for others it can be a major problem. In general, anxiety, depressive thoughts and low self-esteem are more common in people who have acne. Teenagers with acne are more likely to become withdrawn and have conflicts with their friends and family. If having acne makes teenagers feel less self-confident around others, supportive friends and family are particularly important. Things like foundation and concealer can make it easier to cope with acne in everyday life and feel more confident in public. [Source: Informed Health Newsletter https://www.informedhealth.org/acne.2077.en.html | July 2016 ++]
* Finances *
COLA 2017 Update 02 ► Veterans Benefits/SSA Will Match
Veterans benefits will match the Social Security cost-of-living increase in 2017, thanks to a measure finalized by Congress in mid-JUL. But veterans groups hoping for a more permanent answer to the annual legislative hand-wringing over their benefits boost will have to wait longer for that solution. Under law, annual cost-of-living increases are automatic for Social Security benefits, determined by the executive branch without intervention from Congress. But veterans benefits fall into a different category, one that requires lawmakers to vote on an adjustment every year.
In the last few decades, veterans have seen their annual adjustment differ from the Social Security COLA only one time (in 2000, as a result of a minor rounding difference between the two rates.) But outside groups have called having the two increases dealt with separately confusing at best and potentially ripe for abuse or mistakes.
The measure finalized by the Senate this week — it passed without opposition late 13 JUL — links the veterans benefits boost to Social Security rates for 2017 alone. Legislation to permanently tie veterans payouts to the Social Security cost-of-living calculations was passed by the House in February, but has languished in the Senate since then. The bill’s ill sponsor Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-LA) said he is still hopeful that measure can advance through Congress later this year.
“Providing a cost-of-living adjustment for veterans is an important step to ensure their financial stability,” he said in a statement. “It is certainly encouraging that both houses in Congress have passed my COLA bill this year, but we need to go further. “Veterans deserve the peace of mind that comes with knowing a COLA will come annually, rather than hoping Congress can break its gridlock to provide for them.” The change affects the annual rates of VA disability compensation, dependency compensation for surviving children and spouses, and medical clothing allowances for veterans, among other benefits. It will not affect adjustments for military retirement pay, which are calculated through other methods.
In a statement, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) called the move an issue of fairness for veterans who sacrificed for the country. “Escalating living expenses are painfully squeezing veterans who rely on disability payments, and this bill would ensure their compensation keeps pace with rising costs,” he said. “It is our duty to provide veterans and their families the support they need to live with the dignity they deserve.” The president is expected to sign the measure in coming days. Congress won’t take up the issue of a permanent fix again for at least two months. Lawmakers started an extended election-year summer recess on Thursday.
Social Security and veterans benefits did not see a cost-of-living increase in 2016, due to lower inflation costs and the methodology used by government officials to calculate the raise. No announcements have been made on a possible 2017 increase. [Source: Military Times | Leo Shane | July 13, 2016 ++]
Cell Phone Insurance ► Should You Buy?
Paying an extra $5 to $11 per month for month-to-month phone insurance might sound tempting — especially now that the big wireless carriers have ditched contracts and subsidized phones, and you’re paying $650 up front for a new iPhone 6s. But it’s not that simple. First of all, month-to-month phone insurance isn’t the great deal it sounds like — that relatively low monthly fee is only part of the cost you’ll pay if your phone is damaged, lost or stolen. For each claim you file, you’ll pay a deductible of $50 to $199 (unless it’s an old-school flip phone, assume that price is going to be $199), and most insurance companies only let you file up to two claims per year. So, should you get month-to-month phone insurance? Probably not, but let’s take a look at the available plans before we answer that question in more detail.
French bulldogs = accidental damage.
There are two ways to get month-to-month phone insurance: You can purchase it from your wireless carrier, in which case you’ll simply pay the premium as an add-on to your wireless bill, or you can purchase it directly from a third-party insurance company such as SquareTrade (http://www.squaretrade.com). The main difference between the two is that carrier-provided insurance usually covers device malfunction, damage, loss and theft, while SquareTrade covers only malfunction and damage. Many carriers, including Verizon and AT&T, offer plans through the third-party insurance company Asurion.
- Verizon offers four protection tiers. The top tier, called Total Mobile Protection (TMP), costs $11 per month for smartphones; protects against device malfunction, damage, loss and theft; and carries a $99 – $199 deductible depending on the device. Verizon’s deductibles tend to be a little lower — most high-end Android phones won’t hit the $199 deductible. TMP offers the same protection as the second-highest tier, Total Equipment Coverage (TEC), but TMP includes a tech coach feature, which basically means you can chat with Verizon about your device. You don’t need this.
- TEC costs $9 per device per month for smartphones and combines the two lower tiers: Asurion Wireless Phone Protection ($7.15 per month for smartphones, protects against everything except device malfunction) and Verizon’s Wireless Extended Warranty ($3 per month for smartphones, protects against device malfunction).
- AT&T’s insurance jumped to $7.99 per month in March 2016. AT&T’s insurance protects against device malfunction, damage, loss and theft and carries a $50, $125 or $199 deductible, depending on the device. Most high-end smartphones, including any iPhone newer than the iPhone 5, will hit the top deductible tier, so expect your deductible to be $199. Unlike Verizon, however, AT&T rewards you for not filing claims — you get a deductible discount if you haven’t filed a claim in the last six months ($149 vs. $199) or 12 months ($99 vs. $149).
- Sprint offers a two-tiered insurance plan — like Verizon, the top tier ($13 per month) simply includes tech support and device tutorials. Sprint’s insurance costs $9 to $11/month, depending on which deductible tier your device is in. There are four deductible tiers: $50, $100, $150 and $200. Most smartphones will be in the top two deductible tiers and will therefore cost $11/month. Like Verizon and AT&T, Sprint uses Asurion — so its plan covers device malfunction, damage, loss and theft.
- T-Mobile’s insurance costs $8 per device per month and protects against malfunction, damage, loss and theft. The plan includes a $20 to $175 deductible; most high-end smartphones will end up costing between $150 and $175 to replace. T-Mobile also offers an enhanced protection package for $10 per month that includes Lookout Mobile Security Premium. If you’re already enrolled in T-Mobile’s JUMP program ($10/month), which lets you upgrade your phone once you’ve paid off 50 percent of its cost, insurance is included.
- SquareTrade is one of the most popular third-party insurance providers, and it’s cheaper than most carrier-provided options. Of course, it also offers less protection — with SquareTrade, you won’t be protected against loss or theft. SquareTrade plans cost $6 per month for smartphones (or less if you purchase one, two or three years in advance) with a $75 deductible. Because the company only covers damage, it will only repair your phone — not replace it. In the event that your phone is damaged beyond repair, SquareTrade will just give you money to replace it (enough for a refurbished phone — not a new one).
Should you get phone insurance or not? This is a difficult question to answer, because it really depends on you. If you live in an area where phone theft is rampant, or you’re the type of person who’s likely to lose your phone, carrier-sanctioned phone insurance could save you hundreds of dollars. But if you’re just clumsy, you may not come out ahead. Apple will fix an iPhone 6S screen for $99 if it’s still under warranty or covered by Apple Care+ — that’s less than a year’s worth of Verizon insurance. Month-to-month phone insurance comes with low premiums, high deductibles and a limit on claims (Asurion lets you make two claims per year, with a cap of $1,500 per claim). If you make one claim per year, you’ll pay between $270 and $330 for a new phone — and the phone may not even be new. The insurance company has the right to choose whether they want to repair your phone or replace it with a phone of equal value, which means you’re likely to get a refurbished phone instead of a brand new one. If your phone is more than a year old, phone insurance makes no sense because older high-end smartphones are subject to the same deductibles as newer high-end smartphones.
Device-specific insurance isn’t your only option. If you purchased your phone with a credit card, your credit card company may offer an extended warranty that covers device malfunctions once the manufacturer’s warranty expires. Also, if you pay your phone bill with a credit card, your credit card company may offer some protection against loss or theft (i.e. Wells Fargo card offers $600 worth of protection, subject to a $25 deductible, against damage or theft). If you have renter’s insurance, your phone is most likely covered in your policy — though renter’s insurance is usually subject to a higher deductible ($500+) per claim. For most people, month-to-month phone insurance is a bad idea. You’re better off extending the manufacturer’s warranty or buying Apple Care+.
The value of any particular plan depends on:
- Replacement cost: If you own one of the high-end smartphones you may be looking at $800 or more to replace it, making a full-protection plan more attractive, even with a deductible of $199 or more.
- The age of your phone: The older your phone the less valuable it is and the less a protection plan makes sense.
- The plan: The value of any plan depends on its price and features.
- Where you live: If you live in an area where phone theft is a big problem, the case for coverage grows stronger.
- You: Are someone who has a track record of dropping or breaking things? If so, coverage may be a good idea, at least for the first year or two, when replacing it is most expensive.
[Source: C|Net | : Sarah Jacobsson Purewal | December 2015 ++]
IRAs | Automatic ► Where Does Your State Stand On the Issue
If your company offers no retirement savings plans, you’re likely not setting enough money for retirement. But your state may step into the breach by mandating automatic retirement plans for private sector workers whose employers offer no such savings programs. Five states — California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland and Oregon — are leading the way and are scheduled to begin enrollment soon. Others are considering legislative action to help fill the retirement savings gap.
- About half of the U.S. workforce — around 55 million Americans — currently have no employer-sponsored retirement plan to supplement Social Security, says AARP.
- About one-third of households end up with no additional retirement coverage from their entire work lives and must rely exclusively on Social Security in retirement, .
- In addition, with more people changing jobs every four years, many workers move in and out of coverage so that they end up with inadequate 401(k) balances, the center says.
The median retirement account balance is $3,000 for all working-age households and $12,000 for near-retirement households, according to National Institute for Retirement Security figures reported by KTVZ in Oregon. The U.S. Government Accountability Office found in 2015 that 29 percent of Americans age 55 and older haven’t saved anything at all.
While details differ from state to state, auto-IRA programs generally will require employers without workplace retirement plans to automatically enroll their workers in IRAs, with workers typically contributing 3 percent of their earnings, which will be invested by state-administered agencies in Roth IRAs. These accounts take workers’ after-tax dollars. There’s no tax deduction upfront as in a traditional IRA or 401(k) plan, but the money grows tax-free. Also, although billed as mandatory for employers, workers can opt out. Analysts don’t expect many to skip the opportunity, though. For more on how retirement accounts work, check out: “Roth, Regular IRAs and 401(k) Accounts Made Simple.” http://www.moneytalksnews.com/confused-retirement-accounts-roth-and-regular-iras-and-401ks-made-simple/.
Also on the table are so-called marketplace plans, which are voluntary but let small employers shop for retirement plans under a state-run market, and multiple-employer plans, in which unrelated employers offer 401(k) plans with administrative burdens and fiduciary responsibilities held by a third party.
Who has them, who doesn’t
According to the Boston College center and CBS News here is where states stand on the issue
- Auto IRA plans enacted but not launched: CA, CT, IL, MD, and OR.
- Voluntary marketplace plans enacted: WA and NJ.
- Legislation under consideration: ME, MA, VT, VA, IN, WI, MN, IA, NE, and UT.
- Legislation rejected: AZ, ND, LA, OH, TN , and WV.
Opposition to auto-IRA plans comes from people, such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — who said he didn’t want the government involved in the investments but welcomed a marketplace plan — and financial planners and life insurance companies who don’t want the competition. [Source: MoneyTalksNews | Jim Gold | July 24, 2016 ++]
Social Security Reduced Benefits Update 02 ► Back-Door Debt Limit Deal
What do older voters think about the back-door debt limit deal tactics of using Social Security cuts in exchange for lifting the debt limit? The single biggest government account holding federal debt is the Social Security Trust Fund — holding about $2.8 trillion in special obligation bonds, or I.O.U.s for payments of Social Security benefits. The Senior Citizens League’s (TSCL) 2016 Senior Survey conducted between January through March of this year found that virtually everyone, an astounding 99% of older voters, said they don’t agree with the tactics that Congress used to enact surprise Social Security changes negotiated during last fall’s closed-door debt limit deal.
As the federal budget approached the debt limit last October, the government faced running low on funds to make the November 2015 Social Security payments in full and on time. House leadership and President Obama reached a secretive last-minute deal to lift the federal debt, but the deal came with controversial changes to Social Security. It ended two benefit claiming strategies used by married couples at full retirement age to maximize their benefits, known as “file and suspend,” and “restricted application.” According to financial advisors, the change will cost some dual-income married couples, who were counting on using the strategy, from $10,000 to $60,000.
Critics of file and suspend and restricted applications called the strategies “loopholes.” Some members of Congress say that the federal debt is too high, and that more changes like these are needed to bring long-term spending on Social Security and Medicare into balance. TSCL’s survey results, however, suggest that lawmakers need to end the closed-door budget dealings and take a more open and balanced approach to legislation affecting Social Security. Survey respondents disapproved of:
- The threat of nonpayment of Social Security benefits, Medicare and other federal benefits to force votes on lifting the debt limit.
- Members of Congress demanding entitlement cuts in exchange for votes to lift the debt limit.
- Secret, closed door negotiations between Congressional leadership and President Obama that included surprise Social Security changes.
“Social Security benefit cuts have no place in legislation to lift the debt limit,” says TSCL Chairman Ed Cates. “Our federal government has borrowed about $2.8 trillion in payroll taxes meant to pay Social Security benefits, and there should be no question of honoring the obligation to repay that debt,” Cates states. [Source: Your Social Security & Medicare Advisor | July 18, 2016 ++]
IRAs | Inherited ► SSA & Tax Impact
The IRA you inherited won’t reduce, or cause the Social Security Administration to withhold your benefits. Reductions to benefits occur when you are under full retirement age and receive wages in excess of annual exempt amounts. Inherited assets like an IRA will not cause your benefits to be reduced, but distributions from the IRA may possibly subject your benefits to taxation, and the higher income you receive may potentially subject you to Medicare Part B and Part D premium surcharges if your income is above $85,000 (individual) or $170,000 (couples).
The worst mistake you can make is simply withdrawing the money and then asking “OK, now what do I do?” The rules for inherited IRAs can be tricky, especially for non-spouse beneficiaries.. Those rules differ depending on whether you received a traditional IRA, or a Roth. With an inherited IRA all movement of the money must be from one IRA custodian to another, “a trustee-to-trustee” transfer. In addition, you will need to retitle the IRA to include the deceased original owner’s name and you as the beneficiary.
The beneficiary named on the form on file with the custodian of the IRA, the financial institution which holds the funds for safekeeping, controls who inherits and the ability to stretch out disbursements. If you were named directly as the beneficiary, you will need to start taking distributions from the account by December 31 of the year AFTER inheriting, otherwise you will be required to withdraw all of the money in the account within five years.
If you otherwise fall under rules that allow stretching out the distributions, you must take minimum distributions from the account based on your own life expectancy. The withdrawals will be taxable, but the rest of the money can be spaced out over your own expected life span, which thus allows you to continue to receive the tax-deferred growth in a traditional IRA or tax-free growth of a Roth.
Please note: If an estate was named as beneficiary, then different rules apply! You have several options, and making the right choice has a big impact on how much you will owe in taxes. Find a professional tax or financial advisor with expertise in inherited IRAs. TSCL strongly urges you NOT to do anything, until you have all the details and know what particular set of rules apply to you. The above information is not tax advice, so please consult your professional tax advisor. To learn more about the tax rules see “Distributions from Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs),” IRS Publication 590-B (https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p590b.pdf). [Source: TSCL Advisor http://seniorsleague.org/frequently-asked-questions-faqs | July 2016 ++]
Saving Money ► Things You Should Never Buy New
Some things really are better the second time around. In fact, many used items can be every bit as good as those purchased new. Plus, buying used is almost guaranteed to save you cash. When you are the second or third owner of these itemsyou are practically guaranteed you will get better value. Here’s our top 10 list of things you should never buy new:
1. Cars.This had to be No. 1 on the list. The value of a new car drops like a rock as soon as you drive it off the lot. Rather than be upside-down on your car loan five minutes after signing the paperwork, look for a quality used car that has already taken the huge depreciation hit. You can find advice on how to do that in our article on “Six Things You Should Check Before Buying a Used Car” at http://www.moneytalksnews.com/6-things-you-should-check-before-buying-used-car-but-dont/
2. Big toys like boats, motorcycles and RVs.Actually, that advice about buying a used car can apply to any type of vehicle. With rare exceptions, virtually anything with an engine — from off-road vehicles to yachts — will depreciate in value over time. In most cases, you’ll get more bang for your buck by purchasing used. If you need more help, check out the articles on buying a boat http://www.moneytalksnews.com/7-tips-for-buying-boat-without-sinking-your-financesand which brands of motorcycle are considered most reliable http://www.moneytalksnews.com/the-most-reliable-motorcycle-brand-not-harley .
3. Houses. Your house is another big-ticket item that it makes sense to buy used rather than new. Not only can you save money, but older homes also may have better “bones” than some new construction. And if you love the idea of new construction, don’t forget that an existing home doesn’t necessarily have to be one that’s 50 years old. If you want an energy-efficient home with new amenities, you can probably find it at a lower price if you’re willing to be owner No. 2 or 3.
4. Timeshares. Don’t ever pay full price for a timeshare. Some people are practically giving them away because they’re so desperate to get out from under the annual fees. To find out whether timeshares are a fabulous opportunity or a financial trap for you check out http://www.moneytalksnews.com/timeshares-fabulous-opportunity-financial-trap.
5. Books. We could take this category one step further and say you shouldn’t buy books, period. After all, many of us live near a public library system that can meet most of our reading needs. However, we won’t go quite to that extreme. Some enjoy having a well-stocked home library. Also, some books, such as college textbooks, have to be purchased. But that doesn’t mean you have to pay full price. Head to www.Half.com or the Amazon Marketplace to buy cheap used books, which are often as good as new. Some articles that could be helpful in locating used books is the article on building a personal library at http://www.moneytalksnews.com/10-ways-to-build-a-library-on-the-cheapand another one specifically for college textbooks at oneytalksnews.com/11-ways-save-big-college-textbooks.
6. Movies and CDs. Many of the same places that sell used books also sell used DVDs, Blu-Rays and CDs. No need to spend money for a new disc when you can get a cheaper, used one online, at a garage sale or in the thrift shop.Of course, there’s also the library, where movies and music are free for the (temporary) taking and cheap when the library holds a sale.
7. Sports gear. Instead of spending tons for new equipment for your kid’s sports, go to a specialty store like Play It Again Sports and buy used items. You can also scour garage sales, thrift stores and Craigslist for bargain finds.Don’t forget to look for fitness equipment for yourself, too. Buying new weights and kettlebells doesn’t make sense if you can get used ones for a fraction of the price.
8. Musical instruments. Musical instruments are another parental purchase that could be money down the drain. A quick check of Craigslist shows plenty of people trying to unload old instruments. To avoid buying something overpriced or broken, consider spending a few dollars to have it appraised by a local music store. Or, better yet, buy a used item directly from a shop. Renting an instrument is another option — and often you can rent-to-buy. However, keep in mind that renting a clarinet for three years could ending up costing you more than if you purchased a used one in the first place.
9. Jewelry. Like vehicles, jewelry typically depreciates in value, which makes it better to buy used than new. Before buying off Craigslist or from a private seller, be sure to get an appraisal, particularly if a significant amount of money is involved. You can also find quality used baubles by shopping for estate jewelry from jewelers or reputable pawn shops. If you want to buy online, eBay and www.ExboyfriendJewelry.com may be good ways to go so long as you keep your eyes open for scams and use a safe payment method (e.g., no wire transfers, people).
10. Pets. Some of you might disagree, but there really is no reason to spend a lot of money on a brand new pet when plenty of pre-loved (or not so loved) animals are looking for homes. Your local animal shelter and humane society regularly have free or almost-free adoption days, during which you can get dogs and cats, as well as other pets from bunnies to birds. Your local shelter might offer the same. Unless you’re planning to show your pet, spending hundreds or even thousands on a purebred animal is probably not money well-spent. The $50 puppy from the pound is just as likely as the $500 puppy from a breeder to smother you with wet kisses and stare at you with unbridled adoration.
[Source: MoneyTalksNews | Maryalene LaPonsie | May 19, 2016 ++]
Federal Student Tax Scam ► How It works
Scammers are targeting college students with a new twist on a classic con. Con artists impersonate IRS agents and demand that students pay a fictional tax… or face arrest.
How the Scam Works:
- Your phone rings, and the Caller ID shows it’s from the IRS. When you answer, the caller claims to be an IRS agent. He or she says that you failed to pay your “federal student tax.” Now, insists the caller, you are wanted for tax evasion and a warrant will be issued for your arrest.
- However, the “agent” can clear your name if you pay the tax immediately. You need to go to a nearby store and purchase a prepaid debit card, money order, or even a gift card and read the numbers to the “agent.” If you do so, the “agent” will steal the money and disappear.
- IRS impostors often go to great lengths to appear realistic. Victims report that scammers use Caller ID spoofing technology to appear to be calling from IRS headquarters in Washington, DC. Con artists sometimes follow up scam calls with an email, which use the IRS logo, colors and official-sounding language.
How to Spot an IRS Impostor Scam:
- Be wary if you are being asked to act immediately. Scammers typically try to push you into action before you have had time to think. The IRS will give you the chance to question or appeal what you owe.
- The IRS doesn’t call, text, or email first. The IRS won’t call about payment or overdue taxes unless they have first contacted you by letter.
- Don’t wire money, use a prepaid debit card or pay by gift card. Scammers often pressure people into these forms of payment. It’s like sending cash: once it’s gone, you can’t trace it. The IRS says it will never demand immediate payment, require a specific form of payment, or ask for credit card or debt card numbers over the phone.
- If you owe taxes or you think you might, contact the IRS at 800-829-1040 or irs.gov. IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue, if there is an issue.
Note that, although this particular scam is based in the U.S., similar scams mimicking the tax agency often appear in other countries. Canadian Revenue Agency scams are huge in Canada. Learn more about common tax scams on the IRS website https://www.irs.gov/uac/tax-scams-consumer-alerts . To find out more about other scams, check out BBB Scam Stopper (www.bbb.org/scam). To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker at (www.bbb.org/scamtracker). [Source: BBB Trusted Scout | Emily Patterson | July 2016 l Volume XIII l Issue 7 ++]
Pokomon GO Phishing Scam ► How It works
The sudden success of Pokémon GO has scammers cooking up ways to cash in on the app’s popularity. The latest is a phishing email that fools victims into thinking they need to pay for the game.
How the Scam Works:
- You receive an email addressed to Pokémon GO players. The message reads: “due to the overwhelming response to our new Pokémon GO app and the need for more powerful servers we can no longer afford to keep your account as free.” The developers are now charging $12.99 a month, and your account will be frozen if you don’t upgrade.
- The email urges you to click a link, log in to the app store and purchase the “full version.” Don’t do it! The log-in form isn’t run by an official app store or Ninatic Labs, the game’s developers. It’s on a third party site, and it is a way to steal users’ passwords.
- Unfortunately, this is not the only Pokémon GO scam out there. Before the app launched, scammers lured victims with the promise of getting early beta test access to the game. Then, a fake version of the game appeared in some app stores. As long as the app stays popular, scammers will devise new ways to fool players.
How to Spot a Phishing Scam:
- Be wary of unexpected emails that contain links or attachments. Do not click on links or open files in unfamiliar emails.
- Check the reply email address. One easy way to spot an email scam is to look at the reply email. The address should be on a company domain, such as [email protected]
- Don’t believe what you see. Just because an email looks real, doesn’t mean it is. Scammers can fake anything from a company logo to the “Sent” email address.
- Consider how the organization normally contacts you. If an organization normally reaches you by mail, be suspicious if you suddenly start receiving emails or text messages without ever opting in to the new communications.
- Be cautious of generic emails. Scammers try to cast a wide net by including little or no specific information in their fake emails. Be especially wary of messages you have not subscribed to or companies you have never done business with in the past.
For More Information read Variety’s coverage of the scam at http://variety.com/2016/digital/news/pokemon-go-paid-version-scam-1201812900 . To find out more about other scams, check out BBB Scam Stopper (bbb.org/scam). To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker (bbb.org/scamtracker). [Source: Better Business Bureau | Jul 26, 2016 ++]
Skimmers ► BBB Warning | Credit/Debit Card Readers
The next time you stop to fill up the gas tank or pick up a few things at the store using the self-checkout, you might want to think twice before putting your card into the credit/debit card reader. Skimmers are popping up everywhere and are becoming more difficult to detect. Credit card skimming is credit card theft where crooks use a small device to steal credit card information in an otherwise legitimate credit or debit card transaction. When the card is run through a skimmer, the device captures, and stores all the details on the card’s magnetic strip. Thieves use the stolen data to make fraudulent charges either online or with a counterfeit credit card. In the case of ATM and debit cards, thieves will withdraw cash from the linked checking account.
Credit/debit card skimmers are placed over the card swipe mechanism on ATMs, self-checkout lanes at stores, and gas pumps. With ATMs, the crooks may place a small, undetectable camera nearby to record patrons entering their PIN. Victims of credit card skimming are often unaware of the theft until they receive a billing statement or overdraft notices in the mail. Sources at local County Auditor’s offices say they are doing their best to keep up with the number of skimmers they’ve discovered at area gas stations. However, the technology is becoming advanced enough to the point where the skimmers are practically undiscoverable until days later when the sales transaction appears on a consumer’s bank statement. These devices will often reappear in different locations after auditor staff members complete an inspection sweep because of the ease in which they are built. Hare are a few steps consumers/retailers can take to avoid being scammed:
- Officials are asking gas station retailers to increase security and watch for anyone tampering with the gas pumps and advising retailers to carefully watch the self-checkout lanes closely for foreign devices being placed over the credit/debit card terminals.
- People are strongly encouraged to watch for skimmers as well and monitor bank accounts for any fraudulent activity.
- The auditor’s office recommends using cash or a credit card for transactions instead of a debit card so it is harder for scammers to gain access to valuable bank account information.
- When using an ATM, choose one that is in a well-lit, well-populated area and if it’s during banking hours, use the machine inside or go to the teller. When entering the PIN number, cover the touch pad so as to block the view from any hidden cameras.
- When stopping at the local gas station, choose the gas pumps located closest to the clerk or the convenience store where you can see the clerk and inspect the pump before inserting your card. According to the auditor’s office, if the gas pump has been inspected, there should be a sticker with the auditor’s name and the date it was approved for use located on the side of the pump. Look closely, if the seal isn’t broken then it is likely that there isn’t a skimmer attached to the credit card terminal. However, County Auditor’s officials recommend people to be extra cautious because skimmers have been found inside the credit card reader, meaning that the seal would still be intact and no way for you or the retailer to know a skimmer is reading your information!
- Before putting your card in the slot, give the credit card device a slight, gentle tug to check for any device that might be inserted over it. If the reader is loose or you find a skimmer device covering the credit card terminal, report it immediately to the clerk and law enforcement. Otherwise, avoid being skimmed by paying cash for your gas purchase. Yes, it is a bit inconvenient to carry cash but your bank account and personal information will remain safe.
Find more cyber security tips on www.bbb.org/cybersecurity . If you’re a victim of identity theft, visit www.identitytheft.gov for a recovery plan and report all scams to https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker/us. [Source: BBB Trusted Scout | Sandra Guile | July 2016 l Volume XIII l Issue 7 ++]
Reverse Mortgage Update 02 ► Now Safer With Rule Changes
Reverse mortgages have taken heat, and often rightly so, as risky, expensive financial products. But in 2014 the federal government changed rules for those loans, adding a number of safeguards. With the improvements, reverse mortgages are a better tool for seniors who need to shore up financially shaky retirements. Reverse mortgages aren’t selling like hotcakes at the moment. But that could change as broke baby boomers advance in age. These three figures explain why:
- $6 trillion: That’s the amount of home equity belonging to Americans 62 and older in 2016, according to the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association, an industry trade group.
- $12,000: That is the median retirement savings of Americans who are near retirement age, according to the the National Institute on Retirement Security. The institute adds: “The average working household has virtually no retirement savings.”
- $6.8 trillion to $14.0 trillion: This is the institute’s estimate of the gap between the savings Americans need for retirement and what’s actually in their retirement accounts.
So what that means, in short, is that many people have money tied up in their homes that they may quite desperately need to support them through retirement. A reverse mortgage gives the borrower a way to free up that equity and spend it. Reverse mortgages are loans available to homeowners age 62 and older. The home is the collateral. Unlike a typical fixed-rate mortgage, they usually carry a variable interest rate that can change with time. The fees tend to be high, as do interest rates. Borrowers withdraw some of their home’s equity without paying it back until the point when they or a widowed spouse leave the home, dead or alive. Then, the lender takes over ownership or the home’s heirs pay off the loan, buying it back. Reverse mortgages enjoyed a boomlet in the years before the financial crash of 2008 when lenders were selling them at the rate of about 100,000 per year, says Jon McCue, client relations director of Reverse Market Insight, which gathers, sells and publishes data about the reverse mortgage industry.
But the crash, along with a history of lax lending requirements, got many borrowers into financial trouble. By 2012, research shows, nearly a tenth of the federally insured Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECM) sank into default because the borrowers couldn’t pay their property taxes or homeowners insurance. Just half that many reverse mortgages are sold today, McCue said in a phone interview. Why the drop? A stronger economy and lower interest rates play a role. But Congress played a part, too, by authorizing the Federal Housing Authority to tighten reverse-mortgage lending. The 2014 rule changes have made the loans safer but harder to obtain and less desirable for many would-be borrowers. The rule changes haven’t eliminated all the problems. But they have made reverse mortgages safer in these four ways:
1. Borrowers now must qualify – The rule that borrowers must qualify financially applies to the government-insured HECM loans. Lenders scrutinize borrowers’ income and credit history to ensure that they can continue paying the home’s property taxes, insurance and HOA fees. Those who flunk the financial standards still may be able to borrow but they must set aside some of their borrowed funds to cover those obligations. This rule has made the loans significantly safer. “During those high levels of volumes, one of the benefits to reverse mortgage was, you didn’t have to qualify financially,” he says. “But what that led to was taxes and insurance defaults. And evictions. Nobody wants that. I don’t know any lender who wants that to happen. It’s not good for the industry, it’s not good for the business.”
2. You can’t get the money in one check – As before, borrowers can choose one of two ways to get their loan money — as a line of credit or a lump sum. Previously, borrowers could get their hands on their entire loan amount immediately. Borrowers now can receive only up to 60 percent of their loan amount in the first year. Here’s the exception, according to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: If the amount you owe on an existing mortgage (or other required payments) is more than 60% of this limit, you can take out enough to pay off your mortgage (and any other required payments, including upfront loan fees) plus cash of up to 10% of the initial principal limit.
3. An age requirement is lifted – HUD used to require both borrowers and “non-borrowing” spouses whose names are not on the loan papers to be at least 62. No longer. Now, borrowers can qualify for a reverse mortgage with a spouse of any age. That’s a good-news-bad-news change. Putting a younger borrower on the loan means you’re able to borrow less of your equity since the loan is likely to be a longer one, exposing the lender to more risk. Today, “the size of a married couple’s payout (calculated using actuarial tables) will be based on the younger spouse’s age, even if that person isn’t on the mortgage’s title — the younger the person, the smaller the loan,” Next Avenue explains at http://www.nextavenue.org/2-new-reverse-mortgage-rules-couples.
4. Eviction protection for widows and widowers – Until a 2014 HUD rule change, a reverse mortgage had to be repaid when the borrower died. That often meant lenders evicted elderly widows and widowers whose names weren’t on their home’s loan documents. Because older borrowers typically were allowed to withdraw more money than younger ones, before the rule change couples could get more money by keeping a younger spouse’s name off the loan documents. But lenders must make delicate calculations about how much money to loan. If they don’t correctly estimate how long a borrower will keep the loan, interest and fees can build up to where the debt surpasses the home’s value, a losing proposition for the lender.
The new rule requires lenders to let the spouse of a borrower who dies or goes to assisted living stay in the home as long as the spouse keeps up taxes, HOA fees and insurance and makes it their permanent residence. The rule also requires lenders to base the amount borrowed on the age of the youngest spouse, whether or not that spouse is a borrower. This requirement, which means that couples with a younger spouse receive a smaller loan, also has put a damper on reverse mortgage lending.
5. Proceed with caution – The new rules make reverse mortgages a somewhat safer tool for people who are in serious need of financial help in retirement. But these loans remain considerably more expensive than a traditional mortgage. The fees are high and the interest rates, especially for an adjustable line of credit, can be very high. Try using the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association’s calculator to estimate your loan size and costs. (http://www.reversemortgage.org/About/Reverse-Mortgage-Calculator).
There are other reasons for seniors to approach these loans very carefully. As the National Council on Aging puts it: “Reverse mortgages themselves are not a scam, but there are unscrupulous people and companies that sometimes use reverse mortgages to exploit consumers. The FBI and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) urge vigilance when looking at reverse mortgage products”. Fortunately, if you apply for a reverse mortgage, you must receive loan counseling from a nonprofit agency. That’s a good thing. As we all know, making something safer doesn’t mean you still should not proceed with caution. For more information on HEMP refer to http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/housing/sfh/hecm/hecmhome. [Source: MoneyTalksNews | Marilyn Lewis | July 25, 2016 ++]
Tax Burden for Kansas Retired Vets ► As of JUL 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 Kansas:
State Sales Tax: 6.5% (prescription drugs exempt); Cities and counties may add another 1.8%.
Gasoline Tax: 40.43 cents/gallon (Includes all taxes)
Diesel Fuel Tax: 51.43 cents/gallon (Includes all taxes)
Cigarette Tax: 71.29 cents/pack of 20
Personal Income Taxes
Tax Rate Range: Low – 2.7%; High – 4.6%
Income Brackets: Two. Lowest – 2.7% for income up to $15,000; Highest – 4.6% for income over $15,000
Personal Exemptions: Single – $2,250; Married – $4,500;
Dependents – $2,250
Standard Deduction: Single – $3,000; Married filing jointly – $7,500
Medical/Dental Deduction: Federal amount. Up to $800 per contract, per taxpayer can be deducted if you have a long term care insurance contract.
Federal Income Tax Deduction: None
Retirement Income Taxes: Military, civil service, state/local government pensions are exempt. Out-of-state government pensions are fully taxed. Railroad retirement is fully exempt. Social Security is exempt for residents with a federal adjusted gross income of $75,000 will be exempt from any state tax on their Social Security benefits.
Retired Military Pay: Not taxed.
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.
Taxable property is assessed at its fair market value. Homeowners 55 and older who earn $30,800 or less are eligible for a refund of up to $700 under the Homestead Property Tax Refund Act. You must also meet one of the following requirements: Be 55 years of age or older, or be blind or disabled, or have a dependent child under 18 who lived with you all year whom you claim as a personal exemption. Additionally, 50 percent of Social Security benefits will be excluded from the definition of income for the purposes of qualifying for the program, resulting in additional property tax relief for seniors. A property tax refund is available for homeowners 65 or older with a household income of $17,700 or less. The refund is 45% or the property taxes paid. Those who claim this refund cannot claim a Homestead refund.
The effective property tax burden for renters is 15 percent of total rent. A homeowner with a residence valued at more than $350,000 or more is prohibited from participating in the program. Call 877-526-7738 or 785-296-2365 for property tax details or click http://www.ksrevenue.org/pdf/k-40hbook11.pdf .
Inheritance and Estate Taxes
There are two Kansas estate acts applicable to the estates of decedents dying prior to January 1, 2010; the “pic-up” tax and the “stand-alone” estate tax. While both of these acts have been repealed they continue to apply, based on the decedent’s date of death. Both of these are now subject to “sunset” provisions which will casue these taxes to end in 2017 and 2020, respectively.
For further information, visit the Kansas Department of Revenue site http://www.ksrevenue.org . [Source: Jul 2016 ++]
* General Interest *
Notes of Interest ► 16 thru 31 JUL 2016
- COLA. The June CPI is 235.308, and .5 percent above the FY 2014 COLA baseline. Because there was not a positive COLA in FY 2015, the FY 2014 baseline is used. The CPI for July 2016 is scheduled to be released on August 16, 2016.
- Coffee. Americans are expected to spend a whopping $13.6 billion on coffee this year. That’s up from $12.8 billion in 2015 and $11.9 billion in 2014.
- Baking. Check out https://www.facebook.com/201802603549586/videos/201911020205411 to see a quick and easy way to make a Pineapple Upside Down cake.
- Best Home Workout. Go to http://biggeekdad.com/2010/06/youtube-fitness for a somewhat different approach on fitness workouts tailored to meet your goals.
- 2016 POW/MIA Poster. Up to 20 of the new 2016 posters can be ordered at http://www.dpaa.mil .You can put them up in barber shops, city halls, police and fire departments, Library’s, restaurants, etc anywhere where we can get the word out for the public to see that we haven’t FORGOTTEN.
- New Zealand. The U.S. Navy will make a port call in New Zealand for the first time since 1985, when the South Pacific nation banned visits by ships carrying nuclear weapons.
- International Beer Day. August 5th celebrates the taste of beer and the achievement of beer brewers. Beer is an ancient alcoholic drink brewed mainly from malted barley, hops, yeast and water although it is possible to brew it from other grains such as maize, wheat and rice. Records of beer date back to 4000 BC, making it one of the oldest alcoholic beverages in the world.
- DECA Chicken. Uncooked poultry from the U.S. will return to Commissary shelves in Korea, starting in late August! Korea’s poultry embargo had restricted the import of uncooked U.S. poultry nearly nonstop since December 2014. Commissaries will continue to carry fresh chicken products and eggs from local sources in Korea, as well.
- Kitty Litter. Use it to deal with the nasty liquid and smell that sometimes collects at the bottom of the trash can. Simply scoop kitty litter into the can — enough so it generously covers the bottom. Let it sit for 15 minutes to half an hour, and then pour it out. It will absorb the gunk and deodorize the trash container.
- Arlington National Cemetery. Groundskeepers walked off the job and went on strike 1 JUL, after nearly a year of labor disputes. The strike stems from a plea for paid sick leave and an hourly wage increase, protest organizer Keon Shim told Army Times.
- Taliban. To view actual destruction of an enemy force in Afghanistan by Apache Helicopters go to www.liveleak.com/ll_embed?f=f213b73d647e . Note: Not for those with delicate sensibilities. This does show the enemy getting killed!
- VCRs. The 1980s are now officially over: The last VCR will be produced later this month, according to manufacturer Funai Electric. The Japanese company contends that it is the last maker of VCRs but will cease producing the device that revolutionized home entertainment in the 1980s and early 1990s.
- U.S. Immigration. Refer to http://metrocosm.com/us-immigration-history-map.html for a video display on two centuries of U.S. Immigration.
- Lapel Pin. North Carolina Republicans have apologized to Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine for mistakenly critiquing him for wearing a foreign flag (Honduras) during his acceptance speech. Kaine’s pin
was actually the symbol for families with a member serving in the military. Kaine’s son, a Marine, is currently deployed.
- Sitting. Researchers found evidence that long periods of sitting are “associated with increased all-cause mortality.” Specifically, the study cited increased risk of illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. However, it found that people who engage in between 60 to 75 minutes of moderate physical activity each day “seem to have no increased risk of mortality, even if they sit for more than eight hours a day.”Such physical activity also mitigates — but does not eliminate — the health risks of watching TV for long periods (five hours or more of television daily).
- Vice President Nominees. Indiana Gov. Congressional Records:
HVAC Update 19 ► Tim Walz Making A Bid for Chairman
Democrats on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee are heading into the summer recess with a brewing leadership fight for the fall and a host of questions about the makeup of their panel next year. On 20 JUL, Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) sent a letter to his fellow Democrats asking for their support to serve as ranking member of the committee next year, when the new Congress convenes. Walz made a similar unsuccessful bid in late 2014, before the 114th Congress was seated.
U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, speaking in May during the dedication of the State Veterans Cemetery in Preston, Minn.
But the leadership landscape on the committee has changed dramatically in just the last few weeks. Earlier this month, ranking member Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL) was indicted in an alleged charity fraud scheme and forced to step down temporarily from the post. Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) has assumed the post for now. When and if Brown will resume the role remains unclear. A preliminary hearing on the charges is scheduled before the end of the month, but a trial date could be months away. Meanwhile, she faces a difficult re-election fight in a newly drawn northern Florida district.
Walz had challenged Brown in 2014, saying that his status as a retired command sergeant major in the Army National Guard gave him specific insight into veterans’ health and benefits issues. He has also received significant support from veterans groups Walz made no reference to Brown’s legal problems is his letter, instead noting that “I am the highest ranking enlisted soldier to ever serve in Congress” and “I possess the passion, knowledge and legislative experience necessary to be the lead Democratic voice on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.” He also listed numerous problems facing President Barack Obama’s Department of Veterans Affairs, including the continued benefits backlog and mental health care. “Our VA system is in crisis,” he wrote, “and now, more than ever, Democrats need a strong, respected voice to address these problems head on and build the coalition required to get veterans and their families the care they deserve.”
How Walz’s early leadership bid will affect the minority party’s operations for the rest of 2016 remains to be seen. Josh Weisz, spokesman for Takano, said despite the abrupt change, Democrats will stay focused on their agenda throughout the fall. “(We) will press forward with their efforts on all fronts: ensuring the VA is accountable without violating employees’ due process rights, improving the VA health system without privatization, strengthening the mental health care veterans receive, and providing veterans the support they need to find a rewarding career,” he said. “These goals are too important to put on hold.” Leadership elections for both parties will take place after the fall elections. As Democrats sort out their situation with the panel, House Republicans will be looking for a new leader on the committee as well. Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) announced his retirement from Congress earlier this year. Military Times | Leo Shane | July 14, 2016 ++]
Cell Phone Chargers ► Current Ones Soon Will be Obsolete
The standard phone charger as we currently know it might not be necessary much longer. Battery-life-extending devices, smartphone cases that can recharge phones and on-the-go chargers are among the technologies promising to make traditional chargers redundant. Companies like Nikola Labs and Energous Corp. are developing better alternatives that can power up your phone while it’s in your pocket, CNN Money Davis Goldman reports (http://money.cnn.com/2015/06/23/technology/wireless-charging/index.html). By converting radio waves into battery-replenishing power, smartphones equipped with special receivers can literally pull energy right out of the air.
Nikola Labs shared its first such product concept last month at this year’s TechCrunch Disrupt conference in New York. It’s a smartphone case that can extend battery life, and TechCrunch reported at the time (http://techcrunch.com/2015/05/04/nikola-labs-launches-iphone-6-case-which-harvests-electricity-from-the-air/) that Nikola Labs aims to make the concept a reality within one year. According to the corresponding Kickstarter campaign (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/nikolalabs/nikola-phone-case-power-your-phone-with-wasted-ene), the case works by harvesting excess energy emitted by phones in the form of radio frequency (RF) signals associated with Wi-Fi, 4G, 3G and Bluetooth: Our proprietary RF harvesting technology captures that wasted RF energy and converts it into DC power that can be used to power devices.
Energous demonstrated its wire-free battery-charging technology called WattUp at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, winning two “Best in Show” awards and three other honors, CNN reports. On its website http://www.energous.com, Energous describes WattUp as a “wire-free charging system [that] delivers safe and efficient energy over the air.” Stryde Technologies is already accepting pre-orders for its $99 Ampy Move (http://www.getampy.com),which the company estimates will ship this fall. Described as “the world’s smallest wearable motion-charger,” Ampy Move can charge a phone while plugged into the wall like a traditional charger or while the phone user is on the go, according to the manufacturer’s website. It accomplishes the latter by converting the user’s movements into smartphone juice. [Source: MoneyTalksNews | Karla Bowsher | June 23, 2015 ++]
Food Tips ► 12 How To’s
There are small, but very common, irritations that prevent us from enjoying food as much as we would like or from producing food that resembles the dishes on magazine covers. Fortunately, there are also some easy ways to get around them. Here are 12 food hacks:
1. Make cheap wine taste better. Probably everyone has heard of the idea of letting wine breathe, especially young wine. But, realistically, who thinks far enough in advance to open the bottle and pour it into a decanter a few hours before dinner? Or, for that matter, who owns a decanter they actually think to use? The point of aerating the wine is to let as much of the liquid come into contact with air as possible, so let’s do that. Get two pitchers. Pour the wine into one, and then pour it back and forth between the two pitchers about 15 times. It will taste better. If you don’t believe it, do the pitcher trick with half of the bottle and use the other half as a control, and see if it doesn’t.
2. Keep bugs out of your drinks. Want a glass of lemonade on the front porch, but hate how the gnats love the sugar as much as you do? Invert a coffee filter and punch a straw through it, then place the filter on top of the drink for a cheap, easy lid. It’s not likely to be reusable, but if you’re careful, you could probably get a couple of turns out of it.
3. Cook bacon in the oven. The heat will be distributed more evenly, so you won’t have raw ends and crisp middle parts. Try it at about 400 degrees. The first time or two, you’ll have to watch to see how long it takes, but after that it should be smooth sailing. Plus, now you’ve got a free burner to make extra pancakes when guests come over.
4. Water your guacamole (or potatoes). Both go brown in the fridge pretty fast. The culprit is air. No matter how tightly you seal the container, some is going to get in there. One quick fix is to pour a thin layer of water on top. The water will block the air from the guacamole, keeping it nice and green. Just pour the water off when you’re ready to eat it. This same trick will work with peeled potatoes: Just keep them in water until you’re ready to use and then pour out the water.
5. Soften butter quickly. Maybe you’re making some last-minute biscuits, and your butter is too hard to bake with. Or you want some with a dinner roll, but it’s too hard to spread. Just put it on a plate under a warm glass (either use hot, running water or a microwave to heat up the glass). Place it over the butter, making sure the butter doesn’t touch the glass. After a few minutes, the warmth will have softened the butter. There’s a lot of variables here, such as how much butter is involved, its starting temperature and how hot the glass is, so use your judgment and make sure to keep an eye on it, so you get soft butter, not liquid butter.
6. No more shells in your eggs. Anyone who’s done any amount of cooking has cracked an egg and split it oh-so-carefully, only to have bits of shell crumble into the bowl anyway. Don’t just sigh and start poking around in there. First wet your finger a little before you start fishing out the shell. The water will help the shell stick to your hand and save you minutes of frustrating shell fishing. Other people swear by using a (more structurally sound) bit of shell to scoop it out.
7. Get at pomegranate seeds easily. Ripe pomegranates can be really tasty, but getting the seeds out of them without the bitter-tasting pith is a lot like work. Messy, stain-causing work. There’s an easier way. Before you start cutting into it, roll the pomegranate around on a clean surface. Press firmly, and you’ll start to hear a crackling sound as the pith separates from the seeds. Keep going until you no longer hear the crackling sound. It could take a good few minutes. Once that’s done, slice it in half. To be on the safe side, put a paper towel over the knife and pomegranate, so that if any particularly juicy seeds start squirting, the paper towel will catch it, instead of your shirt. Hold one half of the cut pomegranate inverted over a bowl, and tap on the outer shell with a spoon or something similar. They’ll come out slowly, so you might want to give the shell a squeeze from time to time. Once you’re done, repeat with the other half. There will still be some bits of pith in the bowl, so be sure to pick those out before you eat.
8. Keep tomatoes fresh. Once again, air is the enemy. Store tomatoes with the stem side down, because that’s where the air gets in the most quickly, and you’ll add shelf life to your tomatoes. Also, keep them at room temperature, not in the fridge.
9. Peel hard-boiled eggs easily. Maybe you’re making an egg salad, so the look of the hard-boiled eggs doesn’t matter, but if you’re making deviled eggs, or just plain want your egg to be pretty, try adding a little baking soda to the water when you’re boiling it. The soda will permeate the shell enough to make it not stick to the egg, but shouldn’t alter the flavor.
10. Slice cheese with floss. Want to cut some brie or other soft cheese, but hate the way a knife ends up smashing it as it cuts? Use some (unflavored) dental floss.
11. Iced, but not watered down, coffee. Want a cold coffee, but still want it to taste like coffee? Take some of the bits left in today’s pot and pour it into ice cube trays to freeze. Then use the frozen coffee to chill the cup the next day without losing any of the coffee flavor.
12. Cooking wine at the ready. The recipe calls for a cup of red wine, and you just know the cooking wine isn’t going to be good enough to make it taste right. Next time you have a bottle of wine you can’t finish, pour it into an ice-cube tray and let it freeze, then you can just drop in a couple of cubes as the recipe calls for it. Now, freezing the wine means it will taste a bit off, but as long as it’s not in the freezer too long, it should still work.
[Source: MoneyTalksNews | Ari Cetron | August 6, 2015 ++]
Retiree Moving ► 4 Questions To Ask Before You Do
Who doesn’t love reading real estate listings? It’s fun to dream, and lists of the “best places to retire” are fodder for the imagination. However, you wouldn’t want to rely on such lists for making a decision about where to retire. Your own best-of list has to take your own life and particular needs into account. That is something no one but you can do. Moving in retirement requires a different kind of planning. Changes — in finances, health and mobility — can happen quickly after age 60. An idyllic spot in the mountains or by the seashore may become too remote, or your home too hard to maintain after you’ve had a heart attack or diabetes, or simply have slowed down. Best-of lists often oversimplify the attractions of an area. Enjoy those lists, but keep digging before you go. These four questions can help you decide if a new place will really work for your retirement, now and in the future:
1. Who will help care for me?
Most older people require help eventually, and many need a lot of assistance. The Family Caregiver Alliance says someone who is 65 today stands a 68 percent chance of eventually becoming cognitively impaired or unable to manage two or more activities of daily living, such as eating, dressing or bathing. Of course, no one wants to burden children or friends. But in reality, loved ones usually must step up when elders need care. Just 9% of people who get care in their homes use only paid help, the alliance says. So make things easier for your kids and be realistic when you make a move. Adult children who are holding down jobs and rearing children will be severely burdened if they must travel long distances to help elderly loved ones.
2. Is good medical care nearby?
Living longer usually means living with a chronic disease — or two or three. Ninety-two percent of older adults have at least one chronic disease, according to the National Council on Aging. In fact, 77% of older Americans have two or more chronic diseases. Four of these diseases — heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes — cause almost two-thirds of deaths annually. With age, medical tests become more common and more frequent, as do visits to specialists like oncologists, cardiologists, pulmonologists and orthopedists. Managing a chronic condition well — avoiding hospital stays and emergency room visits — means having easy access to care you trust. The joys of living in a scenic but remote retirement mecca are diminished if you have to drive hundreds of miles — frequently — for expert care. So again, consider not only what you need today but what you’ll need in the future.
3. How safe is this place?
It’s smart to research crime rates in an area before deciding to relocate there. You’ll find plenty of free tools online. When viewing crime statistics, city-level averages aren’t very helpful because averages obscure what’s going on in any one neighborhood. Instead, look at statistics for the neighborhood you want to live in. Two sites that offer a lot of neighborhood-level detail are CrimeReports https://www.crimereports.com and City-Data http://www.city-data.com. Even the best online sites, though, may have outdated information or fail to offer a complete look at a place. So check data from a city’s police department. Fortunately, that’s usually easy. Many departments post their crime data online for citizens. Find it with a search like: “Denver police department crime statistics.” Look also for maps showing the prevalence of crime by area, and watch local news reports about crime in the city.
With smaller cities, you might strike out searching online for police department data. After all, small towns might not have the latest resources. Instead, call the police department and ask how to learn about crime in specific neighborhoods. And don’t stop there. Visit neighborhoods you’ve got your eye on numerous times, during the day and at night. Talk with many people — in coffee shops, hardware stores, parks and shops — until you feel you’ve got a good sense of the place.
4. How will I get around if I can’t drive?
At some point in their elder years, drivers have to face a hard truth: It may be time to hang up the car keys. Moving in your later years means thinking ahead about the availability of public transportation, something that might not have mattered to you as a driver. Smart Asset crunched numbers for its report “The Best Cities for Public Transportation.” Here are the top towns for ease of getting around:
Jersey City, New Jersey
You might not want to retire in a metropolis. But bear in mind that wherever you are, you’ll probably need help with driving and shopping. So look into senior services and transportation options. Steer clear of remote areas, however beautiful, unless you’ve got a sure means of transportation if you can’t drive.
If this is to be your last, best move, take time learning where you want to land. Here’s help researching neighborhoods:
A couple of additional sites you might want to check out are:
- “20 Tips for Buying a Home in the Best Location, Location, Location“
- “How ‘Livable’ Is Your City (Or Neighborhood)?
[Source: MoneyTalksNews | Marilyn Lewis | Jul 18, 2015 ++]
Pokemania ► Pokemon Go | 7.2M Downloads in 1st Week
If Pokemania hasn’t captured your attention yet, this fact from Apple might augment your reality: “Pokemon Go “was downloaded more in its first week than any other app in a first week in the App Store, ever. Apple didn’t specify just how many downloads that was, though. However, analytics firm Sensor Tower estimated the downloads at 7.2 million. The first week of “Angry Birds 2” saw 2.2 million downloads; “Candy Crush Jelly Saga,” 1.8 million, Forbes reported. Since shortly after its July 6 debut, “Pokemon Go” has stayed atop the App Store’s top free apps charts, CNN and other media outlets reported. It’s also on top at the Google Play store, CNN said. Sensor Tower estimated earlier this week that the Nintendo and Niantic game had been downloaded more than 30 million times on iOS and Android, CNET reported. Used more daily than some of the world’s most established apps, including Facebook, it’s earned more than $35 million in revenue, CNET said.
Players see tiny creatures called Pokemon through their phones, as if they existed in the real world — that’s something called augmented reality. Players have racked up miles walking in an effort to catch them all. That keeps them playing “Pokemon Go” longer than most apps, as well. Sensor Tower says users spend more time on average inside “Pokemon Go” than they do in top apps such as Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter. The “freemium” game encourages you to shell out real money for virtual “PokeCoins,” in-game currency you use to purchase items to help them catch Pokemon and train the 151 digital critters included in the game. The biggest PokeCoin package available costs about $100 and includes 14,500 coins. Apple and Google get a cut of any in-app purchases.
Initially launched in New Zealand, Australia and the United States, The Pokémon Company has rolled out the game in more countries, this week in Japan, Tech Crunch reported. Pokemania likely won’t stop any time soon. [Source: Money Talks News | Jim Gold | July 24, 2016 ++]
Cell Phone Service Plans Update 01 ► Defense Mobile Restructuring
An unknown number of troops and veterans have been locked out of phone service as the result of the financial troubles of a mobile phone service company that caters to the military. “We praised you as the best service ever, and then you swipe our service, our number and our money from under our noses,” wrote one customer on Facebook complaining about the company, Defense Mobile. An Army reservist said the company had disabled phone numbers and refused to answer messages from its support website page, email or Facebook. “The service was great until with little warning (24 hours) the company completely dropped their service to ALL their customers (June 30/July 1),” the reservist wrote in an email to Military Times.
Defense Mobile says it has had to drop service to some customers, who complain
that refunds have been too slow.
The company is in the process of restructuring, said its chief executive officer, Anthony Montoya, who recently took the helm. “The company wasn’t doing well. I’m trying to get it on the right track,” he said. He declined to specify how many veterans and service members have been affected. Montoya said the company lost coverage with some of its carriers. The company has been providing refunds, and those are being processed through PayPal in generally three to five days, he said. “And our team has been working with folks to switch to new carriers” to port their phone numbers, he said. “We’re working with them every day.”
Montoya said the best way for customers to get a response is to submit a request online through the company’s secure site. On the home page, www.defensemobile.com , click “Support” or “Contact Us” and submit a ticket online. However, on 27 JUL, the “Support” page announced, “Note: We are unable to process payments at this time and are working to resolve this issue ASAP.” Defense Mobile has provided refunds to a number of people who bought phones and couldn’t activate them, he said. But generally there won’t be a lot of refunds for monthly service, he said, because the company had given many people some free months of service.
When it launched a year ago, Defense Mobile billed itself as “the nation’s first 4G LTE wireless company focused exclusively on current and former members of the U.S. military and their families, describing “a mission to connect and improve the lives of those who have served.” The company is not selling mobile phone service as the company goes through the transition, Montoya said. “We hope to be back in the market as soon as possible,” he said, but there is no timeline. “It’s a challenge,” he said. “I too am a veteran. I’m doing everything I can to keep this going in the right direction, to get us back in the market, and live up to our promises. “It’s painful to me we’ve had to go through this process. I don’t want to leave any service member behind.” [Source: Military Times | Karen Jowers | July 27, 2016 ++]
Brain Teaser ► Should You be Institutionalized
It doesn’t hurt to take a hard look at yourself from time to time. This little test should help you get started.
During a visit to a mental asylum, a visitor asked the Director what the criteria is that defines if a patient should be institutionalized.
“Well,” said the Director, “we fill up a bathtub. Then we offer a teaspoon, a teacup, and a bucket to the patient and ask the patient to empty the bathtub.”
Okay, here’s your test:
1. Would you use the spoon?
2. Would you use the teacup?
3. Would you use the bucket?
“Oh, I understand,” said the visitor. “A normal person would choose the bucket, as it is larger than the spoon.”
What was the director’s response?
Have You Heard? ► Donuts || Marine trained dog…
An admiral visited one of the ships of the line under his command.
While eating breakfast with the crew he was impressed to see the Naval
insignia stamped on every biscuit.
He went to the Chief cook to ask how this feat was done, so it could be used
on other ships under his command.
The Chief replied, “I’d be glad to share that with you, Admiral. After each
biscuit is cut, I just slap it here against my belt buckle which bears the
Horrified the Admiral exclaims, “That’s very unhygienic!”
The Chief shrugs and replies, “Well, If that’s the way you feel, sir, I
suggest you avoid the donuts.”
A guy is driving around the back woods of Tennessee and he sees a sign in front of a broken down shanty-style house: ‘Talking Dog for Sale’
He rings the bell and the owner appears and tells him the dog is in the backyard. The guy goes into the back yard and sees a nice looking Labrador retriever sitting there.
You talk?’ he asks.
‘Yep,’ the lab replies.
After he recovers from the shock of hearing a dog talk, he says ‘So, what’s your story?’
The Lab looks up and says:
‘Well, I discovered that I could talk when I was pretty young. I wanted to help the government, so I told the CIA and they had me sworn into the toughest branch of the armed services…the United States Marines. You know one of their nicknames is ‘The Devil Dogs.’
In no time at all they had me jetting from country to country, sitting in rooms with spies and world leaders; because no one figured a dog would be eavesdropping. I was one of their most valuable spies for eight years running, but the jetting around really tired me out, and I knew I wasn’t getting any younger. So, I decided to settle down.
I retired from the Corps (56 dog years or 8 Corps years) and signed up for a job at the airport to do some undercover security, wandering near suspicious characters and listening in. I uncovered some incredible dealings and was awarded a batch of medals.
I messed around, had a bunch of puppies, and now I’m just retired.’
The guy is amazed. He goes back in and asks the owner what he wants for the dog.
“Ten dollars,” the guy says.
“Ten dollars? This dog is amazing! Why on earth are you selling him so cheap?’
‘Because he’s just a bullshitter … He never did any of that stuff.
He was a Chief in the Navy!’
Brain Teaser Answer ► Should You be Institutionalized
“No,” answered the Director. “A normal person would pull the plug.”
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